Fellowship by Susan McCarty

  1. Seafood Night

EVERY FRIDAY AROUND FIVE, we stack the sun chairs in the pump room of the Maple Hills Country Club and watch the servers from the restaurant roll giant table rounds down the paved walk between the tennis courts, past the gazebo where we sit in black, regulation one-piece suits, and down to the pebbled pool deck. It takes three servers to handle a single round—to bang the rusted legs into place and hoist the table upright, to toss a white polyblend covering over the entire surface with one snap. The buffets are brought down, the Sterno lit below them. And then: steaming steel trays filled with buttered corn cobs, the garlicky reek of Oysters Rockefeller, yawning mussels and pink whole lobsters, the faint bleachy tang of cooked mollusk shell. Never mind that the nearest body of water is the catfished Iowa River. Every Friday from five to nine, the club is a Cape Cod beach, and we—who have never seen the ocean, but find ourselves drawn toward water on some cellular level—perch on our lifeguard towers as if they are crow's-nests, keeping our eyes on the water not for whales or land, but for children whose fearlessness makes them susceptible to sinking.

We dream nightly of escape. We would like nothing more than to see Iowa rolling out its infinity in the rearviews of our farm trucks, our Civics or Metros (all shamed to street-parking blocks away, to make room for the Lincolns and Caddies of the club guests). We rip through each National Geographic our grandfathers' yearly subscriptions provide. We pay attention to television and the news. Beautiful, violent things are happening a thousand miles east. And if the water inside us draws us to the water outside, in search of equilibrium, this is also true of our dark selves, the mystery of our desires, which can find nothing external to match the pressures they produce in us—not here, in the friendly width of these streets, these fields, these grocery aisles.


THE POOL OPENS AT TEN, but I'm supposed to be there at eight to set up deck chairs and check the garbage cans and test the water and fix the mix, if it's off, so the pool can open. today, I arrive at seven. I haven't really slept since last night, when Mom and Dad called a "family meeting." It was pretty goddamned obvious what they were going to tell us. It's why James has been wetting his bed lately, and why I stole the Titanic picture from the family photo album in the living room and hid it in my old copy of A Wrinkle in Time.

Ian shows up at nine, late and stoned. He's a swimmer on the college team and always has his shirt off, even when, like today,, it's too cold. His back is ridiculous, an inverted triangle—shoulders wide and pronounced from all his hunching through the water. I always get a little nervous when he's on the pool deck, on first position, on the stand by himself.

"Hey kid," he says with an easy smile. I'm pretty sure he doesn't know my name.

"Ian," I say, "pH levels are good. I didn't get to the cans yet though, so. . ."

"No problemo, chica." He waves and wanders across the pool deck to the first garbage can. It's not that I haven't checked the cans—in fact, before Ian showed up, I walked around kicking the trash cans, making sure to take all the pressure on the hard rubber toe of my tennies and yelling "Fuck you!" every time, imagining my father's soft, bearded face. He seemed the unhappiest of all of us, and this made it easy to blame him.

In one of the cans, the one by the wading pool, something shifted inside when I kicked. I drew the hinged top back and found two stupid eyes peering up at me. The thing hissed and I flipped the lid back down. I have kind of forgotten about it until I see Ian's shadow fall long into the concrete slab of the women's bathroom, where I'm stocking the toil.et paper with shaking hands, wondering what's going to happen to my brother who isn't yet old enough to realize what huge assholes his parents have become.

"Critter alert," Ian says.

The philosophy of work at the pool is smelt it/dealt it. I let Ian think he's found the raccoon. I grab the skimmer off its hook on the perimeter fence and follow him across the deck and through the little wooden gate to the baby pool area. He kicks the garbage can and there's a skittering, claws on the heavy plastic lining. He'll have to lay the an gently on its side and then get out of the way quickly, in case the coon is angry or rabid. I tell him I have his back and hold the skimmer defensively in front of me like a hockey goalie.

