Bus Monkey

Everyone who boarded the Q69 bus saw the scruffy, brown monkey sitting in the hard plastic seat by the door. It was impossible not to; animals in general were a rare sight on public transportation, but primates especially so. When each passenger paid for their ride and walked past him, they were inevitably presented with a flash of fangs and an anxious squeak from below. He bared his teeth at every third or fourth person who passed, startling each of them without exception. Some gasped, some quickened their pace, some made accidental eye contact and then immediately cast their gaze downward; the reactions varied, but not by much.

 

As peculiar a sight as the monkey was, nobody seemed to question his presence; after all, they reasoned, he probably had somewhere to be just like the rest of them. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to ride the bus? How else would he get around the city; by motorcycle? In this traffic? The thought of it was like something out of a cartoon, or a Sesame Street episode brought to you by the letter M. No, the bus was the only logical way to get from Point A to B in this town, whether you wore a suit and tie or a more literal monkey suit.

“45th street next,” squawked the bus driver’s modulated voice through the loudspeaker. The monkey stood up in his seat and chirped excitedly, grabbing the pole next to him and spinning around it like a small, exceptionally hirsute stripper. His feet brushed through the blonde, blown-out hair of the lady next to him, who immediately pulled out a compact and began putting it back in its place.

When the bus pulled to a halt, the monkey jumped down from his seat and ambled to the doorway, his bare feet slapping the floor; the steps were made for humans, so he worked his way down them cautiously and onto the sidewalk. He made no attempt to turn and thank the bus driver for getting him to his destination safely, and the driver didn’t seem to mind. “50th street next,” said the bus driver into the loudspeaker. The Q69 bus hissed as it rose from the curb, and the monkey screeched at it in return. Then it scratched itself, sniffed at the wind, and ambled on down the street to its next appointment.

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Past Due

stillwaiting

Well, this is awkward.

I started this blog awhile ago with the intention of writing every day, posting content regularly, and generally developing a body of work that reflected who I was as a person. And given that I haven’t updated it in over three years, what does that say about me?

*EDIT*

I went into a whole bit here about where I went wrong, bemoaning my tired excuses and citing the frozen agony of the blank page… but then I deleted it, because honestly, who wants to read that crap? Who even has time for it? Is there anything more worthless than a writer whining self-indulgently about how hard it is to write, without ever actually producing anything?

Answer: there isn’t. And since the hardest part of writing is actually getting words down on paper (aka the part where you write), I’m going to use this brief post as a jumping off point. Rather than staring paralytically at my stagnant page, wondering whether I’ll be able to fill it with anything meaningful, or if I should just stop paying the annual domain fee and start collecting crickets, I’m breaking the ice right now. This is my next update.

It isn’t the next Great American Novel, or an incisive rant about the state of things, or a stage play in three parts that’ll bring the house down when Helen bursts from the cupboard to reveal she was alive all along. It’s an update for its own sake, and now that it’s out of the way, the real work can begin: y’know, the part where I actually write stuff and see it through to the end.

Stay tuned for more. I promise, it’s coming.

 

 

The Power of The Dark Side

STORMTROOPERS

“You’re making us look bad out there,” said Norman, “you can’t just leave me swinging in the wind when our cue comes up.” He stared across the table at Ted, both men still wearing their costumes.

Ted shoveled another chunk of egg and bacon into his mouth and looked back at him with an affected bemusement. “Norm, I dunno wat yer talkin abou-”

“Don’t talk at me with that mouthful of breakfast, you sound like a complete idiot” said Norman. “And stop calling me Norm; I’m not that fat lush from Cheers.”

Ted swallowed his food and the fake confusion became genuine: “What’s Cheers?” he replied.

Norman’s face wilted, and he cradled it in his black and white gloved hands as he mumbled through his fingers “Never mind. Just forget I ever said a single word.”

“Done” said Ted with a wry smile.

