Weston Cutter

My dad was soon to begin shrinking, his knees particularly transparent in giving away such info: he’d gone from strapping, can-do legs to, in the span of a few years, thinning thighs and drippy calves and long flabby knees, hunks of flesh like poorly-parked RVs. He’d also begun wearing hats — old straw boaters, huckstery things one heard banjos on witnessing — which I knew had more to do with his baldness, but the affectation seemed an admission of weakness, appeasing the ugly god of inevitable decline. He’d turned 66 in January and in the first week of April he’d texted Would you like to see Telekinesis?

I stared at the message before turning my attention back to numbers. TransHub: we optimized warehouses, ran logistics for larger companies who lacked our skill at keeping things glitchlessly organized (we advertised that these companies were wiser to spend their time and energy doing what they did best). It was banal and ceaseless effort, safe and simple as shuttle-driving at a regional airport: only so many destinations, but someone was always leaving.

“Do you know anything about telekinesis?” I asked Molly in her office. She was on week three of deciding; she’d told me there’d be six weeks, at the end of which I’d have my answer. Tempted as I was to tell her off or make jokes that she’d later regret the weeks she’d passed debating my worth, I was way around the bend for her, and had no other temptations pressing. She stared at me after I’d asked, her office silent. I counted one, nothing, two, nothing, three, nothing, trying to keep myself thoughtless and wondering how time worked differently as one aged. I cleared my throat once I counted twenty.

“Sorry: do you —”

“I was trying to move you with my mind,” she said and squinted. I waved an arm and smiled weakly.

“How do you suppose you could ever drive me wild if you don’t even know what telekinesis is?”

“I know what it is, I was — my dad texted and asked if I wanted —”

“Oh, the show Telekinesis,” she said, clasping her small alabaster fingers before her face. It was the start of April, and her hands were finally not so daily red and chapped. Her body suffered winters, and I wondered how much of my enthusiasm for her had to do with a) a protective impulse (I wanted to help her through, clean off her car, usher her safely into her condo) and b) the fact that she was a devastator in inclemental weather gear: she enraptured in a thigh-length camel-hair coat, and could suck the air out an elevator as she draped her neck in a cashmere scarf the color of the scent of spiced cider. I wondered if she’d be as seductive — even palatable — in summer dress, once I saw more of her skin. Every time I masturbated thinking of her, I imagined pulling her from winter clothes; I couldn’t imagine my penis’s response to pulling shorts off of her. A skirt, a sundress, maybe.

“What show?” I asked. She cocked her head.

“Your dad asked you about it?”

“He asked if I wanted to go.” She waited a beat.

“And you didn’t just Google this because?”

“Because I wanted to ask you.” Which was true enough.

“You’re asking me because I’m closer to his age?” Her brown eyes twinkled meanly, correctly.

“I’m asking you because you’re smarter than me.” It wasn’t a lie, but the logic was.

“Smarter than I. Look that up, too,” she said, shooing me. “Three more weeks. Gonna have to do more than that to convince me.”


When I told my dad I was taking up running, he asked if I drank my water straight from the tap or if I used a filter, and when I told him I was buying a new car (I had been driving, since college, the beater Civic hatchback he and my mother had gone halves with me on), he asked how much I listened to satellite radio, and when I told him I’d recently discovered an interest in juggling (Molly juggled; it was her oddest trait — she had a set of four suede beanbag balls in a pyramid on her desk, and I’d in fact begun falling for her after catching her juggling by herself, privately in her office, the small purse of her mouth hung open, eyes up tracing arcs), he mentioned that ventriloquists were once considered mediums, conduits for the living to speak to the dead through. He’d developed, in his gray years, a preoccupation with socks, though his life required him to wear no socks: he’d retired at sixty-two with a full pension and, in short order, he and my mother aggressively drifted from each other. I in fact wasn’t even sure if they were divorced: she’d moved back to Wisconsin to be near her sisters (one of whose husbands had died, the other divorced), and my dad sold the house in Maple Grove and settled in a raw warehouse conversion of a condo in Minneapolis: eleven foot ceilings, exposed wood, surrounded by views of large and empty buildings.

