"Come closer," he said, beckoning his daughter to the table.
"Do you know what this is?" He sounded as if he was asking her to recite a prayer.
"Yes," she said. "It's a pocket pistol. It takes .25 acp's."
"It's loaded," he said. "It's been loaded since the day your mother left."
She nodded and turned away. Tomorrow was Christmas and on Christmas Eve she always cleaned the house.
"Your mother isn't fastidious," he said, almost every day. Even the day she left, without a word, the house was a shambles and the breakfast dishes filled the washing tub and lined the kitchen counter. "Fastidious" was the biggest word she knew and she didn't know what it meant. Maybe it meant beautful.
"In case she comes back. If she comes back--the minute she walks through the door, pow. And him too. Pow."
The girl started the tap. It took a full minute for the water to warm up and it never got warm enough to clean a greasy plate or get egg off a fork. The dishes were histories of last week's meals. The pans told stories of months and years. It didn't matter. The girl was tidy.
"You don't look anything like her. That's why I let you stay. That's why I buy the food. Maybe you're not even mine. Maybe you look like your real daddy."
The girl thought, "I hope I'm not. I hope I'm not the daughter of a man who spends his day hunched over a gun waiting for the door to swing open. I would like to Pow him in the throat and watch him bleed all over the table."
She imagined the blood washing the crumbs onto the linoleum and him hunched forever, never being able to say "You don't look like her" again. The house would always be clean then. Her neck trembled at her own image.
Before she left the mother had acted strange for weeks. She would head outside the minute the girl came home from school. The girl could hear conversations that always ended "I can't talk now, I'll call you back." At supper, there was no talk at the table, not even comments about the food, which was always horrible anyway--something to be got out of the way before an evening of complete silence and despair. Each of them a little gibbet of silence and despair surrounded by a house that no one liked and no one wanted to clean.
"I let you stay because you don't look anything like her. Nothing."
The girl was using a torn bathroom wash-cloth to scrub the sink, the same cloth she used to dry the dog's paws when he came in muddy from the back yard. The sink was old enamel, chipped to death from the bang of pans and lids, but she liked to see how shiny she could make it. As time went on the thin bottom layer had turned a permanent yellow-brown. It was her greatest concern. She wanted with all hear heart to turn it white again.
"Thank you Daddy," she said without looking up.