(When you’re at the Carter House through happy hour, nothing you say goes unheard. The guy sitting at the other couches apparently didn’t know that as he said something to his female companions about “those three women over there” while we wrote.)

PROMTS (from snippets of conversation this time):

  • Alcoholic tendencies
  • And then she talked at me for 20 minutes
  • Good news: High school senior takes his mom to prom
  • It’s good he’s off. His dad has some issues.
  • He’s generally pro-life.
  • If the moon didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have to go to bed.
  • Athletic man exercises a lot, nonetheless depressed, but a joyful girl restores him

***

Thirteen! Fourteen! Fifteen! Oof! Frank exhaled hard as he dropped the weights to the ground. Today was leg day, deadlifts and squats and presses till his quads shook and his hamstrings quivered and his calves cramped up.

He needed to eat more bananas, he thought, shifting to the foam roller. People said lacrosse balls were the new self-massage miracle, but he found shoving the foam roller under his hip flexor was good enough to dull the next day’s pain. At least the physical pain. They hadn’t invented a gym technique that would offset the fact he went home every day alone. Woke up alone. Ate out at the local sushi joint alone. Sure, he sat at the bar. It wasn’t obvious. He didn’t stroll into the place and ask for a table for one. Sit there and scroll through his phone while waiting for his Dragon Roll and hamachi. At least, not after the first time.

You don’t have to tell me twice, his dad used to say. Before he took off. You don’t have to tell me twice, Frank repeated to anyone who would listen. He never took off. He didn’t have anyone to take off on, true, but still. He wouldn’t take off. He’d taken his mom to prom for Chrissakes.

She’d had him when she was 17, too busy saving money for an apartment after getting her GED to waste time shoving her postpartum body into a dress meant for a different kind of teenager. So, 17 years later, he said, Hey, Mom, want to go to the prom with me? She’d laughed. Hilarious, she’d said. His friends thought she was hot and she knew that, but had the sense to blunt their fantasies with questions like, What are you going to do with your life, Shane? Or, You think that walking around with your shirt off makes you a man, Joseph? Let me tell you what a man looks like. He’s got a job, for one. He listens to  women, for two. He knows enough to do the dishes when his best friend’s mom has fed him lunch for three. You hear what I’m saying?

Frank’s dad had taken off by this time. That was just as well, his mother said. Your father has issues. She tossed this off with a shake of her head, but Frank noticed the twitch in her smile, the way tears threatened to spill from her eyes. So he’d asked her to prom. After more cajoling than any high school girl would’ve required, she gave in. Fine, she laughed. You’re – and then she stopped, turned away. Mom, he said, resting his hand on her quaking shoulder. She shuddered up a breath. I’m fine, she said.

They wore matching blue to the prom, a teal blue that brought out her eyes. His friends whooped it up, fought for her attention on the dance floor. The girls fell over themselves, Hello, Hi, How are you, Frank’s mom? He could’ve been laid six ways from Sunday, but he had to take his mom home. She hugged him hard at the door, shoved him back toward the car. Go out, she said. You’re a wonderful son, she said. Go, go have some fun with your friends. There’s condoms in the glove box, she said over her shoulder. Good night. He wondered if the condoms were ones his father had left behind.

His dad had been generally, politically, pro-life, as long as the babies-to-be weren’t his. Frank had been enough. What a shock, his dad had said. You know, you meet a girl, she talks at you for 20 minutes, you know where things are going, you think of some romantic shit to say. If the moon didn’t exist, his father-to-be had whispered to his mother-to-be when she finally stopped talking, if the moon didn’t exist, he had said, we wouldn’t have to go to bed. His mother, the story goes, pondered this and then had said, but the moon is there, right there, pointing to the sky, where indeed, legend has it, a sliver of the moon, the barest crescent, hugged a crystal ball foretelling the future that would unfold thus: they would go to bed, they would stay in bed for a day-and-a-half, losing track of orgasms, ordering take-out, showering, crawling all over and into each other again. And then, wham, Frank. And then, wham, his father’s impulsive ways manifesting as alcoholic tendencies, a penchant for disappearing.

Frank thought about his father’s body while rinsing off the sweat from his exertions. Photo number one: his dad at the pool, water glistening off his chiseled chest. Photo number two: his dad swooping his mom into a fancy dance drop. Photo number three, his dad walking away, looking over his shoulder, jacket over his shoulder, hat shadowing his eyes like some sort of goddamn 1940s movie. Not in the photos: the empty bottles, the dark bags below the eyes, the yelling. Not in the photos: the disappearing.

Frank shook off the memories, turned off the shower. Dressed. Walked past the cardio equipment toward the exit. Hey! A voice called. Hey! He turned. A brown-haired girl – woman, he told himself – bounded toward him.

Advertisements