Kids Are Resilient

“But I don’t want to go see Daddy,” the 6-year-old girl in pigtails and Hello Kitty swimsuit said to her mother. “I’m scared.”

“I know sweetie,” her mother, a woman named Amy, told her. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, and daddy still loves you. He’ll be waiting for you at his pool. Now go back to the girl’s locker room and get dressed for the trip.”

The girl turned and walked back toward the pool clubhouse, sobbing.

“Poor dear,” said one of the other women sunning herself.

“Tell me about it,” said Amy. “He’s such an idiot. I don’t blame her for not wanting to see him. Not like this one,” she said, indicating a tall muscular man walking toward the fence as she picked up one of several glass pitchers full of iced tea and began pouring some into a red plastic cup.

The group of women in their thirties and forties sat around a large table under an umbrella at the neighborhood pool talking and laughing while selected songs popular in the early 2000s played softly over the pool’s sound system. Most of the women were fit and wearing flattering bikinis with sheer wraps around their waists and large white and pink hats with wide, floppy brims. They occasionally answered questions shouted by the kids in the pool or shouted instructions to them. They also frequently turned to look out on the playground outside the pool’s safety fence where their husbands and boyfriends surrounded by open toolboxes worked on some kind of large see-saw on the playground. Occasionally, one of the men would break off and walk over to the fence where one of the women would pour him some tea.

“Got any beer in there?” the man asked with a smile as he waited for Amy to finish pouring.

“Oh you just hush, Jack Allenby!” his wife scolded as she passed him the cup over the fence. “You know the pool rules.”

“Then how about taking your top off?” he said with a playful leer.

“You’re horrible!” she said, laughing in mock outrage.

“Newlyweds!” one of the other women said. “Sickening!” she continued with mock disgust.

“Hey, watch this!” a young boy shouted from the diving board. Amy, Jack, and all of the adults turned to look as he took a few steps and bounced hard on the end of the board which flexed deeply under his weight before tossing him high the air over the deep end of the pool. The boy successfully performed a full if somewhat awkward flip and entered the water feet-first.

“Nice!”, “Atta boy” came shouts from the playground. The women all clapped enthusiastically.

“That was awesome, Joey,” his mother shouted. “Your best yet. Keep practicing for when it really counts!”

The young boy beamed and gave a thumbs up sign before diving under the water. The women laughed uneasily.

“What a great kid,” one of the other moms said. “I sure wish my Zane had his work ethic.”

Jack tilted the cup and swallowed the last of the tea. He handed the cup back over the fence to his wife as the moms grew silent.

“How is Zane doing, Janelle?” Amy asked. “I guess I need to get back up to Children’s Hospital to see him.”

“Oh he’d love that,” Janelle replied. “He’s got a few more days in traction, then on to physical therapy. But at least he’ll get to come home.”

The moms all agreed that was a good thing, and they all smiled reassuringly. All but one, that is. That mother wore a lacy green one-pice swimsuit and had her natural Auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail under a large straw sunhat sporting a pink hibiscus flower. She stared at the children in the pool uneasily and sipped from a plastic tube protruding from a large insulated bottle. Everyone knew there was white wine in the bottle. They knew because each of them had often used the same trick.

“It’s going to be fine, Miranda,” Amy called to her.

Miranda’s head rolled slightly from side to side as she nodded silently.

Just then the cell phone on the faux-thatch lounge chair lit up and began vibrating. Miranda’s hand trembled as she picked it up and accepted the call. She held the phone to her ear.

She turned toward the other women. The men on the playground had stopped working and were looking in her direction. “It’s Jimmy’s dad,” she said, her face ashen and devoid of expression. “Jimmy’s coming home.”

“Out of the pool, kids!” Amy yelled. “Jimmy’s coming home! Let’s get ready!”

The kids climbed out of the pool and ran into the clubhouse where they all lined up shoulder to shoulder at the glass wall overlooking the pool and looked up in the direction their parents and parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends were looking.

The children were shouting and cheering as the object came into view, descending quickly from the air, a gray bundle that suddenly dropped and skidded across the diving board, slamming into the fence. Miranda screamed and vomited in her chair, her body shaking. The women rushed to her as the children poured out of the clubhouse racing for the pool are where the men rushed to the boy.

The boy lay crumpled against the fence, the helmet and full face mask he was wearing cracked in several places, and the thick, padded suit torn and bloody.

“He’s unconscious,” one of the men announced. “Broken leg, possibly wrist. Looks like he lost a couple of teeth.”

The women consoled Miranda. “It could have been much worse,” Amy said reassuringly, but Miranda couldn’t hear her. She had picked up the phone and was screaming at her ex-husband. Amy tried to take the phone away from her when Jack walked over and put his arms around his wife and pulled her to the side.

“Catapult’s ready,” he told her. “It’s time for Hailey to go see her dad.”

The little girl was carried to the catapult as the men took turns cranking the tension wheel. Wrapped in what they were calling the “travel outfit”, the little girl’s sobs were muffled by the thick helmet. A small trickle of urine dripped from the pants leg onto the dirt under the catapult.

“Hey, the cuff isn’t tucked,” one of the men pointed out. The oversight was quickly corrected, then the tension lock was struck with a sledgehammer and the girl was flung screaming in the direction of her father’s house nearby while Amy buried her face in her hands and sobbed for almost a minute.

Then her phone rang.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Reunion

When Rod arrived at the country club where his twenty-fifth high school reunion was taking place, the party was on the verge of winding down. His showing up more than fashionably late with a woman just ten years older than they had been when they graduated in 1984 seemed to focus everyone’s attention on the attractive couple. That–combined with the fact that no one had really seen or heard from him since then–drew many pairs of bloodshot eyes framed with drooping lids above and loose, sagging bags below in his direction.

