Fiction

Not the Asshole

By: Linda McMullen

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

            In the final three years of our marriage, John argued exhaustively with the anonymous denizens of AITA Reddit.  “Goodnight, Tommy!” he’d call upstairs to our son, his keyboard clacking without pause. 

So, last night – Thursday – I promised Tommy that I’d take him to the Monster Spider Jump at the mall if I got a good report from his dad.  (This contraption, resembling a medieval BDSM jamboree in the Elysium Mall food court, offers a combination bungee-jump-and-trampoline-bash.  For the kids.)  

            Tommy considered my proposal – remembering, no doubt, his Rotten Tomatoes-level performance at his dad’s two weekends ago.  But eventually, he nodded. 

            Tonight, I walk Tommy to John’s door, toting his overnight bag.  Tommy hugs Ish, his stuffed koala.  John’s cologne assaults both of us before he opens the door.  Tommy sneezes; I say, “Good happy hour, huh?”

            John’s brow performs foreboding tectonic shifts and I resist the urge to apologize.  He finally produces, “You swore you wouldn’t, Christine.”

            “You and Daddy will have a great time,” I say to Tommy, in a bright, billowing voice borrowed from every children’s theatre puppeteer ever.  To John: “I remembered what you said last time, so I’ve packed three Pull-Ups in the zipper pocket and –”

            “He’s too big to be having accidents.”

            “It’s a phase.”

            “He’s SEVEN.”

Tommy looks back at me, then, his tiny spire of dignity lightning-struck, and my heart implodes. 

            “He’s working on it,” I say, my tone undaunted, while inwardly I want to pummel John until he bleats, then chokes to death on his own contempt.  “All right, sweetie, I’m going to give you a big hug and then you and Daddy will have a great weekend.”  Tommy clings.  I disengage him gently; he sinks onto John’s couch, toying dismally with the remote.

            I hesitate.  Finally, I dig in my purse, and hand John an envelope.  “Two 90-minute passes for Adventure Zone laser tag.  He’s finally old enough.” 

            “But –” John begins.  But I interrupt the excuse-and-delay-tactic symphony tuning up:

“You’re not doing this for you, and I’m not doing this for you.  Have a great weekend.”

###

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over one hundred fifty literary magazines.

Categories: Fiction

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