It had been a trying year already when Mr. Jolly up and died. He was the last link between Mom and me — the mime uncle who never spoke, yet expressed volumes. I knew without maybe knowing it consciously, being a teenage girl with my own dramas to manage, that they’d had an affair earlier that spring when Dad flew to Naples for a business conference.
Mr. Jolly had been hanging around our house even before then, doing handyman work, mowing the lawn, making iced tea when the mood struck. He was always so quiet. When he was around he sort of sneaked up on you. I remember one time coming onto the patio and finding Mom laid out on a towel, Mr. Jolly’s hands hovering just above her shoulder blades. He kneaded and kneaded, but her skin never dented. I don’t know how she stood it, being so close to his touch. My own skin bunched at the thought. It drove me to distraction, sometimes, that longing to feel another’s caress.
Mr. Jolly looked up with his round face and sad oval eyes, and I hurried inside feeling dirty somehow, as if I had participated in some great sin. But it was only a mime massage. The cat brushed by my ankle and I imagined skin hidden beneath that fur. Was this what Mom felt when Mr. Jolly almost touched her?
That night I listened at the wall between our rooms, Mom’s and mine. I had always put in earbuds when Dad made love to her. Even so, I couldn’t stop hearing the squeak of springs, the soft rhythmic grunting. I usually tried to imagine I was imagining it, but knew I wasn’t. Parents had sex. It was an ugly truth.
There was only silence tonight. I knew — well I nearly knew — that Mr. Jolly was in there. We had shared a quiet dinner as usual, but the looks that passed between them were unmissable even by my distractable mind.
So I listened. And I listened. No grunts or squeaks or thumping headboard. I thought I heard Mom sigh at one point, but it could have been me as frustrated as I was with that wall being suddenly so much thicker than it had seemed before.
I got up early the next morning, intent on discovering whether Mr. Jolly had really spent the night in Mom’s room. Her door never opened. I finally made my own breakfast and got myself off to school.
Dad returned that night. We picked him up at the airport, Mom and me and Mr. Jolly. I sat up front with Dad, which seemed a little strange. Maybe he didn’t want to leave me in back with a mime. I kept glancing over the seat, maybe trying to catch the two of them in a compromising state. I wanted to tell Dad what I suspected, but every time I looked at his stark profile against the streetlights, words would not come.
Mr. Jolly pressed his hands to an invisible pane of glass between his seat and Dad’s. He pressed his palms here and there and there, movements growing more and more frantic until Mom laughed. Mr. Jolly looked disappointed. He sat back and I saw their thighs almost touch.
Dad figured it out on his own, apparently, because a few nights later there was shouting in the adjacent bedroom. His voice raised high over Mom’s monotone and crashed down.
When I came home from school the next day, Mom and Mr. Jolly were gone. I found Dad staring at the TV, half a dozen beer cans littered around his feet. I made dinner and cleaned up. No explanation necessary. From that time, we barely spoke. He went to work, I went to school. We got by.
Then one weekend, Mom’s car pulled to the curb. I couldn’t see her through the glare of the windshield, but my heart jumped. I missed her and this meant that she must miss me a little too. I went outside, trying not to dash, and the side window buzzed down. It wasn’t Mom, but Mr. Jolly in the driver’s seat. He motioned me to go around the car and get in. I did.
They were living in a motel room. Twin beds, twin dressers, twin mirrors. One table. Fast food containers were set out, a bag of chicken tenders and fries for me. Mom motioned me to eat and we sat around the table chewing silently. Afterward, Mom stroked my hair and kissed me, then shuttled me out the door with Mr. Jolly.
This was repeated week after week until it became a ritual. I would come home on Friday and pack my overnight bag, nod my goodbye to Dad and get in the car with Mr. Jolly. It got so that I looked forward to his antics, his pretending to honk the horn at annoying cars, the exaggerated gestures he made.
One day the car did not show. I waited until the moon was high, but he never came. He had died of natural causes, I learned later, silently in his sleep.
I wanted to scream when I read Mom’s letter, but of course, I had forgotten how.
Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania, with his multi-talented wife and two reformed feral cats. His work has appeared in many places, most recently the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Bodega (“Global Warming,” winner of their 2017 flash fiction contest), and the Inane anthology from Pure Slush Books. His collection of very small fictions, Glass Animals, is available wherever fine books are e-sold, and also at the Pokeberry Exchange boutique in New Castle. You really should visit sometime. We love to talk shop and sip loose leaf tea.