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House of My Soon-to-Be Ex

Story by Claudia Monpere (Read author interview) September 19, 2022

© Zoe

A small fixer-upper but my blood thrums with jealousy windows overlooking oaks and blooming rhododendrons the delicate shoji sliding door between his living room and kitchen and this is before dread crouches in every corner so there’s time for me to obsess about his cobalt-blue dinner plates when I’m stuck with our beige wedding stoneware minus one dessert bowl which he’d shattered against the wall ice cream dribbling on my mother’s painting and now he and our kids make ice cream with his new ice cream maker and I curse myself for agreeing to this family dinner when we are no longer a family but he does barbecue the most tender ribs and I smile and say I know when the kids screech Mommy we have a bunkbed here I get the top bunk no I do and their dad grins in the doorway flanked by both kids

and this is six months before the sad birthday party when my soon-to-be ex manages to join in singing happy birthday to our daughter but cannot lift his head from the table during the rest of the evening but the worst birthday party was the Crayola-themed one when she turned five and he decorated the cake compulsively mixing colors for the correct shades of red yellow purple orange green of the crayons which sat next to the cake and his curses flooded the house when he couldn’t get the colors exact and our daughter cried and wanted the party canceled and he took a long bath that night and I hoped the tub wouldn’t flood the way it did sometimes when he was so depressed all he could do was add more hot water and drain refill drain refill

like the bath he took after turning down the job he badly wanted but worried it wasn’t enough money obsessed as he was that we’d be homeless if he didn’t work till 11:00 pm most nights missing family dinners yet now in his own place he cooks for the kids when he has them and dinner’s rarely later than 6:00 pm especially when days get shorter and he’s plagued by the loss of light

but I can never hear him say light without remembering that small, plugged-in lamp he held to my eye that time in bed his manic rolling around and screeching that I needed to see the light and then ha I sure did see the light sure did feel its heat and I think maybe I’ll never need to leave my body again although I worry about his time with the children but never has he touched them or raged at them yet I tense when they’re with him and the phone rings

like when the phone awakens me at 3:00 am eleven months after he moved into his new house and he wants to move back home and he’s terrified his girlfriend sneaks in and steals food because she’s mad at him so he concludes the empty granola wrappers on his counter are from her secret visit and not the fact that when he drinks he forgets and my sibs are furious that I like the girlfriend feel motherly toward her defend her to the police who come a few months after the empty granola wrappers and stand in his backyard viewing the shrine she made burned incense rain-washed photos of the two of them a lock of her hair a poem he wrote to her which the policemen won’t let me touch

but later I touch his shipwreck bedsheets madly crawl through sheets and blankets and find the lovingly inscribed journal from her that the police missed and though he left no note for me or our children no note for the girlfriend I read his last entry three days before our divorce would have been final and his despair flares in my throat and look there’s his pile of laundry neatly folded next to his bed.

About the Author

Claudia Monpere’s flash and short stories appear or are forthcoming in The Forge, River Teeth, Creative Nonfiction’s Sunday Short Reads, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Her poems appear in many journals including The Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, Plume, Hunger Mountain and The Indianapolis Review. She’s a recipient of a Hedgebrook residency, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches at Santa Clara University. Claudia Monpere tweets @ClaudiaMonpere.

This story appeared in A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.