"Shit," he grunts, and squats the can to the ground.

"Get out of the way." I wave the net at the can.

"Jesus, get closer," he says. "I think it's coming out."

As if we're watching some sunny-day, rich-people horror movie, paws grasp the plastic lip and the raccoon emerges, spiky and damp and humping itself onto the length of the can, I an sort of frozen, watching it. I try to shake my head free of the buzz I haven't noticed all morning until now, but my reaction time is messed up.

The coon seems to be checking out Ian, lookin him up and down in a leisurely, half-interest way, and then it lunges toward him. Ian makes a kind of hoarse squawk and jumps backwards. Unstuck by his yell, I leap forward, brandishing the aluminum pole, and get the raccoon's head in the net, while it latches itself, all paws and teeth, onto the skimmer. I run to the baby pool and plunge the thing into two feet of water. The raccoon thrashes and I—or not me, but some reptilian part of me I have never met before—smash the skimmer to the bottom again and again, until I feel a brittle, twiggy snap. The coon goes limp in the netting, its neck probably broken. I feel like I might throw up.

Ian comes up beside me. He cranes his neck to look into the pool. He doesn't want to get too close to me.

"Holy fuck," I pant.

"You killed it."

My chin is starting to do this involuntary crumple that means I'm about to cry. "I didn't mean to."

"You looked like you meant to."

I drop the skimmer and it's so loud on the pavement I have to bring my teeth together to settle the vibration in my head. The coon looks small underwater—no way it was an adult. I look at it and think, I killed that. Ian offers to clean up and I go sit in the gazebo, at the pool entrance, where people sign in and pay their guest fees.

When he comes up later and asks if I want to go home, the question makes me cry harder. And when I shake my head and wipe my nose on the sleeve of my lifeguard sweatshirt, he says. "Come to the pump room," and I do because he looks confused and afraid, like I too might rise up and claw him, and I realize he thinks I'm crazy, all fucked-up over a baby raccoon, and so, when we squat on two bulbous gray metal meters growing out of the pump room floor, I tell him about last night, about my parents. I use the word they kept using—separation—a word that is pointedly not divorce. l I would rather it not be Ian who knows this before anyone else, but there is no one else. .He doesn't say anything. In the dank, chlorine reek of the room, his lighter glows under the joint he's brought for us, and the pain in my chest as I suck in smoke feels like something to be thankful for.


TWO HOURS LATER I'M STILL RED-EYED and dry-mouthed, but tear-free, sitting in the club gazebo in a manner I hope conveys both alertness and innocence. To the club mothers of Maple Hills, I want to look like the opposite of a person who would smoke weed on her guard shift. The reflective lenses in my sunglasses help—in my face the mothers see only themselves—but I realize I'm conveying too much alertness when Wendy Comstock glances up while she's signing in and then edges the clipboard nearer to herself as if to protect the privacy of her signature and club number. As if there'd be anything to do with her club number if I did steal it. Maybe a lesson with the golden tennis pro, a tan Swede straight off the cover of a romance novel. I'm imagining him bending me over the net and spanking me lightly with a racket, when a tall boy with large, rubbery features and long eyelashes wanders up to the gazebo and signs in himself and his little brother, who looks like he's about the same age as my brother James. The older one smiles and that's all it takes. The heat, the weed, the thoughts of the tennis racket, and probably, perversely, even the new of the separation have all undone me and I feel hazy and discombobulated and like the only thing that will make it all better is to be pressed against this guy as soon as possible. Phallically, I need a single point of focus. When the boys and their hairless and tawny bare chests have swept past the gazebo, I pull the sign-in sheet towards me and spin open the Rolodex to find their family info: Wychensky, Wayne and Donna. Ted and Liam.

I must have given off some pheromone, because when the third guard shows up at noon and Ian relieves me at the gazebo for my snack bar rotation, the older brother—Ted or Liam?—buys a pack of M&Ms, but manages to look, somehow, like he couldn't give a shit about actually eating them.

