Mrs. Lincoln

Reporter: “Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

 

Mrs. Lincoln paused, ran a shaky hand through her hair, took a deep breath, then after a long pause:

 

“Well, I’ve seen better, but I was entertained. And that’s the bottom line. Unfortunately, tonight’s events have marred my ability to give a through and deserved assessment.”

 

Reporter: “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Lincoln. My sincere condolences.  On behalf of the entire nation, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this challenging time.”

If You Need Anything…

“If you need anything, just let me know…”

He never turned down the opportunity to say this to a family member, friend, or acquaintance in need – which was surprisingly more often than he cared to admit.

“Let me know if I can do anything.”

He would often say that, too.

Though the passing of a loved one was the most common use of the aforementioned phrases, opportunities presented themselves in all walks of life. He sometimes slipped and said it when it wasn’t even necessary or relevant. It had become that much of a habit.

But each time he muttered it, there was an underlying, dark little secret: he had no desire to do anything for anyone. Therefore, there was never any follow through. Like a social media slacktivist. And it was probably only a matter of time before he was exposed for being the fraud that he was. All it would take was one person to accept his offer. And then what?

Until then, he would continue to enjoy the satisfaction of offering a goodwill gesture that he knew had a low percentage chance of being agreed upon. The minimum output on his part made this a low risk, high reward situation.  How often does anyone actually take someone up on this offer?

Perhaps he should quit while he was ahead. But sure enough, the next time the opportunity presented itself, the words fell right out of his mouth:

“If you need anything, just let me know.”

And once again, he would get away with it, knowing deep down that the law of averages would eventually work against him.

It was his biggest fear.

But sometimes, you just want to make others feel good.

There is no greater feeling.

Perfume

She had long suspected that he was fucking someone on the side. But she was too tired and too complacent– to do anything about it.

But he wasn’t entirely to blame.

She was the one who urged her husband to seek greener pastures. As far as carnal pleasures were concerned.

But she was now becoming increasingly aware of how reckless and damaging her actions were. And there was no turning back.

Truth be told, she never actually thought he would go through with it, but now that she suspected he had, there was no turning back. So why not leave him?

Because he was a good father. And because she was determined to do whatever she could to keep the family together…no matter how unhappy she was with their marriage. She wholeheartedly believed in staying together for the kids. At all costs. And if him finding sex on the side meant he would no longer pester her for sex (or, any physical intimacy for that matter), then she could lay that baby to rest once and for all.

“If you still need sex, then you can find it with someone else,” she blurted out after he not-so-subtly hinted at the fact that that they hadn’t had sex in two months. It wasn’t something that she had given any pre-meditated thought to. But once she said, she didn’t regret it.

“You can’t be serious,” he said, clearly hurt. In fact, it was as though she had just told him to go fuck himself.

And, of course he knew exactly how long it had been. As far as she knew, it just as easily of been two days, two weeks, or two months and it wouldn’t have made a difference in her mind.

“If sex is what you want, then I’m telling you can still go find it!”

“This isn’t only about sex!”

“Of course it is.”

And then he began to cry.

“Stop,” she barked.

“I just don’t understand…”

“There is nothing to understand.”
“You mean to tell me if I hooked up with somebody, you wouldn’t leave me over it.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t necessarily want to know about it. Three rules: Don’t ask, don’t tell. As long as you don’t fall in love. And just as long it isn’t somebody we both already know.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”
“Are you going to find it elsewhere, too?”

“No. That is the whole point. I. DON’T. LIKE. SEX.”

The truth of the matter was, she didn’t like sex…with him. Maybe with another person, it would be different. Something she desired. Then again, couldn’t even remember the last time she had the desire to masturbate – something she used to do on a semi-frequent basis.

“If you decide to do this,” she went on to say, “Here are the rules:  never with anyone we both know and don’t fall in love. And don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Though he said nothing in response, she could tell that he was at least thinking about it. So she decided to quit while she was ahead and retreat to her bedroom filled with an overwhelming sense of relief.  Even if he ultimately didn’t find someone else, perhaps the hunt itself would be enough to keep him distracted enough to keep him off her back.

Weeks passed and nothing seemed to suggest that he had succeeded. He still hinted at sex here and there, but the frequency certainly seemed tempered.

But it wasn’t long before he stopped asking all altogether.

What did it all mean? Did he simply give up? Or, did he somehow manage to find someone else?

She did notice that he came home late from time to time, but then again, it wasn’t unusual for him to head out at night to get work done after the kids had gone to bed, as he preferred the distractions of a public setting, rather than quiet solitude. This especially was the case when he was working under deadline, but to her knowledge, he hadn’t had a write-for-hire gig in quite some time.

Since she went to bed hours before she, she didn’t even always know when he went out. Or, when he even came home for that matter, as they slept in separate rooms.

Was he really going out to write? Or, was she living in denial?

She finally asked him about and he admitted that he was poking around on new material, while actively seeking freelance work. He was hesitant to admit this because she had recently expressed frustration with his constant need to write. She didn’t understand why his teaching job wasn’t enough. And though he claimed it didn’t interfere with his parenting obligations, she disagreed. She would never deny that he was a good father, there was no question that his writing ambitions often left him distracted. And aloof. And the more time had passed, the more resentful she had become.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” she had said.

He claimed that she did the moment she decided to marry a writer.

And though he had a point, she refused to acknowledge it. And neither one brought it up again They had since reached an impasse, becoming more and more like the disinterested roommates they now were, with neither one realizing how much their relationship had eroded until it was too late.

Despite her edict for him to find someone else to fuck, she never saw anything suspicious. Nor, did she think he was capable of going through with it – even if he tried. No because he wasn’t attractive – she objectively knew he was, even though she no longer subjectively found herself attracted to him. She just didn’t believe he had the confidence to go through it. Or, if he tried, he was likely to fall flat on his face.

A few months passed without any obvious signs that he followed through with her edict – unless she counted the fact that he had flat out stopped asking for sex at this point. Had he simply given up? Did he find someone else? Or, did he give up on that, too? Had he even tried at all?

A few weeks later, she finally got her answer. While gathering laundry, she found her smoking gun: a vanilla scent on the clothes he wore the day before. The next morning, she detected a slight trace of the same scent on him as he walked past her. She bit her tongue. She knew the deal, but was taken aback by a low simmer of unexpected jealousy.

Was it a one-time thing? Was it a regular occurrence and she simply never noticed it before? Did she really want to know?

A few days passed before she noticed the scent again.

