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Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Warning, strong language.

“Hello. Oh. I didn’t mean to startle you. Why do you look so scared? I know this is sudden, but-” 

“James? How are you here?” 

“I knocked but no one answered. Then I smelled smoke and saw the gate was unlocked. You were looking at your phone so I figured-oh. Your cigar is on the ground. Be careful, it’s going to burn the grass-no. I think it went out.” 

“Never mind the cigar, James! You didn’t answer my question. How are you here? And...why?” 

“I want to see the kids. You weren’t bringing them to my brother's, so I came up.” 

“Your brother?” 

“Aren’t they here?” 

“Alex is, James. He’s in his bedroom. You...didn’t see him?” 

“Am I the type of person to just walk in? It’s your house, Michele. Speaking of-well never mind we’ll get to that. Where’s Andrew?” 

“Tallahassee.” 

“What’s he doing there? A field trip? Decided to check out FSU or something?” 

“You don’t know-my God.” 

“Know what? Andrew didn’t mention a school trip at Thanksgiving, Michele. I have to talk to him. And you too. Stop pacing, will you? You’re making me anxious.” 

“Well, I didn’t believe-” 

“Believe in me? No, you never did. That’s the problem. Well, hey, don’t get mad with me. You’re shaking. What the hell are you drinking?” 

“Whiskey my father gave me. Which I’ll never do again.” 

“That stuff is-” 

“Whatever! This-where have you been? And why did you come now?” 

“I told you I was at John’s, recuperating.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“Tell you what, he needs to dial back on the cats. No man needs six of them. Amazed my allergies didn’t act up, usually they do. My own brother-a crazy cat lady, married to another one. Mike has five-Why are you laughing like that? It’s true.” 

“Yeah. It is.” 

“Mike kept talking like I wasn’t there. I got tired of it. So I finally walked out and told him to stop that. Then I said they need to figure out the cat situation and move in together. They are married, after all. Stop hiding the marriage from Mike’s family. It’s 2017, everyone needs to get a grip. I guess he didn’t like that too much. Next thing I know I’m out.” 

“2017?” 

“That’s what I said. Kind of cold for Florida though. Well, we must be getting into December now. You’ve got a fire going and I barely feel it. These metal fire pits are no good for heat. What is the day, Sunday? I lost track of time a bit, sorry.” 

“Umm...right. Anyway, about John...he talked to you?” 

“Of course he did, what do you think? You act like we never talked. I mean we weren’t close but our family…he thought he had to keep it quiet too, you know. Until our parents died. I tried to tell him I was sorry he had to do that. I said perhaps there was something I could’ve done. But I guess...it’s too late now. All he said was there was nothing.” 

“And...just curious. Where were you before that?” 

“You didn’t know about the surgery?” 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“You need to talk to John more. That’s your problem. We got divorced and you cut them off. That’s how it felt. Anyway, yes I had surgery on my heart. But I’m fine now.” 

“Okay, you were at John’s and talked to him. Well...hmm. That explains a lot about why he sent it here. Me and John need to have a chat.” 

“Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to stay! Just was hoping to talk.” 

“I see. Okay, Michele, let’s get on with this. Maybe then he’ll go away.” 

“Hey, I heard that! Well, there’s an attitude for you. No wonder we divorced.” 

“James. Why are you really here? After all this time?” 

“You sure weren’t coming to see me, were you? So I came here. Is that okay?” 

“Yeah. Why don’t we sit at the table here on the patio? If you’re able.” 

“Of course I can-oh you’re worried about these chairs screwing up my back? No, actually that’s much better. No pain at all, it’s amazing.” 

“Where are you going?” 

“I wanted to see what that shadow was. Oh a tree. Must be a young one. It only comes up to my chin and I’m not that tall. What kind?” 

“Orange. Alex and I planted it. Why do you keep touching it like that?” 

“Dunno. It kind of calls to me I guess. Looks healthy, though it’s hard to see, this time of night. Wish it wasn’t in the middle of the yard though. I would’ve-” 

“It was his idea and I didn’t care, James! Can we get to the point? God, I can’t believe this is happening.” 