Norman slowly ran his fingers through his prematurely grey hair and then stared at Ted for a moment, judging his demeanor. “I’m serious, Ted. If you keep forgetting your blocking, management is gonna bring the hammer down on our balls. Nobody’s gonna think twice about replacing two asshole Stormtroopers.”

Ted’s amusement shriveled a bit at this last remark. He’d been working at the Jedi Training Academy in Disney World for about a year now and, though he’d started off as a lowly Stormtrooper, had accrued so many commendations in such a short time that the head supervisor saw fit to promote him; he would now be performing as Darth Vader.

Darth-freaking-Vader, he told himself, as well as anyone else who would listen. Surely this was the very definition of climbing up the ladder, adopting the mantle of the iconic Sith Lord himself. Ted had practiced his Vader walk in the mirror on the morning of his big debut, stalking across the floor of his bedroom with the drapes closed and the AC blasting. That was about a week ago, before the incident that landed him back down where he started, at the level of “henchman stooge” to hear Ted tell it.

“I’m not just some asshole Stormtrooper like you, I’m D-”

“Don’t even start” said Norman, “Darth Vader doesn’t wear what you’re wearing right now. You were given a chance with the black, god knows why, and you proved you weren’t ready for the responsibility. Still aren’t.”  By the squeezed fury on Ted’s face he knew he’d found a gap in his defenses. “How did you manage to make that kid piss his pants anyway? Darth Vader’s not even a speaking role, the voice is pre-recorded for Christ’s sake.”

“I DIDN’T…” started Ted, before sighing. “…I didn’t make him pee his pants, I… the stupid kid’s face was covered in juice! A stiff breeze would’ve done the job; it had nothing to do with me.” In truth, the pudgy boy in the crowd had been consuming juice boxes from his mother’s cooler bag at near lightspeed before he was picked to join the other children and, just like the rest of them, given a hooded brown Jedi training robe and a toy lightsaber. After their brief training the younglings watched in silence as two Imperial Stormtroopers, one of them Norman, scurried onstage and took position at either side of a great blast door, their iconic white and black armor a sign of what was surely to come.

The door behind them slid open with an evil hiss revealing Darth Ted, bathed in a red glow and wreathed in smoke. As he stepped out onto the stage and the automated recording of the “real” Darth Vader’s respirator hissed through the loudspeakers, Ted felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The suit fit like a glove, as did the gloves in fact, and the inside of the helmet was cool and refreshing, as though his head were suspended in a miniature snow globe. Through the eyepieces, he peered down at the little warriors before him and pointed menacingly at the group as he walked towards them. The pudgy boy at the front of the pack stood rigidly still with his arms at his side, licking his juice-stained lips.

Ted stopped in front of the little boy and loomed over him, matching his breathing with the pre-recorded rasps from the loudspeaker. The James Earl Jones sound-alike’s bassy voice buzzed through the air, beckoning for the children to join him and his Emperor. “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side” growled the voice, just as Ted cast his hand out toward the pudgy boy and slowly clenched it into a fist. The boy’s hands instinctively sprung up from his sides and covered his throat, fearing the Sith master’s terrible Force powers

Ted grinned inside his helmet at the boy’s willingness to play along, and he saw a bit of himself in this young padawan learner. That is, until he saw the small dark spot which appeared on the front of the boy’s khaki shorts, a spot which widened quickly until the whole of the front panel changed color. The little girl on his right side looked down when she felt a splash on her sandals and shouted “EWW,” a sentiment which spread through the rest of the kids onstage and in turn through the crowd of onlookers. The pudgy boy burst into tears, his face turning beet red as Ted towered over him, his fist still clenched tightly. Ted maintained that he was trying to save the integrity of the performance, but his supervisor found him at fault anyway, having displayed a level of malice “not in keeping with the spirit of the show.”

