Angela sat across from him, beautiful in her weird, skinny, features-all-too-long way. Comedian beautiful. He thought about her hips and spun his coffee cup in a little ring of its own guts. She hadn’t touched her plate of breakfast tacos. Her arms crossed on the table in front of her.
“Atlanta?” she asked. “How long?”
“Just the weekend.”
He suppressed a sigh. “It’s a paying gig. If you ever worked outside Brooklyn you’d understand.”
“Don’t be an asshole. You gonna eat?”
He shrugged. Angela rolled her eyes and shoved the plate across the table at him. “I don’t have any cash on me,” Jeff told her.
“Oh I know. Have you thought more about moving in? Your lease is up. They’re probably throwing your stuff on the curb right now.” Angela reached for a taco and took a bite, granting him time to respond.
He rubbed his hands on the table.
Angela’s chewing slowed. “You’d be the first guy in our home since the divorce. I’m the one taking the risk here.” Her gaze was intense. He could barely breathe. He prodded a crack in the table with his thumb.
“I just don’t know why you would.”
She gave him that sad, pity look. “Oh I know.”
The light was too bright, and hot. Jeff didn’t know how some guys wore leather jackets on stage. His t-shirt felt sticky. This was a corporate gig, some anniversary of their hot new social media something-or-other. Rich people with no sense of humor. Someone wore a Bazinga! t-shirt under a blazer.
“I’ve been getting a lot of my neighbors’ mail. Bills. Voter registration cards. I just trash it. But it makes me worry where my mail is going. I send letters. It’s old fashioned, it’s slow. But it’s personal. There’s a warmth in knowing someone took the time to write out this letter, seal the envelope, walk to the mailbox. This person loves you. They care if you read this. Also I really don’t want to go back to using Twitter to send women pictures of my penis.”
They wouldn’t turn off the TV at the bar, so only half the room was watching him. To hell with it. He had the check already. He tossed out a few more and started to wind down.
“My girlfriend has kids. They’re two and… five? What age do they stop expecting a smile when they pee on you? He’s just shy of that. I’m actually missing them right now, she had custody this weekend. Nice work, jerks. Hope these chuckles were worth it!
“How many in here with kids? I’m sorry. You have my condolences. I see a parent, I see someone who’s given up. They’re tired. They hate everything. You don’t remember what life was like before? Bullshit. You don’t let yourself remember, because. It. Was. Awesome! You had time. Friends. Money. You could go out and have more than one drink.
“Where are you going after this? Home to sleep? That’s great. I’m going to that waitress’s home, to have sex with her. Oh she has a kid, too! Jeez. You guys have ruined all our lives. Thanks. Thanks for that.”
When he got back into town, Jeff bought Angela lunch at her favorite run-down burger joint.
“Look at Mr. Big Spender!” she cried. “With all the corporate blood money. How was Atlanta?”
“Great! I tried to get you a slave but I guess they don’t do that anymore?”
“The kids missed you,” Angela said, her eyes sparkling. “Rob drew a robot for you. Jade told her first joke.”
“That’s not bad,” he said. “I might steal that.”
She threw a soft french fry at him. “So? Have you thought things over? Moving in, I mean.”
“Let me think about it some more. Seriously, I might steal that.”
“Eff that, I’m using it this weekend.”
Angela was a dabbler. She had a day job, so she performed at open mics around the neighborhood. Jeff rarely attended, because he had his own, but he felt bad about the previous weekend so he took Friday night off to watch her. She dazzled, sheened in sweat up on the little stage. Behind the cafe, the cappuccino machine gargled.
“My ex-husband, this pilot, he cheated on me,” she said. “Somebody told me he went to a hotel with five German tourists. Five. At once. That’s when I realized it had been so long since we’d had sex I’d forgotten he even had five dicks.”
Jeff smirked and watched the people around him laugh and choke on their lattes.
“My current boyfriend, he’s great. He’s not — I wouldn’t say he’s great with my kids, but he’s okay. I mean, he hasn’t punched them. If a guy punches kids you don’t let him sleep over until the fourth date. That’s the threshold for guys now. I’m forty. Don’t punch kids and we’ll be fine. I don’t need the whining.”
Jeff owned virtually nothing. He tossed out old, frayed furniture. His old, frayed clothes easily fit into Angela’s closet. Angela quirked her eyebrows at his collection of comedy albums, straining the taped seams of several boxes. “Do you need these? Just rip them.”
“Why don’t you rip my balls?”
“That is happening as we speak.”
He wandered from the bedroom and across the living room/kitchen that formed the rest of the apartment, to the kids’ bedroom. A pair of toddler beds, a set of drawers, and a bookshelf crammed with Little Golden Books. “We don’t need this junk, do we? There’s a whole room here I could use.”
With screams and tiny roars, Jade and Rob assaulted him, bearing him to the ground and targeting his most ticklish spots. Mid-struggle, Jade sobered and tugged on Jeff’s sleeve.
“I joke a-you,” she said, very serious.
Jeff sat up, skillfully flipped Rob, and tossed the boy aside. “Hit me.”
He held up a hand. “I’m gonna stop you right there.”
Alexander Burns doesn’t really get all the penis jokes, but Camille insisted on them. He lives in Denton, Texas, and writes because he doesn’t have a basement in which to build robots or time machines. His work has appeared at Every Day Fiction, The Future Fire, Big Pulp, and other fine online journals.