Published April 27, 2004

by Bill Teitelbaum

Clymer was sitting at the kitchen counter, waiting for the kids to get out of the tub. He would tuck them into bed, he would kiss them, and he would leave.

That was the plan, Clymer reminded himself.

Only bath time seemed to be taking an unusually long time tonight, and he didn't care that much for the way Holly was fussing at them.

photo by Erin Brauer"Wash with soap, I said. You call that washing — where's that washcloth?"

Maybe it would be better to leave right now, Clymer thought. Just yell down the hall and get out of there.

One of the children laughed then, moving Clymer to smile, but when the laughter stopped Clymer felt his uneasiness return.

Departing promptly after dropping off the kids had become something of an issue for Clymer in recent months. "So how's it goin'?" he would ask, but the next thing he knew she'd be crying her eyes out, complaining how hard everything was for her now, and Clymer as usual would try to comfort and reassure her and calm her down and stroke her hair and wipe her face, and before he knew it he'd be looking for his clothes behind the furniture again.

You could call it kindness, Clymer supposed, but it made everything they had gone through seem so foolish to him, like none of it had meant anything.

Sometimes it was how she couldn't meet anybody. Or every guy she met was an octopus. Or a screamer. Or a deadbeat. Or a moron, giving her grief because she wouldn't let him in the house.

"'Hey, I got my kids here,' I told this jerk."

pull quoteClymer said, "Holly, I don't need to hear this."

"But there's people out there, like just the other night even, I was out with this guy and he seemed like a really decent guy for once. So fine then, so he takes me home and we're sitting in his car and he says he can understand why probably we shouldn't have sex right away, like probably it would be better if we know each other first, but he figures I can give him a handjob. He says he has to be honest about his needs with me."

"Holly, I told you, I can't talk about these things with you. It's not my business anymore."

But she couldn't tell her sister, Holly protested, and she didn't have any single friends that she knew well enough to confide in this way. "You're really the only friend I've got now, Ray. I really don't have any other friends."

Which was a lie. Probably, Clymer thought, she just had too much time on her hands. Like she was missing something. When she was pregnant she was fine, Clymer remembered. Everyone had paid attention to her.

Story Copyright © Bill Teitelbaum