Norman stiffened, placing his hands palm-down on the table in front of him. “Look, I don’t really give a shit about any of that. What I do give a shit about is you half-assing your current job while I’m up there with you.” Ted’s brow crinkled, and he began to explain that going from a high profile position back down to a comedy sidekick was not an easy transition to make, but again Norman cut him off. “You keep saying this, but I’m having trouble seeing the disconnect here. You played a Stormtrooper for a year or so, you transitioned from a guy in a mask with no lines to a guy in a mask with… let me think… NO lines. It ain’t exactly rocket science, kid.”

“Don’t call me kid,” said Ted, “I’m twenty years old.”

Norman rolled his eyes. “Ooo, TWENTY. How the higher-ups saw fit to promote a kid like you before the more experienced players is beyond me.”

Ted’s face shot up to look at Norman. “A-HA!” he said, and pounded the table with his fist. “That’s what this is, you’re jealous of me. You wanted to be the Sith Lord, but you just couldn’t hack it. It all comes out in the wash, doesn’t it Norm?”

Norman scowled back at Ted, and replied “No, assdick, I couldn’t give two shits about what costume I’m wearing. I’m in it for the money, and for whatever reason the pricks at payroll decided that working Vader ought to pay more than any other role.”

Ted’s brief moment of triumph was rapidly deflating like a punctured bouncy-castle, and the smile began to melt off his face. “No it doesn’t, I would’ve noticed…”

“Oh, you would’ve noticed? You’re so caught up in filling Vader’s codpiece, I’m surprised you even noticed the piss-puddle at your feet. Not to mention, you had the job for all of one week. It’s a wonder you didn’t get demoted down to Ewok duty.” Norman leaned back in his seat with his fingers interlaced, awaiting the next response from Ted, who glared at him through pressed eyelids.

“They don’t even have Ewoks in this show, genius. Anyway, how could someone tall enough to be Darth Vader play a furry little midget-bear?”

Norman clenched his eyes shut and rubbed his temples in a clockwise swirling motion. “All that, and the only word you heard was Ewok. Do you even GET what the issue is here? You’re not Darth-freaking-Vader; you’re not even Storm-freaking-trooper at this point. You’re Ted, Ted-freaking-douchebag, and I’m sick of it to be perfectly honest.

Norman shot up from his seat and began to walk away, before Ted said “Oh what, are you gonna quit now?”

He stopped in his tracks and spun back to face Ted, a look of disbelief on his face.  “Quit? Are you retarded? I’m gonna get my shifts switched so I don’t get dragged down by your post-pubescent delusions. Enjoy it while it lasts, kid.” With that he stormed off, leaving Ted alone in the break room with his white helmet and his cold eggs.

100 Stories in 100 Days *UPDATE*

It’s time we had a talk. About two weeks ago, I took on the challenge of writing 100 stories in 100 days. This was a foolish thing to do on my part. Writing a story a day for 10 days would have been ambitious; 100 days was damn near suicidal. It’s not that I had a problem writing every day, I’ve certainly been writing every day since the challenge began. Finding something I felt comfortable enough with to share each day, on the other hand, that’s the rub that really got me.

Anyway, the point is this: I’m extending the challenge to something a bit more manageable. I will be looking to put out at least one story each week, although some weeks may have more. One story a week feels a lot more doable, like I won’t be pulling my hair out every night the way that I am now.

It’s a start, at least.

It’s a Gift

Cara was bad at receiving gifts, which was perfect because Rufus was bad at giving them. In fairness, it wasn’t that he was bad at giving, but that his actual gift choices were a lot less than perfect: for her past two birthdays, he’d given her a Chia Pet and a novelty ice cube tray. Upon unwrapping her third birthday present to discover a singularly ugly ring, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that Carol responded with the question “Is this it?”

Even still, Rufus felt hurt. Rather than wait until the last minute to find something like he so often did with birthdays, he’d decided well in advance to go hunting for a gift that would be unimpeachable this time. After wandering the streets and peering through shop windows on his lunch break, his eyes had eventually fallen upon the answer to his prayers resting on an old velvet pillow behind a dusty pane of glass.

