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Sun is flying off the windows, piercing my eyes. It is harsh and hits me harder than usual. This house is so all-American it makes me sick. I can’t stop choking on spit and tears. Three more steps and I’m at the end of the walkway. I hold onto the fence as the wind blows because anything, anything at all, will knock me down. Looking up at the house, curtains blow and wind chimes ring. The whole house is covered with love, and when I take one more step I will ruin it.
I start walking, stumbling, dragging myself up the front path. I turn to the swingset and see Katie.
“Grandpa, come push me?”
I raise my hand as high as it will go, halfway to my shoulder, and keep walking.
“Grandpa!” Katie calls, “Look at the wreath I made for Daddy when he gets home!”
I let my eyes follow the porch floor to the door, across the welcome mat and up. I see the wreath she made. There are buttons and macaroni glued to a piece of green cardboard. I bring my hand up, not to touch it gently but to drag my fingers through it and rip it into a thousand pieces. I am an inch away when the door opens.
“Oh, good. The washer won’t stop running, and Kyle needs to get to soccer practice.” Her words trail off as she turns to take an apple pie out of the oven. The smell of it surrounds me, like a last happy memory.
The woman, my daughter-in-law, turns to hand me a blue soccer shirt warm from the dryer, then looks for a pair of cleats. When we finally make eye contact, there is that moment, and she knows. It is my eyes that say he died.
Supporting herself against the stove, she breathes too slowly, then grabs the pie. It’s burning her hands; she throws it across the kitchen and sends it flying through that gleaming glass. The pieces fall sharply down. Through the hole in the window, the sounds of Katie and Kyle playing around the corner of the house fly in and hit her as hard as the look on my face had.
“Kyle,” Katie screeches, “that’s my shovel!” Kyle is giggling. We both watch Katie run across the front yard.
The woman turns to me and whispers, “They said there wouldn’t be any casualties; they said it was a safe mission. That’s what they said.”
Katie is running across the front porch, following the pie’s smell. We hear Kyle chasing her. I look to see her tumble in the door, then turn to see that I am alone in the kitchen. Katie runs to me and wraps herself around my leg.
“Did you see the wreath, Grandpa?” she asks. “Won’t Daddy love it?”