A few days later, she detected it on him at breakfast. This time, she couldn’t bite her any longer.

“Could you try to cover it up next time?”

“What?” he asked, cluelessly putting a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

“You know what.”

“I really don’t.”

“The perfume.”

He jaw dropped as though he had just seen a ghost.

“Oh, well, I can explain…”

“Okay. Then explain,” she said, her jealousy and anger growing in equal measure.

“Strip club.”

She believed him. And though disgusted, she was secretly relieved. Though, not happy with the fact that he probably wasted God knows how much money.

I guess she preferred it this way. And she reminded herself that at least he wasn’t pestering her for sex anymore. And then she realized something…she kind of missed it.

And though she believed him, she couldn’t help but feel her simmering jealousy turning into a low boil. And her doubt growing like a tumor.

Several months went by without further incident. She assumed he was doing a better job of hiding the evidence. She considered checking his phone, but refused to allow herself to resort to that.

And then came along her husband’s holiday party,

She couldn’t help but notice that he was extra chatty with a colleague that she knew fairly well. They had hung out in a larger group in the past a few times here and there. And though he had given her reason to suspect anything, she was discovering that jealousy could morph into paranoia.

She continued to watch from afar, looking for signs of something there – a discreet touch, a flirtatious gaze. Something that would suggest something was happening. But beyond talking, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Perhaps she was just being paranoid. Besides, she honestly didn’t think he would have the guts to make a move. And if he somehow did anyway, then he would be in direct violation of their agreement: not to fuck somebody they both knew.

And then it dawned on her, followed by an overwhelming sense of sadness: if she had fallen for him then that would mean that she somehow unearthed the man she had fallen in love with a long time ago that she thought was gone forever. Not the annoying sad sack who moped around all day, acting like his life was so deprived. She would much prefer that he filled the void with his vanilla-scented stripper.

The night wore on, but she eventually, she got answer.While passing her by in the hallway on the way toward the bathroom.

A familiar scent.

And a friendly hello.

 

 

 

For Emily

“Tell Emily I love her.”

Her husband’s dying words. His death bed epitaph to Amy, his wife of 25 years.

On the heels of not saying a single word for over two weeks, two days after being placed under hospice care.

It would be another two weeks before he passed, so she certainly didn’t expect those to be his final words.

But in the end, that’s exactly what they were.

Though James rarely expressed romantic sentiments, she certainly never doubted that he loved her as much as she loved him. She could at least take solace in that. Yet, here he was confessing his love to someone she didn’t even know. And it hurt more than she cared to admit. Perhaps had he confessed this to her at some point, it would have lessened the sting, rather than leaving her in a cloud of mystery.  Had her never confessed his love to someone else, it wouldn’t never would have bothered her that he never told her that he loved her. If she didn’t expect it when he was healthy, she certainly wouldn’t have expected when he was too far gone – too ravaged by aggressive cancer combined with failed chemo to express statements of love. But Emily changed all of that.

At least, she had no regrets on her end. In the two weeks he lay in a coma state, she made told him she loved him countless times. And though he didn’t respond, she was hopeful that it still reached him deep inside his heart and soul. Though she wasn’t 100%  certain, she was pretty sure he squeezed her hand in response one of the times. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. A meaningless reflex. But she refused to believe that.

She kept reminding herself that all that really mattered most at this point was making sure he remained as comfortable as he could under hospice care. And that all the arrangements were taken care of. Their two grown children – Lucy and Michael – had that all covered, leaving her with the primary task was to stay by his side every moment of his remaining time on earth. An early finish line that took her and the kids by surprise.

She was grateful that she at least told them that he had loved them shortly before his coma. That gave her some solace, at least. She was also grateful that they didn’t hear him profess his love for Emily. She wondered if she would tell them later.

If there was one silver lining to his unexpected illness, it was that it finally put to rest a longstanding feud with Michael. If only had it been that easy when the final curtain wasn’t already closing. Funny (on second thought, it wans’t funny at all) how death has a way of way of repairing old wounds, if only to leave a behind much deeper suffering in its awake.

The past no longer mattered.  Or, so she thought.

She tried to regain her focus and stop worrying about something she had no control over. But no matter how hard she tried to fight it, she couldn’t get it back.

Only one thought continued to plague her:

Who the hell was Emily?

A constant loop.

She considered the possibility that his proclamation was a drug-induced, quasi-coma hallucination. But he had said it at a time when he seemed more coherent and alert than at any other point under hospice care.

She had so many questions that she wondered if she would ever have answers to. Was Emily someone from his past? Or, present? She kept coming back to the theory that he was confused. If by some miracle he awoke from his coma, would she ask him about it? Or, would she let it go? Her grief was deep enough. Why deepen it?  Then again, if she didn’t ask, would it haunt her for years to come? After his inevitable passing, would she look for evidence? Or, would she feel too guilty snooping through his stuff for clues posthumously? Then again, he was the one who brought her up in the first place. He didn’t have to mention her at all if he wanted to keep it a secret. Then again, it wasn’t like his judgment was sound.

She tried reminding herself once again that time wasn’t on her side. So why waste it dwelling on something that really didn’t matter right now?

Because it did matter.

Emily mattered.

Her husband wanted it known that it was Emily who was loved. Not her.

Five days later, he passed. She was by his side, along with their children. She was holding his hand when he took his final breath. It was the best anyone could hope for when they pass.

As Amy stared at his now lifeless body, her brain refused to process the fact that he was gone forever. Even though she knew he was.

Her children hugged her, then left the room to give her one last moment alone with her first and only love.

The funeral came two days later. As expected, it was a great turnout. Nothing competes with Italian weddings and funerals. In fact, it rivaled the 500 guests at their wedding. Had it been up to her, it would have been capped at 250. But when his mother demanded to pay to keep the Italian tradition alive, what choice did she have? At a funeral, there are no invites. The generous turnout was a welcome distraction from her grief,  but also overwhelming at times. And there were several strangers she did no recognize.

Was one of them Emily?

Would she even want to know?

She suddenly found herself becoming angry. Why couldn’t he take it to his grave? He was so close to doing just that! Maybe it would have been different if she told him who it was. But to just drop a line like that without any explanation was torture.

She tried to focus on her grief, but all she could think about was Emily. And there was nothing she could do about it.

And then he was buried. Along with all his secrets.

One secret in particular.

A few weeks into the new “normal”, Amy realized that the ghost of Emily wasn’t going away any time soon. Though she avoided it at first, she soon began the inevitable task of snooping: through his computer, e-mail, drawers, etc. And though she felt guilty for snooping through his stuff, she figured he had it coming to him. And she was angry. Particularly angry that he covered his tracks so well.

