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Curtis Ippolito
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The Latest One

 

by Curtis Ippolito

 

 

He’s just asking for it. Balancing on the back legs of a cheap wicker chair, grubbing on a cheap sandwich, his sandy locks blowing in the breeze.

I heel between his glistening knees. Send him and the baloney on white careening into a potting bench, raining down a mess of soil and succulents. I yank him into the sun, his faded pink Hurley shirt knotted in my fist. He’s already

shell-shocked. Whimpering, cowering. We haven’t even started.

“Stop sniveling,” I bark. His leathered face folds on itself. I shake him, dusting my forearms with soil.

Typical. My wife always takes up with men who haven’t grown up. Never serious affairs. Always temporary flings charged to me to end like it’s in our vows. Each of us playing our roles, I suppose. This time, it’s a surf dude owner of an oceanside succulent nursery. Last time, our karate instructor neighbor. Sparring with six-year-olds didn’t keep him primed for a surprise fist when he opened his front door.

This idiot’s going to be even easier to handle.

“Stay away from my wife, douchebag,” I growl, inches from his teary eyes. I give him a solid punch to the gut. Doubles him over, then falls to his knees. He’s gasping for air. I look around. What will drive the message home? I shimmy a terra-cotta pot off a stack and slam it full-stride into the side of surfer man’s head. Clay shards spray everywhere.

“You hearing me, dude?” I yell, into his bloody ear.

“Yes,” he says, holding hand to leaky skull. “Pl-please. What are you talking about?”

“Don’t give me that shit. My wife. Val. You’re banging her. I want you to stop. Seems easy enough to comprehend.”

Struggling to a knee, eyes welled, he extends a palm. “Please. I’m not—”

“Do I look stupid? You don’t think I see all the credit charges from this place, see your tan, smiling ass, and not put two and two together? Surprise, asswipe. I know my wife better than you.”

I don’t let him respond, instead jab his mouth. Hard. His lips crumple, and shattered teeth stab my knuckle. He scoops at the blood pouring from his mouth, frantic like a child trying to rebuild a sandcastle in the surf.

 

I step back to take it in. Tears stream down his cheeks. Iron and fear hang in the air between us.

Point made.

Then, someone rushes up through the rows of plants to my left. A fresher, spitting image of surfer man.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Freshy asks.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“That’s my dad,” he says, bodying me.

“Watch it, kid. Me and your dad had a score to settle and it’s settled. So, why don’t you back the fuck up?”

Surfer man flashes a failed, red smile, waves for his son to step back. He does.

“You OK?” Freshy whispers, eye to me.

“He’ll survive,” I say.

“What’s this all about, anyway?”

Surfer man gets to his feet. “Nothing. He’s right.” Blood trickles down his chin with the words. “It’s settled.”

It is, but I need the final word—I crave it—so I say, “Remember how your pops looks right now, next time he hits on a married woman.”

“What are you talking about?” Freshy asks.

“He was banging my wife.”

Freshy looks at his wide-eyed pops and back to me. A spark.

“Is your wife Val?” he asks, slow.

“Yes.”

“Bruh. I’m tagging your wife. Not him.”

The admission stuns me. True, but not long. I snap to and punch surfer man square in the nose as hard as I can, sending him back to the ground in a heap.

“What the hell, man?” Freshy yells. “Why did you do that?”

I don’t owe him or any of the rest of them jack shit. When I’m finished here, all will be set right. My work this afternoon will be its most productive. The belts at the bar before going home, the most comforting. And when I regale Val with how her latest one fared, her devotion to me will rekindle, and she’ll be mine again. For a few months, anyway. Each of us playing our roles.

Fists cocked to Freshy, I smile and say, “He raised you, didn’t he? Now, come here.”

 

 

Curtis Ippolito has had several short stories published, most recently in Mystery Tribune and Shotgun Honey.

Once a newspaper reporter and many other things, he’s now a development writer for a research facility in San Diego, California.

In Association with Fossil Publications