The ring was remarkably unimpressive in seemingly every respect: the metal was cloudy, its black stone was all but devoid of facets, and it seemed as though it had been fashioned to fit someone with an octagonal finger. Still, the ring seemed to pulse with good intentions. Above it hung a sign which said “DEAL” in large, honest letters, which was enough to make Rufus bite.

The man behind the counter watched with hawk’s eyes as Rufus entered the store and set the little bell by the door to tinkling. “Good afternoon my good man, welcome to CUTTER’S CURIOSITIES.” He pronounced the name with golden syllables, matching the sparkling paint with which it was printed on the sign above the counter.

“Hi… about that ring…” Rufus found the words pouring from his mouth before he’d even finished with his greeting, but thought nothing of it.

“Ah yes, you were admiring the Ring of Arunuu? A wise choice.” The man flitted out from behind the counter and up to the window display, whisking the ring off its pillow and holding it aloft between his thumb and forefinger for Rufus to see. “To look at it, not the flashiest or prettiest of jewelry, but then again it’s not meant to be is it?” He asked as if expecting an answer, but did not wait for one. “This ring is special, you see. It exists to be wanted, to be desired and longed for.”

Rufus licked his lips and thought for a moment. “How is it that this Ring of… Abubu or whoever… how come it’s so desirable? Looking at it I know it can’t be worth much.”

The clerk laughed. “Ah, and yet you cannot help its allure can you? The ring is desirable, not for any of its physical characteristics, but because it wants to be wanted. A piece of jewelry like any other, to be sure, and yet within it there flows a certain, what is the word? A certain energy.”

“So it’s magic then,” Rufus said.

The other man shrugged, placing the ring back on its velvety pillow. “Not magic, nothing so coarse as magic. Just an energy, is all. The ring senses desire, fosters longing in those who do not possess it.” Rufus looked at it; even in the sunlight the black stone failed to produce a glimmer, and yet he knew in his heart that this was the perfect gift. A ring that inspired such desire as to overcome its mediocrity would surely be the ideal present for his dear Cara.

“How much for it?”

The shopkeeps’ ear twitched, and he turned to face Rufus with a smile. “For you, fifty.”

Rufus had walked away from the store feeling up on the whole thing, and the ring sat in his drawer waiting to be given. And yet, when Cara’s birthday came at last, her face did not beam with excitement upon the opening of her present.

“Of course that’s it, look at that thing will you?” Rufus waited for the ring to work its charm, to hook Cara in its tendrils and reel her in, but the moment wouldn’t come. She looked at the ring, sitting there in the little green and yellow wrapped box, and then up at her lover, the man with whom she’d decided to spend her life. He smiled; her countenance reminded him of  a cat’s upon being presented with a dog toy.

Cara grasped for something positive to say, but came up disastrously short. “Thank you. It’s… it’s not great.”

Rufus was crestfallen. What had gone wrong? The following day, on his lunch break, he revisited the store where he’d purchased the ring. The bell beside the door tinkled as he entered, but this time the clerk was not behind the counter. “Hello” he asked, “anybody here?” There was a rustling from the back of the shop, and the shopkeep appeared from behind a swinging bead curtain.

“Hello again my friend, how may I be of assistance?” The man could see that Rufus was agitated, even before he reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny gift box, slapping it on the counter.

“Well, you can start by explaining what kind of game you’re playing with this Abubu ring.” He pointed at the box, saying “I thought it was supposed to ‘foster desire in the heart’ or somesuch. Damn thing did the opposite!”

The shopkeep smiled earnestly. “I believe there has been some confusion. I said that the Ring of Arunuu wants to be wanted, to be possessed. I made no claims on the disposition of an individual once it came into their possession. Whether or not you inferred it is another matter entirely.”

