There is a pause.
The tiny voice is adamant, frustrated.
The man does not look up.
“Steve. Steve. Steve,” she chants.
It is early—always early.
Carter, his daughter, laughs. “You’re Steve.”
That his name is Haiden has ceased to matter. He would love, simply, to go by Dad, or Daddy, but since her third birthday weeks ago, Carter has been stubborn—or dedicated, depending on his vantage. At first Haiden balked at being called Steve. He was mortified by the comparison to a goofy kids’ YouTuber who seemed only to bald and pudge further in each new clip. Haiden gave up once he realized that Carter’s commitment was hitched to any frustration he expressed. And anyway, a kid wouldn’t think of it as a daily compromise of identity, would she?
Light sprays in through the living-room window, misted with dust, turning the old wood floor golden. Haiden imagines the sun as a tiny hole in a faraway nozzle. He shuts his eyes. His wife, Hannah, is asleep in the next room; every room in their small apartment is the next room. Since Carter was nine months old, Haiden has been the one to get up with her each day and watch her until the nanny arrives. Hannah’s job is demanding, more important and more lucrative than his. The morning is his shift, his half of the parenting peace agreement. The morning is a trial of not counting down the minutes and trying to be present.
“Da—” Carter catches herself. “Steve.” She pauses, leaning over to reach beneath the couch and grab the new toy that her aunt, Hannah’s sister, sent recently. A light-up drawing board that’s impossible to clean. “Let’s draw.”
“Draw—now?” He’s tired. “Why?”
“Because,” she says. The word sounds like “peecuz,” a quirk in her speech he knows he will miss later. She smears a strand of hair out of her face with the heel of her hand, holding out a peach-colored marker with the other.
He sits up, regretting his question. “Of course we can. What should we draw?”
“You draw something.” Carter jabs the marker at him.
He takes it, and she flicks the background light off and on. She stares at his hand. He uncaps the marker, puts the tip against the board, and quickly picks it back up.
He stares at the drawing board once more. Streaks are smudged along the plastic. Again, nothing comes to him.
On the living-room couch during sleepless nights, Haiden is limited to activities that don’t require light, lest the glare reach through the gaps in Carter’s blackout curtains on her French doors and wake her. This has never happened, but in the unlikely event that it did, he would be fucked.
Tonight he lets an arm hang from the side of the couch. He feels a pull across his chest, a reminder that he should exercise, a reminder that he ignores. He thinks about listening to music or skimming the news on his phone’s dimmed screen, but he’s bored of both. On the floor, beneath his knuckle, he feels something smooth. He grazes it—a marker from Carter’s drawing board. He lifts and twirls it gently between his fingers, watching the slender beam of plastic in the dark.
Turning to lean half off the cushion, the blood rushing to his head, he reaches down and pulls out the drawing board. He won’t turn its light on, of course, but his eyesight has adjusted to the darkness. The surface looks clean, though he knows it’s not, the way concrete walls in the city sometimes appear pristine at night. When he was younger, much younger, he loved how an alley wall looked under moonlight: the fine grain of concrete or coarse mortar, the scent of spray paint filling his nose. When he’d first started writing graffiti, he’d used latex gloves to hide the traces. Eventually he stopped because he enjoyed the constellation of color on his fingers the next morning. Loved scratching it away. If he was out tagging long enough, he could pick flecks of color from the hairs in his nostrils.
Haiden uncaps the pen. The letters flow out seamlessly. The word is more familiar even than his signature: Moat. He follows the angled line from M to o, and the o as it swoops to form a lowercase a, tracks the tail of the a as it runs up to form the t, a final connection that had taken months to master. Haiden observes the tag in wonder—his tag—unwritten for more than 20 years. When he was a teenager, the word was arbitrary; the beauty of the tag lay in how each letter connected. It is now, he thinks, more precise and more refined than it used to be. It feels orchestrated and alive. He’s impressed by his mind’s retention. The muscle memory.
