Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “My Dirty Secret” by Mark Sumioka

My Dirty Secret

It had been a silly mishap, an accidental chain of events.  Whichever the case I needed to get out of the house because my family had vacated the premises, and the isolation and guilt were looming in me like some godforsaken plague. That said I was willing to go anyplace in order to replenish some self-assurance.

I drove a few blocks until thoughts of social mischief prodded me.  I parked abruptly and went into the local dive bar.

There were two men who sat next to me.  We were on the end where the bar horse-shoed.  That’s where all the regulars sat; at least that’s what the two next to me had mentioned.

They conversed with pensive faces, eyes forward.

“Didn’t make no difference,” Rex droned, “after a while.  I still got my can of beer and got a bag and went and sat on the beach and drank it.”

“But not on fourth of July I bet,” Cornelius said.

“Do I look like an idiot?”

Cornelius and I were quiet.

“That law changed years ago,” I added.  “It’s water under the bridge.”

“Yeah I’m just saying,” Rex said.  “I can still do what I want.”

I nodded and gave the appearance of support.

Then Rex and Cornelius, as though wired at the brains, lifted their beers and drank simultaneously.  There was nothing for me to stick my nosy nose into because these men were drab.  They gave me no inspiration.  I would wait it out.  There had to be something for them to stir in me in order to lift my spirits!  I watched the brutes and held still, shaking my head at them – a couple of sheep – one following the other.

“So, you were saying,” I said bright eyed.  Worst case I would finish my wine and get the heck out of this foxhole.

“It’s my birthday, you know,” Rex said.  His eyes looked about in hopes someone had heard him.  But no one had.

“Happy Birthday,” Cornelius said.

“Here’s to you,” I said lifting my white wine.

“Let’s have a shot!” Cornelius added.

“Nah, I can’t,” Rex said.  “I quit that stuff.  It’s beer and beer only.”

The bartender gave us her heavy mascaraed eyes.  She was talking to a woman at the other end of the bar.  They seemed fairly chummy.

“I’m shocked I made it to thirty-seven,” Rex guffawed.

“Well, I’m shocked I made it to thirty!” Cornelius said hawking spit then swallowing.

The bartender put down her cellphone and gave the female customer a tired look.  Then she proceeded toward us.  She got about halfway, stalling at the middle of the bar.

“You boys okay down there?”

“Holding it down,” I said gently.

“It’s my birthday,” Rex called out.  He looked about the bar and only one other patron looked over before going back to his pool game.

“You already told me, Rex.  It’s your fortieth-first,” the bartender said.

“I did not.” Rex said.

“Yeah you did.  And then you said, ‘Getting old’s a bitch, ain’t it?’

When none of us responded she moved back to the other end, picked up her cellphone and swiped its screen.

“Am I mistaken or hadn’t you said you were thirty-seven?” I said.  My white wine tasted more metallic by the minute.  I needed to get out of this foxhole.

“You’re a liar!” Cornelius shouted.

The bartender looked over at us and put her hands on her hips.  She muttered something to the woman.  I gathered they were indeed acquainted.  She turned and got a few dollar bills from her tip jar and went to the jukebox on the opposing wall.  She strode over like a mother about to reprimand a child at the sandbox.  It was apparent she knew which songs she wanted to hear because her deft fingers found them quickly before the first song began playing.

Cornelius snickered.  He pulled his beer glass to his mouth and tipped the glass prematurely so that the beer spilled down his chin.

“Aw, hell!”

“You need a napkin?” Rex said and made no movement.

“Nah,” Cornelius said wiping his chin with his sleeve.  Then, seemingly feeling embarrassed, downed the rest of his beer.  He clunked it on the bar for effect.  “Here, Missy!”

Missy, the bartender, was back at her spot, conversing with the female customer, except now she leaned over the bar to hear the woman clearly.

Some wretched song by the band AC/DC filled the room.

“Missy!  Over here, please!  Missy-poo!  Hello?” he persisted.

I could see Missy sigh.  I watched her with interest.  Now her eyes examined us closely.  I could feel the approaching dramatics.  There was conflict drawing nearer.  I liked drama like that.  I enjoyed stirring the pot.

