by Francine Witte
He gets born somehow. Never even knew his mother. If he did know his mother, he would wish he didn’t. Lots of late-night poker games and booze as her belly swelled into a watermelon. Lost the unborn pup to four-of-a-kind. I’m sorry four-of-a-kind said, but my wife wants a baby so bad. Worked out for everyone except the pup who grows into a boy and finds out about God when the four-of-a-kind’s wife comes down with pneumonia and four-of-a-kind catches it and they both die leaving the boy five years old and alone. The boy says, God, what the hell? God tells him go to your room.
He gets married somehow. His wife is away all the time, so he barely knows her. Pops out a couple of pups so he figures they must have spent a few nights together. The pups grow into horrible boys. Yes, all children are wonderful, but these really aren’t. Hold him up for his paycheck each week so they can go play poker and knock up strange women. Knock up is a harsh term to be sure, but these are harsh boys. They carve their initials into one another’s backs for practice. Then they turn to him and say, Pop, you’re next. When he complains to his wife who happens to walk in at that very moment so she can get dressed up to see her lover, she laughs and says, Oh relax, they are having fun. Then she puts on her fire red shoes and shakes off her underwear. God, he says, what the hell? God tells him go live in your car.
He gets old somehow. Slope-chested and claw-fingered. There are days he swears he never knew anyone, never did anything. A girl shows up at his nursing home. I think you’re my grandpa, she says. He remembers the horrible boys, the horrible wife and says are you going to cut me? By this time, the vanilla pudding is hardened in its plastic cup on the tray. Every so often a bell from the hall. The girl is young, a teenager maybe. Blond hair like his was once, blue eyes like his wife’s. I love you, the girl finally says. You’re my family. He says, God, what the hell? You wait my entire lifetime to give me this scrap of happiness? Here, God heaves a God-sigh, rattling trees for miles around, tells him live, just go live, just go live.
Francine Witte has stories in Best Small Fictions 2022, and Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton.) Her recent books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (ELJ Editions,) Just Outside the Tunnel of Love (Blue Light Press.) She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She lives in NYC.