Coitus Interruptus, by Gregg Sapp
“You’re as sick as your secrets,” Otto’s mother had scolded him with burning eyes when he was fifteen and came home drunk. Similarly, when blue-eyed Dolly finally accepted his proposal of marriage, she did so stating an expectation that he would “never keep a secret from me.” Of course, he’d agreed. It was a relief, another rite of passage fulfilled. He swore to her, as he had to his mother in earlier times, upon his father’s memory, that he’d always be honest and forthright.
Fortunately, Otto considered his conduct to be largely pristine, insofar as secrets were concerned. He had no past misadventures or conspicuous vices that he believed Dolly would judge inconsistent with her values. His only indulgence to private impropriety was a weakness for men’s magazines and the expression of primary needs they facilitated (which, he assumed, would no longer be necessary after marriage). He’d intended to shred and discard his entire catalog of porno literature into the dumpster behind Wal-Mart, but at the last minute had second thoughts, for he concluded that to make such a fuss over it was a foolish thing to do, really quite unnecessary, for the ritual suggested that those publications had more power over him than he believed to be the case. Instead, he slipped each magazine into manila envelopes then put all of them into a zippered fabric bag, which he jettisoned under a roll of pink insulation in the attic. Their existence was not a “secret,” for they were not exactly hidden; they were just being stored, like any other collection of personal memorabilia.
For ten years, while he remained diligent to his conjugal duties and steadfast in righteous thinking, he was never bothered by thoughts of those images, and if a fleeting recollection of them flashed through his mind, he took that opportunity to congratulate himself for his virtue and maturity. He knew that he was blessed to have a durable wife like Dolly, who produced babies with him – one, two, three, and four. Such men as he were exempt, presumably by their consciences, of the kinds of sordid longings that pornography addressed.
Then, in the year after Wyatt was born, during the process of securing a satellite dish to the roof, Otto climbed into the attic to tighten its moorings, and while there just out of curiosity he checked to see if his magazines were still where he’d left them. Once he took a peek inside, he felt a wash of nostalgia; he remembered the girls and the times that they’d had in younger, perhaps more foolish days. He couldn’t help but feel like they deserved better than to have been so unceremoniously banished. When he descended from the attic, he had the zippered fabric bag stashed inside of his tool box.
Having retrieved the collection from exile, Otto started consulting it, from time to time, as his whims and urges beckoned. He added several volumes to this personal library (purchases made while on business trips) and even discarded a few that had fallen out of his fancy. What developed as a result of his dedicated curatorship was a thematically indexed and qualitatively organized collection (for example: “Man/Woman, X,” “Woman/ Woman, XX,” “Man/ Woman/ Woman, XXX”), so that he knew its contents so well that could instantly locate any precise montage that aroused his curiosity. He knew all of the stories and their characters like old friends – indeed, ex-lovers — with whom he shared many intimate memories.
At first, before the collection grew too unwieldy, he moved his magazines around from one clandestine place to another, on the “man on the run” theory, which held that Dolly was less likely to find them if he never kept them in the same place for long. So one week he’d store them under the stairs in the basement, move them outside into the garden shed the next week, then schlep them into the crawl space under the deck… and so on. This proved to be onerous, not to mention risky, as he often had trouble recollecting where, from one week to the next, he’d concealed them. Finally, as months passed and Dolly continued never suspecting their existence, he began to feel smug that his stash was safe, at least until one future day when he no longer desired such things. (He assumed that someday, he’d just quit, cold turkey, and never miss them at all.) When at last he assigned the collection into a permanent location, he designed what he imagined to be a failsafe system for preventing their discovery. Beneath his basement work bench were two large boxes filled with rags, many of them foul and greasy, which supplied the first disincentive toward digging deeper. Still, in the event that some determined investigator should proceed through that first level of security, he placed half empty bottles of vodka in the next strata. His reasoning was that he’d rather get in trouble for possessing contraband alcohol, and he figured that if Dolly ever dug that far into the boxes, she’d find the booze, then rush to confront him, ignorant of the even more scurrilous material that remained beneath. The forbidden cache was concealed under a false cutout bottom and another layer of rags, like a buried treasure.
Otto slept comfortably at night, content with his appetites and confident in his assurance that what he did when he retreated to the basement to work on his “projects” was his business, alone, and that nobody in his family would ever presume otherwise.