“She’s ignoring you, that one,” I pointed.  Now I was a committed felon in the act of bad bar etiquette – pointing at the help.  But it solidified my membership to this group.  I wanted to see more.  I wanted the wheels to fall off.

“Hey!  Lady with the dark tan!” the Cornelius shouted.  “Aren’t you an Indian?”

This gave Rex and Cornelius the giggles.

“He always says that,” Rex said to me.  “Missy hates it.”

“Being an Indian?” I asked.

“She ain’t no Indian,” Rex said.  “She’s normal.”

To be fair, the bartender did have an intensely dark tan.  It was a fake tan.  That much was obvious.  She probably had that -itis people have with sun tanning.  But who was I to judge?  Every one of us had some sort of vice that was bad for us and made us feel good.

“She’ll come over,” I said.  “Calm down, man.  My brother’s the same way.  Get’s all antsy.”  Though that wasn’t true.  Hank was a rock.  He waited until they came over and served him another.  He never acted like these degenerates.

“I want a damn beer,” Cornelius groaned, “She’s ignoring me on purpose.”

The music notched louder.  Missy had turned it up using the remote control.

“How come you boys said you were surprised to be alive?” I hollered.

They were miffed.  Apparently they’d forgotten mentioning it.

“You said you were shocked you made it to thirty-seven, though you’re forty-one.  And you said you were shocked you made it to thirty.  What gives?  You both drink the Kool-Aid?”

They had no idea about the Jonestown reference.  I would need to adjust.

“Well I am shocked I made it to thirty,” Cornelius said.  “I’m shocked I still got a job.”

I coughed.  “You have a job?”

“Hell yes I do.  What do you think, I’m a bum?”

“No, not at all.  You’re an upstanding citizen.  Let me guess.  You’re white collar.  Real estate, perhaps, or maybe accounting?”

“I’m a plumber.”

“Day off?”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked over at Rex.  He was hanging his head.  Watching him reminded me I needed to call Hank, who was broken up over his wife’s death.  He was a mess.  It made me emotional when I thought about his effort to change himself after she had passed.  He told me frequently he would get sober.  Though we both knew it would never keep.  “I am what I am,” I always told him, “So be who you are and let it lay.”

“Are you married, Cornelius?”  What I was really doing was probing for deficiencies.  It was bad, I knew.  It was my way of feeling better about myself.

“She left.  We got a divorce last, last year.”

“So, two years ago.  Any children?”

Cornelius shook his head.

“Somebody needs to get Rex over there a shot,” I said, “He’s losing steam.”

“Said he doesn’t do no shots.  Just beer.”

I was direct though using a playful tone, “Horse shit.  It’s the man’s birthday.  He should live a little.  Don’t you think, Cornelius?”

I repeated his name purposely.  I had used the tactic all during my tenure as a teacher.  It got their attention, and many needed to be singled out in order to feel relevant.  Sure there was often defensiveness, at first, but my approach was far better.  When I called their name it was like a game show host – Cornelius, let’s see what you’ve won!

“Well how come you don’t get him a shot then?” Cornelius said.  He waved at Missy and she finally came over.

“Another?” she asked.

“And also…” I added.

She paused.  Cornelius looked at me.  I overemphasized my eyebrows, up and down, up and down.  Rex was awake now, head tilted, watching my expressions like a dog.

“Well go on,” I said and patted Cornelius on the forearm.  “You’re a good man.  On your day off, no less.”  I nodded again, an additional approval.

“Aw hell, get Rex a shot of whiskey while you’re at it.”

Missy lifted her own eyebrows, but hers stayed arched.

I smiled at her.  She ignored me and went and poured the beer from the draft, and then, sighing, set a shot glass down and poured the whiskey.

“I told you I can’t do that,” Rex said after she came and set it down.  He stared at the shot for a long time, seemingly contemplating whether or not he might actually drink it.

“A free birthday shot,” I said, “What I would do for one of those.”

“You want it?” Rex said offering.

“Oh no.  Not me.  It’s not my birthday.  And besides, I drink wine.”

He fixed his eyes on the shot again.

“I guess if you don’t want it,” Cornelius said reaching for it.

“Now hold on,” Rex said clutching it.

And then Rex looked to me, seemingly for an answer.  I would reel him in slowly.  I grinned, picking up my wine glass and clearing my throat.