“Rex returns!” shouted a portly man in blue seersucker jacket and pants paired with a  pink golf shirt. He rushed over to greet Rod and his date.

Rod smiled down at him and shook his hand. “Indeed,” he said. “How are you, Chas?”

“You know me,” Chas replied, drunkenly mumbling and slurring his words. “Chash-tashtic as always!”

Rod smiled warmly at his old friend. Chas was sweating so hard it had soaked his shirt and was even coming through the thin seersucker. “This is Lara,” he said, introducing his companion who exchanged a handshake and pleasantries Chas.

“So what’s with this ‘Rex’ business?” Lara, a petite, girlish blonde with vivid blue eyes asked. “Something I should know about?”

“Oh I’m sure you know!” Chas exclaimed. He winked at the couple. “I gave him that nickname even though hish real name shays it all.” He winked again although it may have been an involuntary reaction to the sweat dripping off his brow and running into his eyes. “King of all swordsmen with the king of swords, Rex. How is ol’ Rex these days, podna?”

“Easy there, bud,” Rod said, followed by a stern chuckle. “Time and place was never your forté.”

Lara giggled just as a short, stocky brunette woman walked up, seemingly mesmerized by Rod’s presence.

“You remember my wife, Shally, right, Rod?” he asked in a more threatening and demanding tone. “I’m sure you do.”

“Of course,” replied Rod. “Although I didn’t know you two were married. Congratulations.”

Sally stared at Rob and seemed to say “Hello” shyly, but he didn’t see her mouth move.

Lara noticed it, too. “How did you do that?” she asked, but Sally just stared and smiled. Suddenly a stream of words, much louder now, began pouring forth from Sally’s direction yet her mouth remained closed and still.

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote…”

“Great!” shouted Chas as a crowd began to form. “Just fucking great!”

“That’s the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales!” someone shouted. “We had to memorize it in tenth grade!”

“…and bathed every veyne in swich licour…” continued the recitation from between Sally’s legs.

“Is that coming from her, her…nether regions?” a thin woman with leathery skin asked politely.

“Oh yeah,” Chas exclaimed. “King over there gave her a ride home one night in tenth grade when I had to go help pull my brother’s truck out of a mud hole.”

“Bethany? Bethany Summerlin?” Rod asked the thin woman. “That you?”

She smiled. “Hello, Rodney,” she said. “It’s Taylor now. You remember Seth Taylor?”

“Sure I do,” Rod replied. “I–”

But he stopped in mid-sentence as Bethany shuddered. Her body shook as they all began hearing a loud and energetic rendition of the Cyndi Lauper song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” coming from below Bethany.’s waistline As with Sally, she was just smiling and staring.

What seemed at first like random murmurs spreading across the banquet hall slowly grew louder. Rod and Lara looked around the room. Most of the men in the room–who also happened to be married to most of the women–stood speechless, their mouths ajar and jaws dropping as their wives smiled at Rod while their vaginas delivered performances of fight songs, school assignments, and what sounded like the emphatic observations and exclamations of NASCAR commentators.

“That’s the 1984 Iron Bowl! Our senior year!” one man shouted at his wife, a fit, fake redhead with large plastic tits. “We started dating when we were juniors!”

Another man heard “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Cleveland blaring loudly from his wife’s genitalia and simply wept. “That was our song,” he said to her plaintively, mournfully, his face twisted in abject misery. “My God! We played that at our wedding!”

A few men, sobbing deeply, walked over to the bar and started drinking, tossing back shots of whatever was close, their shoulders slumped, heads down as they poured one shot after another. Enraged, the rest screamed at their wives before turning en masse like a school of fish or a flock of birds and advancing on Rod and Lara.

Running for their lives, Rod and Lara squeezed past the ornately furnished tables and pushed through the double doors of the grand entryway and sprinted for Rod’s Audi, running for their lives with the mob of his former classmates, wild-eyed and howling like coyotes, just steps away. Rod hit the ignition and stomped the gas pedal as the back window was smashed and chunks of safety glass the size of pea gravel tumbled into the back seat. Rod steered the car directly across the flower bed in front of him and over the curb, taking the quickest route directly up the street quickly increasing the distance between them and the crazed pack of screaming cuckolds.

“You fucked them all in high school then?” Lara asked as gunshots echoed far behind them. “All those women? All of them?”

Rod checked the rearview mirror and shrugged. “The pussy never forgets,” he said as they sped away into the night.

###

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2024

I left town after the divorce, intending to make it back one day, but the boy stayed deployed most of the year, every year, and the girl married her college boyfriend right after graduation. He is a successful college basketball coach and they moved every few years as he kept winning and better job offers came in. So the 442 and I got to see most of the country together and alone.

It wasn’t my first choice for later life, but it sure as hell hasn’t been a bad second choice. Use your imagination.

Now I’m meeting the boy in Atlanta, at the airport. He’s done operating. We’re going to spend the night and then road trip up to Boston where my daughter and son-in-law just brought my third grandson into the world. My ex moved there so I might run into her. Haven’t seen her since the last birth. She started gaining weight and I think drinking a lot after the divorce and probably hasn’t stopped. It’s impossible not to care because who she is and what she does impacts the kids, same as I do.

People are pouring off that steep escalator between the two baggage claims but I see him immediately. He walks with purpose and no presumption and the crowd just parts for him. The truth is that I’m just glad he’s alive because he and his sister are my favorite people.

We hug and walk to the parking deck. I pull the key fob and hit the unlock button, and the car beeps. My son smiles, pulls that old suicide knob out of his pocket and holds it up.

“This thing has seen four continents,” he says.

I laugh. “Can’t believe you didn’t just bury it in the sandbox.”

“Thought about it,” he says and hands it to me.

