9.9 What Was/What Were

by Matt P.

The children hit the house like a wrecking crew, loud and without the least suggestion of subtlety. Shoes were once again piled in front of the door, and the whole lot of them looked like they might just strip everything off there and sit on the couch in underwear until Walter chivvied them to their rooms. There were some things a father didn’t need to see, after all. After long moments of shouting about who had done what, and the accidental firing of what Walter was now calling Chekhov’s Nerf Gun—the Nerf trap gun they set up when they were first moving in to the house—they were now settled in the main room.

Antigone and Siobhan were in what they frequently wore to sleep, what Walter believed were the least yoga attending yoga pants in the world and tank tops. Ryan was mercifully wearing a shirt alongside his sweatpants. They were all piled on to the couch haphazardly, while Walter had just sat himself in his favorite chair when Siobhan asked him a question.

“Dad…what was it like the first time you killed someone?” She asked, not quite looking at him with wide and curious eyes. She was looking at the wall just to the left of him, her dark eyes intense for all that she was staring at a benignly painted patch—as if she could make it a slightly less awkward question by staring at something else.

Walter paused in the act of settling down, and then let out a little bit of a chuckle. He put himself down fully in the chair and looked for a long moment at something other than his daughter, before he caught himself and wondered if staring away into the distance was catching. When he looked at her, her dark eyes flicked back to his, as he considered how to answer.

“It was a firefight, in Somalia.” Walter explained after a moment. He took the beer bottle in his hand and brought it to his lips, distracting the moment in a brief taste of craft beer. He considered the bottle for a moment afterword. “The U.S. and NATO went to Somalia to provide relief. This was my first enlistment, and I was a fresh out of training rifleman. We were delivering supplies, and were attacked.” Walter paused again, and shook his head. “It’s a cliche, but I can still remember it incredibly clearly. I raised my rifle and fired, and the person fell down. I couldn’t tell you who was where or even tell you what the area looked like. But I remember raising the rifle, and firing it.”

“And then what?” Siobhan asked, leaning forward a little bit on to the edge of the couch. This resulted in her kicking her sister, but Antigone ignored it to listen—and Ryan was as silent as ever.

“And then…I remember it being right afterword, and we were back safe—no casualties—and then I threw up until there wasn’t anything left to throw up. And then my Sergeant got me drunk on something that tasted like it was distilled from hatred.” Walter finished, taking a far more pleasant drink to wash away that particular memory. “You’re the second person whose asked me that today, Bug—why?”

Siobhan blushed a little bit and looked away, not speaking for perhaps the first time in her life. If the topic had been anything else Walter might have thought she was being shy about a boy she liked, but that wasn’t normally prefaced by discussions of killing—although it was Siobhan, and he couldn’t be entirely certain. Finally after a moment Antigone leaned in to whisper to her. While they were whispering, Ryan spoke.


Walter raised an eyebrow at that, apparently partially correct. “Who is Gary?” He asked curiously, putting away his shock for a moment that Ryan had been the one to tell him.

“He’s…a bully, and he’s been threatening me.” Siobhan explained. “We had a…confrontation tonight. I had to threaten him to get him away from us, and it scared me. I was shaking afterword, and I almost made throwing up a family tradition.” She laughed, a little bit bitterly—bitter at herself. She sat upright, and pulled her knees up at her chest to rest her chin on. Her eyes were owlish and huge as she considered everything and nothing. “I wasn’t scared at the psychic shop until afterword—and I did throw up then. But I was terrified tonight. And then I was even more terrified, but…that was Tania.”

Walter smiled a little bit crookedly. “It’s always scarier when you have time to think about it. I’ll tell you another story some time about what happened the first time I had to think about it. But I have to keep some stories for other pep talks, or I’ll be pretty useless as a dad.” That drew a round of amused laughter from the girls, and even a snort from Ryan as Siobhan settled back down. “Do I need to go have a talk with this Gary? Or kill him?”

That drew a very serious look from Siobhan, as if she was considering it. Antigone was also considering it seriously for a moment, which definitely caught Walter’s attention. Finally, Siobhan shook her head. “No, I’ll deal with it. If I think it ever rises to a serious threat, I’ll tell you. But I do mostly think he is just an asshole.”

Walter gave a slow nod, and was about to say more when Antigone spoke. “What were the seven words?” Walter laughed now, and shook his head slightly.

“You’re too perceptive, Annie.” He responded, kicking up the recliner on the chair. “I don’t think I’m supposed to say what they are yet, remember? I’m supposed to wait for a phone call. But,” he continued, “How did you know?”

“You got up a good head of steam to start reaming Morgan and Tania, and I know what that looks like.” Antigone smirked. “Normally at Bonnie.” That drew another chorus of laughter from everyone but Siobhan, who instead smote her sister on the head with a couch pillow. “Ack!”

Walter grinned, shaking his head—before his cell phone rang, from where he had put it on the table next to the couch. He considered it for a moment, and the name it displayed prominently: Dr. Winters. He let it ring once or twice, as the laughter died and three heads swiveled toward him. Finally he reached out and accepted the call. “This is Walter.”

“Good evening, Walter.” Morgan’s voice purred our pleasantly. “So what were the seven words?”