Billy Phillips, The Gingerbread Man

I want to skip the violent parts.

The girl’s father went to pick her up, and when he was helping her put on her coat, he saw the marks on her arm. The question, just, came out of him, “What is this?” He looked up at his mother and asked, “What is this on her arm?” His mother shuffled and looked around, and cleared her throat and her eyes were bigger.

Before she could answer his daughter spoke out, “Grandpa hurt me.”

His mother laughed loudly without smiling, “I was going to talk to you about this, but you know how you get, how you blow things out of proportion.”

The girl’s father waited, listening to the T.V. from his parents’ room in the back where he knew his dad was. His mother continued, “I’m afraid this little girl was getting mouthy, and wouldn’t do as she was told.” His mother’s condescension was meant for both of them, him and his daughter.

“Sweetie,” he said looking down at his little girl. “Go wait for me in the car, ok? Get buckled up, and tell Mommy I’ll be right out.

And then he went in the back room and savagely beat his father.

The violence isn’t the interesting part.

See, he gets in the car and starts to drive away, breathing heavily and looking distressed, and squeezing his wife’s knee to assure her he’ll tell her what going on when he sees her looking at him funny, and then he arranges the rear view mirror so he can see his daughters eyes, and is startled to find that she’s looking right back at him. She’s got concern in her face,

and he’s opening and closing his mouth, getting ready to say that what grandpa did was wrong, and that it wasn’t her fault, and that daddy’s so sorry he didn’t protect her, because that’s what daddies are supposed to do is protect their kids from being hurt, but it’s not ever gonna happen again. Daddy’s always going to be there from now on.

But he’s having trouble saying it, because he’s sorry also for other things, for strange things, like because he couldn’t stop Grandpa from hitting him when he was a little boy that now grandpa thinks it is ok to grab this beautiful little girl by the arm and jostle her around is somehow his fault, and he’s sorry for that. He’s about to try and say it all when his daughter says

“Daddy, I want to bake a gingerbread man.”

“Uhh…Ok.”

“But daddy,” her big eyes are so full of concern, “If he gets up from the pan and runs around, he’s going to get eaten! I don’t want him to get up and run around. I want him to stay still on the pan; I want him to stay on the counter. Can we have him stay with us?”

The girl’s father couldn’t breathe for a little bit. He nodded to her and blinked, then looked back at the road.

Satisfied, his daughter smiled and looked triumphantly out the window.

Regards and affection were searing through him like waves of flame.

He thought of his precious girl, not only concerned that the ginger bread man they were to bake could very well get up and run around, but that her daddy could do something about it. It was counterintuitive; a kid should love it if a crazy thing like that happened. But there she was, very concerned and wanting reassurance that this wasn’t going to happen. He looked at her now, looking lovely and not thinking at all of Grandpa.

The girl’s father was dizzy.

There’s a popular cliché we sometimes hear, where someone tells the protagonist not to do something violent to someone who has done them wrong, because if they do “you’ll be just like them.”

But that wasn’t true.

He wasn’t anything like his dad.

His dad knew nothing of parental fondness.

The man thought about his father’s screams for help as he covered his head.

Going back and forth from hate and venom to love and concern was making the man shake.

The torrent inside him was remaking him. How could someone who could be affected by a child’s sweet dreams and purity be capable of lifting a hand against his own father?

The violence isn’t the interesting part.

He wasn’t anything like his dad; he was something different, something new.

We’re all unique, and we have it within ourselves to be new kinds of monstrous.

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