“No,” I say. “It’s yours. Do what you want with it.”

He says, “Are you sure?” I say I definitely am and he closes it in his fist, shoves it in his pocket. He’s looking around for the 442.

“Here,” I say as I open the tailgate of a big black Yukon and take his bag.

“What the fuck?” he asks. “Where’s the Olds?”

“In your pocket,” I tell him as I toss his bag in. “Sold the rest to a doctor last year.”

“Well holy shit,” he says. “Holy fucking shit.”

Two days later we stop off in the District of Columbia for a couple days to take a driving break and to see some of his operator buddies. On our last night there we go for dinner at a crab house restaurant in Virginia on the Potomac. We stand out on the deck with drinks and look at the water while waiting for our table. Without saying a word he pulls that silver skull from his pocket and holds it up. We both smile as he chunks it high and far out over the river and watch it fall.

###

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2014

My daughter’s bare feet rest on the seat back between my son who’s driving and me riding shotgun. It’s a Tuesday in early Fall and the interstate south of Montgomery is wide open, practically deserted. I sip my water and watch the trees that border the roadway reflect in the glossy clear coat on the midnight blue hood of the 442, painted after almost thirty years when my son turned sixteen. The boy drove it for eighteen months until he’d saved enough at his various jobs to buy the truck he’d always wanted and have it lifted and modified proper. He just enlisted, intent on becoming a Ranger so he wanted to be the one driving down to the gulf for this long weekend before he has to report. The girl never wanted to drive it but made me teach her how the Hurst shifter works.

“Just in case,” she had said.

“In case of what?” I asked, laughing.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just want to know how it works.”

But she didn’t care about how it worked. She wanted to know how I work, wanted to know me and how my son knows me.

We cut the music off south of Birmingham and put the windows down to catch some airflow. It’s still just warm enough and the moving air whips through making talking difficult, which is fine. We said all we had to say for now the first hour and a half and talked ourselves out. My phone beeps and I check it. Email. Wife’s lawyer finally sent the divorce papers. My son hits my shoulder and I look up. I’m keeping this down. Can he see it in my fucking posture?

“Read that shit later,” he said. “We got nothing but time.”

My heart is broken for these kids. They’d made it through some bad years with the wife and assumed nothing but blue skies ahead. For some reason, I had, too, but the family is gone, exploded. I hate that they’ve lost that. That we’ve all lost that. What most people don’t understand is that when a family fails, over the long run there is usually no “better” solution. There is simply swapping one set of difficulties for another and it changes everything. But the world doesn’t quit spinning out of spite or pity. It keeps pushing the future at you. If my daughter sees me the least bit shaky, she bursts into tears which only breaks my heart more. A vicious circle.

My wife thinks the boy enlisted as some kind of reaction or something. She doesn’t know he’d been talking to me about it for a year and had asked me to keep it between us for now. Not sure why he hasn’t told her the truth. He’s a good boy, ready to conquer the world. Just out of high school and doesn’t really know the real education is just beginning.

My daughter just wants to finish school. This should be her final year if she keeps the momentum going. Dean’s list, all that. The boys she’s brought home every now and then have said and done all the right things. The ones she’s brought home. She talks to me about some of them but I don’t know what I don’t know. Not sure I want to know and pretty sure I’ll never know. But I am happy she’s in the Olds with us, her red, white, and blue toenail polish upon on the seat next to my son on his way to basic in a few weeks. It’s a memory I immediately know is one I will have as long as I have a memory, and I put the phone in the glove box and settle back into the seat, thinking about flags and family as the warm air flows through the car and I drift off to sleep.

When I wake up the air is salty. I sit up and see we are winding down the peninsula to our neighbor’s beach house. That neighbor couple is older than me. The boy and I have always helped them out with their vehicles and big projects, and they’ve always given us some time at the beach. They have the oldest house on the beach, almost a shack, really, compared to all of the new construction, but we’ve helped them keep it up as well.

We keep fishing gear there and the gulf always feeds us. Whiting. Pompano. The occasional flounder. We’ve been coming here near twenty years, but never without her until now.

“Some things never change,” my son says as he pulls into the slanted driveway and makes the tricky move in tight space to roll perfectly into the parking space under the porch on stilts. I watch him expertly turn the wheel and guide it back. We all get out and they start unloading the trunk. I take a deep breath and just watch.

I marvel at the both of them. I know I’ve accomplished something here but I’m not sure what anymore. I know that will change, that my compass is just spinning right now. For now, we’re together, the three of us, and that’s enough. I’ve kept them together all these years and kept the Olds together, too, and they all three look good. Everything looks good except that old, chipped suicide knob.

That old thing is starting to look out of place.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2004

The boy pushes the wrench to me. I tell him to quit scraping it on the concrete and I reach out from under the 442 to take it. It’s the wrong one, but he’s eight. I make like I’m using it for something important then push it back out. I turn my head and see him crouch down to pick it up then a loud clank as he drops it in the toolbox. Someday when this car is his I’ll tell him he was made in the back seat on a moonlit night while his sister slept in the house. I’ll leave out the part where we were listening to her on the baby monitor while we did it. He wouldn’t understand.

His sister is eleven now and can’t decide whether she wants to work on cars with me or get manicures with her mom. She’s been sticking with mom more lately. Her brother tells her girls aren’t supposed to work on cars.

I keep it to myself but I feel better when the girl chooses manicures. There’s been something off with her mom so at least I know when my daughter is with her I figure she can’t be up to something. I think that, anyway. My cousin’s wife used to carry their kids up to church and sign them in to mother’s day out then go fuck the music minister. But too many bills to pay for me to worry and it’s not like I haven’t had my side pieces though it’s been a while. I got these kids and jobs and life and who has time and energy for one woman much less others you have to keep happy and secret. The sometimes one-bang waitress is enough.

