She Combed His Hair
The wifely woman and I always talked about our parents like a warning; what happened to me could happen to you, too. Our families were always one-upping each other’s crazy. But this time, the wifely woman said, “They worry.” She never defended my mother; we’d even given her her own superhero name, The Eroder, as in confidence, to go with her superpower. Suddenly she was supposed to be The Grandma. The wifely woman said, “Don’t you understand, a little?” I wanted her to clarify, but I could see my shaky footing getting shakier. Later, she stood by the sleeping kid and said, “He’s your bastard, why do I care more about him than you do?”
It Looked Like a Vibrator
I watched the boy play with the cat, in and out of a box. I had another assignment for work and I thought, kids and pets will go gaga! My product slumped in the corner, less interesting than its container. I thought, a break from kids and pets, no one will try to steal it! How could I sell what a kid couldn’t see as potential? I had to think: what was missing from innocence? The wifely woman came home and I recalled when she used to take off her clothes as she entered. Maybe I’d glimpsed an end of “selling it.”
We Didn’t Know Much About Children
I took the boy to the park wrapped in the wifely woman’s idea of warmth. He barely had room to shiver. The other kids played open-necked until they steamed. There was a half hour before the sun went down, and the boy believed in efficiency: his mother, death, etc. We’d accepted his lacks since we knew that half the bad genes were mine. We knew little about his mom. Sometimes I could see my dad in his disappointment.
The Wifely Woman Won the Bet
The boy was cutest when he was asleep, not being his own worst enemy, not comparing us to his mother. We watched his lips curl, his arms shudder. When his breath deepened, I wanted to bet on his dreams. Asleep, he was more expressive of fears and desires. The wifely woman bet happiness, of course—or, she said, escapism. I bet on his toughness, a furrowed brow. I bet he couldn’t get away from who he was. He blew out his cheeks and flapped his arms like a drowner. She shook him awake. He said he dreamed he could fly if he held his breath, which had us puzzled for metaphor.
Inheritance, Non-genetic #1
So I got the job, and for getting it I inherited a stack of papers one could call an office. I had no clue the color of the floor, I mean. For a mess of a man, I was organized. I hated clutter. My first week was a literal wash. I let the boy come in once his school let out, and he shredded like he could kill the past. I liked what it said about him, how he weathered the stares from coworkers who knew I’d never mentioned a son. His existence spat on the existence of the past.
Inheritance, Non-genetic #2
I paid the boy attention for the space he cleared, impressed by this silent exposure. I couldn’t get his mom out of my head—in the hospital, she’d been dirty with death. But maybe that was why he tidied with vengeance. I imagined Bruce Lee kicking the stacks of papers, exploding them on impact. The boy did one better. He put them in their place, like a movie about redemption. I was surprised by the sway of cleanliness, though I knew Christians who swore their showers on God.
When in Rome
Randy and I went to a Raiders game to remember losing. Or maybe because I wanted to lose in something I wasn’t playing. We watched the football scoot between gladiators, waiting for a lion to snatch a leg. One of the boys (they were boys now, younger than us) fell in a heap and didn’t rise. The crowd cheered. They were distracted from the score. They wanted bloodless blood. “We could still win,” Randy said. I said, “Not us.” He said the kid who’d gone down was important to the other team. I hadn’t been paying attention. The lion gnawed at my hip and I thought, this is my one day off.
What I Meant When I Said Sold Out
Sometimes at work, I thought, what is the point of work? Sometimes, I thought this wasn’t a symptom of work but a symptom of being human. I bossed the office now. I brought a cake to show I wasn’t serious. “I didn’t know,” Dumbo ears said. “You mean business.” I left it in the box from the supermarket. I wanted this to say, I care about you as far as buying and selling. As they ate, I ate my hate out.
Matthew Salesses is the author of The Last Repatriate (Nouvella) and two chapbooks, Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) and We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius). He is a columnist and Fiction Editor at the Good Men Project. Other stories in this series have or will appear in the Literarian, Puerto del Sol, NANO Fiction, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. http://matthewsalesses.com