by: Frederick Foote
An eye-opening short, where the rougher edges of what it means to be human are smoothed over…
Another Monday, and another misplaced, misused weekend has passed me by. Here I am now, stumbling into a week of super bad shit.
I settle in at the kitchen table with my coffee and newspaper twenty minutes before I am set to tangle with a monster commute into work.
Toby, my fifteen-year-old daughter, drags herself into the kitchen in a below-the-knee, tent-like purple tee-shirt. I take a second to marvel at her halo of tangled and matted hair. I think combing it before she leaves the house may be a hopeless endeavor. She may have to cut it all off and start over I think. She gives me a disinterested wave, grabs a blueberry yogurt from the fridge and plops down in a chair across from me.
“Toby, your hair looks like I feel this morning.”
Toby points her spoon at me, “Pop, you’re too old to party. You must have been up way late, like nine thirty or so.”
“Very funny. Do you need a ride this morning?”
Toby yawns, concentrates on picking the blueberries out of her yogurt, and shakes her shaggy head no.
Alice, my wife, and Toby’s mother, marches into the kitchen, stands over me, crosses her arms and screams, “What do you want? What the fuck do you want?”
I put down the paper and look at my wife of eighteen years. She’s seriously pissed about something, and I’m trying to recall my latest offenses.
Toby has a little grin on her face which contrasts well with my thin-lipped, tight-eyed, grim-faced wife.
“I? I want to know what bee’s got into your bonnet. What’s wrong?”
“I want you to answer a simple fucking question. What the fuck do you want?”
“I? I want to finish my coffee, read my paper, go to work. That’s what I want, okay?”
“Oh, really? That’s what you want? I thought you wanted to fuck Grace. You spent most of the night admiring my sister’s ass.”
Toby leers at me. “Pop, you’re so busted.”
I turn to Toby, “Go. Out. This is not a conversation for your tender young ears.”
Toby complains about the unfairness of it all as she starts to stand.
Alice has different directions. “Sit down, Toby. You need to hear this.”
“Out, Toby, now.”
Alice points to Toby, “Stay where you are. You need to start understanding the reality of relationships before it’s too late.”
Toby’s trapped between sitting and standing, so she turns to me. “Pop, where you really checking out Aunt Grace’s ass?”
“Answer your daughter’s question Joe. Come on. We’re waiting.”
“Don’t drag Toby into this. This has nothing to do with her.”
“Of course, it does. She needs to see men for what they really are. Answer the fucking question, Joe.”
“Alice, we can take this up later—”
“No. We’ll do this now. Do you want to fuck my sister? Is that what you want?”
I swallow my anger, try to keep my cool, “I don’t want to fuck Grace. I—”
“Joe, you embarrassed the shit out of me. Everyone, including Al, caught your ass-watching act. I’m surprised he didn’t beat the shit out of you.”
I take a deep breath. “Alice, I’m going to go to work and—“
“Okay, you go, but just answer one little question, okay? Just one question. Do you or have you ever wanted to fuck my sister? Even if it was a fleeting thought?”
“Tell the truth, Joe, for your daughter and me, please. The truth, okay?”
“Alice…Alice, Grace is very attractive…I think Grace is very attractive—”
“Joe, has the thought of fucking my sister ever crossed your mind?”
I look at Toby. She’s sitting up straight, breathlessly awaiting my reply.
I look at my enraged wife.
“I have, had…the thought has crossed my mind. She’s very attractive—”
“Joe, how many times are you going to say that, attractive, attractive, attractive—is that an excuse?”
“No. I’m human, Alice. I think things I shouldn’t. We all do, it’s part of being human.”
“Humans want to fuck their sisters-in-law? Is that your key aspect of being human? Fuck you, Joe Henderson.”
I’m not going to win this one. I don’t think there will be a winner at all. I’m almost too tired to face the traffic driving to work. I look at Toby. She looks away.
I stand, stare at my wife glaring back at me. I feel a headache creeping across my forehead.
Toby reaches out to touch her mother, “Mom, why are you so angry with pop? I mean, I think about doing a lot of guys, but it’s just, you know, not something I’m really going to do, you know?”
“Toby, stay out of this. It’s between your mom and me. Go get ready for school. Go on. We’ll be okay.”
Alice leans toward our daughter. “It was more than thoughts. It was his staring at her ass like he found a hidden fucking fortune. It was embarrassing, degrading, and fucking pitiful.”
“Alice, Alice, I apologize. I’m sorry. I never meant to stare at Grace or embarrass you. I’m sorry.”
I can see the anger leeching out of Alice in the drooping of her shoulders and the slackness in her face.
“Why last night? After eighteen years, why did you find her so fucking irresistible last night?”
“Toby, why are you still here?” I plead. She makes a face at me as she leaves the kitchen.
I turn back to my wife. “I didn’t know I was staring.” I take a deep breath, reach for Alice’s hand. She snatches her hand away. “Alice, you have to promise to keep this a secret, alright?”
“Oh, shit! You and Grace are having an affair. Fuck!” Alice’s face is twisted in grief and anger.
“No, no, I’m not talking about Grace. I’m talking about work. On Friday, they’re going to layoff thirty-six employees, including my seven-member R&D unit.”
“What? I thought that things were going to be stable after the merger? They promised—”
“A new merger is in the works, and they want us to be a lean, green, money-making machine.”
“But, you just merged with Holly Stone less than a year ago. Is that why you were drinking so much last night? You were positively unsocial. I have never seen you like that before.”