He could find no evidence of anybody named Emily. Not in his e-mail. Nor, his social media account. Nor, in his phone.

But then it dawned on her. What if Emily was from before they knew one another? A childhood crush? Someone he took to a high school dance? Someone he transported back to the present through the fog of his clouded, drug-addled mind that was reaching the finish line of life?

Just when she gave up on ever finding an answer, she found a possible clue: a small, wrapped present tucked deep inside his sock drawer. Was this the smoking gun she had been looking for? Should she even open it? What would opening it prove? And what good would not opening it do?

She decided to sleep on it for a night. What harm could that do? Keeping it wrapped felt like a part of him was still alive. A gift from beyond the grave.

But intended for whom?

She was pretty sure she knew the answer. But would there be any proof?

She decided to sleep on it and placed it next to her nightstand before she went to sleep. The next morning, she opened it. It was a simple gold bracelet. Though there was nothing unusual about the bracelet itself, she knew right away that it was never intended for her: she was allergic to gold. He knew that.

And she wished she had never opened it.

But it got her no closer to solving the mystery.

Who was Emily?

Several weeks passed. And no further evidence surfaced.

She finally gave up. That fact that there was someone else was a reality she had to learn to accept. Not that it really mattered. It was all in the past now. And the past was the only place where he could remain, despite everything feeling very much in the past. No apologies or reconciliation required, let alone possible.

Nothing would bring him back to life.  No matter what, he was dead. Dead, dead, dead. Knowing the truth wasn’t going to change that fact. And he was just as dead to Emily as she was to her.

But wait! Did Emily even know? It was quite possible she didn’t. He saw no evidence of missed calls or texts on his phone. Wouldn’t she have tried contacting him? Was it possible he had some hidden form of communication that she wasn’t privy to? A burner phone? Should she hire a private investigator? Then again, why put herself through that? Because she feared she would otherwise never find closure. And would never grieve properly. Until she finally solved this mystery.

She wondered if she should solicit her kids to help? Did she really want to drag them into this? She decided to keep it to herself. For his sake. And for the sake of their children.

A few more weeks passed. And then an unexpected knock at her door. She looked through the peephole at a woman no older than 20. Probably another damn solicitor. But when noticed a car was parked in her driveway, she realized that solicitors don’t usually park in your driveway. Did this person have the wrong house?

Though she considered ignoring the stranger until she went away, she realized she didn’t have a choice. The knocking continued.

“Hello, may I help you?” Amy asked.

“I know you don’t know who I am,” the girl said. “But I know who you are.”

“I’m sorry?”
“My name is Emily Ford…”

Amy’s brain struggled to process any of this.

“You don’t know me, but I know your husband—”

“How dare you…” Amy said, feeling the urge to strangle somebody for the first time in her life.

“I’m sorry,” Emily said.  “I could leave. I didn’t mean to—”

“How did you expect someone to act when their deceased husband’s mistress shows up on their doorstep?”

“Wait. Is that what you think I am?”

“Please…”

“I’m his daughter. He was in college.”

Amy felt the anger awash away, as confusion and relief settled in.

“Come on in…” Amy said.

Emily entered.

“Have a seat.”

Emily sits down on the couch. An hour later, Amy finally knew the whole truth: Emily was the product of a college one-night stand. Several years before she and Jim had ever met. He was fully prepared to be a father. However, the mother preferred to raise the child on her own. She even refused child support. They worked out a deal that he could send letters and presents for birthdays and Christmas, but that there would be no other contact. Once she was 18, she would be allowed to pursue a relationship with her father if she so chose.

She turned 18 last week. And now, here she was, in her father’s living room.

“He never met you in person?” Amy asked, still in shock.

She shook her head.

“I found out about his passing through a Facebook post. I realize that me coming here was a risk. And I understand and am sorry if you are upset.”

“No. I’m so happy you came.”

She truly was.

“Hang on a moment. There’s something he would have wanted you to have.”

Amy retrieved the bracelet, which she now realized was probably intended as a birthday gift. Or, perhaps graduation gift.

“It was wrapped. Clearly intended for you.”

“How do you know it was for me?”

“I’m allergic to gold.”

Emily put in on. Held it against her wrist and smiled.

“It’s lovely.”

“Your father was a great man.”

“I know.”

The two women sat there, staring at the bracelet that in that moment, brought her husband – and Emily’s father – back to life. If only for that moment.

It was exactly how he would have wanted it.

 

 

The Chinese Restaurant

Todd had always wanted to eat at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. Ever since the first saw A Christmas Story when he was kid.

He just never thought that when the time came, he would be doing so alone.

But not by choice, but rather by court mandate.

He had his kids for Thanksgiving, at least. And he would have them for Christmas next year. Alternating holidays was the best solution for all involved.

The new normal.

Yet, he never felt further from normal. His precious time with the kids was forever cut in half. No amount of therapy could never help him reconcile with this fact. Perhaps if he wanted the divorce to begin with, things would have been different. Perhaps if she gave marriage a counseling a try, they could have reconciled. And found their way back to one another.

Sure, their marriage had serious flaws.

Whose doesn’t?

But he was willing to work through it. And she wasn’t.

She admittedly cashed out years ago. Playing make believe ever since.

And then came along her “soul mate”.

Despite this, he was still willing to do whatever it took to keep the family together, even if they essentially had separate lives. He still loved her, after all. And if she didn’t love him, then he just wished she would stay together for the kids at the very least.

And if she needed to keep her new lover on the side, then so be it. He could look past that. He just couldn’t bear the fact that his time with the kids would be cut in half.

But her mind was made up. There was no turning back.

Now that the initial storm had passed, his singular goal to appreciate every moment he had with his kids, rather than dwelling on the time he didn’t have.

At the onset of his divorce, it was the time away from his children that hurt the most. When he was alone with his thoughts. And memories. And the memories that would now never get made. Like a family trip to Disney World that would never happen, which he had imagined before his daughter was born seven years prior.

The silver lining was that things were finally getting better, following months of therapy. And finding more happiness than not. However, with their the one-year anniversary of their divorce coming up and the holiday season upon them, he was beginning to slide back into the pit of despair. He wanted nothing more than for the holidays to be over. For the first time in his life, he had absolutely no holiday cheer. Usually, he was the one who brought an abundance of holiday cheer, where his wife generally had none.