"You have to eat them fast, or they'll melt all over you." I try to say this in a suggestive way.

"Actually, M&Ms were invented not to melt. For soldiers in World War II. The candy shell?"

Simultaneously I feel like, You've got to be kidding me, and, I totally want to fuck you. And somehow he gets it, because he blushes, then grins an sticks the bag of candy in the pocket of his damp trunks and walks away. Hours later, I'm on the first position and the little brother comes up to the stand with his hand cupped over his eyes like a sailor. I make him stand there because my whistle and sunglasses and my great height on the lifeguard stand tens to scare kids and I'm not above enjoying that.

Finally, I acknowledge him with a nod.

"I'm Liam," he says.

"Hi, Liam. I'm Sarah."

He's brown as an almond and his hair is curly and dark. He looks like Disney's Aladdin and I'm sure someday he'll be as hot as his brother. Hotter, probably.

"My brother says he thinks you're pretty."

I make no expression and don't even move my head, but I find Ted with my eyes.. He's rubbing sunscreen on his stomach like it's the most interesting and difficult thing he's ever done.


TED PICKS ME UP FROM WORK THAT NIGHT in his Chrysler LeBaron, and some time later, but perhaps not enough time, his chewed-at finger tips are fumbling their way past my underwear, and the smell of chlorine is all around us, and all of sudden I have a new summer project which doesn't involve sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

In the next few weeks, we establish a routine: on my nights off we got to a movie, maybe for pizza and then we motor out somewhere more or less deserted and take off our clothes. Soon Ted has nuzzled, licked and put his finger s on and in almost every fevered part of me, but he refuses intercourse.

One night, I bring out a joint after we pull into a fallow field off the gravel road that winds behind a half-finished housing development. The cicada chatter around us and hundred of lightning bugs hand chest-high, at the top of the seeded grass, flashing their semaphore. I bop Ted gently on his beautiful Roman nose with a red Bic and twiddle the joint at him from my other hand. He takes the lighter and throws it out the window. "I'm not down with chicks who use."

"What?" I pull back the joint before he can chuck it too.

"No drugs, babe. Them's the rules."

"Why are you talking like that? Whose rules?"

He looks less sure of himself, his huge Adam's apple bobbing. "Pastor John's."

"Really? That guy?"

Pastor John is a balding twenty-something who specializes in Pear Jam covers on his acoustic guitar and speaks motivationally at our high school once a year. He runs a popular cross-town evangelical ministry for the kinds of kids who have great skin and expensive cars and brand of stupid, beautiful arrogance that almost takes your breath away. They get high on life and go to Very Good State Schools. Ted's one of them—he'll be off to Madison in the fall, which is close enough to pain me with a glimmer of hope that our summer thing might outlast the summer.

"Are you in his. . .teen group or whatever?"

"Youth group, and yes, I go to his Friends and Fellowship Fridays."

Ted sounds defensive and he should be.

This is Pastor John we're talking about. During last year's all-school assembly about self-respect, he preformed a country version of "Ice, Ice Baby," in which he changed the lyrics to Nice, nice baby. He frequently organizes long and awkward trust falls, preaches abstinence whenever he gets the chance. I am mortified for both of us, Ted and me. Pastor John's biggest message is that intercourse is disrespectful of a girl's body and the holy sanctity of marriage. Thank weeping baby Jesus, Ted follows only the letter of this law.

I try, I try, I do. I beg and plead and prance and suck and tease, but Ted is adamant. We seem to reach some sort of stalemate about sex, but I manage to disappear into him anyway. His LeBaron my salvation. Most nights of the week, I slide into my mother's dark house late and pretend not to hear her weeping through her bedroom door and imagine a future for myself full of adult things without adults.