“Speaking of which. You never told me you bought the house, Michele. All this time I thought you were renting. I even asked and you lied to me.” 

“How do you know I bought it?” 

“John mentioned it to Mike. How did you manage that shit? Must be nice. While I was in that lousy apartment.” 

“Does it really matter?” 

“Yes. I was paying child support for this?” 

“Number one, not your business. Number two, the child support was for the children. The house is so they’d have some security. Something I could afford better than the apartment. Number three, if you must know, my parents gave me a loan for the down payment. And I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t take it well.” 

“But-” 

“You could have been part of this, you know.” 

“Still must have been nice.” 

“Jesus, you would’ve given me a hard time and you know it. Whatever. Is that all you had to say? Because I’ve got no apologies-” 

“You always lied, didn’t you? When you broke my stuff, you hid it and lied, Michele, I would’ve-” 

“Like I said, not your business. Now if that’s all-” 

“It’s not.” 

“Good. You know what? I’m glad you’re here after all. I’ve got a few things to say to you too. Starting with your girlfriend.” 

“We never-” 

“Oh, bullshit, I saw the email.” 

“So you did look through my personal-” 

“It was right there. Telling another man’s wife you were in love with her. I mean really, James. Have you no class? You told her things you should’ve told me. Then you acted like she was just a friend. As if I was stupid. Which was the biggest insult of all.” 

“They were separating. and she said she needed me. More than you-” 

“Both of you were using each other for your long-distance bullshit. Goddammit!” 

“Jesus Christ, Michele! Did you have to throw that glass? And you’re barefoot. Where’s a broom around here?” 

“Who cares?” 

“I do! Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t come here for us to fight.” 

“Right.” 

 I-you don’t know how long I stood out in your front yard. I talked to myself, you know. I said this was stupid. It’s been too long; you wouldn’t listen just like you never do. I said you probably didn’t want me here. But I couldn’t seem to leave.” 

“James, I just want to know what happened.” 

“With what?” 

“We took vows. We were supposed to mean them. Grow old together and all that crap.” 

“Michele-” 

“But then something happened after your father died. Like-” 

“I lost my way?” 

“Wait. What?” 

“You said that to your mother, once. I overheard you. But it was hard! I lost him, then my job. And nothing seemed to matter anymore. I was so tired. I didn’t think you cared though.” 

“James, are you crazy? I kept asking if you needed to talk. And you pushed me away.” 

“Don’t cry.” 

“Don’t tell me what the fuck to do. Damn this fucking whiskey! Here I am, crying to-” 

“To your ex? Please don’t pull away like that. Look I-I just thought all you cared about was me being normal. Cooking, cleaning. Get another job. That’s all I heard. Blah, blah-” 

“Of course I wanted you to be normal, James! Andrew was five years old. Alex was two. And I’m working. Doing all the chores. Because you barely took care of them! The house was a mess all the time, I was so ashamed of it, and you didn’t care. I didn’t think I had a partner anymore. Just a roommate.” 

“I just felt blah all the time, Michele. I couldn’t get enough sleep. Food didn’t taste right. I didn’t know how to be normal.” 

“You could’ve said so!” 

“No. I couldn’t. We didn’t do that in the Martin family. And you were always angry. Besides that, you were talking to your parents about me. Telling them our business.” 

“I needed to talk to someone.” 

“But how do you think that made me feel? Or when you wore my sweatshirts after I told you not to and you laughed it off. Or throwing out old things I wanted to keep. How do you think I felt?” 

“I…but that was nothing.” 

“And nothing is what you build a relationship on.” 

“What?” 

“All those nothings, Michele. They add up you know. You breaking something of mine and hiding it like I wouldn’t notice. You didn’t care about my collection. Children’s toys is what you called them. But some of those statues are worth something. That Hulk for example, or Dr. Doom. They were mine too. Why did you break them?” 

“It wasn’t on purpose. And I wasn’t hiding them. I meant to fix them.” 

“And you never did.” 