After he retired, and after my mother moved away, our relationship began to feel as if we were passing each other on escalators, one ascending, the other de-: as I’d fallen that winter for a woman beyond my own demographic, he had in February begun “warming his coals,” as he put it, with Claudia, all of thirty-five and employed by the city in a legal capacity. She was her own sort of strange: nearly chinless with wide, searching hazel eyes and ears that jutted from her skull as if she’d been yanked around by them as a child. I couldn’t tell, in the few times I’d been around her, if she was earnestly with my father because she enjoyed his company or if she was patronizing him or what. He and my mother had been a conservative pair, running their Volvos gently into the ground over decades, shopping in bulk at Cub Foods, couponed to the hilt. Had I the sort of relationship with my dad to ask, I’d’ve popped a pair of beers and asked if Claudia wasn’t a sort of greener-grass quarry, if she was something like a reward for the wash-and-reuse-the-tinfoil years. I figured my mother knew about all of it and decided not to care, which was certainly her style (I’d smoked as a teen, working at the gas station, and though she loathed it, and reminded me occasionally of her aunt Luisa’s ugly passing at fifty-two from lung cancer, ultimately all she cared was that I air the car out: don’t make me live with your bad decisions, she’d say). There seemed worse ways to age then keeping the mainline intact but trimming back everything else, as if they’d drastically pruned their tree and were content to let the trunk remain standing branchless and exposed.

The truth was, I didn’t know what sort of son to be to my father. When I told him I’d taken up running, I did so simply because he liked to tell stories about the bar-league softball he’d played through his twenties — he wasn’t any good, I don’t think, but he went out there, swung for what he thought he could hit. When he asked me if I drank my water straight from the tap or if I used a filter, I had no idea what the right answer was, or why he’d ask. He’d been a city code officer, meaning he was tasked with judging whether people were living correctly, and he had a kind, pudgily midwestern face — white mustache, cul-de-sac of gray hair kept short and fuzzy, cheeks that’d begun their jowly phase, eyes that didn’t bore or anything but were utilitarianly direct. Most of our conversations occurred while the both of us looked at the same thing, as we looked outward together, rather than at each other. He had, since retirement and moving into the new place, occupied himself with compellingly odd pursuits and studies: he took long, ponderous walks along the Mississippi, volunteered to read to folks older than he who couldn’t get out of the house, and he was, for whatever reason, engaged in a layman’s study of the history of clothing, specifically shoes, and, even more specifically, the history of sandals, with which he more often than not wore socks.


Telekinesis was a “speculative performance piece” put on by a guy named Ziggurat Smith, which was his actual given name. The show itself was, from what I could gather, deeply simple and strange: Smith would take the stage and sit in a seat and, facing the audience, he’d close his eyes and sit for ninety minutes. That was the show. Reviews were odd, almost combative regardless of positive or negative. Ziggurat claimed to be engaging in telekinesis from the stage, moving things with his mind, but the trick was that it was a speculative performance, and those speculating were, apparently, the audience. Another word might’ve been gullible. “A load of total bullshit,” was one of the more prominent reviews posted on his website, and that review was nestled right beside one that enthused, “So much was moved!!!” Points to Ziggurat for giving his detractors as much real estate as he gave his fans. I called dad, seven p.m., my computer open before me, a page about the history of juggling glowing on the screen. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for.

“So Telekinesis — the guy just sits there?”

“I’ve heard there’s a powerful aspect to the show, people really feeling something.”

“Isn’t it sort of a trick, though?” Juggling’s history stretches back 4000 years, though unlike, say, ventriloquism, there’s no written record of what juggling’s practitioners were trying to do. Ventriloquists were considered mediums; the earliest record of them addresses that they were able to communicate with the dead. Juggling lacks such a questionable, colorful history.