Rufus felt in his gut that he’d been bamboozled. “I think you let me infer that, I think you knew that I’d do it and you let me do it anyway. You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”

“Sir, please do not think that I intentionally deceived you; if I have done so, it was purely by chance. Please, allow me to refund your money. Keep the ring as well, if you wish.” The clerk pulled a $50 bill from the register, the same $50 bill that Rufus had paid for the ring in the first place. “No hard feelings.

Rufus took the money, but hesitated upon picking up the gift box with the ring in it. A crushing feeling of ownership washed over him; looking at it, he felt none of the gravitic attraction from before. “Yeah, you can keep it.  Thanks for the refund though.”

Stuffing the cash into his pocket, Rufus turned and exited the shop through the door, setting the bell beside it to tinkling. The shopkeep returned the ring to its seat on the velvet pillow in the window display where it sat, blithely unsparkling beneath a sign that said “DEAL” in large, honest letters.

The People Around Us

Emily Ingram’s parents argued whenever a storm was coming, so she would stand outside on the porch and listen to the stories that the trees told when they thought no one was listening. The wind swept through their boughs giving them breath, like a bow drawn across a fine catgut string, and the trees’ leaves would tremble with the strength of their voices. When they’d lived in the city for a time, the Ingram family had stayed in an apartment next door to a couple who spoke Cantonese. Listening to the trees speak with storm winds felt a lot like hearing Cantonese again, not knowing what the words meant but feeling the emotion instead.

Against the churning cauldron of rain-heavy clouds in the sky, the canopies of the trees cut impressive profiles; the leaves were black as soot flakes from a wood stove, and together they waved like billowing carpets in the wind. The tallest of them, a thick red oak with gnarled roots that Emily had named Horn, towered over the rest with ease, and there were times when she could swear she felt him looking at her. Horn was a truly remarkable creature; Emily called him that, a creature, because that’s what he was, really. Her science textbook had told her that trees could grow, trees could eat, they could even breathe; so what made them any different from animals? From Emily herself?

Her teacher, Mrs. Humburger, had chided her when she asked about it in class one day. “Plants are not people, Miss Ingram, they are Plants. If you go around in the real world talking about how plants are people, everyone will think you’re a crazy hippie and nobody will want to hire you. Now, recite from page sixty-three please.”

Yet, when she got home and looked at them, Emily swore that she felt a connection with the trees. How could something that breathed and spoke not be like her in the least little way? She saw them quiver and sway before a storm, like Emily did when she knew ice cream was coming. She saw them embrace as lovers, interleaving their branches like fingers only to cast themselves apart on a rogue gust. It was all well and good for Mrs. Humburger to say she was wrong; she was the teacher, that was her job. All it did, though, was make Emily more certain that she was right.

When she told her father about it at the dinner table that night, he laughed. “That Mrs. Humburger is a real ball-breaker.” Turning to Emily’s mother, he asked “Remember parent teacher night?”

Her mother cringed in her seat. “I do not like that woman. She reminds me of a toad with a bad wig.” Emily laughed. “I shouldn’t say that; don’t laugh at your teacher, Emily.”

“Listen to your mother, honey. We might not like her, but Mrs. Humburger’s right about one thing: plants are definitely not people.”

The matter was settled for her parents, but Emily still heard whispers when the wind whistled in the treetops at night. She didn’t dare go outside to listen, but would instead press her ear against her bedroom window and strain to hear the trees speak.

One Saturday morning in July, her father’s favorite radio show was interrupted by an emergency weather announcement: a super-storm would be sweeping the entire county, and residents were advised to stay inside their homes for the duration of the event. It was bright and sunny when the announcement was made, but by mid-afternoon the skies began to darken like water with drops of ink. The wind chimes on the porch began to sound, slowly at first and then more continuously, to the point where Emily’s mother had to take them down because she feared they might break. True to form, this sparked an argument between her parents. Emily took refuge on the porch, and listened to the trees.

