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SmokeLong Quarterly

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What We Always Carry With Us

Story by Scott Pomfret (Read author interview) December 19, 2022

Phone. Wallet. Keys. A modicum of dignity. An ocean of guilt. For me, the humiliation of Bobby Chandler beating me up in fourth grade. For her, her grandmother’s admonition that life was short, eat dessert first. A wad of ones, enough to tip a reasonably competent stripper. Childhood phone numbers long since assigned to someone else. The ticket stubs from our first date (J Lo in The Cell). Dogeared photos of our boys when they were four, back in the Pleistocene Age.

A breath mint. A cannabis gummi. A packet of aspirin, because people who drink like us shouldn’t take Tylenol. For her, a tasteful selection of hippie-chic jewelry, including the bangle I bungled buying in Belize and paid three times the going price and didn’t mind a bit. For me, useless trivia like Carlton Fisk’s on-base percentage in the 1975 World Series. For both of us, the nagging doubt we ever fully answered what our oldest son asked when he was eight: “Would you let me train with deadly weapons?” (To buy time, we responded, “What did you have in mind?”)

For me, Barry White tunes and ruefulness over the bad decisions I’ve made when in his thrall. A condom beyond its use-by date. A powdering Cialis pill. A small cupped flame for my high school girlfriend.

For her (my wife, not my high school girlfriend), a divorce attorney’s phone number. The password to my short-lived Tinder account. A humiliating intuition of every high-school-girlfriend wet dream I’ve ever had, and a vow to cut off my balls with rusty gardening shears if I ever act on one, because she (my wife, not my high school girlfriend) has invested too much time in my sorry ass to start over.

Vows to do better. Chronic disappointment. Unreasonable expectations. Our wedding rings.

A little ditty about Jack and Diane. Our unspoken agreement not to let the boys eat dessert first. Snatches of dialogue from The Cell.

The pock-pock-pock of the neighborhood pickleball court. The stench of roasted hair from Monsieur Pamplemousse III (aka Pompey), the third family Newfoundland, when our son took it upon himself to scientifically determine a canine combustion point using only a magnifying glass and the sun. (Needless to say, the same son interested in deadly weapons.)

Pride that our now twenty-something boys are kind and accomplished, though I can still kick their asses in a game of horse. Fear we’re inadequate parents. Suspicion our sons won’t become rocket scientists, despite their accomplishments. For me, the conviction that I would have taken Bobby Chandler down, if I’d only trained with deadly weapons.

Scout skills, like how to cook over a campfire, comfort scared kiddos during a thunderstorm, and fashion a whistle from an acorn. Willful blindness. Residual anger. A chronically insufficient supply of gratitude.

A rough guess as to the size of the remaining mortgage. Mutual embarrassment about the time we fought near unto death over an empty toilet paper roll. Hope that if we could only find the right words, we might make what’s between us right.

For her, given the divided state of the union, a deadly weapon, at least in open carry states. For me, a leaden feeling when I count the times I made her cry.

Anniversaries, not all of them good. Her ubiquitous airline “personal item,” which–whether a clutch or a backpack–always contains an endless supply of moisturizer, sunscreen, and a nip bottle of Jäger. For both of us, my mother’s preposterous claim never to have gone to bed angry the entire length of her fifty-year marriage to my father, which, if true, only proves that they’re aliens.

For me, regret over not having said “I love you” when she lost her grandmother and her job on the very same day. And not having said, “It’s going to be all right,” when our son was hospitalized with Covid in March 2020, and the refrigerator trucks were parked outside for the corpses.

Things we cannot unsay. Relief that our son fully recovered and finally graduated and, to our knowledge, hasn’t yet trained with deadly weapons.

For me, a wash of pride when I catch her making a micro-adjustment to her hair in the reflection in a storefront window, the effect of which I can’t discern, but which obviously makes her feel prettier. For her, a tattoo she got when our sons said she was too old.

A desire to slow things down. To hold each other’s hand without its being freighted with deep meaning. To relax in each other’s presence for the first time in twenty-five years.

The horror of getting old. Relief at getting old. A smile at the prospect of quietly enjoying our dotage. The yet-to-be discovered seeds of our doom (Tumor? Clogged artery?).

Sadness about what we no longer carry. What we lost along the way. What we have forsaken, forgotten, or fucked up so royally as to make it other than it was. Grief over prior Pompeys and my lost step on the basketball court and the fact that I’ve succumbed to the allure of the pickleball court, where my sons kick my ass.

Our lasting preference not to dwell on these losses, but to focus instead on what we still have, these tarnished riches. A sense of what her weight feels on me, and how my weight feels on her. A word trembling on the tip of my tongue. A promise made yesterday. A knowing glance. A heavy heart. An unspoken wish to forgive and be forgiven. The courage to dare to believe that what’s between us is and always has been right.

______________________

Third place in The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

About the Author

Scott Pomfret is author of Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir; Hot Sauce: A Novel; the Q Guide to Wine and Cocktails, and dozens of short stories published in, among other venues, Ecotone, The Short Story (UK), Post Road, New Orleans Review, Fiction International, and Fourteen Hills. Scott writes from the cramped confines of his tiny Provincetown beach shack, which he shares with his partner of twenty-one years. He is currently at work on a comic queer Know-Nothing alternative history novel set in antebellum New Orleans. www.scottpomfret.com.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2022 of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2022
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