“Aren’t movies a trick? Isn’t the opera? Isn’t —”

“Okay, but it’s a different sort of trick, at movies though, right? I know Brad Pitt or whoever’s not actually saving the planet, but there’s —”

“If you don’t want to go, Robert, that’s —”

“It’s not that. I just — it seems like a trick, like a faith healer, speaking in tongues, whatever.” I was desperate to avoid asking why he wanted to go in the first place. “What’s that old music one, the guy just sitting silently at the piano, that the silence is actually the piece?” In the 4th century, juggling fell out of favor and its practitioners were considered to have questionable morals; perhaps they even practiced witchcraft. However, by the 10th century, they were welcomed again as entertainers.

“That sounds fascinating,” he said after a moment. There was a long pause. I could see him staring out his window, phone to his ear, trying to figure out how to say whatever it was he wanted me to get. I wondered if he felt himself shrinking as well, what it felt like to be inside his body as it diminuesced. John Cage, I thought: that was the guy who did the piano/silence thing.

“What do you think he’s gonna move?” I finally asked.

“There are a number of testimonials on his website, if you look. Quite a few people report finding things they lost after the show. A woman wrote about her food allergies abating, and one young man claimed to finally have forgiven his mother — he wrote that his fury with her was gone after seeing the show.”

“So how’s that moving anything?”

“The boy who wants measurements.” I could hear the grin in his tone.

“Says the dad whose job was to cite people based on how high their fences were, how many cars were in the backyard, the weeds they —”

“Do you remember the Suelskis?”

“I’m asking —”

“— tagonistic family, always complaints about them, 4006 Wells. Dogs barking, cars on the property, crumbling structures out back. But I had to be able to see the problems from the street. And after years, enough time talking to Mike Suelski, it turns out his wife’s not well-liked, his kids have mohawks and run wild — but legal, they’re just kids — but still, on and on, and what I’m —”

“Please tell me the family was telekinetic or some —”

“— job, sure, was about measurement, but just as much it was perception. A fine line. No one complained about Dolly Freidrichs, over on Penn. Front walk and hand-rail against code, old cans of oil paint stacked against her garage for years leaching who knows what, just a mess, but she’s this sweet old woman, everybody liked her. Mike, who followed the code to the letter, we got complaints about him by the dozen.” Juggling has always marked the divide between the world of magic and court jestery: there are court fools, and then there are mediums and mystics, and between the two are the jugglers, entertainers, people neither one nor the other.

“So ...” I tried.

“Maybe Ziggurat Smith moves things for those who choose to see things from a certain perspective. People who are willing to see things.”

“This is like a test you think I need?” There wasn’t judgment in what he was saying, but it was hard not to hear it trace in, like smoke from a building burning blocks away.

“What would I possibly be testing you about?”

“I don’t know,” I said, because the alternative — you’ve become this strange older guy with a young girlfriend, a mod condo, a wife I’m not sure you’re still married to, and an interest in the history of sandals: what could I possibly know about how you judge or test people? — wasn’t anything I could figure how to address.

“It’s springtime, Robert. We could ... I don’t know, see a baseball game, or go to the Walker. Whatever you’d like. This seemed interesting. If you’d rather not ...” I tried hard to listen to the silence that followed for what it was — the silence of someone having said nothing but what he meant — without filling anything into it, feeling anything, and then took sudden, jolting note of the fact that this was maybe what Telekinesis was all about to begin with, the way unseen things felt mobile, shifting.

“No, I’ll go, it’s great. Let’s go, it’ll be fun.”

“Great,” he said, and soon after we said our goodbyes.


Molly admitted she’d run the make-a-guy-wait scheme before, though wouldn’t divulge if those prior men were also younger (she was my senior by twelve years), and, when pressed about the fact that her singlehood didn’t exactly speak well of the scheme, she asked icily, The assumption being I’m looking for a relationship? I couldn’t admit that I had by the third or so week come to enjoy the waiting, the potential, something building up, though some large aspect of it was simply seasonal: all April I watched the green of spring emerge, watched people ease out of their winter skins and dare expose the peach of their forearms and necks to the returning sun. I found myself, home from work with the usual nada before me, going for runs, or walks, or preparing more modest and nutritious meals, making slow way through voluminous salads over the course of otherwise empty evenings, pausing for push-ups and sit-ups. I drank wine instead of beer. I read books my father had sent once they’d sold the house, one a general history of shoes, one a bio of Chuck Taylor, one about the guys who started Nike.

