Degrees of Separation

Miranda Gonzalez

“Woman stabs man over custody dispute,” The Albuquerque Journal headline reads. “Man in critical condition recovering from knife wound sustained while attempting to pick up his child at the five-hundredth block of Cedar Street at approximately 12:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, APD reports.” In a picture above the article, a single-story stucco house sits circled by yellow caution tape in an otherwise dark neighborhood illuminated only by flashing patrol car lights.

“Whore!” Eric pounds the keys on his laptop after wiping Cheeto dust from his right fingers onto his hairy left forearm. He thinks of his ex-wife, Marie, who would almost certainly stab him in the neck if she got the chance. Her instability is why he doesn’t even bother with their kids—that battle was lost long ago, he reasons, then returns to his snack, wishing he hadn’t run out of Dr. Pepper.

Thirty seconds later and thirty minutes across town, Marie scrolls through her newsfeed and notices her slug of an ex-husband has opined on an article. (They are still friends on Facebook because they are ‘keeping it civil,’ for the kids’ sake.) Let’s see what the worthless sperm donor has to say about this, she thinks, clicking to expand the comments section. She reads the “Whore!” comment, then the news article, and decides she would use her new KitchenAid chef’s knife with the red handle to stab Eric in the throat if he busted into the house in the middle of the night. She would rinse it off and run it through the dishwasher and use it to slice carrots for chicken and wild rice soup the next day. “Self-defense,” she would say, shrugging at the understanding, perhaps very attractive police officers.

“What kind of a shitty father picks a kid up that late on a school night?” Marie demands an answer from the judging gods of the interwebs. “The woman probably thought the loser was an intruder,” she types. “If he pulls through, I hope he gets thrown in jail for breaking and entering. And then I hope his cellmate stabs him again with a toothbrush shiv.” She hits the return button with purpose.

Marie’s cousin, Sheila, sees the shiv comment and wonders if Marie might need to enroll in an anger management course. Doesn’t the Jewish community center offer those? It is her personal opinion that everyone should wait for the full story before passing judgement on the affairs of strangers, but she keeps her comment to herself because she is not in a mood to trigger the wrath of the internet, or her cousin. Sometimes she is, but not tonight because The Bachelor is almost on.

Instead, she sighs, clicks on the shocked-looking emoticon next to the story, and downs the last of an iced drink in a green mermaid cup. Sheila sets the cup down on the table and congratulates herself on being one of the few reasonable people left in the world.

Downtown, Larry, Sheila’s boss, notices her surprise at the stabbing story and decides to chime in himself. “Something seems fishy here. There must be more to this story,” Larry types, which is what he writes on almost every article he reads. Then he checks his calendar to count how many days are left until his U.F.O. conference in Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell always smells like cow manure and for some reason, this thought inspires him to go to the break room and pull out a small tub of pistachio ice cream from the freezer.

Back at home, Larry’s son Paul clicks the laughing-face emoji next to the “Whore!” comment because, being fifteen, he thinks there is nothing more amusing than calling girls names, especially names like “skank” and “slut” and “hooker.” He wonders if the stabby mom is hot. He opens the article and is disappointed to find that no mugshot has been uploaded yet.

Paul’s friend Aiden sits in a cracked plastic chair in the hallway of the police station and scrolls through his phone to pass the time. He swipes up repeatedly in bold strokes, imagining his index finger is a pink eraser rubbing out the ridiculousness of his life. He stops on the article and begins to read the comments, even though he knows he shouldn’t. My mother is not a whore, he thinks, then determines to log Paul’s offense away so he can remember to punch him hard in the gut the next time they see each other. He pushes the button at the top of his phone, and as soon as the screen goes black, he pulls his knees to his chest and rests his forehead on his knees.

Miranda Divett González is an MFA student at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work has appeared in GNU Journal, Heart Online, and the Listen to Your Mother performance series. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and three children. You can follow her on Twitter at @miranda_write.

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