‘Dad, I’m getting a divorce.’
‘Sex no good?’ he fired back in his tobacco-dry drawl.
I felt a wave of indignation; only, five seconds later—probably it was the joint I’d smoked—the wave collapsed. I laughed till I was gasping like an asthmatic.
‘That’s what it mostly comes down to,’ he added.
‘That why you left mom?’ A question it had taken me twenty-five years to ask him.
‘Yup,’ he confirmed without so much as a pause.
I caught the tinkle of ice in his bourbon and pictured him in some beat-up armchair, almost horizontal, with the glass balanced on his boney knee. I’d never seen the place he lived.
‘Not that I blame your mom,’ he rolled on. ‘She was just doing what her mom did, and her mom’s mom before that.’
‘Which was what?’
‘Which was laying there in the bed with a tight little grimace, thinking of babies, doing not much of anything at all.’
I switched my cellphone to the other ear. Was I meant to tell him about me and Tony now, the two of us in bed? Had sex with Tony been good? I thought it had; sometimes it had. Compared to what? It was a strange conversation I was having with dad—was that the dope too?—one where you felt almost anything might get said.
‘I even tried pot on her one time.’
‘A joint? Mom?’
‘Get real, Jackie! In a chocolate cake.’
‘She freaked out. Then she threw up.’
I heard a woman’s laughter. ‘You in a bar, dad?’
‘Is the pope Italian?’
‘The current pope is German.’
‘It’s an expression, for Christ’s sake.’
‘It ought to be, Is the pope Catholic?’
‘What else is he going to be?’
It struck me that he was drunk, or more drunk than I’d imagined, though he’d never been one to stumble or slur his words. A woman’s voice—I couldn’t catch the words. Some more laughter. ‘Okay then, dad,’ I said. ‘Just wanted to let you know.’
‘Appreciate the call, hon. And I’m real sorry about you and Tom.’
‘Sorry about you and Tony but, you know, these things happen.’
‘You’ll pick yourself up. Plenty more guys. Hey, maybe the sex will be better next time round!’
‘Maybe it will.’
‘Come visit me some time.’
‘Get yourself a good lawyer.’
I hung up and rolled another joint. I sat staring at it in the ashtray. I thought about who else I might call but I didn’t call. I thought of dad in that bar in California. Sex no good? I smiled. Who but my dad would give his only daughter a line like that? Of course he was an old rogue; he was an asshole of the first degree. I remembered how he used to call me Grace, for being such a clumsy kid. And the time he visited me in college and paid my drunk room-mate to do push-ups in her underwear. Still I was glad he’d been there to pick up the phone.
The phone gave a beep on the table. A text from dad: Hey, now YOU get to screw Tony! I laughed, but not so much as before. I thought of him sharing the joke with his lady friend, maybe with the whole bar. I read the text again. I deleted it.
I picked up the joint, admiring my own tight-packed handiwork, and lit up. I thought about mom. How was I going to tell her my news? And then I had an idea: text dad back, ask him to tell her for me. The idea had a certain appeal, I thought, except that he’d never agree to it. Or else he’d do it for kicks, with the whole bar-room listening in.
I took another drag, feeling the heat scorch my throat and lungs. At least dad hadn’t got angry or cross-examined me; he hadn’t judged. That, I realized, was the real reason I’d phoned him first: because I knew he wouldn’t judge me. He’d just shrug and give me a line. Mom wouldn’t shrug; she’d be shocked and hurt and angry, and she’d have plenty of questions. She’d want to know everything and that’s what I’d have to tell her. But it was with mom, not dad, that I’d slowly make sense of all this, and then slowly discover my way up and out of it, whatever might come next.
All of that—mom and what next—seemed a long way away though. It was a puffy cloud, way up high, and that was where I planned on keeping it. For tonight I would be daddy’s girl, in daddy’s world.
I stood up, taking the joint with me, and fixed myself a bourbon with just a splash of coke, pouring recklessly. I sat back down, drinking and then smoking. In daddy’s world, things like me and Tony happened every day. The sex was no good, or something like that—no sense in thinking too much about it. Make a joke of it; raise a laugh; shrug and move right along. Somewhere I knew that Tony and me weren’t—hadn’t been—that simple. I knew that whatever had divided my young parents, it wasn’t simply sex. And sex itself was far from simple. All of this I knew but I knew, too, how to keep that knowledge at a nice distance.
Tomorrow, with its phone calls, with its shame and turmoil, its numb, aching terrors, would come soon enough. Tonight I took another drink, another toke, and pictured myself in a bar-room somewhere. Somewhere years from now, or maybe sooner, sharing my story over a few drinks. ‘Yeah, I was married, but we got divorced.’
‘I’m so sorry, Jackie.’
‘Don’t be. The sex was lousy.’
Startled faces, wide eyes. An outburst, a roar, a great gale of laughter.
© Paul Blaney, 2012
Paul Blaney is Writer in Residence in the SAS Honors Program at Rutgers University. Born of Northern Irish parents, he was brought up in England, and now lives in Allentown, PA. A novella of Paul's, "Handover," will be published by Typhoon Press (Hong Kong) towards the end of this year. His story, Philosophy, read by Katherine Barron, was featured in Liars’ League NYC’s Live & Learn Show.
Sex No Good? was read by Kristen Calgaro on 1st August 2012