“For he’s a jolly good fellow,” I said brusquely, opting not to sing.

As Rex and I held up our drinks, we looked to Cornelius, who sat pensive, his thoughts in a land far, far away.

“Are you with us?” I said.

Cornelius realized and picked up his beer.

“Shit yes,” he said.

We clinked glasses and drank.  When Rex finished the shot of whiskey his eyes went wild and he hacked.

“Don’t puke,” Cornelius warned.

“You’re fine.  Fine.” I said.

Rex got off his stool and put his hands on top of his head like a man about to be handcuffed.

“That’s some strong shit,” he rasped.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” I said.

Rex sat down, but his legs were restless and his shoes tapped the metal bar below where we set our feet.

“Shit, maybe that’s what I need,” Cornelius said, and it reminded me of Mommy and all the times we used to buy lottery Scratcher tickets.  I would instigate and she would follow up and buy us more.  Those were wonderful times.

“Go on,” I said.  “You should have one too.”

“What about you?” Rex said clearing his throat.

“Just wine for me.  I’m old.”  I pointed to both of them, “You boys still have lots of gusto.”

“You seem fine to me,” Cornelius said.

“I thank you,” I said.  “No.  I’ll just have another wine…if you’re buying.”

I winked furtively at Rex so that he winked back with overemphasis.  He patted Cornelius’s shoulder.  “You should get yourself a shot and Teddy there a wine.”

“Shit,” Cornelius said and dug into his pocket.  There wasn’t much left.  I saw a ten and two singles.

“It’s fine.  You’re low.  I need to be getting along anyway.  I’ve got the daughters and grandkids.”  I sighed for effect.

“How many?” Rex asked.

“Three.  One from the oldest, two from the middle daughter.”

The men nodded instinctively.  There was quiet as I downed the rest of my wine and stood up, taking extra time to tuck in my shirt and fix my collar and check my pocket for my wallet and keys.  Then I wiped my mouth with the bar napkin, set it down, and looked at Rex and Cornelius, ready to depart.

“Well, shit, I don’t want you to leave on account of you got no cash,” Rex said.  “Here, I’ll get you one.”

And while there was indeed cash in my wallet I felt no need to divulge that fact.

“No, man.  It’s your birthday,” I said.

“Least I can do,” he said digging into his pockets.  He pulled out a tight wad of crumpled bills.  “I brought a twenty just in case.  I got me a Coke earlier so I got this left over.”

He lifted a finger to Missy.  She came without hesitation. I gathered she sensed his giving nature.  Bartenders were good at that sort of thing.

“You need something, honey?”

“A wine for the man.”

“White,” I said and smiled.  “Thank you so much.”

The light through the entrance was minimal.  The entry let into a covered smoking patio, and that pretty much shot down any chance of light moving into the bar.  Initially it was what had made me walk into the place – a cave-like shelter for my debilitated mind.

My eldest daughter Alexandra was fumed at me for leaving the cupboard door open below the kitchen sink.  I hadn’t secured the childproof latch.  And her son Marty, the nosy booger that he was, had gotten into it and pulled out the powdered sink cleaner and rubbed it on his forearm.  I had been in the bathroom continuing my frenzied clean up.

Suddenly there had been cries and shouts and before I was able to finish changing clothes Alexandra had gotten Marty into the SUV and off to the emergency room. Elizabeth stayed behind and scolded me before gathering Amanda and Mickey into the Beetle.  Her departure was less hurried though just as damaging.

My daughters had suddenly turned on me, treating me like an invalid, a mistrusted freak.  But they had no idea as to the real reason for my lapse.  It was so very shameful.

A country song came on, blistering the bar with bass and banjo.

Missy set down my wine.  Then she paused, awaiting Rex’s approval before taking three singles from his crumpled pile of cash.  She glanced over the entirety of the bar and sighed.  I liked it when she sighed.  Then she tossed her bar towel over the tap beer grates and disappeared to the back.

Rex patted his hand quietly on the bar top to the rhythm of the country song.  Cornelius was now the drowsy one.  His eyelids drooped.

“My pants, goddamn it!” Missy shouted from the back.  She came to the front, muttering and brushing her pants with her hand.  She dug into a drawer and brought out a clean bar towel and began wiping furiously at her inner thighs and lower abdomen.