“We should paint the car blue,” the boy says. I can hear him spinning the ratchet. I can’t see him but one of his favorite weekend habits is holding it by a deep plug socket and then spinning the handle. Once he wasn’t paying attention and the handle popped him on the cheekbone. He looked stunned until I laughed at him. Then he laughed too and I sent him inside to get me a fresh beer but he never came out with the beer. Mama saw his swelled up cheek and kept him inside, babied him.

Blue would work. Or black. Silver or dark gray. Saw in the paper where General Motors is shutting down Oldsmobile this month after a hundred something years, put out of business by imports and younger generations who’ve never felt the power and glory of a properly tuned V8 and four-barrel carb, never seen a bench seat. Dipshits who think they’re saving the planet by driving a beefed-up lawn mower. Shits turning crazy and even with all my time in this life these jackasses act like I’m the one who doesn’t belong. Just an old fuck with an old car.

Once I got her out from under the tarp and running proper again I took her down the highway and opened her up good way out in the county. Sure blew some carbon off the pistons that day. Made those glasspacks roar like Godzilla singing bass in a shape note choir.

Sheriff’s car had passed me going the other way and never even turned. Probably an old-school hell raiser just glad to hear a real motor for a change. Damn good for me too cause I had beer in the cooler and one between my legs. State trooper would’ve nailed my ass.

I slide out. The boy is waiting by the driver’s door. When he was five he tried to climb up into the car while it was up on ramps and I was still underneath. I got mighty hot with him over that, more than I should’ve, but I don’t fancy gettin’ crushed. We both been patient ever since.

“You good?” he asks me. I look over and nod and he climbs in, sits forward as far as he can, one hand tight on the Hurst shifter, one twisting the suicide knob. The boy gets that serious look on his face and I smile at him. He sees me and grins back, both the kid and the worn silver skull, still grinning like the love child of Terminator and Dirty Harry.

Sometimes I catch him picking at the flaking chrome.

###

 

Suicide Knob, 1994

The Olds has been tarped a while. Never did paint it.

Sometimes I flip the tarp and sit behind the wheel, one leg outside, my foot on the dirt, and race my after-dinner beers to that line between lukewarm and still cold while she puts the baby down.

The baby. That smell sends a shiver down my spine. She’s a brand new start, one of the only fresh starts there ever was, real and true. I know I would do anything for her but when she looks up at me I hear a loose screen door slapping its frame during a summer storm, and I’m already crushed by all the ways she will hurt.

I drink my warming beer. Moonlight paints the hood to where I peeled the tarp back and shines on the suicide knob, that old cheap chrome skull that grins at me like Dirty Harry, flecks of dried blood still in one eye socket when I got rear-ended and busted my head, broke my tooth after I dropped her off one night on my way to see another girl.

She shows up in one of my undershirts and her flip-flops, nothing else, holding the baby monitor loosely by the antenna like she could drop it any second and run away. She sits on my outside leg, the shirt rising high up those softening thighs as she puts her head on my shoulder, drops the monitor on the seat, squirms on my leg and confirms she’s not wearing any panties.

“Dishwasher’s broke,” she says in her going to sleep voice just as I’m telling myself I’m gonna finish this beer and fuck her good and paint this vehicle proper soon and see my little girl down the aisle one day but I don’t move, don’t even lift the beer.

Her nipples are hard and now so am I. We listen to those small, deep breaths crackling in the monitor. Love and time have nothing to do with each other except in liking to kill the other off but this ain’t hard.

She cooks good and never tells me no.

###

 

Suicide Knob, 1984

1
Gray bondo 442 rushing 
windows down, tiny
twisters rustling notebooksloose paper swirling
flying at us like messages we can’t understand,
baptized by the sweet and sour always smell of
honeysuckle and smokestacks, always on the breeze,
our second skin someday shed.
2
A tidy brick ranch with
sagging gutters and cracked roof tiles–
well-lit
well past curfew,
a single chainsmoker
behind sagging mini-blinds
watches the street, the bloated figure
striped and segmented, rings on
a scarred, split tree.
3
Slender, glistening cheesecake thighs
stick to black vinyl. She
crushes into my shoulder
at fifty-seven miles per hour,
like I’m a magnet that will keep her
from flying out the window at any speed.
4
Who knows the lost glory of bench seat handjobs
on an open road
at night?
5
Van Halen “Eruption” live,
always live while
glass packs add crazy percussive bass.
I listen. I marvel.
We see each other more clearly than we see ourselves.
6
One sweaty hand high up her thigh,
one on that silver skull, that suicide knob slick with sweat,
fingering both as it were the first time and last time looking
everything and nothing right in the eye.
###

The Coach: Bath Talk Therapy

Trent and Mrs. Trent lay at opposite ends of the deep, wide soaking tub, the scent of lavender and vanilla bubble bath encompassing them and the mounds of bubbles. Trent’s eyes were wide open while Mrs. Trent lay back, lower in the water, the back of her head resting on a thick towel on the edge of the tub.

The marriage had been rocky from the beginning and their tribe suggested they discuss their problems in the tub surrounded by candles and gradually move the conversation from talking out their grievances to flirty, sexual talk. Just as she was beginning to call him a fucking dork and he was going to ask her where her mind had been, Trent realized he had to take charge here and lead his wife, so he started talking a little shit to get her in the mood.

“Uh, say that again?” Mrs. Trent said as she flicked at a mound of bubbles floating on the surface with her toe.

“I’m in this, baby,” Trent replied. “Whatever happens, happens.”

“Mmm,” Mrs. Trent responded. “Such a bad boy,” she said.

“The baddest, baby,” he said. “And our family is the baddest, too.”