Otto’s daughter, Tiara, was a relentless snoop who made everybody else’s business hers. Even as an infant, she would cry hysterically out of desire for anything that was denied her, or that was possessed by somebody else. If her twin brother, Jackson, began playing with a toy, she’d immediately covet it and attempt to grapple it from his hands, amid delirious sobbing. Even if she failed to pry it loose from him, her parents would eventually surrender to her wailing and switch whatever it was that Jackson had with another toy, and present Tiara with the object of her longing. Of course, doing so invariably resulted in the transference of her desire to whatever it was that Jackson now possessed, and so on.
As she grew older, her compulsive curiosity about everybody else’s affairs, everybody else’s stuff, and everybody else’s secrets inspired her to develop skills in meddling and domestic espionage far beyond her years. By the time she was ten, she’d discovered all of the hidden mysteries of her mother’s nightstand, her father’s bathroom drawer, and the shoebox under Jackson’s bed. She’d read all of Mommy’s old love letters (not all to Daddy). She’d done a Google search to learn the awful truth behind what Daddy’s suppositories were for. She even knew that Jackson had clipped a newspaper ad for some product that “guaranteed male enhancement” and stuffed it in a stamped, addressed, but never mailed envelope. Furthermore, she’d figured out everybody’s ridiculously simple passwords (her father’s – “Dolly”; her mother’s – “Otto”; Jackson’s – “Batman”. C’mon…) and monitored their Internet activity more often that they themselves did. Possession of this accumulated intelligence frustrated her more than it empowered her, though. Even after every closet in the house had yielded its evidence to Tiara, she still felt dissatisfied, as if she was missing something.
Never had she trespassed into her father’s basement sanctum. Not that she felt any particular prohibition against doing so; she simply didn’t like going down there. It was soggy, webby, and stank like mold. How Daddy could spend so much time down there without getting sick to his stomach was more than she could fathom. One night, she asked her mother, “Why does Daddy do things all alone under the floor?” That question gave Mommy a moment to ponder, as if it’d never occurred to her to wonder. “Oh, men like such places,” she answered. That remark intrigued Tiara, for it seemed to imply that such odd behavior on the part of men was something women accepted without any real understanding. To Tiara, that could only mean one thing – he was hiding something.
Timing was everything. Snooping of a purely exploratory nature required an extensive window of opportunity, as you never knew what you might find. It was late one weekday afternoon, before Daddy came home from work. Baby Lorelei was napping and Wyatt was watching Pokemon on TV. Mommy was busy trawling for merchant sales on the Internet (really, she was checking her Facebook, but she excused this activity by printing lots of coupons). Meanwhile, Jackson, who usually possessed a knack for knowing how and when to spoil whatever Tiara wanted to do, was out back tossing baseballs into a mini-trampoline that returned the ball to him at the exact speed and trajectory that he’d thrown it, to his endlessly repetitive amusement. Nobody was paying any attention at all to what Tiara was doing.
Rather than risk giving herself away by descending the squeaky stairs, Tiara swung under the arm rail, onto a load bearing pole, and shimmied onto the concrete basement floor. Her first thought was that there were far too many potential hiding places for her to rummage through them all; she had to be smart, selective, and intuitive about where she looked. For example, while it might be worth her time to search the washer/ drier corner for stuff that shook loose from pockets, there’d be nothing of her father’s anywhere near where laundry fell. Tiara likewise eliminated the storage area under the stairs and the industrial shelving along the adjacent wall; too many other people might have legitimate reason to comb through those disorganized stockpiles for her father to risk stashing something there. She then approached his desk with trepidation. Now that she thought about it, there was something odd about why her father would choose to locate his work desk in the darkest corner of the basement, away from windows and overhead lighting. Tiara knew that had to be the place to look.
The desk’s surface was a 4’x8’ slab of ¾” particle board placed flat between two sawhorses. Collectively, the random accumulation of nuts and bolts, bits and tools, wires and springs, a level and a stud finder, as well as a jumble of keys, tape measures, alum wrenches, rolls of tape (duct, electrical, masking, painter’s, two sided…), half-empty tubes of super glue, and dried out ink pens all belied any principle of organization or clue as to any project that was currently under construction. It looked, to Tiara, like camouflage.