They sounded scared. As the wind swirled through their branches, the elms trembled and shivered in terrific fits of anxiety. The red oaks stood firmer, but their voices still betrayed trepidation; only Horn seemed unaffected. Upright and resolute, his branches didn’t even appear to be moving in the wind.

Emily sat on the porch with her knees bent, Indian-style, and felt the wind blow her hair about her face. The sky had darkened to an early-evening hue, and all around her the trees were murmuring. With an insidious tapping, the rain began to fall. The droplets were fat, and soon the sound of them slapping every surface seemed to drown out all other noises. She couldn’t hear her parents arguing inside, and even the wind-voices of the trees were barely audible. Emily was beginning to wonder just how bad the storm was going to get when a brilliant flash of light filled her vision, and for a brief moment the entire area was illuminated in a white glow. Then, a split second later, came the deafening boom. And then came the screaming.

Horn was on fire. The entire length of him was bathed in dancing yellow flames that spread quickly upward into his canopy, which was instantly engulfed. The sight was terrifying, but it was the sound that made the biggest impression on Emily. As the wind whipped through and fed the dancing flames, she could hear the great tree screaming. It groaned and cracked, and emitted a piercing shriek of what she knew was pain. The shock forced her up onto her feet, and she too began to scream.

Her parents rushed out onto the porch and saw the tree ablaze, saw their daughter crying fiercely. Her father shouted against the wind, “What the hell are you doing out here Em? You’re supposed to be inside, it’s too dangerous!”

“Horn is dying,” she sobbed, “we have to help him!”

Emily’s mother wrapped her arms around her and scooped her up off her feet, carrying her back inside. Once the door was closed, she put her daughter down and said “It was lightning baby, lightning struck that big old tree. It happens sometimes.”

The storm raged on through the night, but by the next morning it was gone. Before breakfast, Emily went outside to get a look at the aftermath.

The yard was strewn with fallen branches and leaves, and a couple of smaller trees had been brought down by the wind. Horn was still standing, but that was all that could be said for him. His trunk was charred and black, and there were no leaves on his branches anymore. Emily cried again as she stood before him, then wiped her tears and listened. She couldn’t hear any voices. There was no wind blowing, and everything was still.

Any Excuse

The cat leapt onto Bernard’s desk, swatting his typewriter. “Dammit Snickers, Daddy can’t play anymore. He’s got work to do, see?”

Snickers stared at Bernard, his chocolate paw on the typewriter. He mewed plaintively.

Bernard stared at the page. Pure white.

He grabbed Snickers’ toy. “Five more minutes, that’s it.

When a Good Man Cheats

Nothing in the bread bowl had seemed appetizing, but that didn’t stop Carol from chewing through three Pumpernickel rolls before her parents showed up. Mr. and Mrs. Corwin, or “Stuart and Bonnie” as they preferred to be called, arrived at 8:02 pm in outfits that could only be described as intimidating.

Stuart wore a double-breasted suit, jet black and tailored, with a shirt the color of bleached bone and a burgundy tie in a Windsor knot; Bonnie wore an emerald-colored off-the-shoulder dress, and a string of pearls around her neck that could choke a hippo. Carol had chosen her best work outfit: a light grey pencil skirt, a pumpkin-colored blouse and a blazer she’d picked up at Marshall’s for $25.

“Hi Mom, Hi Dad” said Carol, rising from her seat and kissing both of her parents on the cheek.

“Hello Caroline,” said Stuart, pulling out Bonnie’s chair and then his own. “Lovely to see you again.”

“Will you look at that shirt, Stuart? Our daughter is positively glowing” said Bonnie, her white teeth flashing.

“Thanks Mom” said Carol, reaching for the bread bowl again before stopping herself. “You look great, as usual.”

“Oh this old thing? Just something your father picked up for me, I said it was too much but you know him. Always the gentleman.”