He gets up from the couch and creeps to the bathroom, board under his arm, pen in hand. Carefully, he shuts the door; the toilet seat is cold through his briefs. He turns the board’s light on, imagining a billboard along a highway, lit under a heavy sky, a blank wall freshly painted. Fear had ruled him once—fear of police, of rival graffiti writers, of those who were fearless—but now he remembers the speed with which he would loop those shiny black letters along a wall, a roof, a mailbox.
He wets some toilet paper and begins to scrawl and wipe, scrawl and wipe. He fills the board, which is not so unlike how he spends his days, a production artist tracing his pen against a digital tablet, enhancing the work of others. But this is different. He’s struck by how unthinking it is to get his tag down, though “getting up” is the term of art. This tag is him, not even the word itself so much as the motion and expression of it.
Haiden hears a noise outside the closed door. He goes still, turning his head to listen. A shadow moves along the wall through the door’s frosted glass. Then a knock.
He panics. “I’m in here.”
“Are you okay?” Hannah’s voice is muted through the door.
“I’m—” Maybe she imagines him masturbating, but sitting on the toilet with his daughter’s drawing board is somehow worse, more alarming. “Almost done,” he says. He watches her hazy form.
“I need to pee.”
“One sec.” Haiden turns on the faucet and lowers the board carefully into the tub. He will retrieve it in the morning when he’s up with Carter.
He opens the door and smiles at Hannah. Her new haircut, much shorter and brushing her chin, is sexier for its messiness. As he attempts to inch past her, she reaches out and grabs his forearm. She pulls him back and kisses him with gently parted lips. His eyes close reflexively.
“I’m gonna wash,” she says. “Wait up for me.”
In the bedroom, the floor is cold beneath his feet. He finds a condom on a shelf above the headboard and sits on the bed. The blood inside him is a bifurcated stream pumping to his heart and his groin.
Hannah comes back into the room naked, leans over her side of the bed and reaches into the bin below for lubrication. She’s used the cream since giving birth; the need for it, he’s decided, is no fault of his, but one of biology.
He tries not to watch her, wary of imposing additional pressure. Each second is immense, and his focus disrupts his desire. He reaches slowly for a pillow and covers himself. The dense stitching from one of the pillow’s petals grazes his penis.
“Wait,” Hannah says.
He clenches the pillow tighter.
“Fuck,” she says. “Fuck,” tossing the empty tube back into the bin. She falls back on the bed, facing away from him.
He is shocked by the volume of her voice. He watches a loose ripple of skin form along her ribs. His condom slips, slightly, from his wilting erection.
“We can still try?” she turns over to look up at him with large eyes.
He sits on the bed with the pillow on his lap in the same way the drawing board had been moments before.
“What?” she asks, palming his arm.
“Haiden, I’m trying.”
That her effort needs underscoring annoys him. That effort is needed at all. Arousal, like anger, should be pure and instantaneous. He knows this isn’t fair. Still, he pulls away.
From the next room comes a noise, which may mean Carter’s awake. He listens but hears nothing more. Hannah gets up and walks into the dark kitchen to open the fridge. She grabs a small container of orange juice as the light hits her bare thighs. She swigs the drink and her lips glisten with pulp.
In the morning, it’s raining. The sound on the back of the AC unit is harsh. Somehow, when it pours, the apartment feels even smaller. Haiden stares at Carter’s nude torso, her belly button a chickpea. He’s on all fours; Carter wants to ride him around the living room like a horse.
“Steve,” she says. “Go down.”
He wonders which fate is worse—the horse’s or Steve’s. The answer, of course, doesn’t matter. He will be both. He will be anything she needs him to be.
Her hands are warm on his neck, her weight a solace. Once, when she’d had a high fever, he’d sat with her in a rocking chair as she’d slept across his chest for hours.
As they round the corner to the kitchen, they hear cautious knocking at the front door. Carter breathes in dramatically. Haiden is relieved by the distraction as she dismounts. He quickly slips her shirt over her head, and they approach the door down the hallway in mock suspicion.
