A man with the right scruffed-up beard and breadth of chest swaggered into the S and M dungeon that was my place of business, and twenty minutes and one grand later had my chin — still soft with the downy fluff of teen-girl skin — held steady in one paw while the other one flew at my face so hard and fast that I ceased to exist as the same collection of matter I had been the previous instant.
When Sarah’s mother, Penny, got sick four years into our marriage, we decided to move back to Mississippi, considering it penance for the sins of our youth. We signed a lease on a house, a white one-story on the historical register with a wraparound porch and angels, stars, and the moon painted on the transom above the front door.
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I got the call around 2 AM. I’m surprised I even picked up. “Can you come in?” the voice said. I couldn’t say no. So here I am. Bedside. Hands folded. Lots of silence. Lots of time. Nothing to do but think.
I’ve read about a new creature called a “coywolf” — the offspring of a coyote and a timber wolf. That must have been what I saw. Waiting for it to reappear gives me something to do.
The father looked to the refs, the zebras in their black-and-white-striped shirts, but there was no hand in the air, no signal at all that a penalty would be called.
I was still exploring my power to hurt others and was continually surprised by how potent a single sentence could be. I watched my mother’s face waver and then crack open.
He has developed a shorthand response to my entreaties: Landfill, he hisses, and he walks away.
We’ve all heard there was drinking, that the parents weren’t home, that the house was huge, full of places for disappearing. And when the girl pressed charges a week later, the boy was incredulous, and his parents were ready to put up a fight.
Upon arriving at the bungalow, he learned something else about himself: if there was a 5 percent chance that fucking his ex-wife’s hairdresser might kill him, he was perfectly willing to take that risk.
You see that the cruelty of the Happy Vertex is its fleeting nature. Line A plunges downward, line B eventually plateaus, and before you know it, the distractions take over, and you’re thinking about girls, or you take a brief but intense interest in Mazda Miatas. Soon you’ll think about money, nothing but money.
Helplessness makes monsters of people. He’s seen chairs thrown, exam tables kicked. The rooms pathologists speak to patients in now have everything bolted down.
I felt I was supposed to pretend I was a little sad he was gone — at least, for the first few days. I told him I missed him, because I did. I’m not a complete monster.