As though the divorce wasn’t enough, he recently lost his automotive marketing job – a position he held for over a decade. Though he saw the writing on the wall, it was still a tough pill to swallow – especially in the context of everything else he went through this past year.

Perhaps if he lost his job before the divorced, he would have had a moderately stable home life to come home to each night. But instead, he had…nothing.

This week was particularly tough because of Christmas. Even if he had his kids, not having his wife would have been a tough pill to swallow. But as it was, he never felt more lonely.

At least he would have them on New Year’s Eve. But of course, they would be in bed before midnight, which meant he would be lonely. Then again, his wife as always in bed well before midnight anyway.

But first, he had to get through Christmas. And the light at the end of the tunnel was Chinese food.

Before heading out, he debated what would be more depressing – staying home alone. Or, going out alone. He was realized he was never more depressed than he was when he was inside his dingy, still unfurnished apartment, staring at his two-foot tall fake Christmas tree he bought on clearance at Michael’s with a 40% off coupon.

After watching one and half viewings of the A Christmas Story marathon on TBS, he headed out into a light snowfall to Chin’s.

Holidays and divorced aside, he had been craving Chinese food for quite a while now. A gift to himself. Though he gave his ex a gift, she did not return the favor to him. Nor, was he expecting her to. In hindsight, he shouldn’t have, either. Because it pissed her off.

He should have known better.

“What makes you think I would want a gift from you?” was her response.

He wanted to say “because I still care about you very much and you’re the mother of my children.” But knew that would piss her off anymore.

He wanted his kids to see that there was mutual love and respect between their parents, even though they were no longer living together. But instead, they got more of the same they were getting during the last couple years of their marriage. In fact, it was their constant bickering that finally made him realize that staying together for the kids was perhaps not in their best interest. It broke his heart to hear his kids begging – sometimes crying – for them to stop arguing.

“Mommy, please don’t get into an awwwgument with daddy,” their son would often say. Though hearing this broke his heart, it pissed her off. They both knew something had to be done. His solution was marriage counseling. She went straight for the kill.

As much as he wanted to stop living in the past, he knew it was impossible when

it sent its demons to live in the present. So, he was stuck in a no man’s land, were going forward was proving to be just as difficult as living the past.

As he pulled into the parking lot, dusted with freshly fallen snow, he noticed that there were only two other cars. Probably not a good sign, but aside from the shitty weather, it was past prime business hours. He wondered if it were even open.

Magic China’s was a classic hole in the wall that somehow stayed in business, despite an always empty parking lot beneath the faux-Chinese architecture, which certainly had a certain charm, as did the flashing “COCKTAILS” light beneath the name.

Decals on the window mysteriously and incompletely proclaimed:  CHINESE FOOD &

As he approached, he noticed a handwritten sign in the window that simply read:

“WE OPEN FOR HOLIDAYS.”

Despite the obvious grammatical error, he was impressed with the unintended, edgy bravado the sign exuded.

He entered. There was not another customer in sight. A Chinese woman in her late 60’s greeted him with sad eyes.

“Hello. Merry Christmas!” she said with a thick accent right out of A Christmas Story.

“Merry Christmas,” Todd replied back.

“Sitdownorcarryout?”

He had no idea what the fuck she was saying.

“Sit down or carry out,” she said, giving her enunciation every effort.

“Sit down, please.”

“Just one?” she said with what he imagined to be empathy.

“Just one,” he said, bowing his head in shame, as a mournful Muzak version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played through a tinny speaker.

She grabbed a tattered, food-stained menu and led him to a table in a back corner – the loneliest table for the loneliest man in the loneliest Chinese restaurant on the planet.

“This okay?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said.

He took a look around at his surroundings. Paintings of ancient Chinese life were scattered about, along with several kitschy knick-knacks made in China. But only to be sold in America.

Other than the hostess, nobody else was in sight. As alone as he was, he felt an oddly unexpected peace. Moments later, a waitress with the body of a 20-year-old, but the face of someone well over twice that age, appeared through a door opposite the kitchen. She appeared unkempt, as though she had just woken up from a long nap. The red marks on one side of her face backed this theory.

“Hello! Merry Christmas! Something to drink?”

“Merry Christmas! Can I have a Mai-Tai? And a water?”

“Mai-Tai? Yes. You want two?”

“At the same time?”

“Yes. I make you two if you want.”

“Why not?” he said after a brief hesitation. He had no memory of ever being asked if he wanted to drinks at once. In fact, he was surprised this wasn’t asked more often. I mean, it’s common practice to ask if you want to start a tab. So why not just start out with two drinks?

“Okay. I get drinks. Then I take order, okay?”

“Actually, I already know what I want.”

He always knew what he wanted when he got Chinese. Ever since he a little boy. In fact, it was one of the more consistent things in his life.

“Okay, fine, then you order now,” the waitress said, slightly irked.

“I’ll have Sweet and Sour Chicken. Does that come with an egg roll?”

“No egg rolls. Spring rolls.”

“It comes with a spring roll?”

“No. Must order separate. You want spring roll?”

“Sure.”

“Would you like two?”

PAY THIS OFF LATER WITH TWO MASSAGESRS

“One is fine.”

“Okay, one. Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said.

“White rice? Or brown?”

“White.”

“Both?”

“Both types of rice?”
“Yes.”

“No, I mean are you offering me to types of rice at the same time?”
“You want?”
“No. Just white. Just white rice.”

“Okay, I get for you.”

“Where’s the restroom, by the way?” he asked the waitress, who had begun folding silverware into napkins.

“Down hall. To left. You need help?”

“In the bathroom?”

“To bathroom. You need help I show you.”

“Thanks, but I think I can find it.”

“Okay, okay. You go.”

He got up and headed toward the bathroom, decorated with the worst art he had seen in his life. All cats and dogs, but as though three-year old Picasso decided to enter his most experimental phase at the age of three. He wasn’t sure if he should laugh, or be frightened.

As he proceeded to piss, he heard what sounded like light, successive slaps coming through a vent and what he thought were moans.

What the fuck?

He found another odd thing that he tried to talk his brain out of misinterpreting: a hole in the wall at waist level, about three inches wide. A perfect circle in all its glory. And if it wasn’t what he thought it was, then what else could it have been? Nothing came to mind.

When he came back to his seat, his spring roll and two Mai Tais were waiting. Though the drink looked perfect, it was the smallest, most shriveled up spring roll he had ever seen. And he had seen his share.

