After the Locks Are Changed

Gary Fincke


He curses and pounds on both doors, hurls his key against the kitchen window while McCartney, her German Shepherd, yips and whines.

Still, he calls several times each week, always after midnight with slurs of pleading punctuated by threats. When she puts her phone on mute at ten p.m., his texts bloom like algae. Each morning, his messages begin with “Let’s meet” before they skid from sentimentality to rage.

One night, McCartney stiffens and growls. Her daughters, thirteen and ten, sit up from their books, alert and listening. She hears scraping from the bathroom and knows he’s remembered the window with the warped frame that makes it impossible to lock. She taps 911, gestures the girls to her side, and leads them outside to her car. From the kitchen window, as she pulls away, he displays two middle fingers. She doesn’t hear barking.

No strange car is parked along the street, so she drives only a few blocks before turning left and then u-turning before parking, headlights extinguished. When the police pass by within minutes, she tells the girls, “He won’t even have time to steal anything. This one will cost him more than an overnight and a warning.”

She calls 911 again. “We’re safe,” she says. “Thank you.”

In a voice barely above a whisper, Renee, the older girl, says, “No, we’re not.” Darcy, the younger, stares straight ahead as if she expects her father to appear.

He sends a text about a shooting in the Pennsylvania town where they once lived. A jealous ex-husband has killed his former wife and her new boyfriend. “Asshole,” she sends back. “And you, too.”

When he doesn’t answer, she puts her phone away. At breakfast, their Saturday diner treat, Renee says, “Dad texted me a story from where we used to live. A shooting.”

“Did you know those people?” Darcy says.

“No,” she says at once. The diner is nearly empty. She has time to Google the full story; she learns that the shooter used a homemade gun. That the victims sat at an outdoor table so the shooter had no doors to open before and after he fired. A customer who conceal-carried burst through the restaurant’s door and shot the killer twice. “A hero,” one witness said, though both victims were dead and the killer managed to get back in his truck and drive away.

The girls have read every word of the story. “She wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Darcy says. “They hadn’t been married for over a year.”

She does not tell them she went to high school with the woman who was killed. She says she didn’t know either victim, which is true, at least, because she barely ever talked to that girl back then.

Renee stares over her shoulder through the diner’s nearby street window. “Whose car is that?” she says. “Why does Dad have a car?” He raises one arm and points something dark. Darcy drops and rolls under the table. Renee slips to her knees and follows her by crawling. Mesmerized, she taps 911, then ducks to join them.

The police are prompt, less than two minutes, but by then he is gone. There are security cameras outside the building. “We need to confirm it was a gun,” a policeman says.

“We’re not crazy,” she says. “The girls have been drilled. They both dropped as soon as he raised his arm,” but the policeman says they need to study the object in his hand.

“Maybe it’s a phone. It would be hard to tell,” one says. “We’ll have the make and model of the car. We might have the license plate. We’ll get the video enhanced and call you in for confirming things.”

Minutes later, in the car, Darcy says, “Daddy could have shot all of us.”

Renee says, “He just wants to shoot Mom.”

For several days, the texts and phone calls cease. When the policeman calls, it is so late, he apologizes. “There’s been an accident,” he says. “I recognized your ex’s name at the scene and thought I could give you a head’s up.”

She waits until morning to tell the girls. “Your father was in a crash,” she says. “In that car we saw from the diner, with the woman who owns it.”

“A bad accident?” Renee says.

“A rollover. The car’s a loss.”

“Is he dead?” Darcy says.

“No. He was driving. The passenger side door took the full force of a large tree.”

“She’s dead?” Renee says and begins to cry.

“Not yet.”

“Was he drunk?” Darcy says. “Did he fall asleep like that time we went off the road?”

“Yes, and maybe.”

“So, he goes to jail?” Renee says.


“I hate that word,” Renee says. “That and maybe and hopefully.”

“And ‘we’ll see’,” Darcy says. “Like we can’t see anything right now. Like we’re blind.”

“Like we won’t know what’s happening until it’s over,” Renee says. “Right, Mom?”


Gary Fincke’s latest collection is Nothing Falls from Nowhere (Stephen F. Austin, 2021). His full-length and flash stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, Crazyhorse, WigLeaf, Craft, Atticus Review, and Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the annual anthology series Best Microfiction.