She started by looking in the sliding drawers above the desk, which were surprisingly empty. Mostly, she found cancelled checks, ticket stubs, old calendars, and receipts from the bank, the dry cleaner, and the auto shop. She examined the tool box, including the loose parts under the removable tray, and was disappointed to find nothing but tools. She opened the jars which had been screwed by their lids beneath a shelf. Finally, the inspiration to scavenge through the rag box came in part from shrewd sleuthing, in part from sheer artistry. Tiara noticed that the symmetrical placement of rags in the box was too precise for randomly tossed discards. Pushing on the pile, Tiara felt something hard buried deeper. It came as more of a confirmation than a surprise when she unearthed a bottle of vodka in a brown paper bag. Suddenly, several of the things that she’d read in her mother’s emails to Aunt Emily now made sense! She wasn’t sure what use could be made of this information, for its exact significance was unclear to her. Maybe there was more. She dug deeper.
There was a good six inches beneath the box’s false bottom, so it didn’t even come close to fooling her. Each individual magazine that she found was in an office quality manila envelope, the kind with a string that wrapped around a spindle to tie it shut. She opened the first envelope. In big balloon letters, the masthead across the top of the magazine cover read, “WILD & WOOLY.” The cover photo depicted a butt-naked, soaking wet woman sitting in a director’s chair with her legs splayed in a giant “V” above her shoulders, her hands groping her own private parts, and an expression on her visage that suggested she was in the throes of intense gastrointestinal distress. Tiara dropped the magazine as if it was radioactive. Her first thought was that she was going to get into trouble, half expecting a trap door to open beneath her. The human activity portrayed in that picture looked downright dirty. The only reason that she could think of for its being there was to entrap her. Finding it seemed far, far more sinful than possessing it.
Tiara was precocious, though, in that her curiosity was greater than any instinct for panic. When she let go of it, the magazine fell open on her father’s desk, as if to invite scrutiny. The glossy pages featured a spread entitled, “The Hot Office,” with a caption that read, “Being HARD at Work Is No Problem in this Office.” Tiara approached warily, gaining confidence in her ability to look without being struck by lightning. She was intrigued by the storyline, especially how it was depicted through the eyes of the protagonists in the drama. In the first panel, a woman dressed in business attire was seated at a desk, looking vacantly into a computer keyboard, while behind her a man in a three piece suit was simultaneously peeking sideways and loosening his tie while he closed the office door behind him. (Perhaps, Tiara conjectured, this couple had long harbored feelings for each other, and this, finally, was their now-or-never moment to act upon them.) Next, the man placed his hand on her shoulder, and when she turned her eyes bulged with a combination of shock and exhilaration at the sight of a massive groin deformity stretching his zipper. He slanted his eyes solicitously; she released the beast in his trousers and examined it head on, then closed her eyes when she…. Ooooh, iccckkkk;
Tiara couldn’t look at that, so she flipped the page. The drama proceeded with both lovers nude. The woman was flat on the desk in a ready position; her eyes were damp with what to Tiara looked like a cross between fear, impatience, and desire, as if she was begging him, “go easy on me.” The man, towering above her, cast an expression that was soothing, even magnanimous. In the next panel, in which penetration occurred, the lovers were grimacing – she, in delicious abandonment; he, in heroic triumph. On the next page, in the last panel, both of them were collapsed, rolling their eyes dreamily. Judging from the looks of spent passion on the lovers’ faces, their story actually seemed kind of sweet and touching, Tiara supposed, not that much unlike something that she might read in one of her Moonlight novels.
Checking the wall clock, Tiara noted that twenty five minutes had passed; she’d only allotted half an hour for her expedition. Considering the magnitude of her discovery, though, she knew that she’d have to return to complete this mission, possibly several times, to fully analyze and reconstruct these curious revelations about her father, his fantasies, and what it meant about him. With assiduous care, she put back the magazine, the false bottom, the booze and the rags exactly as she’d found everything. It titillated her to share a secret with Daddy, especially since it was also a secret kept from him.
Tiara tiptoed up the stairs, slipped through the door, and sidestepped to her room, passing Wyatt in the family room, Baby Lorelei stirring in her bassinet, and Mommy still working on her computer, none of whom noticed her as she passed. Tiara went into her room and sat cross-legged on her bed, where she began brushing her hair, pleased with herself.
