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“It’s easier now that she’s older. When she was a baby, I still enjoyed taking care of her from time to time, but I was glad I didn’t have to take her home with me.” “Give yourself more credit. I think you’d make a good father.” She took a long sip of beer, then stared at the bottle, her hands, the table, and after taking a deep breath, at me. “Think you’d ever want one of our own one day?” Her question made me feel the same way I used to feel in school when unexpectedly called upon in math class. I was derailed. The answer, and even the question itself, eluded me. To this day, I can’t remember what I said. Probably, “I don’t know,” or, “It’s too soon to tell,” or something equally noncommittal. After dinner, I didn’t mention the wine, and the glass stayed in the cupboard, the ring dull and dark at the bottom. We went to the bedroom and had sex for the last time. She had a slightly dejected look to her as she walked out the door, as if she had been expecting everything that didn’t happen that night or I just wasn’t very good. I finished the full bottle of wine after she went home, even though I never did enjoy the taste. With each finished glass, I stared at the puddle of red at the bottom where the ring would have been. Two days later, I called and told her we should see other people. Neither of us took it well, but I have a feeling I got over it quicker. Immediately after I hung up with her, I called June. Not for condolences or words of comfort, but just to let her know that it happened. “Are you handling it alright?” she had asked. “You don’t sound too broken up.” “This was a long time coming,” I said. I had timed the breakup to when I knew June would be home. She would have just gotten back from picking Jane up from school, bed hair tied in a knot above her head, and dreaming of having time to take a shower before leaving for work. It was only after hearing Jane in the background that I realized I was interrupting what little time they had together before June had to leave. My problem wasn’t so important anymore. I apologized and told her I’d call back later. She said it was okay, moved the phone away from her mouth to ask her daughter what she wanted to dip her chicken nuggets in, and I used the pause to suppress my breaking voice and the feeling that I was a stranger in my own life. * I flip through all 500 channels while Jane takes a bath upstairs. The TV is muted so I can hear her in case she needs me, but I know she can take care of herself. One dim lamp lights a corner near the window. The curtains are closed, and it’s quieter outside than I imagined it would be, even this late. June’s house is in the part of town where suburbs mingle with small farmland;

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Daniel Shoemaker

Permafrost Magazine Summer Issue, 36.2  
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