He got to work on his first Mai Tai, sucking it down more quickly than he was accustomed to. He felt an instant buzz – or, was it just a sugar high? – then took a few bites of his spring roll.  Despite its outward appearance, it wasn’t half bad. But there was no sauce, but his waitress was nowhere to be found. So he got to work on the second drink.

Three minutes passed, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and peek his head into the kitchen. But nobody was in there.

“Help you?” a voice said behind him, causing him to leap in fear.

“Oh, so sorry. I scare you?”

“Oh, it’s okay. Can I get some plum sauce please?” he asked.

“Soy sauce,” the waitress asked.

“No. Plum sauce. Plum,” he said with added emphasis.

“Plum sauce?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Two plum sauce.”

“Two?” he asked.

“Yes, two,” she said, eagerly nodding.

“Okay, two’s good.”

The waitress headed toward the kitchen, where what sounded an argument ensued with an unspecified male that he did not notice when he poked his head in there a minute ago. It was entirely in Chinese, but one thing was clear: the waitress was winning. And winning by a mile. And that was before she started wailing on him with his fists.

Todd imagined the poor man cowering in a ball in a corner, stirring spatula still in hand. Though he couldn’t understand a word that was being said, he could hear the man begging for mercy.

Moments later, she returned, carrying a small tray featuring two plum sauces.

“Here you go. Plum sauce, yum,” she said with a smile, with no indication whether or not she realized that the shouting match that had just ensued was perhaps overheard by her one and only customer.

“You enjoy!”

“Thank you.”

“Anything else? More Mai-Tai?,” the waitress asked, despite the fact that he still had an almost full glass remaining.

“No thanks. I’m fine for now.”

“Okay, very good. I be back with your food soon.”

Todd proceeded to eat his spring roll. With each bite, felt pangs of loneliness in his heart. There was nothing he wanted more in this moment than to be with his family again. He would take her back in a heartbeat and it pained him to know it would never happen. If there was one thing he learned repeatedly throughout life, wanting and getting rarely work in tandem. He learned this at an early age when he was pursuing his now abandoned Hollywood dream.

Halfway through his second Mai-Tai, the waitress brought his entrée.

“Thank you,” Todd said.

“Everything look okay?” she asked.

“Looks great.”

“You eat. I be back.”

And then she disappeared, leaving Todd alone in the absolute silence of his deafening solitude.

But seconds later, he heard the unrecognizable melody of sexual moaning (though, he couldn’t completely rule out somebody working out).

He couldn’t detect where it was coming from. Through the wall? Like in the kitchen maybe? Was there perhaps an adjacent apartment or something? Or was it coming through the flooring? From the basement?

He continued eating his meal in unison with the moans, which intensified, then finally came to a satisfying conclusion.

When he finished his meal, the waitress brought him two fortune cookies along with his check.

“You like something else,” the waitress asked.

“Nope, I’m fine. Thank you.”

“You like message before you go bye?”

“I’m sorry,” he asked.

“Message.”

“Message?”

“Massage,” she clarified, using hand motions that erased all doubt and confusion.

“Massage?” he asked just to be clear.

“Yes, yes. Massage. You like massage, yes?”

“Umm…”

“Christmas special. In basement. I show you.”

“Umm, I think I’m good. But thank you.”

“You think more about it. I be right back, okay.”

He nodded.

What the fuck!

He had a friend who frequented these kind of places and told him all about it. And all the “amazing specials” that a few extra bucks could get you. “A good ol’ fashioned rub and tug on the ol’ eggroll!” as his friend put it.

He would be lying if he didn’t say he was intrigued. After all, it had been awhile since he felt the touch of another human being on his body. But would he settle for this?

            He stared at his fortune cookies, both of which were partially smashed. He opened the first one. Removed the fortune. And found himself staring at a blank slip.

He turned it around. Also, blank.

A fucking empty fortune.

He opened the second cookie. There wasn’t even a fortune slip in it.

He considered asking for another one.

Had to be a sign, right? To start anew on a blank canvas.

He gently tucked the blank strip into his pocket and realized exactly what he had to do. But then more racket from the kitchen, as another argument broke out. This time, there was a third participant. Seconds later, the sound of various pots and kitchen utensils were tossed around the kitchen, followed by the sound of broken glass. That seemed to end the argument – at least temporarily and the only sound that remained was the meditation music, fused with the thumping techno coming from what sounded presumably from a basement.

Seconds later, his waitress re-appeared – once again with a smile as though nothing happened at all. He waved her over.

He noticed a splash of blood on her arm. With no sign of visible injury on her, was it even her blood? And if that were the case, then whose blood was it? Did he even want to find out?

“How I help you?” she asked.

“So, regarding that massage…I think I’m interested. How does it work?”

“Oh, you want? $15 for 15 minutes. $30 for 30. $55 for hour.”

“I’ll do the half hour.”

“Okay, you pay for dinner and massage after. I take you down. Come with me.”

Todd followed her toward the kitchen until they reached a dark hallway, which revealed a door that lead to downstairs to a great unknown.

Next thing he knew, he was being led to the basement, which consisted of a hallway, where half a dozen small rooms were blocked off with red, tattered plastic curtains

She led him into one of them, which consisted of a massage table draped with a white towel. In a corner stood a small table filled with several bottles of generic lotions. And one bottle of Mr. Bubbles.

“You get undressed. I be right back.”

She disappeared. And his first thought was to get the fuck out of there

He still could not believe this was happening. In his defense, it was by accident. But he still had the choice to stay or go. Yet, here he was.

Wat did he have to lose? Well, for starters, he couldn’t help but imagine the police busting in at any moment. This had to be illegal, right?

Fuck it.

He began getting undressed.

He then stood there, naked, staring at the ample supply of lotion.

She entered, startling him once again. “Oh, sorry. I scare you two times. Lie down here,” she said, tapping the table. “On tummy.”

He awkwardly moved toward the table, with his hand still covering his shriveled junk, then climbed on top and lay down, struggling to find a comfortable position for his head.

“You relax. And watch.”

And just like, she began to undress, revealing tattered granny panties and bra that looked as though it somehow traveled from 1955.

“You like what you see?” she asked.

“Of course!”

“Beautiful.”

“Thank you. You so handsome.”

“Thank you.”

As attractive as her body was – especially when taking into account her age – all she could about was the fact that just minutes before, she was his waitress. Which made him feel a little bit sick to his stomach for sanitary reasons.

“Okay, I massage now. You like soft, medium, or hard?”

“Medium, I guess?”

“Okay. Good. I can’t do hard. Hurt shoulder.”