What Tiara did not know was that Jackson had witnessed her entire covert operation. While chasing a baseball that his trampoline had errantly catapulted into a window well, Jackson noticed that there was movement in the basement. This meant that Daddy was home. But why hadn’t he heard his car in the driveway? Puzzled, he knelt above the window well and peered down, where he saw his sister standing in front of their father’s work desk: a place where she had absolutely no business being. Some peculiar instinct persuaded him to watch rather than pounce, “Hey! What’cha doin’?” Tiara was systematically canvassing the entire work area, inch by inch, which suggested to Jackson that she didn’t know what she was looking for. Thus, if she did find something, it had the potential to be really big.
Her being there was a clear violation of family rules. They’d both been admonished to avoid the work area, for safety’s sake (there were power tools, harsh chemicals, etc.). Tiara’s red-handed culpability encouraged Jackson that he was doing the right thing by spying on her. As soon as she bent over to remove the rag box from under the desk, Jackson knew that she was onto something. Once, when he and Daddy were working together to construct his pinewood derby car, Jackson had reached for a rag to wipe linseed oil into the racer, but his father intercepted his wrist and gently reprimanded him that it wasn’t ready for finishing; he needed to sand some more. Two minutes later, though, Daddy announced that it was now ready and handed Jackson a rag that he’d selected from the box just for the job. At the time he’d figured, okay Daddy, whatever you say… but when Tiara removed a brown envelope from the bottom of that box, that entire transaction made retrospective sense to him. Initially, Tiara recoiled upon retrieving the hidden file, but then she bent over and examined it with such singular fascination that it confirmed Jackson’s worst suspicion: Tiara had found the scriptural Men’s Big Book of Manly Secrets.
Jackson and his friends had speculated about the existence of such a book. Martin Puckett’s parents had given his older brother a book that explained everything that he needed to know about how to function as an adult. One day, they supposed, all boys are given this book — the Men’s Big Book of Manly Secrets — and they were thus tasked to learn, master, and practice the subjects contained therein as part of their ascension into masculine majority. He had to get that book out of his sister’s clutches…
But just as he was about to knock on the window to declare himself, Tiara replaced the magazine in the envelope, put everything back as she had found it, and escaped up the stairs.
As soon as she was out of sight, Jackson dashed around the house and entered the basement through the door to the garage. He had to see that book, not only to quench his own raging passion for learning, but also because he couldn’t stand knowing that Tiara had seen it, but he had not. (God only knew what mayhem she could wreak with such dangerous, unauthorized knowledge.) Scrambling across the room, Jackson slid onto his knees, pulled the box from under the desk, and rooted through the rags until he excavated first, the bottle, which he sniffed and decided was some kind of specialized engine fuel, and then the envelope. Standing, he pressed it against his chest. Angling it to catch light from the window, he opened it.
Jackson got no farther than the cover of the magazine. Even that was a quantum magnitude more visual information than he could process. His eyes swelled in their sockets so wide that his jaw came unhinged. Every pore of flesh upon the supple expanse of creamy feminine skin was to Jackson nothing less than a marvelous revelation to behold. The curves, the contours, the profiles, the slopes, the shades, and, oh, the symmetries overloaded his senses with fireworks of joy. He could have spent breathless hours gazing upon just that left nipple and its tempting shades of pink and red, its enticingly pert aureoles, and the delightful kiss of its dimpled nub. Or, at the fuzzy, heart-shaped coif of her public hair, with each and every individual follicle tip glistening as if with honeydew. But he kept returning to the woman’s eyes, for they had to power to hypnotize him. They seemed to say: look into these eyes, and you will become a man. He felt like he was spinning into a deep well. Autonomic reflexes kicked in. It felt like quick-drying cement had been poured down his spine through an opening in the top of his head and settled in his groin. Absent an earthquake-quality external impetus, Jackson would have stood anchored to that very spot, ogling voraciously and rapturously, wholly enthralled – until a search party came looking for him.
The one force that was powerful enough to break through his reverie was the sound of Mommy’s amplified voice, calling “Jack-SON!!! Where ARE you?” The boy heard her footsteps upstairs, marching hard, heel-first across the living room floor. Still as stiff as a two by four, he shook himself so hard that it felt like he’d shatter. He didn’t even know what he was doing, but he was sure it was very, very bad. Panicking, Jackson flipped the magazine into the envelope, dumped it and the bottle of vodka into the box together, then piled rags on top of everything. He made his exit through the garage just as his mother was opening the door at the top of the stairs, calling down “Jack-SON. Are you there?”
