by Catherine J. Link
Maureen knew she shouldn’t have let the kids go trick or treating by themselves. She’d had a bad feeling about it, but when her eleven-year-old son, promising to take care of his little sister, pleaded for her to trust him, she gave in.
“Thanks, mom. You’re the best,” he’d said as they went out the door. She watched them go, walking across the lawn, kicking leaves.
The Frankenstein monster and a fairy princess, they were the center of her whole world, especially since the divorce. She was watching a significant moment in their young lives. Their last moments of blissful ignorance, as it turned out. That’s what she was seeing as they waved goodbye, and she didn’t even know it. Looking back on that moment now, she felt as though she had missed an important event, like a birthday or graduation. She should have taken pictures.
“I’m the best!” she shouted into the phone. “That’s what our son thinks of his mother! Do you want to know what he thinks of his father? Thanks to that fat, jealous, oversexed homewrecker you took up with, he thinks you’re a dirtbag. He’s embarrassed to be your son. He doesn’t even want to go back to school here. He asked if we could move to a new town.”
There was a voice shouting on the other end of the line, but she wasn’t listening.
“Picture it, Joe. The kids coming home early on Halloween. They had only been gone for about twenty minutes. They came through the door. You should have seen their poor little faces. It would break your heart. Oh, wait. You don’t have one of those.
“And there I was, oblivious, wondering what could be bad enough to make the kids come home early?
“Mommy, look at this,’ your baby girl says to me. ‘Daddy’s naked.’
“What do you mean I should have told her it wasn’t you? Your daughter knows what you look like, Joe. Especially now that she’s seen your pee pee. That’s what she asked me. ‘Is that daddy’s pee pee? Daddy should have put his pants on for the picture.’”
Maureen gulped down moscato and paced back and forth across the kitchen floor.
“She put them in your kids’ candy bags. How could I have intercepted them. I wasn’t there. You think I’m overreacting? Really? Goddamn, I don’t believe you just said that. Well, Joe, how does it make you feel to know that she put them on the telephone poles too. Yeah, Joe. Your naked picture up there among the lost pet posters and yard sale signs. A lost mastiff on one side, a found gray tom cat on the other, and Joe Hopkins of Daytona Beach in the middle, showing the world that those little blue pills really work.”
Maureen threw down another glass of moscato. She lit a cigarette to keep her hands busy, keeping her from tearing out her hair.
“What are you telling me?” Maureen paused, then laughed. “Oh, I get it. It was revenge. She caught you cheating on her, so she plastered your love handles all over town. I have to admire that. I wish I’d thought of it back in the day.”
Joe Jr. walked into the kitchen. He was in his pajamas.
“You’re smoking again, Mom,” he said. “You promised you would stop.”
“I know, baby,” she said, waving a hand to scatter the smoky cloud surrounding her head. “I’m not really smoking, I’m just waving it in the air. It gives me something to do with my hands. I’m not inhaling, I promise.”
“Is that Daddy?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “He wants to say sorry.”
She handed the phone to the boy.
“Yeah. I don’t know,” Joe, Jr. said. “I guess so. When?”
Then he handed the phone back to her.
“Daddy’s crying,” he said. He handed the phone back to his mother and went to bed.
“Joe,” she said. She was quiet now, listening to him weep. She tried to fight the feeling she was getting in her chest, that tightening just before a sob. “Joe, stop it. You’re making me cry, too.”
“I’m not surprised she cheated,” Maureen said. “She had a wandering eye. She cheated, then you cheated, but you’re the one with your goodies on a wanted poster. Wow. You sure know how to pick ’em, Joe.”
Maureen’s tears started to fall. “I know it’s not funny. But maybe it will be, in twenty years or so.”
She grabbed a paper towel and wiped her face.
“Yeah, okay,” she said. She threw the cigarette in the sink. “I guess we could. Tomorrow at noon? We’ll have coffee and talk it over. We’ll figure out what to tell the kids. It’ll be okay.”
Maureen hung up. She grabbed her car keys.
“Where are you going?” Joe Jr. asked her.
“I’m going to the store. Want anything?”
“Cookie dough ice cream?”
“Go to sleep. I’ll be back in a while,” she said. She grabbed a flashlight from a shelf.
“I’ve got to check out some telephone poles.”