Paul tried to think about afternoons on the river – tadpoles, fishing poles and beer pulls. The deafening hush of silent skies and quiet ripples. Sun-baked arms and sleepy eyes. His mind was nearly empty of winter’s heavy hand, shadows and thaw-freeze-thaw cycle. But the slow pace of merging traffic and Terri’s voice, pitched and pointed, penetrated his drifting thoughts. He tried to curl the combo of angst and anger, seething beneath the surface, into a ball the soft shape of Nerf.
“The baby needs new clothes,” she said.
Her words caused Paul to have a flash thought, a blinking mix of regret and acceptance. He’d been having them all winter. The first one had occurred last spring, after Terri had told him she was pregnant. Run or be responsible, followed by a quick erasure of “Run” and acceptance of a terrifying “be responsible”. He never imagined such thoughts would become harder over time. And more frequent.
“I’d ask you to work more overtime, but I think you spend enough time with Andrea.”
Paul glanced over at Terri as the baby started to cry in the backseat, and decided to stow his “Shut up” and thought more about fishing and worrying less about the baby weight she’d yet to lose.
“I bet Andrea doesn’t have to worry about baby clothes,” Terry said, followed by a mumbled “yet.”
Another flash thought. Someone getting away or maybe not. Just depends on the amount of destruction he would be willing to inflict on his new young…Forget it!
“All that gaming with the guys…and Andrea,” she scolded. “It costs money.”
His arm resting on the lose chrome of the car door, Paul flicked ash from his cigarette while memorizing the necessary approach pattern to overtake Humpback Ridge from Josh in Games of Warfare 3. Rolling to his left, behind a burnt out dwelling, he calculated the distance needed to chuck the grenade into the last gunner’s nest. Then he’d rush the nest and blast to hell those left alive.
“And so does all your fishing trips,” she continued just as a white Dodge Charger zoomed passed on the shoulder. “The money you spend, we coulda just bought some fish at the store.”
Pissed, Paul wondered where that guy thought he was going, cutting line as if there was an open space up ahead just for Chargers.
“I’m sick and tired of Andrea showing up at the house,” Terri declared. Then she challenged Paul. “Can’t you just work with her?”
Paul cranked the steering wheel hard to the right and took off down the shoulder. Once alongside the Charger, he got out while ignoring the sound of Terri’s voice. He first knocked on the passenger window. He could see the startled face of the driver, a brunette holding a compact in one hand and an iPhone in the other. Realizing she wasn’t about to power down the window, he stood straight up, shouting at the top of his lungs, “It’s called a zipper merge for a reason, you bitch!” while pulling his fly up and down, over and over, like a man on the wrong side of a flash thought.