Dolly did not mind not knowing where her children were at all times. She did, however, expect them to come running when she called, no matter where they were, what they were doing, or whatever excuse they might have. (Her assumption, not entirely warranted, was that if they were within earshot of her, there was a limit to the amount of mischief they could get into. This also applied to her husband.) So when her eldest son did not report promptly to her summons, she suspected no good. Clearly, he was nowhere in the living quarters of the house, for her voice carried to every corner, even thru a closed door or over the sound of a toilet flushing. The next most likely place for him was outside, in the yard, but she glanced out the window and did not see him. That left the vexing prospect that he was in the basement, where he knew he wasn’t supposed to go.
Throwing the light switch, she descended the stairs, stomping purposefully, calling: “Jack-SON. If you’re down here, show yourself.”
As if in answer, the next thing that she heard from outside was the sound of coiled springs snapping, and she stood on tiptoes to peek out of the window for a ground-level view of Jackson playing pitch and catch with her exercise trampoline. He must’ve been in the bushes, fetching the ball, when she’d looked previously. It was odd how she’d missed him.
Turning from the window, Dolly lingered. Something seemed vaguely amiss, as if the heavy air of the basement had recently been swirled by rapid movements. As a general rule, Dolly spent no more time in the basement than was absolutely necessary; it always made her skin feel clammy. Other than the laundry, she was cheerfully ceded the functions and machinery of the basement – the furnace, the fuse box, the water heater, and whatever inscrutable projects occupied his work desk – to her husband’s concern. Looking around, she decided that the whole area needed a good, thorough cleaning. That’s what was wrong. Those dank, musty corners and the dust that shook loose from the ceiling whenever somebody walked upstairs were an offense to her sense of cleanliness. Even her husband’s work area, where he claimed everything had its proper place, was cluttered by an overflowing rag box that had been carelessly left where somebody could trip over it. Dolly shrugged her shoulders and went to push the box out of the way.
She could not help noticing the barely concealed bottle of vodka under balled-up washcloths. The thought seized her: ‘I knew it; I knew it; I knew it…” She was surprised but not shocked; upset but not furious; offended but not outraged; her feelings were of simultaneous insult and relief. At last, she’d caught him! She wasn’t crazy or paranoid, even though that was how he’d made her feel whenever he denied to her that he’d been drinking. She felt almost too morally vindicated to muster up any decent indignation.
But then she dug deeper and found something else. The first impression that flashed through Dolly’s mind was that the title of this publication – WILD & WOOLY – suggested that it was some sort of macho, red meat-eating sportsman’s magazine, and in a weird way the venal photograph on the cover reinforced that interpretation. Then she opened it to page one, the table of contents, and realized that this was an entirely different manner of trade journal. She’d never seen any such thing in her life, but like the Supreme Court judge who knew it when he saw it, she was nonetheless certain that this was genuine, authentic, hard-core smut. One hand gripped the journal’s corner and the other ripped through its pages, while the images flickered like moving pictures through her field of vision. Page after page, lewd pictorials showcased women batting their eyes, licking their lips and spreading their legs like a gauntlet of beckoning whores. There were full-page, larger than life close-ups of complex gynecological flora. The accompanying narrative text (such as it was) was almost preliterate in its use of monosyllables like “nads,” “twat,” “bung,” and “jism.”
Dolly paused at one, well-thumbed pictorial which depicted a seduction sequence that took place inside of an office environment. In it a conniving harlot with a low-buttoned blouse and skirt that rode way up her hips sat at her computer, sending clear signals to a male co-worker that she was available and willing. The look in her eyes screamed Take Me! The man was clearly no match for such base solicitations, and he succumbed wholly to her degrading perversions. In subsequent photos, the couple enacted several lewd, but impressively acrobatic manners of coupling, the likes of which could only be achieved, she supposed, by a wholesale abandonment of decency.
