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"After Over Starts," short story excerpt

Saturday 7/3/21

A woman on a dating site had seventeen words in her profile. She didn’t count them, but sometimes someone would who cared about language, communication, and connection.


“Seventeen fucking words, and nine of them are either God, Jesus, or the Lord,” a man thought, reading the woman’s profile, which meant scanning it, because there were no sentences as such. “Another thirty-nine-year-old grandmother. Shockeroo.”


The man pointed this out in a note to the woman, suggesting saying something pertaining to herself (understanding he was being a passive aggressive wretch), give a sense of who she was.


“I did,” the woman responded. “I literally said a lot. You didn’t say nothing.”


The man had written a dozen chunky paragraphs. Beef-fed paragraphs that he hoped could help a larger, better entity grow up strong into a formidable force—that is, a relationship with someone who impelled him to care. Eventually. Or at least before he died.


He hadn’t cared for a short spell, now that his marriage was over. Which is to say, it hadn’t been over long, but he knew that in eleven years, to pick a number—one that happened to be his daughter’s age—he’d likely feel as he did presently, and he wasn’t ever going to meet someone like the woman he’d known and loved.


“It’s a good thing we get along so well,” his now ex-wife—his freshly-minted ex-wife—told him after they stepped out of the courthouse. The way she joked reminded him of latte froth—there was something beneath it, but she wanted you to focus on the heart on top. It de-complicated life so that the complications that had to be there could be circumvented well enough that a person might impart some necessary info, or a well-wish, a “You hang in there and I’ll hang in there, too.”


He’d put up minimal fight. She’d just been so unhappy. A friend had said, “I know how much you love her. I get it, brother. I’ve known you almost a quarter of a century. I know what matters to you. And I know what matters to you isn’t to be found in hardly anyone. You probably don’t think it’s in me and I bet it’s not. All different kinds of reasons for people to be friends. And I’m your friend. You know that. I always will be. You know that, too. I love you like a brother, I want to protect you and see you well like you’re my kid, and I look up to you and the person you are like I did my dad. You need to fight for your marriage, chief.”


“Why?” he asked his wife, realizing he’d been staring down the busy city street outside of the courthouse as if it were a path grooved with wagon ruts, acres and acres of knotted grasses fanning out to the sides, a chirr of crickets beckoning settlers West, or else issuing a warning. Was hard to know the difference between “What do you have to lose?” and “Hey, man, better go the fuck back, you had a reasonable life, remember?” He’d stepped on a giant cricket when he was a kid as part of a dare, and been shocked that the guts were red and not green, even inspected the tread of his Converse sneakers later to see if he’d been mistaken.


“For co-parenting,” she said, with a tone that they were now amigos, chums, buddies. In perhaps a year he’d be expected to make a joke about the new fella she was seeing, and whether he gave his stamp of approval. He’d hate to be an avuncular presence, hate to purchase gifts for his kid based upon comparisons, and presumed comparisons, and not just what he thought she would like best. He probably wouldn’t even be able to tell anymore. Just like he hated the word “weekends” now, but not weekends themselves, given that he’d be living for them.


“Oh,” he said, as though their daughter was some generic brand breath mint he’d tossed in his mouth sometime ago and had forgotten was there, only to find a flake or two left under his tongue.


The man considered that he had arrived at a very precise place in that exact moment. The spot where “over” starts. An over. He felt sick as he wondered how long an over might last. Be the dominant strain. The reigning magistrate of the borough of his life. Or like one of those portly burgomasters in the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials. Their girl always laughed at the one when she was little with a character called Burgermeister Meisterburger.


He didn’t want to say his kingdom. Too grand. He saw some spittle on the sidewalk and envied it. He’d discovered it when they were first standing there, as she waited for her ride. Already the spittle was fading. Had he come along now, he wouldn’t have noticed it at all. But he possessed the experience of knowing the spittle had been there. He wondered if anyone had ever studied a liquid he left behind, a part of him, in a manner as he was studying this spittle. He thought about the time they conceived their daughter.


“That one did it,” his wife had said, as their joint motion came to an end, and he got back on his side in the bed, her slickened thigh against his.


“How do you know?” he laughed. “You don’t know. I’ve been your personal breeding stud for the last four months and it hasn’t stuck.”


“I just know,” she said. “I can tell.”


He always believed that that was, indeed, the time, though it just as easily could have been the four times the day before, and the six times the day after that he heroically willed himself to. After all, he was nearly forty then.


“So why am I still grinding away here, babe,” he joked.


“Because I like you,” she replied.


The ride came—a mutual friend, who probably wouldn’t be his friend anymore, on account that it’d be too much of a logistical hurdle. A woman went with a woman. Be weird otherwise. In the gloaming of the inside of the car, the friend flashed a type of “I’m sorry” wave as the man’s wife walked around to the passenger side.


He improvised an awkward line about “You take good care of her now,” which the friend promised she would. One of those people with tact.


And later. Back to the dating site. Now that the over had started and who the hell knew how long it might last. He considered that every start is a form of an over that has modulated, but the over is always there, the trace minerals remain. The over is the substrate of life. It is what starts are built upon, which are themselves new overs.


He counted the words of the profile again. Counted up the Gods, Jesuses, and Lords. Did this chick even use verbs?


Then he typed a question: “If Jesus asked you if he could fingerbang you, have his way with your body, would you let him because you automatically have complete faith and trust in Jesus?”


“UR a sick man,” she said. “And yes, if it were Jesus. Ass nozzle.”