Martin Brick was raised in rural Wisconsin, but now lives in suburban Columbus, Ohio. He teaches literature at Ohio Dominican University and his fiction has been published in places such as The Beloit Fiction Journal, Sou”Wester, The Vestal Review, and RE:AL. One day soon he will have a big yard and chickens.
Call it a Compatibility Test
She felt excited, like a teenager again, lying in bed, remaining silent. Instead of hiding from a lover’s parents, she hid from his son.
Her mission tainted the giddiness. The front door clicked. Her feet hit the floor before his car started, into the closet before they even left the driveway.
“A person’s home tells you who they are, but their car says who they want to be,” Lorraine’s car salesman uncle always said. Reverse the axiom. She’d seen his car, so in essence she only knew who he wanted to be.
His closet was too neat for a man. Dress shirts here, casual there, all arranged by color.
Most people wouldn’t understand. She wasn’t snooping. A snoop looks for secrets—forbidden things. There was no possession she sought, whether love letters, drug stash, embarrassing medication… Rather, it was a matter of patterns. Where was stuff kept? How neatly? Case in point: she found a selection of college textbooks—not in a box in the attic, but together on a shelf. This suggested he considered all of the past relevant, something that might be needed at a moment’s notice. Dangerous proposition in a widower.
In twenty minutes he’d be back and they’d make love again, shower, have breakfast.
In his dresser she found a cigarette case—antique, silver. Family heirloom? Or a secret smoker? She opened it and found a folded paper. Interesting, she thought.
Of course she read it: I know you better than you know me.
“Mommy, shells!” the girl called with elation, bringing them forth for viewing.
“Those are pretty.”
“I want to take them home.”
The girl’s older brother moped several paces behind, still upset that they took lunch at some seaside crab joint instead of McDonald’s. Just because of Mom’s childhood memories of the place.
The father lagged still further behind, upset that the son didn’t even touch his lunch, just picked at bread. Upset at his wife, who refused the doggy bag. “Where will we put it? It’ll just stink up the car.”
The son threw stones, aiming for innocent seagulls.
“These shells are broken,” the mother told her daughter. “Let’s look around and find whole ones.”
“But I like these.”
“You’ll like the others too. Start looking.” She tossed the broken ones into the sand and the daughter all but dove for them.
“Just let her keep the broken shells,” the father interjected.
“But they’re not pretty. I want her to have nice keepsakes.”
“She’ll put them in a drawer and they’ll get broken anyhow.”
“No, I’ll put them in a shadowbox or something. You saw the ones I have from when I was a girl.”
A gull squawked and lifted angrily after suffering a direct hit.
“I guess I just thought you bought those, or they were gift.”
“No. Those are mine.”
Our Kind of Cheese
“I don’t like that one either,” pronounces the boy, as his father holds a plain, crew-neck sweater.
“Are you going to like anything?” He’d already vetoed twenty at least.
“Sweaters are for fancy boys.”
“Okay, I understand with the argyle ones, but this is hunter green. Hunter. Nothing fancy-boy about that.”
“Why can’t I just wear my Star Wars hoodie I always wear?”
“Because sometimes in life you have to be fancy. Meeting daddy’s friend Lorraine is one of those times. She’s taking us to a fancy restaurant. Isn’t that cool?”
“I’d rather go to a place we like.”
“Lorraine wants it to be special. She wants you to like her.”
“Well, I don’t like Lorraine.”
“Now, how do you know that without meeting her?”
The boy doesn’t answer. He drills at the carpeting with the toe of his sneaker.
“Daniel. What makes you think you won’t like Lorraine?”
He looks at everything around him except his dad, even takes the time to handle a sweater dangling off a nearby hanger. Finally, “Does she make you eat things you don’t wanna eat?”
“Huh? No. Why?”
“She likes to eat smelly cheese.”
“How do you know what kind of cheese she likes?”
“I find wrappers in the trash, and little scraps. Always after I have a sitter. So I know you see Lorraine and then bring her back after I’m asleep and she makes you eat fancy cheese, not the orange stuff we like.”
Now the father is quiet.
“She changes you, makes you fancy. Mom liked our kind of cheese.”