“Hey, check it out,” Rex said gawking.

Cornelius snickered.

Missy rubbed the towel over her privates in a frenzied motion, back and forth, so that all the customers (few that they were) stared with creepy faces.  I shook my head at the fiasco.  It was all so familiar to me.

When she looked up and saw their stares it didn’t faze her.

“I’m sorry, Buck, I can’t tap the keg to the IPA.  It exploded all over my pants.”

“Is it a bad keg?” Buck said from the pool table.

“Of course it’s not bad,” she said.  “It’s a brand new keg.  It’s not bad.  It’s the damn lever.  It’s stiff as hell.  I can’t get it to hitch.”

“Can I give you a hand?” I called forth.

Missy and Buck looked at me.  The air seemed to leave the room.

“No.  Thanks,” she said.

“It’s not what you think,” I said.  “My brother has been a bartender for over thirty years.  I picked up a few things here and there watching him, sometimes helping with this and that.”

She looked me over again, this time taking my offer into consideration.  And then, just like that, it was as though we were newly acquainted; her face turned pleasant and inviting.

“You want to come back and take a look?”  Her eyes were hopeful.

Certainly,” I said and got up from my stool, lifting the wooden board and moving warily across the black gummy mats behind the bar.

She kept wiping her pants, though now with less agitation, much to the disappointment of the others.

“This way,” she said then led us to the back.

I followed her to the cooler.  We went inside where it was cold as the dickens.  The cooler fan blew swirling air.  My glasses misted and my cheeks grew numb.  She pointed to the particular keg and picked up the detached lever, holding it out for me to inspect.

“You see it sticks and I can’t get it to clamp down.  I pushed down and it sprayed me good.”

She handed me the lever.  I held it by its circular base where the two plastic tubes connected.  I lifted the lever up and down, but it stuck on the upswing.  So I held it between my legs and with all my strength pulled out and upward.  I yanked and yanked until it released.

“You see?  You didn’t have it completely up.  If it’s not up all the way it will spray you.  Believe me.  My brother Hank has gotten it a hundred times.  And me, a few times myself when he was busy pouring drinks and couldn’t get to the back.”

Missy laughed.  She was relieved.

“Now let’s see what’s doing,” I said, sticking the attachment into the socket of the keg.  Then I turned clockwise, pulling the lever out and pushing down until it hitched and locked tight.

“You did it.  I really appreciate it.”

“Teddy,” I said.  “Call me Teddy.  And you’re Missy,” I said holding out my hand.

“Yes,” she said shaking it, “Your glasses are all fogged up.”

“Of course they are,” I chuckled, “Of course they are.”

When we returned to the front of the bar Missy checked the beer tap.  At first it shot foam, and then seconds later there was a steady stream of beer.

“It’s good to go,” she said to me as I moved along the bar.  “Hey, how about I get your next one?”

I stopped mid-bar.  It was precisely what I needed to hear.  I bowed graciously.  Then something caught my eye.  There was a lovely rabbit’s foot keychain hanging from a dusty cognac bottle.  Such a memory!  I had had a rabbit’s foot as a child.  I reached to pick it up.  It was lumpy with soft fur.  Impulsively I turned to show Rex and Cornelius the rabbit’s foot but it slipped from my fingers and tumbled to the disgusting bar mat.

“What the hell are you doing behind the bar!” a man’s voice roared.

There was the thud of something slamming onto the bar’s surface.

I turned and a burly man had his fist on the bar.

As I picked up the soiled rabbit’s foot the soft hair was now mucky.

“Dick’s rabbit’s foot!” Missy said anxiously.  “Here, give me that.  Give it to me.”

Just like that the tone had changed.  I was no longer the hero.  I was now the hoodlum.

She took it and did a quick cleanup job with a towel then replaced in on the cognac bottle.

“I’m just here to help,” I said to the man.

“You get the hell out of there!” he shouted.

“Glen, take it easy.  He was just helping me with the beer keg,” Missy said.

“I don’t care.  No customers go behind the bar.”  He came toward me.  “You’re behind the bar.  Get out.”

I didn’t know what was happening.  I was horrified.  Where had this buster come from?

He took hold of my left arm, twisted it behind my back and shoved me into the sink.