By week four, Molly’d begun sneaking her hands around the office — a quick squeeze into the dark geography of my trousers on passing, the briefest tracing of a finger on my shoulder or arm (adding once, as her breast grazed the outside of my left arm, “Juggling’s all about watching balls and dexterity”), yet the idea of trading my waiting for her touches felt lacking, as if I were offering ounces of silver for single nickels. Molly seemed to intuit the shift, cornering me in the breakroom on the Thursday afternoon of the fourth week and asking if I wanted to do anything that night or the next, a full week plus pre-finish line.

“You think you know?” I asked. She said she needed a full six weeks to decide about me — that’s how she put it. During that time, we’d carry on as usual at work, but nothing outside of work until the six weeks were up.

“I know enough,” she said, her face so soft as she rested her full hand on my bicep. I couldn’t help but flex, and when I did she narrowed her eyes almost imperceptibly.

“I don’t —” I’d planned on completing the sentence when the sentiment became clear within me. She withdrew her hand, crossing her arms and cocking her head.

“Maybe there’s more to figure out,” she said and got up and walked away. That night I ate a bag of Doritos and a package of mozzarella sticks for dinner, drank seven cans of Tecate, and took a long, languorous shower in which I imagined making Molly admit again and again everything she knew.”


“How’s Claudia?” I asked. We were having beers at the Town Hall Brewery, next door to the Southern Theater, where Telekinesis was to begin at seven p.m. Even my dad’s hand around his pint of beer looked diminished, his fingers fleshy and ringless, thinned, his tricep flabby as he raised his glass to drink. In three nights Molly would make her decision and I no longer knew how to think about it: after the week back’s bait-dangle my hunger had almost calcified, gone sledgehammery within. I’d fallen for her petite ferocity, her unapologetic task-mastery, her (what seemed from the outside) bullshit-free living coupled with the levity of her enjoyment of juggling (and the occasional tiny bottle of Sutter Home merlot, which she had a rattly drawer of; it was, she told me, a fun way to keep loose when the day demanded), and weeks back I’d been able to imagine tense, pressured contact, yet now I found myself gritting teeth as I said her name while I chased miles on each run: fucking Molly (though my running mix, on my phone, was just Nirvana’s version of “Molly’s Lips” on repeat). I was up to eighteen, twenty miles a week. The windows were all wide, traffic noisy as it passed on Washington, fans whirled above redundantly in the breeze of the place. My father and I were almost matching: jeans, sandals, button-down shirt for me, t-shirt and vest for him. Hatless for the night.

“She’s applied to work for the Post Office, if you can imagine.”

“To deliver mail?”

“No no: she’d work legal. I hadn’t thought of it, but think of all the litigiousness that entails, delivering the mail. What if it’s late? What if something’s not signed for, or signed by the wrong person?” He sipped his IPA with an amused expression. My dad’s life seemed more and more spectatory: he sat within the big windows in Town Hall Brewery beyond which traffic swarmed, and he lived within the big windows that kept the rain from entering his condo, and he lived beside Claudia’s separate, younger, non-entwined-with-his life, his life a sort of television, stuff he watched but wasn’t an actor in, his body atrophying accordingly.

“And you?” he asked.


“There a woman in your life?” I stared at his open-as-a-barn-door face, scanning for a tease or give. We rarely spoke of women.

“I’m waiting to see how things turn out,” I tried.

“Aren’t we all.” My father was that rare animal who in fact enjoyed waiting, a trait I’d always chalked up to his bureaucratic job, and that he’d’ve likely keeled over dead had waiting stressed him. We’d arrive ten minutes early to church when I was a boy and he’d sit peaceful as a stream, not even watching other people file in, just sitting with his hands folded in his lap, looking up toward the altar. The few times in my youth I’d expressed frustration, wished I didn’t have to await something (a grade, a Friday night phone call detailing the night), my dad would blink at me as if I were some underwater animal, living alien ways. I almost told him I’d been living in the middle of waiting for weeks now, and had learned to enjoy it, but I couldn’t imagine admitting any of it.

