If I Knew you Better, I’d Apologize

Tommy Dean

To celebrate the divorce, her husband drove his new motorcycle up and down their oak-lined street, each rip of the engine a reminder of why she left. Early fall, she stood on the porch, arms crossed, the porch lights shrouding her from the glares of the neighbors. Standing in their lit windows, casting heavy glances at the interruption of their late suppers and episodes of Wheel of Fortune. She didn’t know them well enough to apologize. And wasn’t she done with that shit, anyway? Their twelve-year-old son tapped at the window, their fight still evident in the redness of his cheeks, that heavy brow of his father’s too identical in the half-light. She imagined the worst, hoping not to fall sway underneath one more male gaze. His father had texted the boy before arriving. Making promises. A ride down the street, a ride on the highway. Tickets to an upcoming comic con, ways they could be together. Unsupervised, winky face, winky face. Her son was too young to know when to delete a text, to hide the evidence, to keep things he was excited about hidden from her disapproval. She loved him for this; wished he’d never age, that she could keep him away from certain dangers. His father’s hijinks always brought the chance for broken limbs and questionable morals. 

But here came the wash of that cyclopsed headlight turning a tight half-circle, her husband gearing up for another pass. She’d counted eight rips up and down the street. Each one a burst of noise, a fog of smoke, a reminder to go inside. 

“Fuck-off,” she yelled, but combustion engines always win in the battle of volume, so he waved, showing off. The speed, the wall of wind, His ability to brake and turn and rachet the damn thing up again was impressive, especially for such a novice rider.  If she let their son out of the house, he’d come running, standing proudly on the sidewalk, waving the motorcycle through, the only thing missing the checkered flag. Proximity had always been her husband’s weapon, his aura of persuasion, so she kept the boy tethered to her by buying X-boxes, noise-cancelling headphones, and smart watches. Keeping him quiet and content kept him in the house, kept him in familiar patterns, and this stunt of his father’s went too far. She’d thought of calling the police when he first arrived, but there was something satisfying in waiting for one of the neighbors to call, for her to score a point in this constant game with her husband, at showing him just how annoying he was to the world around him, that it wasn’t just her uptightness, that she wasn’t the bitch he thought she was, though he’d never said that word, she read it on his face, every time he picked up their son for the weekend, every time she reminded him of the drop-off time, saying, “There’s more important things in life than rules, Candace. A fuck-ton if you ever let yourself go for a minute.”

Another pass and she found herself jogging down the walk, solar lights counting her steps like a projector running out of film. At the edge of the street, a pile of sticks the city forgot to pick up earlier in the week. Sticks that had fallen from last month’s thunder storm, sticks she’d made the boy pick up and bring around front. A chore they did together, ending it by swinging the wood at each other, pretending to be pirates, her wondering when their games would end, like the last time she had picked him up off the floor, his fingers spasming with want. 

The headlight caught her in the middle of bending, of scooping up the sticks, the throttle revving, daring her, at least that was how she would remember it. A shitty impulse, but one she might have used to win a carnival game, she threw the sticks in front of her. A second of their gnarled hands and joints in the glare of the light, before they hit the ground, the front wheel accelerating through them. The handle bars wiggled, and her ex-husband looked as though he would power through her lame attempt, but she learned that motorcycles were fickle, and he over-corrected, the vehicle sliding across the street, a spray of sparks, and the thick must of spilled gas. 

Silence, the second before the next song starts in the car, before sirens broke through. Neighbors illuminated by open storm doors, arms crossed to keep themselves from waving, from running into the street. Her son at her hip, his arms around her waist. “Is he?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know.”

He’d never hit her, never made her cower, never towered over her, his body a weight he could use to crush her into fine powder. He’d been impulsive, and unserious, and lazy. Another kid for her to pick up after, so when her son ran up to the ambulance, his heavy motor chugging, his father on a stretcher, she stood behind their boy, her hands pedestalled on his shoulders, allowing herself to wish for something she couldn’t name. 

Now, she held her son’s hand at the foot of her husband’s hospital bed, casts on a leg and arm, his body small amongst the monitors and wires, his face showing a pain she had caused. She smiled when his eyes fluttered open. She could feel it on her face, but she didn’t apologize. Not this time. 

“Look who’s here to see you,” she said, dropping her son’s hand and walking out of the room. The florescent lights didn’t flicker as she walked down the hall, ignoring the posted signs, talking loudly into her phone, saying, “I hope you’re free?”

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press 2022). He lives in Indiana, where he is the Editor of Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019, 2020, 2023, Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Laurel Review, and elsewhere. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter at @TommyDeanWriter.

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