“Glen, goddamn it, he was helping me tap a keg!  Let him go!”

The monster had my arm wrenched in some cockamamie wrestler’s move.  Streaks of pain shot into my shoulder and along my side.

“I said, let him go!” Missy shouted.

Then it came again.  I couldn’t hold it.  The urine was hot, and a sheet of wetness soaked my briefs and pants.  It was less than the incident this morning in the kitchen, though just as despicable.  I hadn’t meant to leave the cupboard open.  I’d been distracted by my dirty accident.

Glen finally released me.

I hobbled out from behind the bar.  Rex had his welcomed arms out as if to embrace me.  But I pushed past him and scurried for the exit.  It was happening again.  I was an embarrassment.

“I think he pissed himself,” Glen said.

Cornelius was wide-eyed.  “What’d he say?  What’s going on?”

“Where are you going?” Rex called after me.

My mind was in the clouds.  I couldn’t think straight because of the pain in my shoulder and the dampness in my crotch.

Once outside I made my way down the sidewalk.  My shoes dragged like lead blocks.  Already the dampness in my crotch had turned chilly, each movement bringing a cold awkward shift.

Missy shouted from the door, “You don’t have to leave!”

I fled for my car.  Once inside I got a wad of fast food napkins from the glove compartment and blotted my groin.

I had felt the eyes of everyone in that bar.  I was a laughingstock.

The house was empty when I returned home.  I hurried upstairs to my bathroom and stuffed my soiled pants into the hamper.  Then I washed myself thoroughly.

It seemed a long time before Elizabeth scurried back with Amanda and Mickey.

I was already in a dry set of clothes, hopelessly reading the newspaper.

“How was work?” I asked.

“I left early,” Elizabeth said and her face told me more than that.

She took the kids upstairs without another word.

Soon thereafter Alexandra returned, Marty following a distance behind, his arm bandaged with gauze.

Alexandra gave me a pacified look as she went upstairs.  Marty approached, quiet as a lamb.  This was uncharacteristic of the rambunctious tyke.

“Cat got your tongue?” I feigned in the liveliest manner.

“No.”

“Did you see a doctor?”

“Yeah.”

I winced, “Does it hurt?”

“No.”  Marty was lying, like usual.  He was a tough little booger.

“Is your mommy mad at Grandpa?”

He shrugged and started for the kitchen.

“Wait.”

“But Mommy said I could have a soda.”

“I’m very sorry your arm hurts,” I said.

He shrugged.  I urged him closer.  He came unwillingly.

I examined Marty’s gauze wrapped forearm.  The burn might scar a bit, but would likely fade in a few years, or so I hoped.  Alexandra would never allow me to forget it.  Marty pushed part of the gauze over and showed me the pink flesh.  Whatever ointment the doctor had spread on his arm left a glaze like clear jelly.

“Did the doctor like you?”

He moved away, stopping at the swinging kitchen door.  He turned, blank faced.

“Did the doctor like you?” I repeated.

“I guess so.”

“Did he say how long before it’d be all better?”

“It was a lady doctor,” Marty said then pushed through and disappeared to the kitchen.

I kept working my arm in a circular motion, testing the rotator cuff.  The pain was dull and no longer sharp.  I’d gotten lucky.  Still, my side hurt like the dickens.

Alexandra came down the steps with a calculated look.  She was the methodical type.  I knew she had already figured out what she wanted to say to me.

“Have you forgiven me just a little?” I called out as she got to the bottom of the steps.

“Dad,” she said and was quiet until she took a seat next to me on the living room couch.  “You can’t be doing things like that.  You’re lucky Marty didn’t get into more of the cleaning supplies, or the bleach at the back.”

“Is he going to be okay?” I asked though I knew.  My daughter needed to talk.  It was her downfall in a way; too opinionated, all the time.  There was rarely peacefulness in that one.  She must have gotten it from her mother, God rest her soul.

“It was just a small spot on his arm.  He’ll be fine.  The doctor said it wouldn’t scar very much.  He said the antibiotic ointment would help a lot.  But I had to take the day off from work.  I had to use a sick day.”

“I messed up.  I’m very sorry.”

“Oh, Dad.”

Alexandra was standoffish.  She didn’t reach over to hug me.  That was Elizabeth’s thing.  If I didn’t instigate an embrace it would never come.  So I stayed still.  I was just glad the boy would be all right.