“Do you wait for anything anymore?” I didn’t know where the question’d come from. It was 6:46 on my phone and I’d texted Molly earlier to let her know tonight was Telekinesis, but she hadn’t responded. He looked over smiling, his face hinted with wonder.

“Every day is a big ...” he looked above and behind me, his eyes focusing on something, and it felt like nearly a minute passed, and then he looked me in the eye again and said, “What’s next?” I couldn’t tell as he said it if he meant the last bit as a continuation of his previous thought, or if it was an actual question to me, so I said nothing, and neither did he, and we looked at each other straight on for a moment, what’s next the echoing chorus, and then together looked out at the passing traffic.


Afterward — once Ziggurat (with his wispy dirt-brown hair, scalp catching and shining in the stage lights at certain angles, in his plaid button-down short-sleeve shirt, jeans, moccasins sans socks, nothing at all like what one’d imagine a telekinetic showman to look like) emerged onto the stage in silence and sat on the sort of old stools you see in certain high school Industrial Arts classes, the backless metal jobbies; after he’d rubbed his thighs and then raised his face to us, eyes closed already, and we’d sat there for the first spell of minutes in discomfiting silence, trying to get something like comfortable in the charged and shared quiet we suddenly understood we’d be marinating in for the next ninety minutes; after my phone buzzed twice in my pocket and each time I looked over at my dad who sat with his arms crossed, face pointed toward the stage, expressionless, staring away, just open to what was before him; after I finally, twenty-six minutes in, checked my phone to see two texts from Molly, the first reading let’s see what moves and the second or you can just make me guess, and thereafter turned the phone off, certain whatever experience Telekinesis might provide would have to come through the sort of attention one associates with Buddhist monks or Yogis holding impossible poses for hours at a stretch; after the time suddenly, somewhere between half and two-thirds of the way through the show, took off and there was palpably something happening in the tiny theater, all two hundred or so of us (the Southern’s a micro place, tastefully half-ruined, exposed brick arching over the scuffed stage, the place feeling lo-fi as an old tube-driven Zenith), though god knew what was happening other than time didn’t feel so shittily stop-starting (for lack of a better word, there felt to be a flow, finally, as if, after sitting there together in quiet for long enough, once we’d all sat there casting about in our own personal self-centered thoughts and ideas or whatever and then let the reins of the horses of our thoughts go and it seemed the horses’d all congregated together, like a group-feel of energy, a gathering, and people moved less, and the human noises [mouth breathing, scratches against fabric, cleared throats] felt rounded and part of the experience rather than intrusions, sneaky knife-jabs into the otherwise solemnity of the act); and then after Ziggurat blinked his eyes open at the very end, ninety minutes from the show’s start, clapped once and offered what could only be described as an inscrutable grin (he had the most plain and basic of faces, and the smile was closed-mouth, bright-eyed, something one’d flash while engaged with some surprise or trick) — we walked out together, the crowd and my dad and I, and stood on the sidewalk before the theater in the cool evening breeze of Minneapolis, far to our right the skyline, behind us the river. All I felt was an up-endedness, as if whatever vessel constituted my internal life had been jostled, the carried things within me agitated. I wondered seriously how much of the feeling had to do with the mediated aspect of the show — with Ziggurat Smith being up there onstage before us — versus just taking an hour and a half to sit in a weird and charged quiet wonder, anticipatory as a waiting room at a hospital you don’t know why you’ve been summoned to. Perhaps this was how Quakers felt leaving meetings.

“How’d he know?” my dad asked aloud to the night. I felt a tenderness toward him I didn’t know how to address. I wanted to hug him, to tell him it was alright he was alone and shrinking.


“The time.” He shook his head, ran his right hand over his thinned hair, and looked at me, his lips trouty. “He looked up precisely ninety minutes from when he walked on,” he said and offered his watch, a black-with-yellow-highlights Nike sport kind, “I timed it,” and there on the watch’s face was 1:30:07.

“Phone on vibrate in his pocket, someone texted him,” I said, pulling my own phone out, hoping for some ghost text to have arrived without having felt it.