“Ahhh,” moaned Mrs. Trent. “Yessssss.”

Trent could see her pelvis gyrating somewhat beneath the water as the mounds of bubbles seemed to grow larger and thicker. Something seemed off to him. He didn’t expect her to be moaning like that until he started the dirty talk.

A bubble popped on the surface of the tub and released a voice that said, “I like being bad, too.”

Trent sat up quickly. “Say, babe,” he said. “Did you hear that?”

“You said you like being bad,” she answered, her eyes still shut, her head still back, her breathing growing deeper, heavier, raspier.

“But I didn’t say it,” Trent said, a concerned look on his face. “A bubble said it.”

Mrs. Trent giggled. “You’re so kinky,” she said. “Just think if these bubbles were alive!”

“We are,” two popping bubbles said in unison. Upon hearing them, Trent began pushing mounds of bubbles aside, trying to see down into the bathwater.

“How did you do that?” Mrs. Trent asked. She giggled some more.

“I didn’t do anything,” Trent insisted, getting ever more agitated. “They did. Goddammit!”

“They who?” Mrs Trent asked, her voice growing deeper, throatier. “The bubbles?” She shifted slightly and moaned again. Her knees broke the surface of the water as she bent her legs, mounds of bubbles growing where she lay.

The motion of her legs sent more bubbles skating across the surface of the water, popping as they collided with the edge of the tub and each other.

“You’re my pretty whore,” one bubble remarked. “Such a good girl for daddy!” said another.

“How are you doing that oh my god!” Mrs. Trent gasped. Where her arms and hands before were simply resting along the tub’s edge, she was now starting to grip the edge, the muscles in her slender arms becoming more flexed, more pronounced. A shudder went through her body, stirring up even more bubbles sliding everywhere across the bathwater. “I’ve never felt this before, honey!”

Trent ignored her and began popping bubbles. “We might need to call it a night before we prune,” he suggested. It seemed that the more he popped, the more were stirred up. And of course they spoke as he poked and flicked them making them burst.

“Shaved pussy!” one said. “Check those lips! It’s like Arby’s down there,” said another. “Mmmm big brown nipples!” said still another.

“Goddammit!” Trent yelled. “This is spiritual warfare!” He slapped at the suds with his hands, small suds clinging to the dark hair on his knuckles. They had high pitched noises and although he couldn’t make out everything they said, he could tell they were taunting him. To make matters worse, the growing number of voices from the bubbles cheering each other on as Mrs. Trent began spasming and gasping with pleasure sounded like the roar of the crowd at the Super Bowl.

“I will defend this family!” Trent shouted as he pulled the plug and the water began draining from the soaking tub, taking the suds with them.

“Gah…fuck oh my… fuck,” she began mumbling but it devolved into high-pitched whimpers and gurgling noises. When Mrs. Trent ultimately climaxed for the last time that night her scream sounded like a response to such a violent attack that their children began pounding on the door, crying.

By the time the police got to the house, he had smashed every tub in the house with a large cast-iron dumbbell.

Later, Trent would tell his court-appointed anger specialist that he had been temporarily blinded by rage. The counselor suggested that he just had soap in his eyes. Trent called him a degenerate and punched him repeatedly in the head until two security guards and several samaritans pulled him off. He dreaded prison but was thankful that, like the county jail, there were no bathtubs, only showers.

###

The Degenerate’s Cookbook: Winter Interlude

I left the Flamingo a few hundred up and headed for the Cosmopolitan looking for a hot table or maybe an easy blowjob. It had been a full day of blackjack for me with a few breaks for food and naps. Having a good time but the smell of alcohol and stale food and weed on the strip was starting to get to me. My watch and an index card were helping me keep my bearings. No matter where I was I knew the time and my current balance even though I’d left my phone in my room. Vegas is no place to carry a phone.

The Vegas strip is a prime launch pad for the new year because there is not a new year there, not really because Vegas has one rule: everything, all the time. My practice has been to arrive sometime between the second and the fourth because the revelers have mainly left and the crowds are thinner for a few days until the Consumer Electronics Show gets started.

I like changing casinos around two a.m. if it’s raining because with moisture hitting my glasses the neon spatters and everything else is dingy and gray like a cyberpunk novel. Things get trippy even if you’re sober. Those weak gin and tonics I get at the tables are just rituals now. The play is the thing and, like music and women, can’t really be properly enjoyed if you’re too far gone no matter what the hippies say. I’ve always preferred reality straight. It’s always proven weirder and more fun that drugs but that’s me and I was raised that a man never gets fucked up in public.

Past the holidays Vegas is getting back to its usual self. The nonstop action may be designed to extract as much money from you as possible in your time there but so what? The purpose of nature is to simply help you die and recycle your protein yet we go hunting and fishing and camping and hiking all the time. Life wants to kill you, motherfucker. Adapt or die, but have your fun.

My first such kick-off like this happened by accident. It was the year I was still married when I woke up New Year’s Day but wasn’t when I went to sleep New Year’s Eve. It so happened I wound up in Vegas on business just after New Year’s, my first time ever in Vegas, knowing I was on the road to divorce and just edging into my late forties.

Vegas is not the love of my life but we definitely clicked for three days. By then the sensory overload was getting to me and I was for some weak, unfathomable reason missing the wife who I’d just spent my last New Year’s with. After the split I’d spent a year traveling figuring out the best recipe for my own particular brand of degeneracy through trial and error. Despite a productive trip to Atlantic City that summer, something was missing, s Vegas made it back on the calendar for the next year and now every year, just a few days, alone, always alone, just me and the blackjack dealers.