A waiter came by with the menus. Stuart ordered the duck confit with garlic potatoes for himself, and the herb-encrusted chicken for Bonnie. Carol asked for the lamb, and a glass of Cabernet. When the waiter left, Stuart adjusted his knife and fork so they sat perfectly parallel to the plate. “So, Caroline, how is Brian?”

Carol hesitated for a moment before saying, “He’s great. Fine, really.” The blue in her father’s eyes glittered like sapphires in the light of the candle on the table. “How have you two been?”

Before Stuart could respond, Bonnie jumped in. “Oh, you know how it is. One month we’re at home, the next month we’re on vacation in Bali; I’m sure Brian keeps you busy like that too.”

Carol stared down at her plate and said nothing. As if in response, the waiter came back with her wine, a long-stemmed piece of crystal filled nearly to the brim with inky crimson. Carol took a deep gulp and set the glass back down beside her plate.

“Actually, Brian’s the reason I asked you guys to have dinner with me tonight.” Carol took a long breath before saying the words she’d rehearsed in the mirror before leaving her apartment. “We’re getting a divorce.”

Bonnie’s face froze in a silent shriek. Stuart’s upper lip quivered for a microsecond, but remained firm. What felt like hours of silence passed, before Stuart broke it. “What did you do?”

Carol spun her eyes up to meet her father’s, stared at him with the sapphires he’d given her. “I didn’t do anything, we just… we can’t be together anymore.”

Her mother’s death mask softened, and she actually let herself laugh. “Oh honey, you’ve only been married a month! You’re still getting used to each other’s little quirks, it’s completely natural; your father and I hated each other for the first two months after our honeymoon. You need to give it time.”

Carol’s eyes began to water. “Brian doesn’t have any little quirks. It’s not about the honeymoon and it’s not about me, we just can’t be together anymore okay?”

Stuart stared at his daughter, before repeating himself. “Caroline, what did you do?”

She began to sob. “I didn’t… it’s not like that, dad!”

Bonnie had a brainstorm. “I think I know what this is. Carol, honey, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world if Brian cheated on you. It’s always hard when a good man cheats, but you can recover from this. Believe it or not, your father and I went through the same thing.” She entwined her fingers with Stuart’s, and said “If anything, it made our marriage stronger.”

Carol’s tears stopped, and her face  “Brian didn’t cheat on me, mom; he beat me.”

Now it was Stuart’s turn to be shocked. He sat in silence, staring at the bombshell his daughter had just laid out before them. “He beat you?”

Just then, the food arrived. The waiter mixed up everyone’s order, giving Stuart’s duck to Carol, Bonnie’s chicken to Stuart and Carol’s lamb to her mother. Nobody corrected him, or even seemed to notice. “Bon appetit,” said the waiter.

“Yes dad, he beat me… with his fist. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”

Bonnie was horrified, but this time Stuart cut her off. “How can you think I’d ask something like that? Is that what you think of me?”

“Really, dad? You can’t figure out why I’d think that’d be your next move? Maybe because it’s all been my fault, every bad thing that’s ever happened in my life. Isn’t that what you’ve always told me?”

Stuart’s upper lip trembled. “But not this… never this…”

“Oh, what-ever. Don’t break character now, it doesn’t suit you.” Carol looked down at the duck on the plate before her, sizzling sweetly in its own juices. It made her want to throw up. “I can’t do any more of this,” she said, getting up to leave.

“Don’t go honey, please” squeaked Bonnie, reaching for her daughter’s hand. Tears slipped from behind her eyes, loosening the mascara on her lashes. “We love you.”

Carol reached for her purse and stopped. “I know you do, mom. I came here to tell you guys, and I told you. I just can’t be around another screwed-up couple right now.” She turned to her father, whose penetrating blue gaze was nowhere to be seen. “Good job cheating on mom, by the way. I hope she fucks a cabana boy on your next trip to Bali.”