My son hides his hands at the breakfast table. It’s a tough feat, so I give him some latitude by looking over the sink at his old tree fort. I check out Sports in the paper. I rip pieces of my croissant, studying the flakes falling like skin flecks.
He and his girlfriend have been staying with me for a week now. I hear them, hear it all.
His mother left me years and years ago. I was a fuse that day.
“Go ahead, hit me,” she dared.
Her cruel seething was a blowtorch. I’d never struck her. I only knew how to worship her flesh.
My son was so young then. He loved magic. Made himself disappear. Called himself Houdini.
“You want to know why it’s Ted and not you?” My wife scrunched her face into a feral mask, flashing teeth, spraying the hot air between us. “This is why,” she said, reaching around and thumping my spine. “You don’t have one.”
My arm leapt like a rattler. Sound of a branch cracking.
I was apologizing, pleading before her own hand had touched the imprint on her face.
The boy moved behind the hutch, just a twitch before going still, hiding again.
My son rubs his gut, says, “That was great, Dad. No one makes your corn beef hash.”
“Ellie going to eat?”
He doesn’t flinch. He’s good at this. “Nah. She’s under the weather. Belly up. You go to work, she’ll eat later.”
And then I let myself see them, let my son see me seeing them—his knuckles split and blood-encrusted like broken berries.
“Son,” I say. “Son, sit back down.”