A congenial fellow, far more than most on the strip, in a porkpie hat hawking a strip club stepped up and said he could tell I was the “mayor of titty town” and I needed to make haste to his establishment if I knew what was good for me. I explained to him that I was in fact the Governor of said province but there were plenty of remarkable mammaries back home but there was no blackjack there. “Ok well you know where to find me, Governor,” he called after me as I headed up the steep steps to the pedestrian bridge.

“I got weed, coke, whatever you need,” a fast-talker pitched to a group of young men just ahead of the overweight Midwestern couple waddling in front of me high over Las Vegas Boulevard. They were middle-aged and shocked. Shocked! The wife grabbed her husband’s pudgy bicep that was challenging the seams of his polo shirt and said, “Oh my God! Carl! Drugs. I just can’t believe that.”

To his credit, Carl ignored the drugs, and her.

I felt better the moment I stepped into the sanitized whorehouse feel of The Cosmpolitan, but it was short-lived. Another middle-aged couple with presumably their three twenty-something children clustered around the giant chair shaped like a woman’s stiletto near the upper entrance from the skywalk. The wife waved an iPhone at me as I passed and asked me if I would take their picture as if this were Disney which, in a way, it is. What surprises me most about Vegas isn’t the undercurrent of degenerate fun but the packs of families and retirees waddling around. “We brought our kids to Vegas to teach them how to remain upstanding citizens by engaging their lasciviousness vicariously, like we do,” these people seemed to be saying. “Better character through voyeurism.” So now they want a family picture in a giant fuck me heel, and they want me to take it.

I shook my head ‘no’ and kept walking, caught the escalator down.

Hitting the casino floor I made my way to the blackjack pit and settled into first base at a twenty-five dollar table with one of those shitty continuous shuffle machines. The dealer was chatty but not too chatty and I was winning modestly but steadily until four women, one ancient and wobbly drunk, and three in their twenties, approached the table. The old woman had gray skin and quickly grabbed the stool next to mine and made a dumb joke about getting to first base which I couldn’t quite make out anyway.

The dealer carded the girls and two of them had to leave for being underage. The one remaining sat in the middle a couple seats down from the old woman. Both women placed cash on the table and the dealer began counting it out.

“It’s fate,” the old woman said drunkenly. “I’m here to bring you luck.”

“Bad or good?” I asked.

“More like naughty or nice,” she said flirtatiously as she put a cigarette in her mouth.

“Light me?” she asked, her head wobbling, then continued, “Come on baby light my fire.”

“Not a smoker,” I said.

She found a lighter in her purse and lit her own cigarette. The waitress came by and I ordered a gin and tonic. The old woman asked for the same and leaned into me. “How’s the table?”

“Level,” I said. “Sturdy.”

“Those girls all work for me,” she said. “We’re here on business.”

“Adult industry?” I asked with a smirk.

She grabbed my arm and shook it. “Behave, you,” she said. “Marketing.”

I shrugged. “Same thing really.”

She laughed. “I like you. You’re bad. Are your arms really that hard?”

“Not at all,” I answered. “It’s an act.”

She looked me in the and chuckled a bit. “I bet you think you’re funny.”

I shrugged and focused on cards. Honestly, I briefly considered it as a novelty, as something to keep the weirdness going. For the story, in a way, but I’m no post-modernist and this was my fucking dick after all. Self-referential cringe behavior even justified as a by-product of some half-assed attempt at New Journalism because you read too much Hunter Thompson as a lad was no excuse, and an easy blowjob from some boomer was not at all what I had in mind. There would be nothing easy about that, I cautioned myself. You’re here to play, not face fuck someone’s grandma. Have some standards, man.

After a few hands it was clear the cards were no longer falling well. The younger chick kept asking for help with her hands and the old lady was telling her wrong but I was keeping it to myself. I would stroke my chips or focus on my drink while she was correcting herself after it was too late to change back while the girl looked at me for confirmation. I briefly thought about moving over to the other side of the old woman so that I was between them both, but I was here to play and while I don’t always win I am a disciplined player. The old one finally admitted she was “a little tipsy” and began deferring to me to help out. Having lost the modest gains I had made before the women sat down, I decided this was my cue, and pushed my chips toward the dealer to color up.

The dealer consolidated my chips and gave me a purple and a few blacks.

“Where’s you staying?” the old woman slurred as I turned to go.

“Guess,” I replied and headed for the cashier’s window.

***

By midnight I was chasing losses in a hand-dealt two-deck game at The Cromwell. Far from putting me out of sorts where lust was concerned, the old lady’s advances kept me thinking in that direction. The Cromwell’s attempt at evoking old-school Vegas made me start thinking about hookers again. Red carpet and dark wood, some brass here and there. Some leather, too, and the strong smell of something like fake strawberry car freshener. Still, playing two-deck in that atmosphere with the crowd rapidly dwindling at this time of night was a nice change of pace, so I decided to just play out my last few chips, take the loss if need be, and make it up later. I was tired and hungry and getting horny. Sleep, a sandwich, or sex, at least one of the three was what was called for. Since I didn’t actually want to go to sleep yet, and since no enthusiastic women were around, I moved on to food.

As it would happen, as it always seems to happen, I met a couple of drunk chicks in their early 30s while grabbing some late night food after a long day. A blonde in tight jeans and knee boots, and a brunette in white spandex and oversized pink sweater. Not hookers, I thought, but I couldn’t put it past them. Strippers working the gray area for plausible deniability, maybe? They weren’t bad but had that cynical edge that is not at all feminine and suggested the same number of years spent on the cock carousel that they’d spent in school. I really wasn’t here for this but, again, it was after midnight and they weren’t bad even though they were loud and stupid and talking too loud about venereal disease, about the clap. I decided to keep talking with them and see if they sobered up once their food came, but everyone’s food was a long-time coming. Unlike the shit tests.

“It’s kind of creepy that you sat so close to us,” the blonde said to me.