It made Dolly bite her lips to imagine that her husband fantasized himself in the lead male role. She wondered: if Otto was ever in real life tempted by the likes of the trollop in these photos, would he give in? In a way, he already had. The proof was on the brittle pages. Dolly grimaced, wondering if she could ever look him in the eye again. It was one thing that he’d kept secrets from her; it was another, much more serious transgression that he had, in effect, cheated on her with these women. He was to blame, surely. But so were they.
Dolly breathed hard, which helped her to think things through. This was a game-changer in their marriage, no doubt, but so far as Otto knew at that moment, nothing whatsoever had happened. She wasn’t going to waste her advantage on anything less than a perfect strategy. He would be held accountable, certainly, but it was her destiny to control when and how to confront him, and what kind of restitution she would demand. Dolly took a hit off the vodka bottle for courage, then put it in her pocket, stuffed the magazine under her shirt, and took everything to her and Otto’s bedroom, where she slipped the contraband between the mattresses.
‘Who are these people,’ Otto wondered, ‘and what have they done with my real family.’ There were two things that he expected when he called out “I’m home” — first, a vociferous exclamation, usually “Finally!” or “Thank God!”, and second, some crisis which required his immediate attention. That evening, he arrived to a tranquil household in which all children’s homework was already done, chores had been dispatched without protest, and the television was turned to approved programming on the History Channel. Little Wyatt was waging a Viking battle, with a Star Wars light saber, against Fenrir, the mythological wolf monster. Jackson and Tiara were in their rooms, keeping inexplicably quiet. Meanwhile, the dinner table was already set, with a centerpiece of fresh flowers, and a bottle of Otto’s favorite tabasco sauce next to his plate. Dolly was so busy in the kitchen that she seemed not to have even heard.
“I’m home!,” he hollered, louder.
“Yes,” Dolly replied. “Get ready for dinner.”
Dinner on time seemed like a bad omen to Otto. At the table, leading the family in dinner prayers, he decided to ask each person to name something for which they were thankful. He didn’t do this every night, but that evening his instinct was to encourage discussion. Usually, on the chance that they’d be asked, everybody had a response prepared. That evening, nobody wanted to go first. This almost felt like a passive conspiracy against Otto’s authority. “OK,” he gave in, “I’ll start. I am thankful that everybody seems to be so peaceful tonight.”
Nobody was inclined either to affirm or deny that sentiment. Wyatt was too young to think it through, though, so he just went with a proven safe assertion: “I’m glad for peace on Earth,” he blurted, hoping that he’d said something profound. This broke the ice for Tiara to answer that she was thankful for whirled peas – get it, world peace/ whirled peas? Jackson, more contemplative, said that he was thankful for peace and freedom. Dolly expanded upon her son’s sentiments by adding, “And don’t forget to be thankful that you have freedom of choice,” although she did not elaborate as to whether she meant that as a supplement to what he’d said, or as her own statement. The ensuing moment of silence seemed to ask – are we done now? To Otto’s relief, Baby Lorelei knocked her plate off the table, distracting everybody. Dinner proceeded.
Most evenings, Otto expected to have no down time after dinner. There were always things that required fixing, errands that had to be performed, various housekeeping or domestic tasks that had been left all day for his attention. Thus, after dinner he lingered in the kitchen, awaiting instructions. There being none, he loitered around the children’s rooms, making himself available to assist with whatever needs or whims they might present. For a while, he engaged Wyatt in light saber swordplay, but that ended with the boy getting poked in the eye and rushing to his mother. “Honestly,” Dolly remarked, “Why don’t you just go downstairs to your work desk, where you can, uh, tinker with your things down there.”
Private time was something that he had to assert, and resistance was expected. For Dolly to offer it was thus unnerving. He didn’t know why, but he felt like he should decline. “Not tonight,” he sighed. “I’m not in the mood for – what’d you say? – tinkering?”
“Ha,” Dolly grunted, rolling her eyes.