Alice reaches out and takes my hand. “What about you? Are they letting you go?”
I gently squeeze her hand in return. “No, but the handwriting is there. This time next year, I’m gone.”
“Oh, fuck, I’m so sorry—”
Toby bounces into the room dressed in too-short shorts, a top showing too much cleavage and a huge Bob-Marley-type knit cap hiding her hair disaster. “I’m out guys.”
I don’t have the energy to complain as she passes us heading toward the front door. She skids to a sudden stop and turns back to us. “What’s happening? Mom, pop what’s going on? This is not about Aunt Grace, is it?”
I give her a wan smile, “No, honey, there’s nothing going on between Grace and me. I…we have to lay off a lot of people at work. But it’s not official yet so keep this to yourself, okay?”
“I’m sorry pop. I…I got to go.”
We watch her hurry out the front door. We sit in silence for a few minutes.
“Joe, how do you know about the layoffs? Who told you?”
“Jan Chew in HR. She’s already looking for a new job.”
“Jan, the Chinese girl you went to school with?”
“Yeah, you met her at the office party last year.”
“Joe, I’m sorry about, about accusing you—Grace just, she gets under my skin, and I’m sorry.”
“Honey, I’m not having an affair with Grace.”
I am, however, fucking Jan Chew as hard as I can every chance I get. God, I’m going to miss her.
“Shit, Grace has always been the smart one, the pretty one, the most attractive, the best at every fucking thing.”
“I’m two years short of vesting in the retirement plan. I don’t know what we’re going to do about health insurance. I worry about that.”
“I know. I know. It’s just that you and Grace disappeared, last year at the Fourth of July party and…I thought…”
“What? What’re you talking about? Grace and I and a couple of the kids walked to the 7 Eleven and back. I thought we had discussed that. What are you talking about here?”
“Well, you didn’t tell me you were leaving and—”
“Alice, we told Al. You weren’t there. We didn’t sneak off. Has this been bugging you all year?”
Alice rubs her eyes with the back of her hands. “Grace, she takes what she wants from me, from anyone. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
I pull my wife to me, sit her on my lap, feel her tears on my head. For the first time in months, I want her…I want to fuck our problems away with her. I need her so badly. I carry her to our bedroom. We undress each other like we used to. Between her legs and deep inside her, I release everything, my fears, my cheating, my lies. For a precious few minutes, I’m at peace, in tune with Alice, again.
“Thank you, Joe. I love you.”
The way she says, “you” raises the hairs on my arms, shocks me, freezes me in place. I’m afraid to move, to breathe.
“Alice, what’s wrong? Alice, talk to me. Please.”
I hear her crying again. I wait.
“Joe, last night you-you passed out around ten thirty. I knew you weren’t staring at Grace’s ass. You were looking so lost. Al said, he thought there was something going on between you and his wife. He said that you and Grace had an affair…”
“Alice, what did you do?”
Alice turns to face me. I can’t turn fast enough to look at her. I feel her pain and shame like a furnace in bed with me.
“Joe…Al and I…we…it was awful, not what I expected…I can’t get his smell off me… Joe…”
“Did Al rape—”
“No, no. I, wanted him. I have for a while. I wanted to take something from Grace. I wanted to turn the tables.”
I feel I should have empathy for my wife. I think that I should comfort her, but I just feel empty, sad, and alone.
“Joe, Al knew. He knew I didn’t want him. He knew I just wanted to hurt my sister.”
She reaches out to touch me. I shrink away.
“Joe, Al was brutal, hateful, cruel…and Joe…I loved it, every painful fucking minute of it.”
We’re silent. I can hear our breathing; a car starts up down the block, vague voices drift across the street.
“Alice, do you remember the first time we met?”
“What? Yes, yes, of course, at The Red Door Saloon. It was Grace and me, and you brought us drinks, came to our table and picked me. You chose me over my more attractive sister. Joe, you made me feel…feel alive, human, real.”
I listen to the voices across the street. I think of Jan Chew’s tight pussy. I hope that Toby keeps her hat on at school. I realize I need to call in to work.
“Alice, that was not the first time I met Grace.”
“What? Joe, what’re you saying?”
“I’m saying that Grace and I had a thing, a fling, three months before we met at The Red Door. She called me, told me there was someone I needed to meet, asked me to pretend we were meeting for the first time.”
Alice pops up like a Jack-in-the box. She tries to talk, but she just makes croaking sounds.
Her attack’s suddenly so savage that she’s bitten a chunk from my shoulder, kneed me in the groin, and scratched my face before I can react.
I escape, recover, twist her arm, ram her face into the headboard. I fuck her up the ass brutally; she encourages me enthusiastically. We collapse battered, bruised, exhausted, spent.
“Joe, Joe I think you…no, you did break my fucking nose.”
I don’t know what to say. I’m not sorry that I hurt her. I feel fantastic. I feel better than with Jan, ten times better.
“Joe, Joe that…that was the best, so fucking much better than with Al. I love you, Joe.”
I turn to face my smiling wife with the broken nose and the blooming black eyes. My wife, my reborn true love of my life.
Grace, how did you know? How could you have known?
Frederick K. Foote, Jr. is a writer and poet who was born in Sacramento, California. He served three years and nine months in the USAF and retired from the State of California in 2001. In 2010, Frederick retired, again, this time from ten years of teaching at Sacramento City College, He then started writing short stories. Since 2014 Frederick has been published in a plethora of publications.