“Look, I don’t need you dying of cancer when I’m an old man” he tapped out the text response and watched the Dorito powder streak across the screen of the phone his now ex-girlfriend had given him the year before. It was just an excuse, really, a gas light. He was already an old man, and battled high blood pressure with medication, cheeseburgers, and Pepsi. Plus, she was almost a decade younger than he, time was on her side. But he was upset and had been caught totally off-guard.
His concoction of lies hadn’t fermented exactly as planned. It was his hope that she would just swallow his excuses like cough syrup. Her ingestion would have bought him time to see if maybe the grass was greener elsewhere. He wasn’t expecting her to show up at his place for breakfast before he’d left Lé Hotel Michélle. She’d never been so brazen before. He had underestimated her. Oops.
She’d been a morning cigarette and coffee girl for more than twenty years at that point. There was no hiding that fact, and it was, indeed, a fact. She’d suffered enough loss to last a few lifetimes, paid her bills with well-earned money, and ran a household single-handedly. Morning caffeine laced nicotine helper her focus on the trillion things she tended to daily.
She knew it wasn’t an endearing habit, but there were far worse things to crutch, so she refused to beat herself up about it. Consequently, she refused anyone else to do so, either, including him. Who was he to judge, anyway? He had his addictions.
A smoke with her coffee every now and then was not about to equal a cancer diagnosis. They both knew that. Well, at least she knew that. She had studied the genetic and environmental factors known to promote cancer cell growth. Maybe he hadn’t had that opportunity.
He was just pissed that she busted him out. He’d been caught with his pants down, as it goes, and her morning habit was the only dig he could muster. He tried to slant the story and accuse her of lying about her ritual, which was laughable at best, since it was no secret. She held no secrets. She lived life in a way that disabled such a thing. Life was messy enough without the lies. He knew that about her, too.
She had shoveled her life story to the man from the word “go” and it was not all sunshine and roses. Nothing ever was at their age. Every divorcee and single parent past the age of thirty carried their fair share of baggage filled with individual histories of heartaches, scars, and damage. It just happens. Life is messy, after all. But this was a mess he had chosen to make. This was his choice.
The day before she caught him off guard, he had fed her full of bullshit. It was storming like crazy all day, but he was still to go hiking with his estranged teenaged son. The one kid that had been ignoring him for a full year. The one kid that refused to get to know his dad’s girlfriend, for reasons that seemed to change with his underwear. It was a not-so-perfect lie, but one certainly designed to keep her away while he investigated other opportunities that could make his life easier.
She had caught on to the subtle hints laid out by his adult children. He just wanted to ignore them, and wish for her to absorb such things, even if it meant looking a fool in front of her own children. His grown kids were crafty in their defiance, and mostly, she couldn’t even blame them. They were each a product of an unhealthy dynamic displayed by their now divorced parents. They were the kind of divorcees who weaponized their offspring; each one disparaging the other to each of their kids. They treated the affections of their children like property. Each parent wanting to steal those affections in any way they could, just to hurt the other parent. It was spiteful, and ugly.
His ex-wife had remarried to a man with money, and no children. That was ok with his kids, as it was the perfect mix of a possible inheritance with no one to contend with. No new people to accept, aside from mom’s new husband. That was tolerable. But dad had found a lady with two kids of her own. They didn’t care for that scenario. So, instead of opening their hearts out of respect for their father, they decided to lay inconspicuous traps meant to divide.
He grew tired of her discussions about how to bridge the gap. Bridging the gap meant that he would have to confront the situation and lay cards on the table. He didn’t want that. There were cards she didn’t know about. Hell, there were cards his kids didn’t know about. Like the card where he expressed how in love he was with her, and about how he envisioned building onto his house so everyone could live there, or how they might purchase their own home together; a home with room for them all.
A whole year into their relationship, and he hadn’t even tried to express those cards to his kids. Not to mention the cards that showed how he treated her children when his own weren’t around. It was all too terrifying for him. She understood all of this and had been quite patient. She had her own kids to look out for, too. She wasn’t in a terrible hurry anyway, but the dividing games needed some attention.
She held a point of view that if light was spread onto everything, then there would be no room for darkness, no room for confusion, and only room for growth. Light helped everything grow. Plus, who were the adults in the relationship? She never wanted to run his grown children away from him, rather it was quite the opposite. In fact, when his son decided to bugger off, it was she that would mention various ways for him to bridge that gap, too. She often encouraged him to set aside time for his son. But there was obviously something in those cards he didn’t want her to know, so he would shut her down with more bullshit. It was all very unfortunate.
What would make his life easier would be to find someone else. Now that his kids were recognizing him and wanting more of his time thanks to the jealousy brought on by dating someone with kids, it would just be easier to find another woman without kids. Or another woman whose kids were already grown. Hell, maybe a woman with more of a financial windfall. So, when an old friend messaged him that she was currently separated and coming to town for a visit, well, that provided an avenue worth investigating. But he didn’t want his girlfriend to know, just in case that avenue was a dead end. That’s when his concoction of lies began, along with the underestimation of her intelligence.
Instead of going hiking, he went out to the bar to meet his aspiring possibility. Of course, he had his eldest daughter come, too, to make it seem innocent enough, just in case things didn’t pan out. Or maybe it was just to get her opinion. Was the new lady/old friend worth pursuing? At any rate, the next morning was when he was busted out. He wasn’t home when his now ex-girlfriend showed up. She texted him, then went in to let their dog out, the dog she had helped raise from a pup. That poor dog hadn’t been out to do his business in quite some time, as he had his legs crossed. She had never seen a dog piss and shit simultaneously until that very day.
It took 30 minutes for him to respond with lies to her text that morning. By then, she already knew that she’d been betrayed, and that he apparently held no respect for her, or for her own children. If he had, she wouldn’t have been sitting at his kitchen table constructing a “What the fuck is this?” letter. His concoction had soured. It was ironic, though. His attempt at keeping her in the dark had helped to spread the light. He needn’t worry about her dying of cancer anymore.
Molly Roland is a writer by nature, and she enjoys stepping over the invisible lines society loves to draw.