2. Trial Separation

IN THE EARLY DAYS OF DIVORCE, when it's still being referred to as a trial separation, it seems that everyone does everything wrong. After swearing we won't, we bring up custody. Some of us wake at night in a cold wet beds and cry out, and other of us ignore those cries, which seem to come from a planet we don't want to inhabit, and which sound to our cringing ears like a symptom of some infectious disease we don't want to come down with. Decisions are made and boxes are packed. Some of us are upset that others of us are taking all the records and hi-fi equipment, but these complaints are deftly turned inside out and become reasons to visit the new place, the new living situation, the new beige and black leather townhouse monstrosity with Berber wall-to-wall and white plastic vertical blinds that hang like blades and dissect the view of the spewing water feature in the center of the pond behind the development.

We seem to be unbecoming a we. We seem to be becoming an us and a them, but even on either side of this dividing line we each stand alone, tucked into ourselves, the distance between us—even those of us on the same side, those of us who did not royally fuck up and irrevocably ruin it for the rest of us—enormous and growing with each passing, teary day. We hear each other's clotted breaths in the night. We no longer eat dinner together. We sit in the basement pushing our injection-molded He-Men against each other (in love or hate we don't know) and wait for the rest of us to join in, but we are scattered and wounded, and in our pain turn away from each other. Others of us see the slinking about and the downward cast of the eyes, and we understand at once. We try to sound patient and convincing: No one has every died from this. Lots of people go through this. We'll all be okay. What we really want is to run away. What we really want is for those of us who are children to stop acting like children, even though this is impossible and, in itself, a childish wish.

For the first time in years, we are truly alone. We clip our nails and toenails carefully—there seems to be all the time in the world, now, for personal grooming. we feel happy for a few days, to finally be free of the dog hair, but after a few more days we realize how awfully we miss the dog. It's the dog that finally sends us to our knees, our hands to our heads in front of the vertical blinds in the long, dogless night. When we look up again, we realize we are staring at the light on the water feature and that the color of the light is changing as we stare. We watch it go from green to blue to purple to pink to red to orange to yellow to green to purple until our lashes dry and our fists unclench.


THE SUMMER'S A LONG SLOW YAWN. James and I are at Dad's two-bedroom apartment every weekend, which is actually more family time that any of us have ever spent together. It feels like prison.

Dad doesn't have a couch, just a low glass coffee table in front of the TV, an ancient half-ton wood monstrosity with side panels and knobs, which sits on the floor, like us. James and I eat Cheetos off the coffee table from a family-sized bag. We've already watched our old pirated copies of Beauty and the Beast and Clue. Halfway through Tucker: A Man and His Dream, the TV screen fuzzes over and when the picture returns, there's a topless woman with sky-high blond bangs, kneeling between the legs of a hairy man with his pants around his ankles. The man places one big mitt on her head, crushing the anemone-like structure of her hair. Dad flies up, blocking the screen, and fiddles at the control panel of the TV. A wet smacking sound precedes the silence.

"What was that lady doing?" James asks.

I can feel Dad looking at me for help. He's always been short with us, impatient. His temper was a force that filled our house with its sound and fury, and it seems to me he's been the chief composer of our misery. I do not want to help him, but I feel protective of my little brother, so I ask James if he wants to watch Clue again, which is his favorite movie, and he says yes yes like the six-year-old he is, and when I settle back next to him, Dad gets off the floor and retreats to the kitchen. I don't know exactly what he's doing back there. Pots rumble and the kitchen faucet runs. I hear the fridge smack open, twice. It's not enough though—even from the other room, Dad's shame fills the apartment like a gas leak. I look at the TV screen and narrow my focus to the wavering, over-red images. It's a kind of meditation, except instead of calm and peace. I allow myself to fill with a rage so heavy it pins me to the ground.

It's a long time before I can stand again, and when I do, I find the rage has not abated. I grab my keys and stomp to the door. I tell them not to wait up and snarl that I'll sleep in my own bed, in my own fucking house. James is a perfect replica of my father: the "O"s of their mouths and their eyes like wounds. I open the door and no one stops me, so I slam it hard and feel, for one second, like I have won.