“Huh,” my dad said, barely having heard. We stood another minute together before turning toward our cars in the Holiday Inn ramp just down Washington. Because of the number of people on the sidewalk we had to move single-file, and I watched my dad before me, the shuffly lope, the little-kid-like hands-in-pockets business. Who knows what it even felt like inside his own skin. On a whim I reached for his shoulders, trying to force some jocularity into the evening but he startled like I’d stabbed at him and looked back at me wearing a blankly aggressive face, eyebrows furrowed. I offered the dumbest grin and felt my phone twitch in my pocket as he forced his face into some pressed aspect of a smile, a face I knew — it was what he offered when people asked him things he wished not to answer.

“You wanna try to see him?” I asked. I didn’t have anything to do, and while I hadn’t felt any profound shift, I was willing to entertain my dad if he had.


“Ziggurat.” We were at the corner light now, waiting with a clump of others. I shrugged.

“Why?” he asked, staring carefully at me.

“You don’t?” The light was green, the illuminated walking man bright white, giving us passage, but we stood there.

“Why’d you come tonight?” I couldn't read his face — he seemed angry at something, frustrated, unsure what to expose his darkness to.

“Because you asked if I wanted to go.” It didn’t seem an odd question for a moment. He moved his tongue in his barely-opened mouth as if trying to dislodge celery.

“Did you tell your mother?” He was hurt, not angry.

“Dad, I haven’t —” She and I talked Sundays, half an hour, forty-five minutes. She mentioned him, always in passing, talking about the place in town, deflecting with an oh, the details would bore you if I ever asked about anything specific. He was looking weakly at me, wounded, and now the illuminated man was blinking, red; we were going nowhere. He took a few steps over to the corner and looked to his right, over toward downtown, and I pulled my phone to see the message from Molly: what moved? I typed back quickly dad without knowing what else to say. She rarely juggled while she was at home; it was an anxious thing she’d picked up as a teen, working retail, and was something she’d always associated with work. She texted back lol? and I slid my phone back into my pocket.

My dad started up the block, past the front of the Southern again, and I followed. Within view of the theater was the 35W bridge that’d collapsed in the summer of ’07; it was now rebuilt, glowing and safe in the gathering night. The sidewalk was still mottled with folks — the wheelchairs were clustered right at the door — so I was again behind my dad, but he was walking faster now, with purpose; for a second I wondered if he was trying to lose me.

When he got to the building’s edge he eased against the wall facing the bridge, leaned back against it, looked out. It was a glorious night, traffic brisk, the Twins probably playing downtown, the sun a low-hanging fruit drooping into the urban machinery. He was breathing excitedly.

“Are you okay?” I had no idea.

“I still don’t know if I should do it,” he said, his eyes pleading.

“Do what?”

“You didn’t talk with your mother?” His face was calming already, like whatever was in him was just a solar flare, a stiff wind picking through.

“Not about this. Not about whatever’s going on with you right now.” “And does she seem happy?” Later I’d come back to that and, unsure forever how to parse it.

“Dad, I don’t — what’s going on?”

“It’s,” he began, but then took a deep breath, let it out, and turned to look away from the building, over the bridge that’d fallen down and had been restored. I was surprised by how anxious I was not: he would be fine.

“What did you want tonight?” he asked finally, staring away from me still.

“Dad, you asked me to come, I didn’t —”

“I know, I know, and I know you think it’s all bullshit, maybe it is, you saw those fucking fat apes in there, half of them wishing their diabetes would magically lift, but was there something you wanted moved? You don’t even need to say what, just if.” He pulled out the tickets, aligned them, ripped them clean in half, dropped them on the walk to his right. There were both too many and not enough answers. Not only had I never heard him say any derivation of fuck in my entire life, he wasn’t keen on vitriol either, and him calling a gaggle of handicapped folks apes was jarring.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Sort of,” I said. “I guess.”

“Mm-hm,” he said, nodding. The sun continued its descent as we just stood there.