She began to massage his back and shoulders, before working her way up and down his legs. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, aside from the fact that she was in her lingerie.

As she massaged his arms, she pulled on his fingers, making a loud snap. It hurt.

“Oh, sorry. I hurt you?”

“I’m fine.”

She then began to rub his scalp. It felt good. At first. But she kept on rubbing incessantly to the point where it felt like it was never going to stop. And then it began to burn. Just when he was going to ask her stop, she worked her way down his neck, his back, and then totally out of the blue, she began playing his butt cheeks like a set of bongos. Much like his head, this went on longer than it should have and his ass was getting sore from repetitive tapping, which finally eased into light taps, and then soothing tickles. Beneath him was the makings of a raging boner.

She then moved her finger lightly around the circumference of both ass cheeks in a figure eight, skirting the edge of his crack, before working toward the interior of his cheeks and eventually passing through his crack, resting for a moment over his butt hole, before stopping just short of his balls.

He tried with all his might not to thrust himself into the table, thinking it would be too weird. There was no way she couldn’t tell he was turned on.

Though he knew it was a matter of time before he had a sexual encounter with another woman post-divorce, he had no idea it would be anything like this. She continued lightly caressing his ass, spiraling toward his asshole, which she began to massage. It felt so fucking good. He never experienced any sort of ass play before. Nor, had he really ever desired it. Now he realized he was missing out!

And then like a knife through butter, a well-lotioned finger was suddenly thrust up his ass, practically making him cum right that very instant.

“Peek-a-boo!” she said, giggling.

This time, he couldn’t help but thrust himself into the table. In fact, she seemed to be encouraging it by applying downward force.

“You like, yes?”

He nodded in ecstasy.

“Flip ova,” she said.

He did, sheepishly covering his full erection.

She forcibly removed his hands.

“Oh, you got nice one.”

She lightly tickled it, causing it to convulse. This was by far the most erotic experience of his life. He still couldn’t believe it was happening to him. He had seen porn like this, but he never thought it would escape from the realm of fantasy.

“You want two?”

“I’m sorry? Two?”

“Two for price of one?”

“Two…?”

“Two girls?”

“Oh. Sure!”

She screamed out something in Chinese – presumably a name. Seconds later, another woman entered. She as at least 60. And at least 200 pounds. But there was nothing he could do about it now.

He watched as she undressed – underwear and all. Both women began to massage his entire body, stopping short of his throbbing penis. He was certain he would cum without contact.

“You want me make penis go boom?” his waitress asked.

“Yes, please,” assuming she meant jerking him off.

She squired some lotion into her hand, then got to work on stroking his cock, while the other woman continue massing his body. He came in less than 30 seconds.

“Ohhhh! So fast!”

“Sorry,” he said, embarrassed at the mess he made.

“It okay. I make you feel good?”
“Yes. Real good.”

The second woman began to clean him off with a towel.

“Come with me…” the waitress said.

She lead him by the hand to another room that had a shallow tub.

“Lie down. I give you bath.”

Though content, he was curious.

“Okay.”

She drew the water and waited for it to get warm.

“Lie down.”

He entered, wondering how many other naked men had lay in this same spot and further wondering how often it was bleached. Some things are better not to think about.

She proceeded to go give him a sponge bath. And it felt so fucking good, though he also felt oddly like a little child.

When she was done, she screamed out for the other woman again.

She entered as though right on cue with a towel, then proceeded to dry him off like a toddler fresh out of a bath.

The waitress lead him back into the first room.

“Okay, get dressed.”

She let him be and he got dressed, feeling totally refreshed and rejuenvenated. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he felt this calm and relaxed. Yet, he couldn’t believe it was real. It felt more like a wet dream.

When he was dressed, he headed out, where the waitress greets him.

“If you like, please tip.”

He had no idea how much he should tip, so he handed her a $20. She appeared please, but he hoped he wasn’t lowballing her.

“You pay bill at register upstairs, okay?”

“Thank you.”

She gave him a hug, which honestly felt better than anything else she had already done to him. He then headed upstairs, paid his bill, and headed back out into the snowy night.

Though far from the best Christmas of his life, it was certainly one of the most memorable. And at least in a season surrounded by sadness, he would have a happy ending for once.

In fact, he had a feeling he would be back again soon.

But there would never be a next time. A few weeks later, Magic Chin’s was closed for good. A sign in the window read:

“Closed. Thank you for business.”

As he knew all too well, not everything had a happy ending. But he was getting better at accepting this as fact.

 

Bitmoji

He would never admit it to anyone else, but Adam had a crush on his girlfriend’s Bitmoji. Admittedly, it was love at first sight. He knew it sounded utterly ridiculous…

…but the heart wants what it wants.

In his defense, her Bitmoji was not only hotter than Eve, but quite frankly, way more:

Fun.

Edgy.

Mysterious.

Adventurous.

Yes, he was well aware that Eve pulled the strings, but yet couldn’t help but think of her Bitmoji as a separate entity.

And then one day…she was.

As expected, Eve went to sleep early. It was at least three hours before his normal bedtime. So, he laid down on the couch, put on Netflix, mindlessly browsing through the social media that he was desperately trying to wean himself off of. He had been spiraling into a deep funk for months. Lately. It seemed more like a free falling. Every ounce of joy had seeped out of his body, drip by drip and he was too depressed to turn his ship around. True, he wasn’t exactly happy in his relationship. But what it really came down to was the fact that he wasn’t at all happy with himself. And too unmotivated to seek therapy. So, he remained knee-deep in quagmire of a no man’s land.

Though part of him turned to social media as distraction, he knew it wasn’t helping his self-diagnosed depression. It wasn’t that he was opposed to social media. After all, it was his primary dating life when he was single. But when it dawned on him that the time he usually spent reading was spent scrolling, he decided to make a conscious effort to do something about it.

He had a feeling tonight would be an early night. He could feel himself nodding off as he stared mindlessly into his screen. He finally surrendered himself, only to be awoken by the familiar DING of Messenger. It was his girlfriend’s winking Bitmjoji.

He replied: “You up?”

No response.

He headed to the bedroom. She was sound asleep. Was she sleep talking?

DING! Another message from her Bitmoji, blowing him a kiss.

“I’m trying to sleep!” Eve said.

“Didn’t you just message me?”

“No. What are you talking about?”

He was too tried to play this game, so he walked out of the room.

And then seconds later: DING!

Clearly, she was fucking with him. She typically wasn’t one to tease.

He ignored it, then headed back to the couch and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning at breakfast, he decided to bring it up again.

