Chip started out as a little bump riding Tom’s right shoulder blade. No fair, he’d whisper, Mom always buys Sally’s favorite ice cream. And, Jerry’s only popular cuz he’s got a pool. And, Prom’s for losers.

Chip grew as Tom grew, a discontented gnome hunched at his ear.

But after a rocky start at State, Chip mostly snoozed as Tom partied-hearty at his frat, sailed through a modest regatta of girls, graduated with a B- average, and landed an okay job at Hanover Select. Chip dozed on as Tom married Janey, who was fairly fun in bed. Then Tom and Janey bought an expensive condo and Janey messed up. Her morning sickness lasted through evening. All she did in bed was sleep. She puked up everything but crackers and frozen yogurt, refused to cook. Still, she pudged out.

Chip bolted awake. Don’t tell me that’s all baby fat. She’s sneaking pizza, believe me! And what’s this bullshit about being tired all the time? He poked Tom with a hirsute hand as Tom shaved. You have needs too.

At work, new management took over, stoking Chip’s spleen. Watch that guy in Accounts Receivable. Big-time suck-up. After Tom’s mediocre review, he hissed, They want ass lickers. You got principles. When the Accounts Receivable guy was named Accounting Director for the new Louisiana plant, Chip ballooned like the Hulk. Fuck’em, he snarled, his breath clammy. Yeah, fuck’em, Tom repeated, and slunk to the breakroom where he took four donuts from a box marked, “For Julie’s B-day Party!” Two for him, two for Chip. They had beers at lunch, returned at 3:05.

Tom and Janey’s kids grew, went to college, moved out. Janey returned to school for an MBA in risk management. Yeah, Chip groused, and who’d pay the bills if YOU quit YOUR job? Huh? She’d lucked out with a rising start-up; now, headhunters courted her. She spent cash like wildfire: a personal trainer, spa weekends, a separate bank account. She’s up to something, boyo.

The guys stopped coming to Tom’s for poker nights. Jerks just drink up your booze, anyway, Chip muttered. Janey traveled a lot and Tom spent more and more mopey evenings at Buck’s Pub. His drinking pals started leaving early and the barkeep turned the TV up as soon as they did. Assholes.

Tom’s retirement party was sparsely attended. The grandkids avoided him at family gatherings. (“Grandpa’s a crab!” little Tommy sniveled.)

Chip grew ever more bloated, exacerbating Tom’s arthritis. Spit shot out with his spite. Tom was tired of being slimed, of being snubbed. His back throbbed.

Maybe it was time to have Chip removed.

One night, reheating a Hungry-Man meatloaf (Janey was who-knows-where), Tom remembered a story from junior high English. An alchemist obsesses over a birthmark on his wife’s beautiful face. He makes her drink a magic potion; the birthmark fades. Then she dies.

The story never made much sense to Tom. But as he twisted around to eye the graying troll stooped on his shoulder, he felt a stab of pity. The old guy was looking peaky, even sorrowful. His breath was beyond foul, but there was something comforting in its familiarity. Tom gave Chip a grudging pat. Let’s crack another beer, Buddy.

Mary Rohrer-Dann is author of Taking the Long Way Home (Kelsay Books 2021), and La Scaffetta: Poems from the Foundling Drawer (Tempest Productions, Inc., 2011). Find her flash prose and poems in Philadelphia Stories, Clackamas Review, Ekphrastic Review, Panoply, Third Wednesday, South Shore Review, Vestal Review, & elsewhere. She paints, hikes, and volunteers at Rising Hope Stables and with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Ridgelines Language Arts. Although she has long lived in central PA, she is still a Philly girl at heart.

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