“So what did you do all afternoon?” she asked.

I was relieved to be sitting in a dry pair of briefs.  Twice in one day.  Before now it had never happened twice in one day.

“I read a book.  Then I…took a nap,” I said, and at that moment my side stung like the dickens.

Alexandra was unaffected.  “I’ve got to start dinner.”

I went upstairs to see the kids.  Elizabeth was playing a board game with them in Amanda’s room.  I went downstairs to the refrigerator in the garage to fetch a bottle of wine.  I needed a jumpstart.  I opted for the best vintage I had.

“Dad?” I heard Alexandra’s muffled voice call out as I returned.

I went to her.

Alexandra flipped the chicken in the pan and each piece sizzled as it landed.

“Oh, there you are.”  Her eyes fell to the bottle in my hand.  “You’re going to start before you eat?”

“I generally do, don’t I?”

“I guess you do,” she said turning.

Then, as her right hand worked the spatula, her eyes glanced back at the counter where her cigarettes stood in plain sight.  She saw me catch her.  I went over and picked up the packet.

“In the house?” I said.

“I just tossed them there.  Smell the air,” she said defensively.

The wine bottle was cold in my hand so I set it on the counter and opened the drawer and got out the corkscrew.  Alexandra’s eyebrow lifted.

“Isn’t that the expensive one?” she said.  “I thought you were saving that for a rainy day.”

“Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “Weirdo.”

“Your mother used to call me that.”  I was pleased at the memory.

Alexandra sighed.  “It’s almost ten years.”

“Time does fly.”

She nudged the chicken thighs and then set the spatula on the counter.

I inspected the cooking chicken.

“I like breasts,” I said, “You have no breasts?”

“Plenty,” she said.  “This is for me and the kids.  I’ll make yours and Elizabeth’s after.”  The next part was snippy, “Is that all right?”

“Fine, fine,” I said pulling the corkscrew until the corked popped.  “The kids are upstairs with Elizabeth.  They’re playing a game.”

“That’s fine.”  She eyed the cigarettes again.

“Have one,” I said out of the blue.

Her eyes narrowed again.  “What’s going on, Dad?”

“What do you mean?”  The first sip of Chardonnay was delightful, so much that I had to take another.

“Something happen today when I was gone?”

“Just the thing with Marty.”

Okay,” she said doubtfully.  “You didn’t seem all that worried when I took him to the ER.”

“Of course I was.  I tend to hold in my concern.  If I acted like Elizabeth we’d have too many worry-warts in the house, and I know we don’t want that.”

Okay.  So everything’s fine then?  So that gimp you have is for no apparent reason?”

“What gimp?”

“C’mon, Dad.”

My wall was tumbling down.  I felt the heat in my face and my eyes felt pressure as thought they would well up with tears.  What was happening to me?  Twice in one day!  It had never been that until now.

“I’m going up to my room,” I said closing up on her.  I grabbed the bottle and wine glass.

“You’re not telling me something.  I can tell.”

I turned then sighed.  We watched each other.  It became so very quiet save the cooking chicken.

“Another time,” I said.  “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

She knew it was something significant, and her expression changed to one of empathy.  She knew me so well.

“I’ll have your dinner ready in half an hour,” Alexandra said gentler.  “That okay?  I’d like to eat with the kids tonight.”

“I’d like a potato.”

“Sure.  A potato.  Now go to your room.  I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

After dinner I offered to help clean, but Alexandra and Elizabeth shooed me, though I stood my ground and loaded the dishwasher with dirty dishes and silverware.

Alexandra let out a frustrated sigh.

Elizabeth said, “Dad, you’re supposed to rinse them first.”

“Fine.  I’m the nuisance of the house.”

“You’re not a nuisance,” Alexandra said, “Just a pain in the ass sometimes.”

“Well, touché, girls, touché,” I said.

Suddenly a brilliant idea came to me.  I would play peacemaker.  I would treat us to a sweets fest!

“Donuts!” I shouted.

Elizabeth gasped.  “What?”

“Doesn’t a donut sound awfully good?  I think the kids would like a donut for dessert.  Don’t you?”

Alexandra was stern.  “It’s too late for that.  One of us has to give Amanda and Mickey their baths.”

