It is disturbing indeed, to come home from work and find your dog chomping on another man’s boxers. John never wore boxers … ever. He insisted on the secure control offered by briefs, which kept things hidden from the eye; many things are best kept discrete, John thought. He dropped his keys on the hook, patted Roscoe on the head, and lifted the trunks to the light. What he saw was a punch in the gut: a single red hair dangled from the fabric; Janet’s boss, Frank, had red hair.
Suddenly, John remembered all the nights that Janet had to work late, the whispered calls from behind the bathroom door, the distance in her eyes, the headaches when he wanted sex. John shook his head and paced the floor. His mind filled with scenes of impending doom. Then, Janet’s car pulled into the driveway. He looked toward the door. The handle started to turn. He tucked the boxers
Back on the farm—when his feet were too big and his breeches too small, John’s mom burst into his bedroom while he was relieving his desperate new hunger. She froze, blinked twice, then left the room. John wanted to die.
When suppertime came, John found the courage to look at his mom over the meatloaf and mashed taters, his favorite meal. She smiled as if nothing had happened, but he saw a subtle change in her eyes: a distance that hadn’t been there before.
After that night, Mom always knocked before entering his room. He noticed other changes too, as the days passed: hugs were cut short with a pat on the back, kisses were intercepted by her cheek, and her eyes always searched his as if she was looking for something. His heart ached for her warm embraces and the touch of her lips so, one day, he brought her the prettiest bouquet of
One morning when John was milking the cows he saw a heifer kick its calf away from the tit. He watched the pitiful, bleating calf chase and lunge, only to get kicked away again. A thought came to him: I should have locked the bedroom door. He wept.
Janet burst through the door with an armload of groceries. She set them on the counter, dodged his kiss with her cheek, and went to the fridge.
“Veal or Lamb tonight?” she asked. All John could hear was heart-breaking bleating.
“We never have sex anymore,” he said.
“You know I’ve been having headaches, John,” she said over her shoulder
John pulled the boxers from his back pocket and threw them on the counter. Janet stared at them blankly.
“There’s a red hair in them, Janet!” His eyes moistened. He fought back the tears and whispered
John’s ears grew red. “I’m going to visit my mother! Have fun with Frank!” The door slammed behind him. Janet bit her lip and looked at the floor.
John’s old Chevy pickup creaked and clunked over the bumpy, gravel wash of the farm driveway before halting in front of the porch. He got out, closed the door, lit a cigarette and leaned on the warm hood while scanning his boyhood home.
The paint was gray and peeling. The window of his old bedroom stared down at him over the porch like a tired, dark eye. A rooster was perched on the porch rail. It watched him blow smoke into the air. The only warmth came from the soft glow of the kitchen window, where John saw his mother setting a pie on the sill to cool. She waved and disappeared. Moments later, the screen door screeched open, and she stepped out onto the porch.
She was smaller than he remembered. Her head hung like a weight on her shoulders. John felt a pang of guilt as he watched her take small, careful steps to the porch swing and sit down. He crushed his smoke under a boot and went to join her.
She wrapped her hand around his as he sat down. It was warm and soft
They sat for a long while without speaking, listening to the sound of tree peepers, swaying to the creak of the swing. A dog barked in the distance. A shout made it stop. John turned to his mother.
“You never hugged me the same after that day you saw … It hurt something awful, Mom.”
She sighed. “It didn’t feel the same, Johnny, you became withdrawn, started hiding your thoughts from me.” She giggled. “You tried so hard to hide it. You made me buy underwear for you that were three sizes too small.”
“I don’t know what to do, Mom. I love her.”
She tightened her grip on his hand. “Don’t try a fistful of posies, like you did with me.” She looked at the sky and smiled, then back to him. “Go buy yourself some boxer’s, Johnny, start with that.”
She brought him inside and cooked him his favorite: meatloaf with mashed taters.
Art Subklew is a 55-year-old Paramedic residing and working in The Southern Berkshires, Massachusetts. He began creative writing as a teenager, mostly focusing on fictional short stories grounded in his experiences as a teenager growing up on a small farm. He has attended numerous classes in Creative Writing at Gotham Writers Workshop and is currently working to complete the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Writer’s Village University. “Meatloaf and Mashed Taters” is Art’s first published work.