Flash: Greg Gerke
I erase the sixth message he left. Then the seventh starts and his proud voice opens like a full blown sail. “I was born 942 days before you. Isn’t that—”
Michael comes from good, hardworking people. His mother sits on the board of a kidney consortium and his father, though dead, was a radiologist. Because of their donations the performing arts center downtown would have been named for them but they declined it.
His mother wanted to make sure I was all right and we went out to lunch after a few months of dating. Mrs. Vaughn wasn’t so stern at first. She wore a festive outfit, an aqua blue blouse with platinum sequins at the neck. She looked just as Michael described her—a long nose, kind but guarded eyes and a very erect posture like she sat atop a horse.
She didn’t bring up my son Travis until we started eating. “How often does he ask after his father?” she said clinically.
“Probably a few times a week.”
“Travis’ father is close to not being involved at all.”
I knew all along she would tell me that Michael was unfit to be a father figure—no matter how well they got along—and she did. I didn’t feel she said this to criticize my choice in men but rather to etch out another role for Michael, something where he wouldn’t be the centerpiece but a building block.
My rage swelled after she paid the check when I was in the bathroom. She stood gathering her coat, “I have to go Karen.” I couldn’t wait to get home and vomit the food before squealing to Michael that I would never see her again, even if things developed she would never be welcome at my house, never speak to my child.
I’ve told friends Michael is just wound up with love. A tight slingshot. He has his own way of being romantic, trafficking in a world where gifts and surprises reign. A blissful existence his mother supports. When he opens a brown bag to present pomegranates and Asian pears my heart stands up. The knife we use he bought in Sweden when he lived with a distant uncle for a summer, trying to decide what to do with his life. “Did you look at that coursebook for the fall?” I ask.
“Cut the pear on a slant,” he reminds me. Already he is an old man who hears what he wants to. He rubs his hands together and blows kisses from the sink where he does the dishes from the breakfast I made Travis.
“He’s old enough to go to the haunted house, right babe? I was thinking Friday. Do you want to come too?”
My stomach on fire, I ask him to wait a sec and go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet with my pants on. I can hate people but that never makes what they feel all wrong. Mrs. Vaughn appealed to a peculiar vision of happiness I can’t shake. Two people—two souls. No doubts or restitutions. If it’s a man I’m to love than he must upend me. Kindness is special but I genuflect to understanding. Regardless the children stay. I will tell him after Halloween. Michael, I’ve thought so long about this. And it has everything to do with me.
The inside of a ripe Asian pear is harder than a regular pear so it can sit in your mouth longer, sweating its juices down your throat before the rest falls.