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"A BETTER MAN THAN YOU," short story excerpt

Tuesday 11/22/22

This is as good as it gets.


***


He could throw the photos away. That wasn’t going to happen. And even if it did, he had that Time Machine thing on his computer, and the photos would always be there, awaiting retrieval, and they’d be so smug that way, both the photos themselves and the people in them, because they all knew that Marcus would be back as sure as the sun or the moon.


Then again, his ex-wife might not even know he had the photos. She could be alone now. She could be with someone else. These photos might themselves be a part of the past of the man who was in them. Marcus’s heart sank once more. Someone else after someone else after someone else.


A kid Marcus was friends with—but from a distance; they were on the same bus, and never hung out much otherwise—had been adopted really late in life, when he was fourteen or something. And he’d been adopted into a family that had four girls, all in their teens. They were his sisters and they weren’t his sisters.


“I’d do anything for them,” this kid said, the epitome of sibling loyalty.


“Okay,” Marcus agreed. He wasn’t going to quibble.


The kid’s words, though, had the inflection of an inevitably forthcoming “but.”


“But let me tell you what I like to do,” the friend said, warming to his tale as he then proceeded to speak of how he’d raid the drawers of the sisters who were not sisters, procuring panties for the sniffing, and more, including the filling, after a fashion.


“I use them as a rag,” the kid continued, for maximum clarity.


“No, I get it,” Marcus countenanced a second time.


But the kid wasn’t done. Certain people always just seem to have a capper waiting in a back pocket designed specially to hold a capper. The friend from a distance was one of them. Marcus often wished he had these things himself, but in his own right.


“There was so much spooge.”


The nascent adoptee favored the word. It stuck as a nickname, and a weirdly welcomed one at that. Spooge became quite popular after freshman year, if only because people enjoyed greeting him by name. A football player—but one of the smarter ones—made mention in the yearbook that Spooge had often been on tongues and lips, never to be forgotten.


Marcus thought of Spooge—dear old Spooge, with his cheeky enthusiasm and creative approaches to family and relationship dynamics—for the first time in a long time as he looked again at the last photo. The man who’d been a pink unicorn, Strawberry Shortcake, and Al Roker, now wore the face of a moon. A bright moon. A moon to inspire the lycanthropically-inclined to up and become a werewolf. Bay, baby. Or was it a harvest moon because there’d been harvesting, after a fashion?


The full moon itself was enough of a play on parts as it were. Or was the reference to there being a man in the moon?


This guy was definitely crafty. This last of the four photos might be termed an aftermath shot. A basking theme persisted in ample evidence, but also the idea of a creek bed with a trickle that would only now be starting to dry on its own, for that was how nature rolled, and nature was rolling.


“And I put those panties right back in the drawer, and no one has a fucking clue,” Spooge concluded on a bus that had likely long ago been stripped down to parts, but on she drove all the same, the same way the past cruises into the present, and then to the future, laying on the horn to let the relevant party know that she’s parked outside.


“Okay,” Marcus said, just as he now thought how a folder on a computer is a lot like a drawer.


He took photos of the photos on the computer screen with his phone, so he could have them with him as he did the errands in case he wanted to look some more. Otherwise he’d probably just stay home and you have to incentivize your life in small parts, no matter how pathetic. Everyone does it. They don’t tell you they do it, but they do. It’s all that keeps people from staying in bed. Without lettuce to buy, a flu shot to get, a job to go to, we’d all be Vitamin D deficient.


Marcus tried to believe his own words of advice as they rolled through his thoughts and he snapped away. He could upload the photos to Dropbox, then download them from there to his phone, for better image quality. No. A bridge too far. And not a structurally sound bridge, even if he’d been willing to go there. He could look at the bridge, though. You didn’t have to cross every one you came to. Surely there were covered bridges in places like Vermont that certain tourists only looked at and didn’t chance. Then why were they there? The beauty inherent in misrepresentation irked him. It was a wonder that no one ever set fire to some of those old wooden spans of the ancient New England hills.


As it was, he was angry at exactly one person, with that anger growing. Himself. Was he a tourist? A tourist at home? A tourist every day. He envisioned waking up tomorrow as he’d woken up today, thinking not “What have I done?” but “What have I felt and what is wrong with me?”


You always want to go back in time to the moment you’re bemoaning and act differently. Like with the divorce lawyer. On the last day. Marcus and this guy, alone.


His wife—who was still technically then his wife—didn’t show. She didn’t have to. Her presence was not required, Marcus was told, though he couldn’t help thinking that it still might have been nice.


The final signature was put in place, entered into the record that would itself go into a file, which was like a drawer, but also probably digitized, so a computer file, too, and the lawyer extended his hand to Marcus.


Marcus took it. He even made some small joke about how this puts a bow on everything at last, adding, “well, at least we’re done,” like he and this man had been through a challenging undertaking they couldn’t have managed without the other.


He often wished he could go back to that moment and refuse the hand and instead serve a stunning riposte that was physical in nature but symbolic in essence. He’d whip down his pants, as the lawyer’s hand hovered between the two of them, alone, together, and then Marcus would take a mighty piss, but not at the lawyer, and instead upwards, towards the ceiling, with everything seeming to enter into a state of slow-motion. The glorious abeyance of the human soul in the moment it is becoming a higher form of whatever a soul is than it was the smallest fraction of a second prior, even if manners and decency must be forgone for the transition. The soul would have tendrils, Marcus decided. Like the sun. So it could be in different places at once. Different worlds. Different times. He liked that.


No one else could move, escape, intervene, or just get out of the damn way as the urine made what was a beautiful, balletic arc, and rained down on the lawyer’s head. He’d say one word to the lawyer as he departed the courthouse before anyone could arrest him, and that word would be “fountain,” as the lawyer’s hand, once extended, now tried to shield his eyes, to no avail. When fountains strike, they strike true.


It occurred to Marcus that a lot of life is saying “take that,” in assorted forms, or wanting to and hoping you have an opportunity. The man in the photos had an aspect of “take that” about him, just as Marcus’s former wife had one of, “Thank you, I’m very pleased to say that I will.”