An hour later Ted and I are parked at the spillway. Ted is doing this thing in my vagina where he rubs one finger up and down the other, producing what I imagine is supposed to be some sort of crickety vibrato. I don't know where he gets his fancy ideas, but I don't want to hurt his feelings either. I arch my head back toward the half-open window to get a sniff of the barbeque smoke coming from a campsite downwind. All day, I've only eaten Cheetos. Ted takes my contortions as encouragement and the cricket quickens.

"Hey," I say after a few more minutes of this. "Let's go outside and look at the tube." The tube is a mad explosion of water that rushes over the dam gate at 3,500 cubic feet per second, and though our car is parked slightly upstream, it's a fairly easy walk, even in the dark, up the hill to the banked bridge directly over the outflow. Standing there, you feel as though you might be sucked into its deafening fishy roil.

Recently, before the announcement, but when things were already bad, when Mom and Dad stomped around their bedroom every night and bellowed at each other like a couple of cows about to be slaughtered, I was picking through a family photo album, trying to remember a time when their anger hadn't rumbled every wall in the house, and I found a snapshot of them standing above the tube in a the golden light of an early autumn afternoon, the day we all went fishing together—maybe three or four years ago. I remember James was fascinated by the way Dad hooked the worm and the grieving worm families they'd left behind.

In the snapshot, my mother's leaning against the chest-high chain-link that surrounds the damn gate. Her arms are spread at the shoulders like wings, her hair, longer then and maybe darker, ripples behind her. My dad's hands are at her hips. They're doing Titanic at the top of the tube. I didn't realize how bad things had gotten, until I saw that photo. And now, I can't even be here, can't pretend to enjoy my boyfriend's mediocre fingerbang, without thinking about my parents and wondering what's to become of us all. I sigh and push Ted's hand away.

"Did you hear me?" I say. "Let's go up and watch the water."

"It's dark out—we could trip and hurt ourselves. Anyway, it smells."

In an instant, the rage is back and I am ready to push this thing to the brink. I know what it takes to hurt us both. "Why can't we just have sex like normal people?" I say. "I feel like a fucking freak out here."

Ted frowns. "You know I can't."

"Oh right. Your pledge of chastity."

"It's important to me. You said you'd support me." He turns away, his modest erection wilting in his jeans, and starts the car. I pull up my shorts and thrust my pelvis as high in the air as I can to button them.

"I was just trying to get you to fuck me."

"Pastor John said you sounded like someone who'd resort to pressure tactics. And that I should be careful."

"You talked to him about me?"

"I didn't want it to be true, but now I see he was right—"

"What did you say about me?"

"—and I think. . .I don't think we should see each other anymore."

For the millionth time, I imagine Ted's legs spread out before me as I ride him like a combine; Ted's farm-boy bulk squashing me into the crumb-sharp fabric of his back seat in an ironic missionary; Ted's ass tightening as he rams into me again and again. But now I see something else too: that asshole Pastor John staring at us with heaven's disapproval souring his face.

I elbow the door open and start walking toward the top of the tube, which looks like someplace furtive and ugly in Ted's headlights. Gravel, broken glass. I climb the steep spillway embankment and don't look back. He yells for me twice, then backs his car out and drives away.

Up here, at the top of the hundred-foot drop down to the churning, angry water, is the last place I saw my mother smile at my father. The Iowa River races furiously toward me. Beyond the dam, the reservoir is placid and has the rotten fertilizer smell of something dead.


3. Youth Group

IN PLACE OF DARKNESS, there was the fluorescence of junior high hallways. In place of demons, Zach Hellerman's man-sized fist sank into our stomachs. His spit hung, chrysalis-like, from the fringe of our bangs. Our glasses: bow-broken and skittered beneath a locker; our non-existent breasts: shamed; our prematurely large breast: shamed; our ball: kicked back into the cavity of our bodies before they'd even had the chance to fully descend..

