A dewy morning in Perrysburg, Ohio. A little girl walks to school with her daddy, hand in hand. Her name is Lilly, 7-years-old. She wears a pink dress and white shoes with a black stripes across the middle. She has a bow in her hair. Her dad’s name is Jack, an unemployed Iraq vet. He walks with a limp. A bullet will do that to you. They stop in front of the school and hug. “Daddy loves you.”
Jack spends his days looking for odds and ends jobs. He’s good with his hands. Lately there hasn’t been too many jobs lined up. Today, he stays home and cuts the grass.
Next door an officer leaves his house for work. He holds a white coffee mug with a red heart. He waves across the driveway to Jack. Jack swipes sweat from his brow and waves back.
At school, Lilly raises her hand a lot. Her art teacher tells her she has a creative imagination. She gets good grades. When the bell rings she runs down the front steps and into Jack’s arms. “Daddy loves you.”
At home Jack helps Lilly with math homework. Afterward, they watch a cartoon in the living room. A picture of Lilly’s mom, Jack’s ex-wife Sandy, hangs on the wall next to the T.V. She’s been gone since Jack got back from the war. She sends a letter home every once in a while but they’ve become less frequent. In bed, Jack reads an old one to Lilly. When he finishes she asks when mommy’s coming back.
Jack closes the card. “I don’t know.”
Later that night, Jack wakes to a scream and runs across the hall into Lilly’s room. Flips the light on. She’s wide awake. Tears down her cheeks. Jack asks what’s wrong.
“He touched me,” she cries.
“What man honey?” Jack holds her hand. She won’t say. He shakes her by the arms. “Who?”
“The man in the police uniform,” she says.
Jack hugs her and tells her everything will be all right. “Daddy loves you.”
A crisp blue morning. There isn’t another soul in sight. Jack walks Lilly to school. He stops in front on the steps and tells Lilly he won’t be picking her up today. He’s going away.
“Don’t go,” Lilly cries.
Jack rubs a tear from her eye. “You’re a soldier, little girl. Daddy loves you.”
Jack takes the longest path home. He feels for the first time since the war the Urge. The Desire. The Duty. Jack walks behind the house and into the garage. He grabs a pipe wrench—rusted blood red. He walks across the lawn and knocks on the officer’s door. The door opens.
A man is dead.
Jack drops the wrench. Sits down on the front step and pulls out his cell phone. He presses 911. There’s no use trying to cover what he done. In his mind he caresses Lilly in his arms. “Daddy loves you.”