I smirked. “It’s kind of creepy that y’all are making a mess and talking about the clap,” I replied.

“Y’all?” she said. “Redneck!”

“Only on Friday night,” I answered.

They glared at me. I couldn’t tell if they were more drunk or confused.

“You’re kind of a dick, aren’t you?” the brunette finally said.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “A big one.”

“You have a big dick?” the blonde said, leaning over the table to look into my lap.

“There’s one way to find out,” I replied, “but not if you have gonorrhea.”

“Oh jush kidding about that,” the brunette said. “We’re in Room 1719.”

“Oh my god, bitch!” the blonde said. “No she wasn’t. See?” At that, the blonde reached into the brunette’s purse and showed me the gonorrhea prescription. She said it was foreplay. I was slightly drunk and my food was ready. I picked it up at the end of the bar and stayed there to eat it, realizing I almost paid a very high price for a sandwich.

As I was finishing up the sandwich and chips, one of the girls knocked a beer bottle off of their table and it broke on the floor, glass everywhere and foamy beer fizzing. They immediately began harassing the dude who went over to clean it up. And that is how foreplay becomes floorplay, I thought as I signed the check and headed for the door.

Back on the strip, well-fed, non-fucked, and a cold drizzle at 2 am. Rain misting my glasses distorting the bright lights so that it was Starry Night everywhere I looked.  Braced by the unexpected chill, a new plan began to form. Fuck sleep, I thought. And fuck hookers, which amused me. I can get laid back home. I can sleep when I’m dead. Time is irrelevant and calendars are for suckers. I was there to play.

###

The Luckiest Guy in the World

Niles inspected himself in the bathroom mirror while he brushed his teeth. Was that a zit? he wondered. Goddammit! He rummaged in the vanity drawer until the found his concealer and dabbed some on the growing pimple. This would be his seventeenth date with Lily and he was certain she would open her shirt for him this time. He wasn’t about to let anything queer the deal.

“What the fuck? Are you putting on fucking makeup, dude?” asked Evan, one of Niles’ roommates. His face suddenly popped up behind Niles in the mirror. He tilted his head back, drained his beer can, and burped as he crushed the can in his fist. When Niles didn’t answer, Evan asked, “What’s tonight’s bribe going to be?”

“It’s not a gosh darn bribe!” Niles insisted. “We have rapport. She deserves to be treated like the goddess she is. Besides, it’s a sorority formal. Needs to be a little special.”

“Dude, you haven’t even fucked her yet,” Evan yelled from the kitchen where he was getting a fresh beer from the fridge.

Niles smiled. “Maybe not,” he said. “But when I do, it’ll be glorious.”

“Faggot,” Evan said, then belched again.

***

Niles parked the rented Mercedes on the street near the sorority house and walked to the door. He was careful not to let the bouquet of flowers he was carrying brush the fabric of his suit. He wanted each petal to remain unbroken and glistening with the droplets he’d misted on them with a spray bottle before he drove over.

Inside, Lily was already coming down the stairs, those slightly pointed, pouty breasts he couldn’t stop thinking about bouncing beneath the thin, tight material of the pale pink formal gown clinging tightly to her tiny waist and flat stomach. He smiled. Stunning! he thought. Benefits of being a college gymnast. And no bra! Got to be a good sign.

“Hello, Niles,” she said when she reached the bottom of the steps. She briefly and stiffly hugged him. He kissed her on the cheek.

“You look beautiful, Lily. Just beautiful.” He handed her the bouquet.

“Thanks you so much. Such pretty roses,” she said. “But you remember what I said right? Just friends?”

“Lily, I think you need to know how I feel about you,” Niles said boldly.

“I do, Niles,” she said. “You’ve made that very clear. But you know I see you as a good friend. A true friend. Why can’t that be good enough?”

Niles stood there and looked at her breasts testing the fabric. Those fucking tits! he thought. All he could think about was grabbing the top of the shoulderless gown and pulling it down, releasing those magnificent tits and lubing them up by licking them before titty-fucking her like there was no tomorrow. Maybe if I walk away, she’ll chase me now, he thought.

“It’s just not,” he finally said.

“I understand, Niles. I do,” she replied.

Goddammit! he screamed silently to himself. She doesn’t give a shit! He turned to go.

“Uh, Niles,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder.

He felt his heart quicken. Holy shit! he thought. It’s working! She really does want me after all! He turned quickly to face her, his smile wide, his face beaming.

“I still need a ride to the the dance,” she said. “Would you mind dropping me there?”

Niles’ heart sank. He held the door for her on the way out, so focused on saving face that he didn’t notice that the flowers he gave her had been placed upright in the big brass trash can that served as an umbrella holder in the foyer.

“Hey,” she said as they made their way toward the street. “Is that a Mercedes?”

After an awkward conversation during the drive over, Niles entered the slow-moving car line at The Coventry Inn and Club and inched his way with the traffic toward the covered entrance. As they neared the drop-off point, he felt awkward and tense. When they got close enough that the valet began walking toward the passenger door, Lily leaned over and gave miles a very quick peck on his forehead.

“Thanks for being such a super nice guy,” she said.

Niles was beginning to sweat and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He couldn’t let it end like this! I need to go full alpha, he thought, and then, with his eyes locking in on her gave voice to the cinematic ending playing in his head.

“Look, you know I love you with every atom in my body,” Niles said. “And I know there’s nobody out there better for you than me.”

“Oh Niles, let’s not–” she said.

“Just listen,” Niles continued. “If you’re single when you’re forty, come find me. I’ll take your beautiful self to Vegas and marry you on the spot.”

“Aw Niles,” she said as the valet opened her door and stared down into her magnificent cleavage, her nipples already stiffening. “You’re just the best.”