After the darkness of our daily existence, the bread of our pain, who among us does not feel a huge unclenching inside, a sobbing relief, as we stare into the linoleum of the church basement floor and hear the stories rushing wild and full from each other like the river across the dam? We feel bathed in light. The peace we've been promised, for years, by parents and various administrators, most likely erstwhile bullies themselves, finally arrives in this unlikely and alien place which smells like the hospitalish rooms in which our grandmothers moan out the ends of their lives. How unlikely seems the bringer of our peace. His mousy goatee, the shaved head that we would later understand as an answer to balding, the way his voice twangs over the top of his acoustic guitar: too precise, show-choir trained, a hickish put-on. How fitting that our savior here on earth, the man who would tell us about our savior up in heaven, would the sort of head we would want to see punched, the kid of cringing attitude that would make us understand, finally, what was so hateful about ourselves.

And so, we have learned to speak forcefully, to repulse the twin evils of drugs and sex—although many of us are still waiting, just waiting, for someone, anyone, to offer either. We've traded our skin-care secrets and exfoliated ourselves to a rosy, Christian glow. We've kissed each other during church lock-ins, and at Camp Galilee, where we also learned that Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi worship Satan, a lesson which Pastor John later encourages us to laugh off, but which nevertheless continues to freak us out. We have begun, some of us, to understand the price that such fellowship is asking—nothing less than our soul at the expense of our bodies. We have begun to fail each other.

One of us, just last weekend, tasted, finally, the seawater tang of his girlfriend's vagina—the Southern Comfort still hot in his belly—and ejaculated into his wrinkle-resistant Dockers. Another welcomed the sweet curl of methamphetamine into her lungs. We have turned eighteen and visited the Pleasure Palace with our non-youth group friends and masturbated furtively into socks. There is, suddenly, a new vocabulary; bong, dank, nug, DP, creampie, money shot, crystal, crank, tweak. Something inside us hungrily expands until we feel larger than our homes and schools and even, or especially, the basement of this church. We wake at night and touch our arms and legs and heads, certain they must have flown from us in sleep. We long to ask each other: Are we being devoured by lions or are we becoming them?


THE CORN IS NOSE-HIGH and I'm on my way to a church basement on the other side of town to eat crustless sandwiches and fraternize with the enemy. It's embarrassing, this sudden obsession. I've always prided myself on being cool with guys, less interested in a relationship then they were. The best thing about hooking up was the total-freedom feeling it gave me. Sex was something parents and school couldn't access or control. But Ted has beaten me; he's kept more of himself in reserve than me, has more secret rooms to which he could deny me access. He wouldn't let me in, but he would let in Pastor John. I wanted to talk it out, but my calls went unanswered. I imagined he could hear my anger and desperation ringing out from under the bed, where he kept his phone, and that it repulsed him. He'd stopped showing up at the pool, though his brother still came. I was thinking about sending a note home with Liam, carrier pigeon style, when I realized I could confront Ted, and possibly (in my fantasy) also Pastor John at a Friends and Fellowship Friday meeting. I would expose John as a weirdo and convince Ted to take me back. Dénouement night sex would follow in the pond at my dad's condo development. I got aa sub for my Seafood Night shift and set out to win back Ted.

But Ted has stopped coming to youth group, at least that's what Pastor John tells me when I walk into the basement and interrupt a jam session between him and three groupies. The bongos guy I recognize from school, but the other two kids are strangers, though the girl on the guitar smiles at me. The friendliness of the group flusters me. Instead of introducing myself and calling out Pastor John for being a fraud, I say, "Um. . .where's Ted?" and they look confused.

John rises, his puka-shell necklace slapping against the collar of his T-shirt, and says, "Haven't seen him in a few weeks. What's you name?"

I tell him and think I see a squint of recognition.

He says, "God's casa es su casa, Sarah. Have some snacks. we usually jam until most of the group gets here. Then I call everyone to fellowship."