Instead, Otto went to the family room and turned on the television to some meaningless college football game between two schools in a distant athletic conference that he’d never heard of. What the heck, he figured, putting his feet on the coffee table. Gradually, he warmed to the idea that his household was operating in smooth, harmonious order, for which he supposed that he must deserve some credit. Even though he had no personal interest whatsoever in the game, he soon found himself cheering for one team over the other; he liked its quarterback for the way that he pointed his finger to the sky and mouthed “Thanks Mom” to the camera after throwing a touchdown pass. He wondered, though, why successful athletes never thanked their fathers. Otto couldn’t even imagine the quarterback chirping, “Hi Dad,” instead. Maybe, though, that’s what the finger pointed upward was for – a code, a secret way of honoring an absent father. Trailing by one score, the quarterback rallied his troops to the line of scrimmage as the clock ticked down to zero, and with time officially exhausted, he continued scrambling fearlessly, searching for a target downfield… and finally he heaved a soaring Hail Mary pass with all of his might into a pack of half a dozen players, all of whom jumped at once for a chance at a miracle catch. The ball was batted into the air, ricocheted off a helmet, and finally dropped to the ground inches away from the outstretched fingers of a lunging receiver. The game was over. The camera zoomed onto the face of the losing quarterback, who clearly mouthed “Oh Shit.”
Otto jerked onto his feet and looked around the room; he was relieved that he was still alone. He hoped that it was now late enough to go to bed.
First, he went to Wyatt and Jackson’s room to say goodnight. Wyatt, in his Angry Birds pajamas, was already soundly asleep. In the next bed, Jackson was lying flat on top of his blankets, breathing as if he was asleep but with eyes buggy and staring at the ceiling in a manner that suggested he was absorbed in esoteric thought. When Otto waved his hands in from of Jackson’s eyes, he didn’t even flinch.
Jackson responded by asking: “Dad, how do you know when you’re grown up?”
That was not the kind of question that would not have occurred to Jackson without a reason. Otto’s first reaction was to ask what was the matter. Then, he thought that he really didn’t want to know.
“You’ll know when, trust me.”
With that, Otto tucked in his son for the night. He proceeded to Tiara and the baby’s bedroom, where Lorelei was asleep in her bassinet and Tiara was sitting with pillows beneath her back and reading from one of her Moonlight books by the light of a lamp on her nightstand. Watching her read made Otto feel proud (although he was less sanguine about her choice of reading material that depicted unrequited, adolescent love between a heartsick vampire and an enraptured mortal girl whose most ardent desire was that he drink her blood so that she might share his eternal curse). He asked: “Hey, princess; how’s the book?”
Tiara shifted her eyes from one side to the other, the way that she did when she was scheming. “It’s good,” she replied. “Just listen…” Clearing her throat, she began reading aloud in a voice dripping with pathos: “She felt the radiant honesty of his soul in the gentle way that he stroked her cheek and assured her that everything would be okay. Looking deep into her eyes, he told her that whatever happens was their destiny, and she believed him.” Savoring a deep sigh, Tara commented, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing, Daddy?”
“Uh, yes. Very nice. But you need to go to sleep. Good night.” He couldn’t help but wonder, though, what happened in the next scene.
By now thoroughly disconcerted, Otto paused in the bathroom to splash some water in his face before pushing open the door to his and Dolly’s bedroom. “Come in,” Dolly panted, in a voice that was more heat than air.
As he rounded the corner, he blathered, “You should’ve seen that game,” in an attempt to distract her from whatever she was thinking. Dolly ignored that remark. At that moment she was in the process of gulping a large mouthful of water (?) from a glass that, upon finishing, she dropped onto the floor. She shivered and rolled on her side, facing him, clenching the sheets in front of her chest. Slowly, she raised her head until her eyes locked onto his. Otto felt a jolt fire in his optic nerve. Dolly’s eyes seemed to dilate at will, as if absorbing energy straight from his pupils into hers, and he felt an image of himself sinking into their depths. Her expression was wanton and sinister, alluring and frightening, sensual and yet contemptuous. It was an expression that he’d never before seen in three dimensions.
Tossing aside the sheets, she half-chuckled, half sneered: “Look me in the eye… and tell me a secret.”
A native Ohioan, Gregg Sapp has worked as a peripatetic librarian, editor, college teacher, and academic administrator. Having authored some 60 academic articles, four learned monographs, 300-some reviews, and served as editor of five professional journals, he gradually developed a desire to write something that was actually fun… and which might be read by somebody other than academic eggheads. His break out novel, Dollarapalooza, was published in 2011, and his most recent novel, Fresh News Straight from Heaven, (based upon the true mythology of the American folk hero, Johnny Appleseed!) is on the way. For more about Sapp and his work, visit Dollarapalooza.com.
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Tags: childhood, family, Gregg Sapp, parents, relationships, secrets, sex