I was at the mall to replace a broken tea kettle when I saw one of the dads from my kid’s school, the one who’s a cop. He looks exactly like what he is. Honest, I call that. The way a good tea kettle looks like a tea kettle, whereas some are designed these days to masquerade as other things—flamingos, giraffes, UFOs. For no good reason at all, other than that people in the world collect such shit. This department store, in fact, sells a tea kettle that resembles a toilet. It doesn’t even make sense.
This cop, his name is Donny, keeps his head shaved. His irises look like discs of ice, like if you were to put your finger to his eyeballs, your finger would freeze to them. At a school spaghetti dinner he showed everyone at our table the raised bump on his bicep where he’d been bitten by a police dog. The word “bump” does not do the scar justice unless you think on the scale of the protuberance and hardness of a baby bump. Or like how a tree oozes out its own liquid bandage when you prune it, only the liquid bandage hardens into an impenetrable barrier. Not that I touched his scar. I mean I’d wanted to, because I’m a curious person. But how would that have looked? Me reaching out to place my hand on Donny’s bicep?
Anyway, I spot Donny in the women’s lingerie department, staring absent-mindedly at a rack of animal-print bras. Again with the animals.
I think he must be purchasing a gift for his wife, Kate. That woman is on the board of a charity for dogs and is always asking people to attend this or that fundraiser or purchase this or that expensive raffle ticket for makeovers and computer repair certificates and what have you, but then when the middle school kids are having their bake sales, she’s all oh-I-can’t-buy-any-of-that-or-I’ll-end-up-eating-it-all.
Or maybe since he doesn’t seem to be so much considering the animal-print bras as to be resting his focus on them, he’s just waiting on Kate while she tries on lingerie. Kate runs with that dog of hers, I know, because I’ve seen her, and even if I hadn’t seen her, I’d know because of those calf muscles. Only runners have calves like that, calves so meaty they make you think of drumsticks, like the way predators in cartoons picture their prey as cuts of meat. What I mean is Kate is probably the type of woman who actually enjoys trying on lingerie.
But the person who comes out of the dressing room isn’t Kate but Allison, the mom of that girl in my son’s class who he says lives in a shelter. My son, barely seven, told me the girl, Reilly, isn’t allowed to see her father or rather he isn’t allowed to see her and her mother. Because he threw something at Reilly’s mother. Because glass shattered all over the kitchen floor. Because Reilly’s mother’s cheek turned purple. My son tells me this, and I’m thinking he’s too young to know about stuff like this, but then I think about Reilly and all the other kids who know-know stuff like this, and then I just shake my head. My son told me that Reilly both misses her father and doesn’t. He said, “I understand that, Mom,” and I said, “You do?” “Not about Dad,” he said. “Oh,” I said. “I mean,” he said, “feeling two ways at once. I feel that way a lot, like when I want to go swimming but also I don’t because then I have to have a bath after to get the chlorine out, plus the chlorine always makes my penis sting.”
I realize I’m not so surprised to see Allison. This Donny guy looks like the kind of guy who would cheat on his wife. Like I said, he looks like what he is.
So Allison walks out of the dressing room in this summery white dress. It’s an eyelet fabric, falls to just below her knees. I think of photographs of Woodstock, only she’s a clean, bleached version of that time. And she doesn’t have flowers in her hair, though she looks like she could pull that off, like she should be running barefoot through a meadow in that dress. What is it that bear used to say in that laundry detergent (or was it softener?) commercial? Fresh like a summer’s breeze? Something like that. Scratch and sniff Allison, and she’d smell like daisies and fresh-cut grass and pot.
What I’ve wanted to know ever since my son told me about Reilly and Allison in that shelter is what is her ex like out in the world? Like if he were sitting across from me at a school spaghetti dinner, would he give off a creep vibe? Would I think there’s something not right about that guy? Like Donny over there. Not the most charming man I’ve ever met. Doesn’t smile much. Has that steely stare you expect from a cop, particularly if one is pulling you over for speeding. Or was he more like my Carver? Smiling across the table at Donny at that spaghetti dinner. Offering to refill my lemonade. But then later that night, after our son was asleep, he was all everyone-saw-you-staring-at-his-bicep and don’t-you-fucking-embarrass-me-like-that-again. Carver is like a tea kettle disguised as a sheep.
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, CRAFT Literary, New World Writing, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Tahoma Literary Review, TriQuarterly, and other venues.