“Dada Haiden, what’s up?” It’s Tony, their upstairs neighbor. His hair is long, tied in a ponytail, and his beard is dense. Both are dark. Tony’s son, Markus, younger than Carter by three months, is behind Tony in the lobby of the apartment building. He appraises the many scooters and bikes parked below the staircase. Carter runs out the door, yelling his name repeatedly.
“What’s up, Dada Tony?” Haiden had found this greeting challenging at first, but now he’s fond of it.
“We’re going to the warehouse. You two want to join?”
Tony’s warehouse, where he runs a small delivery company, is a spacious option for entertaining the kids on rainy days.
“Check with the boss?” Tony jokes, jutting his chin at the apartment behind Haiden.
This Saturday morning, Hannah would be grateful for a few more hours of sleep. The weather on Haiden’s phone reports rain all day. “Give me a few minutes to pack up.”
Haiden knows Tony’s name isn’t really Tony from the labels on his Amazon boxes in the lobby. Tony is from Kyrgyzstan. He speaks English with a heavy accent, but very well. Tony’s wife, an Albanian woman, has Americanized his name for convenience, though she hasn’t done the same for herself.
They ride to the warehouse in Tony’s van, which Markus and now Carter refer to as the “broom-broom.” Haiden does not own a broom-broom and has been reminded lately of the need for a broom-broom by both his wife and daughter.
“Look, Steve.” Carter points out the window.
Through the dripping pane is the water tower rising in the distance. Carter notices it every time they’re on the expressway. The first time she’d seen it, she’d described it as a toy rocket.
“The water tower, Markus,” she says. Markus sits up in his car seat, yells out in recognition. Tony turns his head and grins through puffs from his vape pen.
The warehouse is cold. Water leaks from the corners of the ceiling, a patchwork of wood and corrugated metal. Carter is enticed by all the foreign materials and devices—brackets, shiny clamps, bolts the size of flashlights. A pile of pale two-by-fours rests beside a shelf, and Haiden thinks of the sled Tony built for Markus last winter. Long and sturdy with curved, cradled seats. Haiden had taken Markus and Carter out to a hill one school-canceled, snowy afternoon and was stopped by envious parents holding their kids’ flimsy saucers.
On a bottom shelf, Haiden spots a shallow box of spray paint, covered by a translucent tarp. He bends down and traces a finger along a can, the curved rusting edge of metal. It’s the famed brand of paint he used as a kid, the cans he’d buy with his allowance while claiming, to his friends, to have stolen them.
Tony steps up. “We had to make custom shipping containers.” His voice is deep, raspy. “A wealthy customer wanted his shipments in black boxes, large black boxes. Spray paint was easiest. We spent weeks building them. He’s loyal, so I don’t ask.”
Haiden stands slowly. His hips are weak.
“You want it, old man?” Tony nudges the box of spray paint with the toe of his boot. “We haven’t used them since.” Whenever Tony notices Haiden noticing something, he offers it to him. This is true regardless of price or apparent worth. In the past, it has meant a VR headset and a mid-century chair. Haiden imagines these gestures pertaining to Kyrgyzstani culture somehow, an old-world traditionalism, because they’re distinctly un-American.
“No, I—” Haiden pauses. “I used to spray-paint—write graffiti—when I was younger.”
“The Soviets hated graffiti in my country,” Tony says. “My brother used to write his name on his bed frame over and over; drove my parents crazy.” He smiles at the ground, shakes his head as he does whenever he invokes his younger brother, after whom Markus is named. “Why did you stop?”
The honest answer strikes Haiden as one that Tony would scoff at. Writing graffiti is risky in every sense; kids he knew growing up had been jumped or jailed for it. “Grew out of it, I guess.”
“You know Baudelaire? ‘Genius means retrieving childhood at will.’ You should continue.”
Typically, Haiden would have laughed off Tony’s advice, thought it facile, but he’d invoked Baudelaire. Haiden had never read Baudelaire.
Tony claps his hands. “Who wants to see magic?”
