Author’s note: In each piece, the number of words matches the age of the protagonist at the time, i.e., the episode title.
In the beginning, there’d been many inklings of the end. Now, slumped upon the toilet seat, Alex is convinced his marriage is crap.
Curses through the window. He stands, frowns at the drive, where Lin’s plunging her purse for keys.
Stacking blocks, Mia asks, “Why do you always fight?”
Alex grimaces into his gin. “Because I want,” he wants to say.
From the window comes the rattle of the Focus pulling out. Any day now, that muffler is going to go.
Happy hour, Happier Mauer, lips upon his brand-new brew.
Alex asks, “How do you do it?”
Mauer licks his lips. “No family. No women. And pick your creatures with care.”
Across the bar, a senior stares, ketchup slashing his chin.
Mandy and Mauer bitch about the Sixers. That’s the way they like each other.
Alex studies Mia’s baby picture on his desk.
“Foul trouble,” Mandy laments.
Alex has fouled out. But there’ll be weekends still. Tonight, he needs to assemble his daughter’s bed.
Game’s tied, and here comes Dr. Touch-Foul Jay. Alex is set, feet planted, when the guy ploughs through him.
Dr. Jay struts, says, “and one!”
“That’s a fucking charge!”
“It’s pick up, fool.”
To her credit, perhaps, Lin waited years before calling her own.
Nine years ago, along this very trail, Lin said, “I’m pregnant.” Now, at a clearing, Alex blinks through tears at a man grilling on his upstairs porch. “Greetings, friend,” he calls, spatula at hand.
Back home, Alex slurps drunken noodles—leftover, cold, spiced with not-so-sadness.
“What are you drinking?”
She raises her shapely glass. “Kool-Aid.”
“No,” she laughs. “Youngster.”
Later, nursing ale alone at the railing, he hears, “Don’t you know there’s been a reckoning?”
He turns, laughing. “Tell me about it.”
Lips to rim, she kisses her icy red.
Alex’s nephew—a saint. He’d never think to grind it in his lovely partner’s face.
“When I was young…” Uncle Jim says, making circles with his glass.
Dances—each song soggy with sentiment. While parents twirl to Lennon, Alex swallows his screwdriver. He’s far from starting over.
“Annnd… stop!” Kate thrusts Alex back.
His breath is hard. Nearly there. He’s sure she is too.
“Mexican or Thai,” she says.
He kisses her. “Burgers.”
“Buns.” She honks his behind.
“Hey!” That smile. For an instant, Lin’s lips.
“Exactly,” she laughs, drawing him in.
“You’re young. You’ll learn.”
“We’re you young?”
“What did you learn?”
“Hmm … How to eat pizza!”
Mia giggles when Alex mouthguards his crust.
Times like these, he almost feels heroic. Not soldierly or nurse-like. But at least he’s not yet pissing pants over turning fifty all alone.
Michael Cocchiarale is the author of the novel None of the Above and two short story collections–Here Is Ware and Still Time. His creative work appears online as well, in journals such as Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed, Ovunque Siamo, and Fiction Kitchen Berlin.