 “Maybe I was pissed, ever think of that? It was clutter I had to deal with. Along with the damn boxes they came in that you wouldn’t let me toss. Even though we had no closet space for them. Because the stupid statues would get devalued. As if a frigging piece of cardboard means anything at all. And even if it does, it shouldn’t. Damn collectors and their rules.” 

“I don’t make them, Michele. And where is my stuff? It sure isn’t at Johns’s.” 

“They’re in the house, matter of fact. Dr. Doom and Spiderman are on our bookshelf along with the Hulk. Andrew took Sandman and Black Widow. Alex has the rest. I thought you knew.” 

“I haven’t been inside! I’m amazed you saved them, honestly.” 

“Look, James, I don’t know why I did all that. I...should never have acted that way. It still doesn’t excuse you talking to other women.” 

“I never cheated.” 

“It doesn’t matter.” 

“Michele, you weren’t listening to me. So I turned to someone who would.” 

“I need more whiskey for this."

"You really don't."

"I do."

“Fine. I’ll be over by the tree.” 

*** 

“Well, do you have anything else to say? Fire’s dying down.” 

“I still need to talk to the kids. Especially Andrew.” 

“You-I thought you might be here to stay. I hope not.” 

“I see.” 

“James, even-it’s been 14 years since we divorced.” 

“Where are you getting that from? We divorced in 2009. You’re drinking too much.” 

“You got that part right.” 

“I guess you’d rather me gone. Probably regret marrying me.” 

“Do you regret it?” 

*** 

“Come from the tree and tell me. Do you regret it?” 

“Okay, fine. I did. Sometimes I thought I had been a fool. But you seemed happy, so I let it go. Then I met Susan. She’s a great person, Michele. And I figured it was better this way. She complains much less than you-” 

“Because you fought me! Like not giving the children a proper bedtime or helping them with homework. Letting them watch crap on TV. And I was the bad guy in their eyes. Because you were letting them-” 

“Jesus, Michele, I only saw them every other weekend! Why did you have to move ninety miles away?” 

“You could have come with me and-” 

“I see everything is about you.” 

“It’s not. I couldn’t afford to live in Fort Lauderdale. And my job wasn’t working out. You know that. Why don’t you just admit you were angry with me?” 

“I am not angry with you.” 

“Bullshit. And when I asked you for help, you-” 

“You didn’t need me. You had everything under control.” 

“That’s a damn cop-out, James.” 

“Okay, fine. They never listened to me. I tell the kids to do something, and they wouldn’t. All Alex did was stare at his homework He was so defiant.” 

“Alex has ADHD. He couldn’t help it. It had nothing to do with being defiant.” 

“He was. He didn’t want to do it and that’s final. So I thought he should…I don’t know. Accept the consequences of his actions. He shouldn’t be babied. Besides, we had such little time together, Michele. I wanted to enjoy it.” 

“I still was-"

“You were the one with all the answers. Don’t hit the table like that! You know it’s-” 

“I didn’t have shit together! I needed your help.” 

“You what?” 

“I needed your help, you moron. With both the kids. Here I am trying to figure out what was wrong with Alex and-” 

“You put him on medication, even though I didn’t want you to.” 

“You know why. Do I have to repeat it? He was barely passing. The way he was- I was trying anything that would work! It wasn’t about defying you or because I didn’t value your opinion. I did, but I was at my wit’s end. And you were right.” 

“With what?” 

“Medication didn’t work. But it was something I thought we should try. And you didn’t refuse me either.” 

“Only because I had no other ideas.” 

“Well, me either.” 

“Are you cold, Michele? You’re shivering. Should you get a jacket?” 

“I’m fine.” 

“Be honest. Those times you asked for my opinion…you actually wanted it?” 

“No, I was lying through my damn teeth just to piss you off. What do you think I meant?” 

“I didn’t think anyone needed my input.” 

“Say what now?” 

“You-Brenda. Everyone had it together. You had all the answers. Knew your own mind. I didn’t think…you needed help from the likes of me.” 

“Idiot. If I didn’t value your help, do you think I would’ve asked?” 

“I thought you were patronizing me. I...didn't see it that way."

*** 

"What are you thinking?"

“It’s getting late. I have work tomorrow.” 