The kids dance in tight circles saying, “Me, me, me.” Tony gives them both earplugs that look like candy corn. He fits safety goggles around their small, round heads. He warns them to stand back—Haiden, surprisingly, too—as he lowers a circular blade’s teeth onto a piece of pipe. Sparks shoot outward as smoke rises from the metal. Carter’s eyes are glossy, the sparks slipping along her pupils. She leans forward, hands on her knees.
“It just makes sense,” Hannah says. “Financial sense.”
It is late—always late—and she has been offered another promotion. She and Haiden sit on the bed, not facing each other but side by side. They are both turned toward the wall, as if waiting for something to be projected onto it.
“I’m asking you to be open.”
It’s true that they would save money if Haiden cut back further at work; they’d no longer need the expensive full-time nanny. He could pick Carter up from preschool in the afternoons.
“Money can’t be the only reason,” Haiden says.
“Why are you so attached to your job all of a sudden?”
His attachment isn’t to the job itself, but to the distraction it offers. He was never supposed to be a production artist for this long. Working for an ad agency had been a stopgap.
“You want to live in this box forever?” she asks.
He turns to the window, visualizing the magnolia tree waiting to bloom in someone else’s yard. Maybe he’s not ready, just yet, to think about moving, or buying a house, with the same degree of urgency.
“We need more space.” She crawls her fingers toward him. “And besides, Carter loves being with you.”
“I barely have any freedom left to give up.” He feels pathetic, pleading with her.
“You’d be doing it for us.”
Is he selfish? he wonders. He remembers, when he started going to work again after paternity leave, how Monday mornings began to feel like Friday nights, with all they promised.
“With this raise, we’ll have a down payment in six months.”
He is losing; he can feel it. He was losing even before he opened his mouth. She rubs his bare thigh in a way that feels infantilizing, though he knows she’s trying.
“You’ll have your moment.”
“So you at least understand the moment isn’t now.” He is impatient, angry. “Don’t dangle the hope of some improved future moment in front of me. It’s pathetic.”
Her tone loses its former warmth. “Pathetic for you or me?”
Carter is perched on Haiden’s shoulders, her tender calves in his grip. As they leave the apartment building, she reaches to grab a metal pole in the scaffolding above. He adjusts his balance under the motion of her shifting weight.
“Steve,” she says, twisting again, “it’s Markus!”
Tony’s van is double-parked down the block. The hazards are flashing, the sliding door open. Markus sits alone, feet dangling from the runner, eating gummy worms. This means Carter will want to join him.
“Where’s Dada?” Haiden asks Markus.
“He’ll be right back.” Markus holds a yellow-and-green worm in the air, slick and chewed. Carter reaches for it.
Tony calls out sweetly to Carter as he approaches the van. He and Haiden bump fists. “Get in your seat, Markus.” Tony turns to Haiden. “You two want a ride in the broom-broom?”
After dropping the kids off at preschool, Tony says he wants to show Haiden something. They return to the van and Tony offers to take him downtown, to work, after the detour. Haiden only now notices the cans of spray paint at the foot of the passenger seat. The labels are shinier than before. Hayden thinks that maybe Tony has cleaned them. He picks one up and inspects the tiny ribbed cap, rests his finger on the groove.
Tony instructs Haiden to bring the cans with him as he parks. They pass Tony’s warehouse, rounding the corner through an alley. Tony opens a door the color of clay.
“Neighbor,” Tony takes a pull from his vape. “He’s a set designer but he left the space early. Said I can use it for another month or so. They will scrub the place after we’re done.”
This warehouse is huge, its walls smooth concrete, blank except for a few notations and measurements marked in wax pencil.
“Show me,” Tony says, nodding his head at the wall.
“Show you what?”
“I want to see how you do it.”
“Here?” Haiden demurs. “You’re sure it’s okay?”