Then she took the valet’s outstretched hand as he helped her up and out of the car.

 

***

The petite blonde had smeared cake and icing on her body effectively creating an edible bikini.

“Happy Birthday, Baby!” she shouted when Niles entered the bedroom. She walked up to him and removed his robe. “How does it feel to be forty?” she asked.

Niles smiled and squeezed her ass as he bent down to sample some of the cake from her tit. He came up with some icing on his chin. She stood on her tiptoes and licked it off slowly and sensually, as though she were savoring every bit.

“Not a day over thirty-nine,” Niles said with a chuckle. “How does it feel to be twenty-nine?” he asked in return, but she had already dropped to her knees.

His cock was in her mouth and she was just getting started when the doorbell rang. She paused and looked up at him for instructions. “Ignore it, honey,” he said.

“Another girl here to make your birthday happy?” she asked.

“Nah,” he said as he leaned back against the bed and wound her ponytail around his fist.

***

A week later, the mailman found him at his office and offered Niles a registered letter for which he had to sign with his thumbprint on the small device. A circular light around the scan pad on the small, phone-like device went from red to green and he handed Niles the hologram projector. “All set. Just set it on a desk or table and point the arrow button on top in the direction you want it to appear, and just press the button,” he said.

“Right-o,” Niles said cheerfully.

Niles poured himself a few splashes of Laphroaig and took his glass and the little hologram projector over to the leather couch. He set the device on the coffee table, spinning it so that the arrow pointed out in front. He pressed the button and settled back into the couch.

A very clear bluish green hologram of a woman appeared a few feet in front of him. He sipped his scotch and tried to place her. She looked familiar, but looked awfully old and was quite chubby. Something was off and he was trying to think. There was something familiar about her eyes and sharp, small nose set in the chubby face and double chin. The projector scanned his face to locate his eye level and the hologram blinked and reappeared slightly higher and larger. A soft female voice from the box said, “Actual size. Autoplay selected”.

Niles squinted. Holy shit! he thought. That looks like–”

“Hi Niles,” the hologram said. “It’s Lillith. Well, you knew me as Lily, remember?”

Niles set his drink down on the coffee table and stared at the projection. Her face looked puffy and he could perceive no appreciable shape in her tits apart from what was being pushed up by some kind of power bra so that they spilled out over the top of the sundress that hid her obviously much larger body’s actual shape.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day,” she continued. “I know, blue isn’t my best color. Time, huh? Anyway, I’ll make this quick. Now that we’re both forty I’d like to take you up on your offer which I hope you remember.”

What. The. Fuckity. Fuck? thought Niles as Lillith continued.

“I’ve booked flights and made reservations for Vegas–we’ll be staying in a tower villa at the Wynn–and I hope you don’t mind but I went ahead and bought a wedding dress. Don’t worry, I kept the receipts. I was so relieved and impressed to see how successful you’ve become. One thing: I did book a two-bedroom villa because I was going to bring the kids too, but we lucked out and they’re all headed to their dads’ houses for winter break. The wedding chapel is one of the best in town and we’re booked for Saturday afternoon at five o’clock. A reception is included but I told them to not worry about it since I figured you’d want to plan the actual celebration and probably had some great spots out on the town much nicer than what the chapel offers. Unfortunately, the prices aren’t itemized or ala carte so they had to charge us full price even though we declined the reception.”

Niles downed the rest of his drink. He walked over to the bar to pour another unable to take his eyes off the hologram. The look of unease in his eyes spread to his face and the previously cheerful, successful businessman’s countenance became ashen, defeated as he poured a fresh drink, this time filling the tumbler.

“As the years wore on I realized how right you were that night,” continued Lillith. “I was such a silly girl. But your love and commitment means more to me now than ever. I’m the luckiest girl in the world, and I’m in love with the best man I’ve ever known. The man who won in the end. Won my heart! Like you’ve always wanted. See you soon, baby! I can’t wait to start our life together,” she said, blowing him a kiss as she concluded.

Her image suddenly disappeared. Niles stood there swallowing whisky, wondering if he should replay it just to be sure, when the small projector whirred back to life.

Another bluish green image, of a man in a suit this time, appeared and began talking to Niles’ depression in the soft leather where he had just been sitting a minute earlier.

“Hello, Mr. Raymond, I am Earnest Frank, an attorney in Kittery, Maine where Ms. Albritton currently resides. As I’m sure you’re quite away, any pledge or promise of support to a woman with whom you’ve been intimate is taken very seriously by the federal and state governments subsequent to the passage of the Domestic Fairness and Equity Protection Act some years ago. Namely, in accordance with the act, your promise of future domestic support encompasses emotional and logistical support–including financial–and security unless otherwise adjudicated by a court of law. Because this offer–as asserted by the plaintiff in this action–was sealed and accepted with a consensual sexual act by at least one of the parties. This extends to kissing in the United States by unrelated parties in any kind of sexual milieu, including, but not limited to, a date. Satisfied that all requirements have been met, and absent of any previously undiscovered criminal complaints filed against you by Ms. Albritton for non-consensual sexual advances or sexual assault, we expect to receive a notarized letter or digitally-fingerprinted hologram indicating an intent to comply in this office no more than ten business days from receipt of this notice. Thank you and please contact me with any questions.”

Niles tipped his tumbler of and downed the scotch. He was a long-time scotch aficionado but the quantity made his throat burn. It was good. It pulled him out of his initial shock and confusion.

Moving quickly, he pulled the couch away from the wall and removed the bag of cash, gold, and basic supplies from the hidden compartment, but it was too late. The GPS in the hologram had been activated the moment he successfully scanned his thumb, and several domestic justice enforcement officers were already walking quickly down the hall toward his office, tazers drawn.

###