Two weeks later Molly was asleep naked in my bed and I was on my couch in boxers, luxuriating in the cool of night, reading an article on my phone about poker when my dad texted: I still love your mom. At work the day after Telekinesis, Molly and I’d had lunch while she’d asked about the show and my dad and I tried answers, how he’d looked pained, as if emotional luggage had fallen onto his heart from the overhead compartments in the flight that was Telekinesis, that it seemed to have had something to do with mom.

I was trying to figure what to text back when another arrived: she asked me to figure things out and I thought telekinesis would do something. The night after Telekinesis, I went for a slower run than usual — ten-minute miles for half hour, I was barely jogging. Molly’d dropped a note on my desk before the workday’s end, now I know, and the tension and pressure of the waiting versus the holding out was sort of shot. It had been a perfect night, end of April, sixty-four degrees, dusk a lingering affair and I couldn’t muster the fury I’d had access to even a few nights back regarding Molly. So she wanted me, and so it had been fun to live within the anticipation. Maybe it was just that she’d all but said yes; maybe all I’d wanted was the affirmation.

Figure what out, I texted. Molly was both more and less than I’d hoped for: she kissed and fucked like a precise beast, knew the grooves of her own machinery and knew right where to put things, how to make everything hum like a tuning fork. Her body naked was better even than her body in winter clothing. I was less interested in protecting or caring for her than I’d originally imagined, which likely had something to do with the fact that she had asked for fairly serious spankings as of the third night.

sorry I thought I said it was about your mom, my dad texted back, and it didn’t occur to me to consider why he was even awake and texting his son at eleven p.m. There were small things about Molly, of course — she was particular, as most single-in-their-40s people are, and she went to bed earlier than I did, but whatever — but the only thing I couldn’t quite shake was that she smelled strange. “You mind reading on the couch?” she’d asked without the cutesy uptick that’d mark a new-girlfriend’s voice, that urge to still be sweet, to do what’s necessary to make everything feel aligned and perfect, right, this had been our fourth night, a Saturday (dinner at a tapas place she knew, two bottles of wine back at her place, fucking like madness after the first glass and again after the last), and there I went, sprawling on her soft, firm purple sofa, reading from 10:30 till one a.m. and then coming back in and her room smelt ... I didn’t even know. Like warm plastic with a hint of dairy just about to turn. It was deeply strange. I awoke the next morning with her hand around my penis and no scent in my nostrils — the smell came at night, as she fell asleep. It was like she was secreting something.

figure out what like divorce or her moving back in with you or what I texted. The surprising result of Molly making me wait six weeks for her was that I was occasionally struck almost senseless by a raging, insatiable curiosity about how she felt now, post-yes. Was it worth it, I’d want to shout, could, for intense ten-minute spells, feel the phrase nearly banging beneath my tongue and if I moved just wrong-right, it’d slip out. Was I worth it. There’d been so much prep, so much building up — months of friendship and then this six weeks of her deciding — that no amount of fucking felt up to the task of depressurizing the scenario.

no divorce and she won’t live with me. It was 11:28, and I padded to the cupboard for a sleeve of saltines, then called my dad, though he didn’t answer.

I know you love mom, I texted — it was how this’d begun, and I wondered if the sentiment was the sum of what my dad wanted to transmit. And then I texted him another note, do you know your body is shrinking? Maybe he’d walked away from his phone, or maybe Claudia’d just arrived, but he texted back almost immediately.

life shrinks, he wrote, and then, it feels like somethings pressing down making everything small, and then, a minute later, or maybe nothings there pressing and we just get smaller, and Molly stirred in my bedroom, vowelled something murky and sleep-mouthed. One of our first times together, at her place, she was looking at me afterward — it was a gaze, that beholding moment so easy to slip into, post-coital — and said out of nowhere, “This was what it was,” and then stood up, walking to the bathroom without a glance back. do you think anything moved, my dad texted again. He must have been so lonely.

do you? I wrote back.

i asked first.

something must have but im not sure what, I responded and sat there, crunching crackers, waiting for him to write for ten seconds, then twenty, then a minute, then more crackers, more waiting, then finally after eight minutes I gave up, left my phone on the coffee table, brushed my teeth, entered the strange smell in my bedroom and lay down curled on my side, Molly and I pointing the same direction, askew and illegible as letters in a new alphabet.

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