The Great Split

Doug was sprawled out on the living room floor, chin cupped in his hands, watching Saturday morning cartoons when his mother, a woman with rosy cheeks and an even rosier disposition, had walked in with unusual solemnity, asking him to sit down on the couch as she sunk into the soft recliner opposite. There was something she needed to talk to him about, she said. Or, rather, something her and his father wished to talk with him about. As if summoned, Doug’s old man appeared in the doorway, taking a seat at the other end of the room in the profoundly uncomfortable wicker rocker.

His father carried himself as all cops did, with unspoken authority. He crossed one leg casually over the other and lit his pipe, taking a series of small quick puffs until the stringy brown tobacco caught the flame. The chair squeaked and groaned under his weight.

For a moment his parents looked at one another almost shyly, as if embarrassed at the scene they were about to cause. His father cleared his throat to speak but was promptly cut off by his mother.

“Your father is going to be…living somewhere else for awhile,” she said softly, hands resting on her lap.

Doug, who up to this point had been sure this sit-down was intended as a punishment for some forgotten transgression, began to relax. But not so much so that either of his parents would notice. They had only just started talking, after all. There was no telling what might come. While maintaining his coolest composure, he frantically tried to recall all the mischief he had gotten into over the past twenty-four hours and what possible excuse he might reasonably provide for whatever he might have done.

“Not far away or anything,” his father said, with a quick glance at his wife. “Just across town, over by the fairgrounds.” He paused for a moment to take a puff from his pipe, making soft puckering sounds with his lips until the bowl glowed hot and orange. “There’ll be a pool,” he added.

His parents looked at him for several moments, utterly silent. Doug took this as his cue to speak.

“A pool? That’ll be…fun, especially in summer,” he said carefully, unsure if this was the appropriate response. He suspected a trap. Though, if it were, it was an elaborate one, clearly too sophisticated for his seven year old mind to grasp. Truth was, he didn’t know what they were getting at.

His father stopped rocking and leaned forward in the wicker, arms crossed over his knees. “Son, do you understand what we’re telling you?”

Doug swallowed. This was quickly going from weird to weirder. His parents were rarely this serious for long. “Yeah,” he said slowly, looking at his father. “I understand. You’re getting a house…by the fairgrounds. One with….a pool.” It was a stupid answer but, frankly, as far as he was concerned, so was the question. What was there to understand? His dad was getting a house with a pool. What was the big deal? It wasn’t much different from when he got that fancy white corvette with his name on the license plate. Or when he came home that one night with his hair all curly, something his mother, laughing hysterically, had called a ‘perm.’ His dad was always doing crazy stuff. He was a cop. And everyone knew cops did stuff most people don’t. For proof, all you had to do was turn on the TV and watch Ponch or Starsky. Those guys were nuts.

His father chewed on the end of his pipe, blowing two tiny streams of smoke out his nose. “We’re getting a divorce,” he said.

“Oh,” Doug said, trying and failing to match his father’s solemn tone. Of course, it would help if he knew what this ‘divorce’ thing was. Something bad, apparently. That much, at least, was obvious.

His mother saw right through his confusion. “It means we’re not going to be married anymore,” she said in a husky voice hardly above a whisper.

Doug looked back and forth between the two of them, his young mind trying to grasp the concept of such a thing and what it would mean for him, for his life. “So,” he began slowly, struggling to catch his runaway thoughts and turn them into words. “You mean Dad is moving away? Like, not having two houses but just one? One that…isn’t this one?”

“Yes,” his mother said, focusing on some distant point on the other side of the room. “That’s what it means.”

“But you’ll still see both of us like always,” his father quickly added. “You’ll just be able to see us at different places, that’s all.”

His mother started to say something but then stopped. She began rapidly tapping her foot on the carpet.

Doug chewed on his lower lip, mulling this new information over. “So, like, I’ll live in two places?”

“That’s right,” his father answered. The wicker began to creak again as he settled back into its skeletal frame.

Doug asked the obvious question. “How does someone live in two places?”

“Easy,” his father replied. “You’ll stay with me on the weekends, spend the night, and I take you home Sunday night, in time for school next morning.”

“What about my birthday?”

His father struck a match on his nail and relit his pipe. “You’ll have one with me and one with your mom.”

“You mean, like on the same day?”

“Nah, one day with me and one with your mother.”

Doug paused for a moment, considering the implication of his father’s words.

“You mean…like, I’ll have two birthday parties?”

“Sure.”

Emboldened, Doug pressed on. “And…two Christmas’s?”

His father tamped out his pipe and got up. His back made a sound like popcorn in the microwave. “Yeah, son, two Christmas’s. And two Easters.” He headed toward the kitchen, signaling an end to the conversation.

“Fourth of July? Halloween?” Doug called out.

His father paused in the doorway and looked tired. “We’ll figure it out,” he said, and left the room.

***

That night Doug couldn’t sleep. The house was eerily silent. According to the clock on his dresser, it was well past midnight, much later than he could ever remember staying up. He figured his restlessness must be on account of the excitement he felt at the prospect of celebrating each holiday twice a year. Why else would he be awake so late?

The longer he lay there, tossing and turning, though, the more confused he felt. Yes, he was excited about the holiday thing, but there was something else on his mind, like a bad thought hiding somewhere in the back of his head that refused to reveal itself. He rubbed his tired sleepless eyes and was surprised to see, by the dim red light of the digital clock, that the palms of his hands were wet with tears.

 

 

 

 

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