Tony’s laughter is raucous. It is almost cruel as it echoes. Haiden crouches beside the cans like a golfer gaming out a putt. He lifts one, shakes it, and the ball inside clacks against the tin. The sound sends a chill across his arms, his neck. He’s forgotten how close to stand; he runs his palm across the wall, rubs dust between his fingers. He sprays a quick black line. The smell is sharp and expansive. He remembers, then, the special spray caps he’d ordered from a graffiti magazine as a kid. The night after the small, flat nozzles had arrived, he’d sneaked out to a nearby bridge that was closed for construction. He’d realized he had to return home, after hours of filling the bridge’s hulking concrete columns, only when he saw the neon vest of a construction worker showing up as the sun rose.
He turns to look at Tony. He takes two steps back.
“What does it say?” Tony asks, tilting his head.
“Like a castle?”
Tony crosses his arms. “Continue,” he says.
All that wall: The way surfaces take on fresh meaning once they’re available to him—the experience comes back to Haiden. It’s like seeing the world at a new frequency, like noticing a secret plane that very few people have access to.
He proceeds. He holds the cap down and slows his hand, allowing drips to form; splays the cap out for fat, diffuse letters. Each Moat possesses its own quality, a distinctness amid the apparent uniformity of the pattern. A row emerges and Haiden wants to fill the entire wall, floor to ceiling.
Tony is eager to facilitate, running out to grab a ladder from his warehouse. Haiden then works vertically, slowly, to fill the upper portion of the wall. When Tony heads back outside to talk to one of his drivers, Haiden realizes he’s now late for work. He doesn’t bother pulling out his phone to email.
He stops, moving the ladder aside. He walks backwards to the opposite wall to take in his effort. He steps toward the center of the space, blurring his eyes and focusing. The smell makes him briefly light-headed. He looks down at his side, his hands flared with black.
“I can’t keep them waiting,” she says.
Haiden knows he’s pushing it. “It’s fine.”
Hannah strokes Carter’s tawny head as Carter turns her drawing board right side up to study a recent doodle. The three of them are seated in the living room, which gives the conversation the air of a family meeting.
“Go for it,” he says. “I’ll cut back. It makes sense.”
“So why do you seem down?”
“I’m saying it’s fine.”
“I don’t want it to be fine, is the point. I want you to be happy. For me, at least.”
Carter turns her head slightly to look at Haiden and then back at her drawing board. He’d always expected fatherhood to change him, and it had, certainly, yet it never managed to overrule his other selves.
“I know you think this is strictly about my career,” Hannah continues, “but it’s not. I’ve thought a ton about what this means for us. After everything. Think of a house—you can have a studio space, do whatever the hell you want in it.”
He nods. It’s not the worst thing to imagine.
“Think of how good it will be for Carter in the short term. She’ll be so happy.”
Carter looks sidelong at Haiden before sticking her tongue out and smiling.
Hannah is asleep, scissoring the striped comforter between her legs. A gentle wheeze in her nose. Haiden looks at her chapped and almost-smiling mouth. He decides he’s okay with his decision. Hannah had cried after they talked again, after Carter was down, her tears eased by the gratitude she expressed. This is worth something, he thinks.
Haiden can’t remember the last time he lay awake in a state of true anticipation. Of readiness. The spray paint is in the hall closet, under the coats and behind the plastic tub with detergents and cleaners. He gets up and walks carefully across the old wood floor. He reaches into the closet and pulls a can free. Next, he eases open the front door and brings his shoes and jacket out into the hallway, resting them on the bench by the mailboxes. The radiator hisses as he pulls his gray beanie out of his pocket.
The darkness is muddy outside. The air cool. His shoulders are tight, the spot where his tension is stored. One benefit of cutting back at work is that he will no longer be hunched for hours every day.
A block away is the renovated movie theater, with its large exposed wall rising above the roof of its squat neighbor. He crosses the street, walks beneath the art deco marquee, wanders down to the alley’s entrance. Two cars cruise by on the street, smoke blowing from the passenger window of one.
He’s studied the various points of entry and exit while out with Carter: He must pull himself up onto a low window ledge and from there climb the fire escape. The ladder is flaking, and he regrets not bringing gloves, but without much trouble he makes his way up the metal stairs to the roof’s edge. The view of the street makes him feel unsteady, so he shuts his eyes. The wind whips against his lids.