I nod and walk toward the spread of drinks and food on the other side of the room, trying to avoid talking to anyone while the sunny creeps behind me sing, "I don't need no doctor, all I need is Jesus love." I drink cranberry juice from a Dixie cup and separate a long stick of mozzarella from itself, string by awkward string, as more eager kids file in and take up the joyful noise. When the music stops, I have just dragged a large piece of cauliflower through the dip in the center of the vegetable tray and put the whole thing in my mouth. In this new silence, it feels as if the protective covering around me has been torn away. A tambourine jangles faintly as its master puts it down. Pastor John yells into the calm and heavy air, "My Lord, lift me up to be with you! My Lord, call me and I will answer!"

I try to slow my stuttering heart as I turn from the buffet towards the youth group. They're all sitting there with eyes closed, smiling. John's hands are extended to the ceiling and they jitter, as if he's been struck with a neurological disorder.

"Tonight we thank you for bringing us a new lamb, named for the wife of Abraham! Sarah! Sarah, come here Sarah, and say the Lord's name with us!"

They open their eyes and look at me like puppies, and I realize they've left a notch in their prayer circle open for me on the mat. I point to my bulging cheek and keep chewing as though answering a question no one has asked. They keep looking and I keep standing there, pointing at my face, finger like the barrel of a gun, chewing, chewing, unable now to swallow as they stare, the creamy dip curdling against my tongue. My head is filled with the noise of my mouth, but I can tell the silence that binds us together is very awkward indeed.

"Sarah!" yells John, and a piece of cauliflower lodges itself in my windpipe. There's a long moment, as I try to draw my breath to cough, when nothing happens. My body feels as though it has always been here and always will be and I'll spend the rest of my life in this basement being stared at by Christian youth, me staring back—curiosities to each other, zoo animals watching zoo animals. The guitar girl's mouth moves, and from a distance and sever seconds delayed, I hear the words, "She's choking?" and then I'm on my knees, the cauliflower paste coming out of my mouth as I open it to the ground, and then someone strong and hippie-fragrant is kneeling behind me, enfolding me in a great hug, and the cauliflower is cutting a path back up my throat, and there's the sound of my own wheezing life and pain in my knees and my lonely sinner's blood pulsing hot in my ears. Like a newborn, I breathe and then I cry. The group makes noises around me and someone asks if they should call an ambulance, and then I uncurl myself from the cement floor, clear my throat, and walk out of the worship room like Lazarus from his cave.

I think about driving to Ted's house, but I know what I will find: a big happy family playing Yahtzee, the Rolexed arm of Ted's father slung around his tastefully small mother, their slippers, in the loafer style, parked side by side. Liam would say something child-wise and they'd laugh together like the stars of their own sitcom, like they were on their own cloud up in heaven and had forgotten the rest of us, down here, in our weird, hungry bodies on earth.


JAMES IS ALREADY IN BED and Dad's bent awkwardly over the dishwasher when I let myself into the apartment. I take a beer from the fridge and sip it at the kitchen bar. It burns my throat. Dad doesn't say anything about the beer so I tell him about Ted and how we broke up and I say I even went to his youth group, but it's like he's just disappeared from my life. And is this always going to happen, this disappearing? And what about you? Are you going to disappear too?

Really, I don't ask that, even though I want to manufacture a father-daughter moment. I want things to all feel okay again, just for a minute. But I also know this would be a lie.

"Better luck next time," says Dad as he closes the dishwasher door. "I'm going to bed."

Does anything sound cozier than a dishwasher at night? Even in this sad bachelor wreck of a place, where each of us is tucked into our own separate corner like water molecules—bonded for a moment, but always breaking apart.

I open another beer. The VHS tape marked "Tucker" is still sitting on top of the TV. I let the slow motor of the VCR suck the tape into its broad, flat mouth. I turn the volume all the way down. I sit on the floor and listen to the rhythmic slosh and hiss of the dishwasher. I watch through to the end.




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