“Tell me something, Michele. Do you regret marrying me?” 

“No. After all, we have the children. Fine young men. Alex has his Eagle, and Andrew is working at-” 

“Is that the only reason you don’t regret it?” 

“No, James, much as I hate saying it. I just regret how it ended.” 

“Me too. I see it now. I kinda screwed up.” 

“Yeah well I wasn’t perfect either.” 

“And here I am. This is a nice home you’ve made. Needs a paint job though.” 

“Yeah and a pressure washing. Andrew painted it one year though.” 

“I like the beige you picked out.” 

“It’s cream. Anyway, I paid him to do it. But he was only thirteen so-” 

“I remember that. Well, like they say, home is where the heart is.” 

“‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there-'” 

'"They have to take you in.’ Robert Frost-wait. Who’s that looking through the sliding door at us?” 

“You don’t recognize him? That’s Alex.” 

“It... can’t be. His hair is so long. When I saw him, it was normal length. And this kid’s got a beard. That isn't him!” 

“Shit! Alex’ll be frightened…James! Don’t go inside!” 

“Michele, when did Alex get his Eagle? He isn’t even Star rank. And where’s Andrew?” 

“James, please listen. I told you; he moved out.” 

“But-how?” 

“Don’t freak out, okay? It's actually January. Of 2023."

"What?"

"Do you remember the heart attack?” 

“I remember...I walked outside.” 

“That Sunday after Thanksgiving?” 

“Yes. Because Andrew and I had a fight.” 

“You did?” 

“It was over that D in science. I said he’ll never get a scholarship this way, and he wasn’t getting money from me. He told me to bite him, that I was never around anyway. I had to get out so I started walking. Then I remember pain. Like an elephant was on my chest.” 

“And you mention surgery you never had. Because...there wasn’t time.” 

“But the hospital…” 

“I think you mean-” 

“Hold on a minute. You mentioned my brother gave you something. That you had to confront him about.” 

“Well, to the kids, yes. But James-” 

“What was it?” 

“Your ashes...which are…” 

“No.” 

“Under that tree. Whether I like it or not…I think you just came home.” 

“But I must talk to Andrew! I can’t just-” 

*** 

“Mom! Wake up!” 

“What? Dammit, stop shaking me...oh. The hell?” 

“I came out here and you were asleep. How much did you have to drink?” 

“Too much I guess. I’m sorry, Alex. What time is it?” 

“Two am. Andrew woke me up, saying he got a whack text from you. Bruh. Why is there glass everywhere?” 

“I…God. I had the weirdest dream. What’s this about a text?” 

“Here, Andrew screenshot it. He thought it was some sick joke. ‘I’m sorry, son. None of this was your fault. I love you. Dad.’ I have a similar one. ‘I’m proud of you, Alex, but get a haircut.’ Hey, relax, you look like you saw a ghost or something.” 

“James sent them.” 

“Mom-” 

“I’m serious. They’re from your father.” 

“Yeah, sure Mom. You’ve been reading too many of those ghost stories from your writers' group. Probably someone spoofed your number, that’s all. Some bastard pretending to be Dad, looking for money. This is what comes from using Facebook. Any scammer can find out enough about you to-” 

“He left an unsent text for me. ‘Goodbye, Michele, and thanks.’” 

“Quit mumbling, bruh, I can’t hear you! Here, let me see your phone. Oh, it went dead.” 

“Yeah, I’ll charge it later, Alex. Come on, let’s go to bed.” 

February 24, 2023 23:42

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2 comments

Zack Powell
19:06 Mar 05, 2023

I really appreciate that this story is tagged as "Fiction" and nothing else. I think giving it even one more genre would've spoiled the twist at the end. As is, I went into this just enjoying the dialogue, taking everything at face value, thinking it was about a couple who couldn't get their act together, only to get plot twisted good. Great subversion of my expectations. And it's nice reading it through the second time and realizing why Michele was so spooked in the beginning and why she specifically asks James "HOW are you here?" The clue...

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Michele Duess
13:29 Mar 09, 2023

Thanks for reading, Zack! It was the conversation I wish I had had but never did. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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