He looks up at the wall. Down the street, a dim light is on in Tony’s apartment, a floor above his own. Haiden wishes he could send him some kind of signal. He wishes Tony could be his witness. From the ladder, he steps over the lip of the roof and then onto a dark swath of something, a loose panel among many scattered across the roof’s surface. The ground beneath his feet is softer than he’d imagined.
Haiden walks a couple of yards, grabs the can from his coat pocket, and takes a wide step back to test the spray against the roof. He trips, his foot catching on the edge of one of the panels. He falls hard. The noise of the can against the roof seems conspicuously loud, and he remains flat on his back to stay out of sight. He feels a sharp pain in his elbow, some nerve-induced static along his forearm. After a minute, he rolls over and crawls to grab the can, resting his hands on it and then laying his head on his hands. There’s not much ambient noise except the wind, the shimmering trees. He gets up to face the wall, spraying with speed. Then he jogs back to the fire escape.
“Steve,” her little voice says. “Look.”
Carter has slipped her pants off for a third time and Haiden is verging on surrender.
He’s tired. As he remembers the reason he didn’t sleep, he’s distracted momentarily from his fatigue. “Come on, we’re gonna be late.”
Carter is silent at first. “Fine,” she says, which sounds like “foyne.” (He will miss this later too.)
Haiden is surprised to hear Hannah moving in their bedroom. “Come on, Carter. Let’s get going.”
Carter’s dress is tucked into the back of her pants and her feet are bare. He grabs a pair of socks from her closet and sticks them in his pocket, slipping her backpack from the hook beside the kitchen door. His hand is speckled with black.
The bedroom door opens, and Hannah’s sleepy, slitted eyes focus on him. “Come here for a sec?” she says.
He hands Carter her balled socks with his hand, the clean one, aware he will have to adjust her socks later.
“Where did you go last night? I came out and you weren’t on the couch.”
“I was probably in the bathroom?” He turns to Carter. “You good with your socks, bud?”
“When you were back in bed you smelled … smelled like, I don’t even know. Like paint.”
Haiden’s hand is hidden by Carter’s sky-blue backpack at his side. “Paint?” he says. “What do you mean?”
Carter clues in. “I want to paint!”
Hannah furrows her brow. “Is this about my job?”
“You think I’m huffing fumes or something? I don’t get it.”
She watches him. “Radical honesty, remember?”
Carter walks past. “Bye, Mommy.”
Hannah kisses her hair. She rubs a thumb across her forehead, smiling behind her dangling bangs. She turns to Haiden. “Whatever’s going on—”
“Don’t worry,” he interrupts. “Grab some sleep.” Before leaving, he blows a kiss through his balled fist. A love-dart gun, as he’d originally conceived of it.
Outside, his tag is a stark glyph in the morning light. It doesn’t look as impressive as he’d hoped, but it’s there. Carter, on his shoulders, has an ideal view of it. They walk to the corner and Haiden lingers, pretends to search for something inside his jacket. His elbow is sore.
“Go. Go.” She bucks on his shoulders. “The light is green.”
He stands straight up and positions her toward the theater, but Carter fails to notice. At school, he kneels to hang the backpack from her shoulders. She pulls the straps tight as Ms. Adrienne holds the door open.
“You forgot something,” he says when Carter walks in. This is a game they play. She runs back out and hugs him, leans her head on his shoulder.
“Were you all painting?” Ms. Adrienne asks, nodding her curls at his hand.
“Where are you tonight, Moat?” Tony asks.
“You and I are grabbing drinks.”
In the van, Haiden watches the graffiti pass by from the highway. It appears on distant billboards and shadowed underpasses. All the space seems vast.
“I didn’t think you’d agree,” Tony says.
Haiden doesn’t read too much into the comment. He repositions his backpack at his feet. He’s here, after all.
They exit down a ramp into industrial territory. Tony leans his head over the steering wheel and looks up through the windshield. He searches the tops of the buildings.