“It’s my turn,” Elizabeth said, “You bathed the babies last night.”

“Does Marty get a bath too?” I said.

“Not tonight.  Remember the burn on his arm?” Alexandra said heartlessly.

“I think I’ll have another Chardonnay then.”

The girls looked at each other.  There was muted conversation that followed.  I watched Elizabeth’s back squirm and her hands gesture.  Then her neck craned.  Alexandra’s eyes closed disappointedly in a drawn out blink.  She crossed her arms.

“Okay, Daddy,” Elizabeth said. “Go get us donuts, but just one donut apiece.  Promise me.”

“I promise,” I said.  “Six donuts, no more, no less.”

“Are you okay to drive?”

“Of course.”

I sped the car to the donut shop.  Luckily it was still open.

I chose the donuts carefully.  I chose a glazed for myself as well as for Alexandra.  Elizabeth would be problematic, whining about her weight, though she was a waif, so I opted for a pretty pink one with sprinkles to appease her visual senses.  There was a sign that read:  SPECIAL – $7.99 DOZEN DONUTS

My eyes lit up.  Leftovers for everyone!

“I’ll do the special.  Give us four more sprinkled donuts and three chocolates and two of whatever those things are,” I said pointing to the purple ones in the corner.

“Huckleberry.”

Ooh.  I like that.”

“And they have huckleberries inside them too, not just on the outside.”

“Well load us up then!”

Some senior citizen (much older than me) had a flat in the middle of the road.  Everyone on my side was trying to go around but the other side of the road was just as narrow and it was a veritable game of chicken.  The car in front of me refused to pass.  I didn’t want to honk so I waited.  There was the thought of going around both of them but I knew eventually it would clear.

Far up the street to the left I saw a bright light, like a spotlight, in front of the dive bar.  My fingers started typing on the steering wheel.  I wondered if that burly bouncer (or whatever he was employed as) was still there.  I wondered if maybe Missy wasn’t working a double.  I still had a drink coming on the house.  My fingers kept tapping the steering wheel.

Then the anxiousness came and I honked the horn with the heel of my palm, just a quick bump to get the message across.  Something was stirring in my head.  I was ready for another go at the bar.  A few more drinks wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I’d be home in a jiffy with the donuts.

But that car ahead of me wouldn’t move and I wasn’t feeling good about all the bright headlights coming from beyond.  Still I was antsy like the dickens now.

Suddenly I changed my mind.  I waited for a tiny gap and gunned it past the constipated car in front and veered toward opposing traffic.  The approaching headlights were big and close.  There was screeching and honking.  I swerved right, successfully finding clear road.

Everything was fine, just fine.

Then there was a high noise, and lights in my rearview mirror flashing blue and red.  A spotlight shined into my back windshield.

Stunned, I pulled over.

Ever since we were kids Hank and I had been scared as hell of the police.  We had had lots of close calls as teenagers, and there was that one time – the only time – when they caught me swiping cassette tapes from the record store.

He came up my left side in a slow approach.  I rolled down my window.

“Sir, what was that?” the officer said.

“What was what?” I said aghast.

He looked like a straight edge, like a man with a wife and kids.  He was very tall.  He leaned over uncomfortably and his gear squeaked and the baton at his left jutted out like a tail.

“You drove into oncoming traffic and nearly caused a collision.”

“It was the car in front of me.  He wouldn’t go.”

“Because of the stalled car in front of him?”

“I believe it was a flat tire.”

“Sir, can I see your driver’s license and registration?”

My hands were trembling.  Well at least he hadn’t caught on about the wine.  And before I could get the registration from the glove compartment I saw in my periphery his shadow shifting so that his gear squeaked again.

“Have you been drinking tonight?” he said.

I sat upright.  My hand trembled as I handed him the license and registration.

“Sir?” he followed, “Have you been drinking tonight?”
“I had a glass of Chardonnay with dinner over an hour ago.”

There wasn’t any point batting my eyes at him.  I wasn’t pretty like Elizabeth.  She would have this man eating out of the palm of her hand.

“Step out of the car,” he said.

There was a feeling of mercilessness in the air now.  I felt the loom of something uncertain, and embarrassing.  It could never happen three times in a day.  Could it?

