His little girl flapped her vestigial arms and Ernie felt his love swell and swell like an overfed fuel line—what if it burst now, with Daisy so helpless and, except for him, alone?
After dark, he carried her over the fence to the shuttered pool where they floated together in the reflected stars. She flicked her armlets and sped in circles around a satellite tracking slowly across the deep end. A car passed with its bass thumping, shock waves rippled in harmony across the pool, warping the night sky.
Was it worth it, someone had asked—who? he couldn’t remember, no friend surely—the trips, the substitute existence, the fuck-all attention to reality? Wrong question, he’d said. How much love is too much—that was the real question.
No one could agree, anyway, on the damage. How much was lasting. Maybe it wasn’t his fault, maybe his chromosomes were just fine and not shredded, as hysterics claimed, by lysergic razors. Processed food, tainted water—the air itself might have conspired against them. What good was guilt, in any case. What comfort was that to Daisy?
She waggled her web-strung feet and sped across the water.
“How are you going to explain it to her?” Cynthia had asked, some time before the door slammed. “When she’s old enough.”
“What’s old enough?”
He hadn’t meant to be difficult, or cute. It was a legitimate question. How old did a child have to be to benefit from the knowledge that her parents had played so carelessly with the future?
Every summer, as soon as school let out, they made the drive over the mountains to the ocean. Daisy would sit up and begin giggling as they crossed the last ridge and the first ragged wisps of coastal fog swept past the car. She held her fingerless hand on the window and watched as the condensation formed a mitten around it. Then the ocean, and the sun crashing down, caroming off the waves.
She scooted across the sand on her belly toward the water. He couldn’t help her, she wouldn’t allow it. He walked beside her, his simian tracks unseemly alongside the sleek lines spooling out behind her.
The world came to her, it was true. A sea otter first, then a pod of dolphins. They nudged her toward deeper water. He could hear her giggling, the fins circling her like the ribs of a playpen. A ray leapt over in a high arc. People watched, mouths open. He stood waist-deep in cold water, her laughter rising and falling, washing in to him on the onshore breeze.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” running past him, board slapping the water. Daisy protesting in trills. How could he explain, their worlds intersecting only tangentially? He was cited for child endangerment.
Daisy watched the shoreline recede, the fog close over. All this is real, he promised her on their way back across the mountains. All of it. The land melting away behind them, the whistle of the gulls circling around inside the car like the echo of a judgment uttered so quietly and so long ago it could hardly have been true.
Jeff Ewing is a writer from Northern California. He’s had stories and poems recently in ZYZZYVA, Willow Springs, Catamaran Literary Reader, Atlanta Review, and Saint Ann’s Review, with new work coming up in SmokeLong Quarterly, Lake Effect, Dunes Review, and Bridge Eight. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.