Haiden feels nervous suddenly.
“Almost there,” Tony says.
They turn onto a long block of warehouses, a streetlight at the corner stuttering. Haiden thinks of Hannah sleeping, of Carter, but shakes off the images.
“You’re quiet,” Tony says.
“Mental preparation,” he tries to joke.
Tony parks; the van sighs to silence.
“It’s up there.” Tony points to a tall concrete facade. “The water tower is on top.”
Haiden realizes that he has only ever seen it from afar, driving by.
“There’s some scaffolding,” Tony says. “It blocks the view partially from the highway. Once the construction is complete, all the cars will see.”
It feels real now, all of it. Haiden pulls his backpack onto his lap. They both scan the surroundings. “When you’re up there, make sure the ladder is sturdy before you climb.”
He grabs a pair of gloves and hands them to Haiden. Then he stops suddenly. Haiden stops too. They both listen to the distant sound of sirens.
Tony eyes Haiden, grabbing the key ring, still in the ignition, but doesn’t turn it. The noise of the sirens grows jarringly loud before coming to a halt. Tony pulls his hand away and sits back. Lights flare faintly from the adjoining street.
He starts the van then and does a slow 180. At the corner, he makes a right turn and then another, driving past the street where police cars, two of them, have pulled up to a garage. Haiden can make out only one officer, leaning against his door, which is wedged open.
“What should we do?” Haiden asks quietly.
“Do?” Tony fishes his vape from the cup holder. “Go home.”
“The cops won’t be out there all night.”
Tony looks at him with mild surprise. “There will be other nights.”
“Can’t we drive around, or go grab food and come back? What are the chances they return to this exact spot?”
“The police aren’t lightning. It’s possible.”
“Think about it; it’s probably safer for us that this happened.”
“There could be more surveillance, backup. Who knows what the fuck goes on inside of that garage?”
Whatever it might be fails to compete with Haiden’s adrenaline. To delay the momentum would be to threaten it completely. He leans back against the headrest.
“Dada Haiden,” Tony reaches over and squeezes Haiden’s shoulder. Haiden flinches from the pain, and shrinks away. “It doesn’t have to be right now.”
Haiden shuts his eyes and clenches his jaw. He rests his hand on the door’s handle.
“You’ll have your chance.”
“Just let me out,” he says. “Up here.”
“What? No, man. No way.”
“Just do it.”
Tony stares at him, as if awaiting a punch line. “You’re coming home with me.”
Haiden is silent.
“Don’t be crazy. Think about Carter.”
At the stop sign, Haiden grabs his bag and hops out of the passenger seat. Slams the door. Tony rolls down the window and yells after him, but Haiden doesn’t look back. He jogs down the street, listens for the van to pull away, which eventually it does.
He’s cold now, unsure of where he’s heading as he leaves the water tower behind. He pulls on the straps of his backpack. The exercise, should he decide to walk the three or maybe four miles home, will be useful. In the distance, an 18-wheeler passes by and gradually disappears on the elevated expressway. He flips on his hood, cinches it tight. The backpack bounces gently as he walks, and he can hear, just barely, the sound of the cans rattling inside it.
A few blocks ahead, Haiden notices a van slowly coming toward him. He takes a deep breath before registering Tony’s face. Tony nods his head and parks.
The street is dark, and the only other car is parked on the opposite side. Haiden walks by the blue sedan, which looks like it’s been sitting there for years.
Tony holds his hand out. “I want my own.”
Haiden smiles. He unzips his bag and hands Tony a can, which Tony then tucks into the waistband of his pants.
There will be many surfaces for them to hit, lesser monuments than the water tower, but still. Haiden reaches into his pocket and feels the flat caps he ordered—for fat and skinny lines—pulls them out and opens his palm. A coin from Carter’s toy cash register is mixed in, almost the exact shape and weight. His daughter is likely dreaming now. He won’t have trouble making it back home before she’s up.
This short story appears in the November 2022 print edition.