Donna was glad when Dad re-married. A senior romance guaranteeing homemade chili and cooked greens. He needed someone like Juliet—that became clear to Donna in her annual flights to see Dad. A woman who hinted rather than ordered. Who blunted Dad’s sharp edges and diminished his cranky nagging—what had once sent Donna running to a friend’s home when on a solo visit a decade back.

Lately Donna even received Christmas gifts again—an air popper! To them she gave a cast iron skillet—all through Amazon. The three of them got along fine, but no traveling during pandemic times. With Juliet there, Donna relaxed her vigilant care of her far off Dad. Until a month ago, soon after Christmas, when Dad let out that he was looking for a counselor. Nothing more was said.

Two weeks later, “Things are kind of crazy around here,” he admitted. Donna questioned him, amid a snow blower rumble on his end. All Donna got was, “Juliet says strange stuff.” She stepped up her calls, interview-like now. Her dad’s succinct reply, “I forgot to empty the dishwasher, so she held up that iron skillet and said, “I’m going to bash your head.” He chuckled, but it rippled hollow-like.

She urged her Dad to get Juliet to a neurologist. At the least a physician. “I tried. No way,” he said the next day.

He called during his short walks. When she urged him to stay out longer, he replied shakily, “She’d accuse me of an affair.”

Donna learned that over a four-month period Juliet had spiraled down. “So it started about mid-October?” Yeah. “Maybe it’s the pandemic and the isolation?” she speculated.

Juliet’s kids lived far away too, and called visiting impossible – their jobs, the weather, and no one wanted to bring the virus home. Despite hearing the stories Donna told them, Juliet’s kids believed nothing wrong with their mother. But Donna knew her dad, though reticent, was tightly tied to reality.

She sits on her porch in a rattan chair, enjoying California warmth. Yesterday she booked a hotel for him in town after hearing him say, “This morning I saw that electric saw under her side of the bed, plugged in!” Donna gasped. His tools for tinkering now a threat. Her gift turned to a lethal weapon.

Shivers tingle on Donna’s arms, as she wills her dad to call. She’s entreated her dad to not go back inside his house to gather more stuff– forty minutes ago. “Just start the drive to your brother’s,” and to bolster her pleading, “Don’t wait until the roads get icy.” His silence warned her of non-compliance.

So she sits with goose bumps speckling her arms, journal in one hand, pen in the other. Her phone rings, “Sweetie, I wanted to get that electric drill you gave me, but she’s got me locked out of even the garage! And she texted saying she knows what hotel I’m in. I’m leaving town.”

Her dad, a runaway.

Carol Park explores geographies, internal and externa, from California environs to mazes of Japan. Her fiction has appeared in The East Bay Review, The Harpoon Review, Birdland Journal, Shark Reef, the Antarctica Journal, and Red Wheelbarrow. Several anthologies include her stories. Her MFA comes from Seattle Pacific University.