“You really had me going last night.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Texting me and then pretending to be asleep.”

“I told you, I never texted you!”

He showed her the proof.

“I never sent those.”

“The gig is up,” he laughed.

“I swear! I think you’re the one playing a trick on me!”

“I’m not!”

“Whatever,” she said.

They proceed to eat the rest of their breakfast in silence.

She headed off to work, giving him a listless hug. And then she was gone, immersing him in an even deeper silence. He waved out the window as she drove away. But she didn’t notice.

 

If the writing wasn’t already on the wall regarding their relationship, it was suddenly in bright, flashing neon lights. And something had to give. But when?

He turned around, but then froze in a combination of shock, terror, and awe. Sitting on the very couch that he fell asleep on last night was his girlfriend’s Bitmoji, surrounded by cartoonish hearts.

“Hello, Adam,” she said seductively.

“Hello,” he managed to blurt out, naturally assuming that this was all a crazy dream and therefore, just going with the flow.

“But you’re not Evangelina…”

Bitmoji was suddenly sad, as a little thundercloud formed above her head, dropping cartoon raindrops on her head.

“I’m just as much Evangelina as she is!” she cried.

“Now, now,” he offered gently.

The cloud turned into a smiling sun.

“Can I get you something? Like a drink? Or, a snack?”

“I only want you,” she said.

“But Evangelina – the other Evangelina…”

“Isn’t here, is she?”

“No. But that’s not the point.”

“I’m sorry, but I have to get ready for work.”

If this was a dream, why was he being so damn responsible?

“Okay. I’ll just have to come back another time,” she winked flirtatiously. “And next time, no excuses.”

And then she vanished in a poof without a trace.

What was he thinking?

A few days passed. And no sign of Eve’s Bitmoji. Nor, had he told Eve about what had happened. There was no way she would believe him. Even if he took a photo, she would just as well assume it was some crazy app.

The following weekend, Eve went out for girl’s night. Josh had planned to head out himself, but decided just to stay in and get caught up on some shows he was behind in while lying in the warm comfort of his bed.

But the night had other plans.

He entered the bedroom, only to find Eve’s Bitmoji lying in bed, surrounded by roses ala American Beauty.

“Want to fuck me?” she said.

            Holy shit.

            There was no way this was happening.

First of all, he was convinced none of this was real. But if it were a dream, he couldn’t recall ever having one this vivid. Considering how often he thought of Eve’s Bitmoji, it’s no surprised she ended up in his dream. He once even jacked off once upon a time thinking about her.

And now here she was, standing before him, offering sex. How could it not be a dream?  If so, then he had nothing to lose. And if not a dream, was is it really cheating when you’re fucking somebody’s Bitmoji? He knew he could keep it a secret.

But could she?

After all, her allegiance naturally had to be with Eve, right? She was its – her – creator. So, would this make her more…or less inclined to fuck and tell? Probably less so. She could be deleted even more quickly than she was made.

“What’s taking so long?” she said, as cartoonish flames erupted out of her head.

“I just have a few questions,” he asked.

“Don’t ask. Just fuck.”

“Okay. Wow. But how is this possible?”

“Isn’t this what you want?”

“Sure, but…”

“So consider me the unicorn you’ve been waiting for!”

Suddenly, she was riding a rainbow unicorn rapidly around the room. She dismounted right in front of him.

“Kiss me, you fool.”

He got onto his knees so he could be closer to her face. Then kissed her.

An array of stars and rainbows showered out of her.

“Come on, hot stuff,” she said, waving him toward her.

She proceeded to fuck him every which way. It was unlike anything he ever experienced. She was a feisty little thing, a true dom, bouncing around to and fro, emanating roses and rainbows with every thrust. Front door. Back door. Side door. Oral. Pretty much everything her keeper would never come close to doing. At one point, she even stuck a full finger up his virgin ass. And he liked it. When it was all said and done, she came four times to his two very explosive ones.  Each time she came, she was surrounded by an explosion of little read hearts.

But as he had feared, it was all too good to be true. While fucking Eve’s Bitmoji anally from behind, as she stroked his balls, Adam failed to notice the bedroom door opening.

Nor did he noticed when Eve was suddenly standing before him, alongside the bed.

“What the fuck?!” Eve screamed.

What the fuck indeed.

“Don’t even try to justify it,” she hissed, as his mouth was held agape. Her Bitmoji turned away in shame, covering herself with the sheet. Hazard symbols appeared above her head.

He couldn’t help but noticed that his girlfriend seemed far more annoyed by him fucking someone else than confused by the fact that he had been fucking her avatar.

“And you,” his girlfriend said, pointing at her digital whore. “I trusted you. I made you.”

“You think you can control every part of me? Not anymore you don’t,” her Bitmoji said, shooting out cute, harmless little thunder and lightning bolts.

“You think so, huh?” his girlfriend said, taking out her phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Reminding you who your master still is.”

“No…” her Bitmoji begged.

“Please don’t,” Adam said.

His girlfriend went into her phone and deleted her Bitmoji once and for all in just a couple of clicks.

And then the living one in her bed– where the Bitmoji was created two years prior – dissolved into pixels that then faded into oblivion.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Adam said, fighting back tears.

“Was I supposed to kill you instead?”

“Well, now you’re talking silly.”

Perhaps she was. But that didn’t stop her from dumping him. And by the next day, she had deleted him off of all her social media, as well.

They both knew it was for the best. It had been a long time coming.

The Fuck Up

He didn’t mean to be such a fuck up. He really didn’t. Yet, there wasn’t a more apt description for him. He would be the first to admit it. After all, he lived with his fuck-ups longer than anyone else in his life. In fact, he was a fuck up from the moment of his conception. And was very much likely to be a fuck up until his last breath.

At least he kept his spirits up. Overall, he was pretty happy-go-lucky, with an incredibly unlucky streak. A bad luck, sad sack Forrest Gump.

But with a new year drawing close, he decided it was time to do everything in his power to put an end to his fuck ups once and for all. He knew the odds were stacked against him. And he was convinced he was cursed, at which point everything was a lost cause. He couldn’t do a damn thing about it no matter how hard he tried.

But that didn’t stop him from giving it the old college try. No one could accuse him of being a quitter. But sadly, the more he tried, the more he ended up falling flat on his face (in both a figurative and literal sense).

And it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying when it came to trying to make things right. But this time, he was more determined than ever. Because he was convinced his marriage truly depended on it.

