After the party, the downpour stops.  His father-in-law leaves, the children tuck off to bed, and Roger finally lets himself breathe.  A headache pinches across his forehead and the muscles in his hands twitch with fatigue. He can’t bring himself to collect the bottles and plates and napkins strewn across the table outside and decides to leave them until morning.  He doesn’t know why he believed things would be different this time. 

His wife goes upstairs first while he wipes down the spotless counter she’s already cleaned and checks his laptop one last time for emails he knows aren’t there.  He tries to stay calm while he also wants to have it out.  He doesn’t want silence accompanying them to bed.  Instead, he waits for the moment he can stand in the center of the room and say to her, “Your father does his absolute best every time he visits to let me know how much I don’t deserve you.”

            She is reading in bed and doesn’t bother looking up.

            “I honestly don’t know where you’re getting this from,” she says lightly.

            He pulls his shirt off and drops it on the floor.  She’ll have to pick it up and put it in the hamper; she won’t be able to help herself.

            “I don’t know why you pretend not to see it.  It’s been going on for seventeen years.”

            She turns another page in her book.

            “I guess because he gets away with it every time.  You pretend not to see it.”

            “Stop it.”

            He drops his pants and lets them puddle at his feet.

            “I remember the first time I met him.  He sat there, sizing me up.  Like I was a poor dirt farmer who was going to turn you into a farmer’s wife.  Oh, the horror.”

            Nothing from her.

            “He was the coldest man I’d ever met.  He’s a block of ice.”

She snaps her book shut and his heart beats a little faster.

“He’s the most loving man I know.  He loves the children.”

“You think I don’t love the children?”

“That’s not what I said.  Of course, you do.  But it’s not the same.”

“Of course, it’s not the same!  He gets to swoop in and be the fun Grandpa and ply them with gifts and candy and trips to the pool.  But he’s not the one who has to deal with the day to day.  It’s not his responsibility.  It’s totally different.”

“Is it, though?  Aren’t you the one who takes off with them and doesn’t even let me know if you’ll be home for supper?  Aren’t you the one trying to make up for all the times you’re too busy to pay attention to them?  How’s that any different?”

He flexes his hands.  He steps over to the dresser and pulls out a T-shirt.

“I’m always here, though, aren’t I?  Maybe I’m not as good with all the day-to-day things, but I’m not going anywhere.  Your Dad doesn’t get extra points for loving the children.  They’re his grandchildren; That’s easy.  But I’ve never been good enough.  And he takes you for granted.”

She shakes her head.  “That is just not true.”

“The way you keep getting up to bring him things at dinner, like you’re the waitress.  How you ferry him all over the place in the winter because he refuses to drive.  Like he forgets you have a job and kids.  It’s like you’re a replacement wife.”

She is back to ignoring him.  He slams the dresser closed.

“Maybe that was the problem with your mother.  She disappointed him, so he froze her out, too.  She was more like a plant than a person.”

Her face is stormy.  He senses her vibrating beneath her skin.  He feels just a touch of fear at having strayed too close to an invisible line.  It’s not what he wanted.  The moment hangs there, brittle and transparent.

“Maybe I’m wrong,” he offers at last.

“You are.”

“I just want you to acknowledge that your father is not the great person he pretends to be.  That he doesn’t like me.  That’s all I’m asking.”

I don’t like you much right now.”

“Why do you insist he does?  Why does it matter so much to you?”

After a pause she says, “I don’t know.  I just think family should get along.  It’s important and you should put it first.  And I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t get along.  And your parents were always nice to me.  They loved everything about you.”

“My parents couldn’t figure me out.  I was some strange creature who showed up years after they’d given up hope and then I wasn’t like either of them.  I was a changeling left by the fairies.”

A hint of a smile from her.  He opens another drawer and pulls on jersey shorts.

“They didn’t know what to do with me.  They knew I was bright and no good at farming, so they left me alone to pursue whatever interest I had.  They were great that way.  But most parents envision a certain kind of life for their children.  Some of them can’t let go when things don’t work out as planned.”

“My father never made plans for me.”

“Just because he didn’t tell you what they were doesn’t mean he didn’t make them.”

“If he dislikes you so much, how come he never said anything to me about it?”

“What could he say once you were pregnant?”

She picks up her book again.

“So we can agree, then?”

“On what?”

“That your father doesn’t like me, and that he’s not always nice to you.”

“Yes, then, if it will make you feel better,” she says lightly.  Like it’s nothing.  “If anyone didn’t like you it was my mother.  But she didn’t like anyone.”


“You have no right to say that about my mother.  You didn’t know her that well.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” he says.  “I don’t dislike your father, you understand.”

“I really don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“He’s a really good grandfather.”

“Will you please please please stop talking?”

He stares at her.  Her glasses have thin gold frames.  Her hair is pulled back out of her face in a loose bun.  Her T-shirt is large and blue and faded.  She is apparently unconcerned.  He imagines what it would be like to reach down, lift the book from her hands and hurl it through the window.  He imagines the clatter of breaking glass, the tinkling of slivers against the windowsill, and the satisfying fragmentation of something clear and ordinary.  He imagines the shocked look on her face, all her attention on him.

“Don’t you ever get tired of bossing me around?”

She opens her mouth, closes it, realizes he’s joking but not really, and looks away.

“Pick your clothes up off the floor,” she demands.

He stares at her for a moment and doesn’t move, just long enough.  Then he picks up his clothes and places them in the hamper, but she’s not even looking, frowning in concentration at her book.  He thinks of all the things he could do.  He might open his mouth and words might tumble out he can’t take back.  He wants the last word, and he might slam the door, and something would break that could never be mended.  He might scream until his voice is gone.

He feels suddenly dangerous.

He studies her for a moment longer, then turns and walks into their bathroom and sits on the closed lid.  His nails have cut thin slivers of blood into his palms.




Anne McPherson


Anne McPherson Arthurs grew up in Carbondale, Illinois and earned a BA from Southern Illinois University and an MFA from Western Michigan University.  Her fiction has appeared in a collection titled Short Stories from the Neighborhood Vol. 2 and The Whitefish Review.  She currently lives outside Chicago with her husband and two children.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post