We went to the sidewalk.  He gave me tests.  First the arms out and fingers to the nose, which I passed without a doubt.  Then he had me walk the line.  I did as told.  There were a few off balance wiggles, my arms adjusting like a plane leveling itself, and I held my breath the whole time, holding my bladder tightly.  Steadily, I made it over the allotted distance.  Success!

Then the officer had me stand up straight and lift one foot, knee locked, higher and higher until it was thirty degrees in the air.  Then I did the same with the other leg and felt the pressure mount in my bladder.  Had I felt a trickle of urine?  No!  I wouldn’t allow it!  Then a trickle did come.  I was sure of it.  My panic made me clench and tighten.  I bent over gasping dramatically as though I’d been shot in the gut.

“Are you okay, sir?” he said.  I could hear his leather squeak as he approached.

“I need a moment,” I said feigning further gut pain.

“Can you move?”

“In a minute,” I grunted.

“When you’re ready, come over here and sit down.”

He meant the front bumper of the police car.

The cars moved past and I could feel the eyes of the drivers examining me.

But they didn’t matter to me anymore.  It was simply a relief to know the episode in my pants had passed.  I had held it in!  It had been just a trickle or two, and nothing disastrous.

I felt a newfound confidence.  I stood upright and made my way to the patrol car.  The officer gestured to the bumper and I sat with the assurance that everything was going to be all right.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, “It’s just a condition I have.  My bladder,” and then for added effect, “and bowels.”

He hesitated, “I see.”

“Say, where do you think they came up with the term long arm of the law?”

“I couldn’t say.”

“Well, it was just a thought.”

There was something in his hand.  It was a Breathalyzer.

“Now you’re going to take a deep breath and breathe into this,” he said.

I did as told.  None of it mattered anymore.  It wasn’t a worry to me.  He told me to do it once more, and then showed me the reading.  I was just above the legal limit.

“But only by a hair,” I enthused.

He was not amused.

The reflection of light came off his badge and nametag.  It caught my eye.  I analyzed the badge first.  It was carved and detailed and there was a little blue in it that I hadn’t expected.  Then I looked at the nametag inscribed:  WRIGGLE 

“That your name?  Wriggle?”

“Yes it is,” he said aloofly.

“I went to a high school with a Carlton Wriggle.  Liked to go by the nickname Duke.”

It was a long shot albeit one worth taking.

The officer gave a slow twist with his mouth.  He was quiet a moment before giving me an ambiguous expression.

“That would be my father.”

“No kidding?  Duke Wriggle is your pop?  He was a close friend of mine,” I paused for effect, “back then at San Diego High School.  You know I wasn’t supposed to go to that school.”

“You don’t say?”

I gestured for him to come closer and he bent over to hear me better over the passing cars.
“Gregory Peck went there.  The actor.  Long before me,” I chuckled.  “My mother had a thing for him and wanted me to go there.  So I did.”

“You don’t say?”

“And I have a twin brother.  Though, Hank just refused to go to an inner city school.  The coward.”

Officer Wriggle’s face was blank.  I couldn’t gauge him.  Then he moved away and was back inside his patrol car.  It seemed a strange moment for him to walk away.  We had just started talking.  He was Carlton Wriggle’s son for goodness sake.

He was in the car for a long spell.  I grew cold and crossed my arms.  My optimism was dissipating.

Officer Wriggle returned.

“Here’s what we’re going to do.  You’re going to get in your car and you’re going to drive, slowly, to that traffic light and make a right.  You still live at this address?”

“Yes I do.”

He held out my Driver’s License and registration.  I took them.

He walked with me to my driver side door.

I got in and put on my seat belt.  I looked at him for approval and he nodded.

“You take it slow and obey all posted speed limit signs.  I’ll be right behind you.”

He patted my car door with his right hand and the ring on his finger pinged the metal.

I wanted to say more about his father but the opportunity had expired.  So I’d probably never have to see Carlton “Duke” Wriggle after all, not after all these years.  In actuality I was relieved.  Duke was a stuck up jock, was very popular, and hadn’t particularly liked me.  He had tried to cheat off me numerous times during tests and I had covered up my sheet with my forearm each time.  Everybody knew about Duke Wriggle.  You had to be a real outcast not to know.

 

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