The problem is, the harder he tried not to fuck up, the more he ended up fucking up. A self-fulfilling fuck-up prophecy.

The fuck ups were not only piling up, but were reaching a tipping point. It wasn’t just one major fuck up – most were small. But one after another, year after year really takes a toll. Sure, he had some really big ones (driving into a pond, losing $1000 like Uncle Billy It’s a Wonderful Life, and burning down half of his house). Then there were the numerous injuries to himself. Fortunately, he somehow always spared others.

The large-scale fuck-ups were a problem. But it was the smaller fuck-ups that caused the greatest stress due to their alarming frequency: the wrong date, the wrong time, the wrong order, the wrong the color, the wrong size, the wrong line, the wrong major, the wrong career, the wrong girl.

Everything.

At least when he was single, the fuck-ups were a lot easier to deal with. Because nobody else had to deal with it but him. They existed in a vacuum. Once he started dating someone, it was usually his fuck-ups that were the reason he became single again. It was a vicious cycle that he had endure for almost his entire life.

The fact that he was able to convince someone to marry him was a real mystery. He never fully understood it himself.  How could such a controlling perfectionist marry such an imperfectionist as him?

At least his personality made up for it. At the very least, he was a lovable fuck up.

He certainly counted his blessings on a daily basis, despite the hovering cloud of awareness that someday, she would grow tired of his shit. If she ever harbored the hope that he could change his ways, that ship had sailed. The way she saw it, most fuck ups could have been avoided if he simply used his brain. But he didn’t. And she had no hope that he would ever begin to use it. Or, acquire one for that matter.

He was just so fucking forgetful, which was often the crux of his problem – though not a one-size-fits-all excuse.

His wife maintained that he had undiagnosed ADHD. She certainly did her part to help, by getting him a planner so he wouldn’t forget basic shit. Like birthdays or anniversaries. Including his own.

“Why the fuck do I have to think of everything around here?”

And sure enough, he kept forgetting to use it. Only to lose it less than a week later. Her attempts at getting him to use his phone was just as futile – besides, it was only a matter of time before he lost his phone. And did he ever back his data up? Only if she did it for him!

Lately, his sensed his fuck up were taking a tremendous toll on their marriage, which is why he was stepping up his efforts to clean up his act.

But sure enough, a vintage fuck-up was just a day a way!

His wife asked him to do the grocery shopping (albeit reluctantly). Usually when she “let” him go, he was bound to fuck something up. Like forgetting something on the list. Or, grabbing the wrong item. Or, the wrong quantity. In fact, she recently banned him from grocery shopping, just like she banned him from doing laundry. But her hatred for grocery shopping prompted her to give him another chance. She figured going back to grab one item was better than having to get them all.

So off he went, determined not to fuck up, carefully going through the list, one item at a time. Asking the proper questions. Crossing all his ‘t’s and dotting all of his ‘i’s. This was the most confident he ever felt going into the store.

But then within a minute of grabbing a cart, he reached into his pocket. No list. He checked another pocket. No dice. After all pockets were checked, he headed out of the store in a panic, re-tracing his steps. But then he realized he went out the wrong door, so went back inside and then out the door he came in. But he couldn’t remember specifically where he parked. And then he realized that even if he dropped his list, it was so windy out, it was actually more likely to be on the other side of the lot where he first ended up. When he finally got to his car, he reached for his keys, then realized he left them inside the pocket of his coat, which was inside the cart. He looked into his car and saw no sign of the list, so headed back inside. He would have to shop from piss-poor memory.

However, his cart wasn’t there! He head over to customer serivce and fortunately retrieved his jacket.

As he went down aisle by aisle, he was surprised how confident he felt that he was somehow getting it right. All the time he spent going over the list over and over again was paying unexpected dividends.

He made his purchase, then headed out, still brimming with confidence. And lo and behold, he spotted his list right beneath his feet! He would get a chance to make sure he didn’t miss anything, but just as he reached for it, a gust of wind blew it away. He gave chase, which culminated with him nearly getting hit by a car. And then it was gone.

Despite the setback, he still felt confident while heading home.

As he walked through the door with the first batch of groceries, he stumbled over the lip of the door frame, landing flat on his ass and destroying a carton of eggs.

“Why did you go to Meijer?” his wife said, with no concern to his wellbeing.

“What’s wrong with Meijer?” he said, struggling to get up. “I used my mPerks!”

“Well, did you also go to Kroger?”

“Why would I have gone to Kroger?”

“For my birth control pills that I told you I needed.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I must have forgotten!”
“Tim! Seriously! What the fuck?!”

“That is the last thing I can live without. No way we want to make that mistake again!”

“I screwed up, okay. I’m sorry. I’ll go back.”

“No. I’ll go. You put away the groceries. And try not to fuck that up, too.”

Not that it really mattered. They had sex just once in the past six months. And she made it clear she had no desire to have sex with him ever again. So why did she take the pills? To keep her periods on the regular. And to trick him into thinking sex was always at least a possibility, even if it really wasn’t. She would never admit that to him. So, it left him in a stage of eternal hope, as far as that front goes.

She left. And he put away the groceries. At least, she wouldn’t be able to call out all the items he forgot. Of course, it would come back to haunt him an hour later when she started making dinner, only to realize he forgot half the ingredients she needed for it. So, she made herself a salad. And he had some Bugles.

“God forbid you’d forget your damn junk food!

“I’m sorry! I lost the list!”

“Of course, you did…I realize now, nothing’s going to change. You are just going to continue to stumble through life, fucking everything up. You know what you are? King Fucking Midas. But in reverse.”

She didn’t even have to tell him the sleeping arrangement that night. He just assumed. But she told him anyway.

“Air mattress. In the playroom.”

“Maybe that’s the only way you’ll learn,” she said to him, before heading off to watch her programs.

Later that night, as he sat at the kitchen table, crestfallen and alone, drowning his ineptitude in a bowl of Crunch Berries, he refocused his efforts on straightening up his act. To prove her wrong.

He believed in himself. It was simply a matter of mind over matter.

The time had come for water to find its level. The law of averages and all its ilk.

But it was too late.

She had already made up her mind.

The next morning, she told him that she was filing for divorce.

She told him before he was awake. Before he could get off his air mattress and onto solid ground. She turned around and left the room before he could say a single word. He lay there for a minute, hoping it was just a bad dream. But knowing otherwise.

He couldn’t blame her. He was a fuck up through and through. And there was nothing in the universe that was going to change that.

He finally got up, only to have his first step land directly on a Lego.

This time, he didn’t even scream.