Joanne Diaz

I would never hit a woman. Funny

what people will tell you while waiting

for a thundershower to end. The rain

falls hard on the pool water, leaping back up

in daggers while my son and I stand

in the vestibule between the pool

and parking lot. My son would still rather

hang onto my back than blow bubbles,

would rather grab me from behind

and drive me like a car through the water,

and still doesn’t quite know

where his own body ends and mine begins.

A man is waiting with us in this vestibule,

pool water still dripping down his legs, scars

from a recent surgery still dotting his shoulder

as he casually feeds potato chips to the children

who stand with him. They take the bag

of chips and offer it to my son. He takes one

and looks out the window to watch

the heavy clouds roll across the sky.

Out of nowhere, I learn that these children

are not the man’s — he is eager to tell me that —

they are his son’s kids, and now he

takes care of them, and yes, there was

a time when he and his wife were together,

and a time when she cheated on him,

and a time when he confronted her

in front of his then-young sons, and I feel myself

doing now what I always do, what we

are trained to do from the earliest age,

I’m leaning in, I’m showing care in my eyes,

I’ve been convinced when I’ve seen this look

on my face in old photos so I know it’s working

and it works when other women do it, too,

and after all, the lifeguard just said

that it will be at least another fifteen minutes

before we can go back to the pool,

and this man loves his sons, there’s no doubt

of that, he’s got that attempted tattoo

on his arm, which was apparently so painful

that the tattoo artist had to stop

after the first three letters of one son’s name.

I would never hit a woman, he says. It’s cowardly.

If you want to do that, go out and find a man

to hit. At least that’s a fair fight, and yes, of course

I follow the logic, this is the work of empathy.

But when she slapped me, I hit her hard,

and to demonstrate the effect, he hits me

on the arm, there in the waiting area, and yes,

a demonstration is helpful, I can imagine

the scenario, and I want to follow the story

to its logical end, but when my son says,

I have to go potty, of course I must attend

to this biological need. Later, once

we’ve driven away, I assume that my son

has been untouched by anything the man

has said, busy as he was staring at the rain,

eating the chips, watching the children play,

until, later that night, I recalled the encounter

at the dinner table, and when I asked my son

if he remembered the man, he said,

You mean the one who punched you?


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