Ken Seide is the pen name of a resident of Newton, Mass. His poems have appeared in Midstream, Poetica, New Vilna Review, Voices Israel, Ibbetson Street, Muddy River Poetry Review, SN Review, and Kerem, and will appear in The Deronda Review. His short stories have appeared in Poetica.
The first words I ever heard pass Renée’s collagen-plumped lips were “Waitress, is this shrimp fresh?”
“Oh, yes, absolutely,” the buffet waitress said. I took advantage of the exchange to look down the waitress’s silky white blouse. “Should I get the manager?”
“No, that’s all right,” Renée said, turning to me with an impassive face. “If they had botulism in them, I could have saved on my botox injections.”
We were on the bar-bat mitzvah circuit, or rather, my daughter and her son were, which meant that parents did drop-off and pick-up and were sometimes invited into the parties. Her son, it turned out, was a camp friend of my daughter and the best friend of her so-called boyfriend. I say “so-called,” because I doubted then that they had ever kissed on the lips.
We ended up holding hands that night, Renée and I. I felt a ring on her finger and lifted her hand to inspect it. “What’s that?” I said.
“My wedding ring,” she said.
“You still wear it?”
“I’m still married, I still live with my husband, why wouldn’t I?”
After the next party, I got to see her liposuctioned tush with its chai tattoo. “They sucked extra me from my tush and injected it into my lips,” Renée said. “Rearranging Renée, I call it. The boobs are 100 percent real, though. Feel.”
At my own daughter’s bat mitzvah party, I watched her life pass me by. Sammi blowing out four candles. Here she is, blowing out five candles. Lighting Hanukah candles. A DVD player projected photos onto a screen.
Sammi vacationing someplace tropical with Jeff’s family. Vacationing someplace desert-y with people I didn’t recognize. The soundtrack was Louie Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World.” A studio portrait emerged on the screen, unbalanced and vaguely familiar and unsettling. It was Sammi, Gabe, and their mother. The photo dissolved into the next one before I realized that I had once been in that family portrait. I had been removed. Erased. I wasn’t in a damned photo on that entire DVD.
I watched Sammi’s life from a dark corner, lit only by the blue flames of Sterno on a buffet table. I wasn’t allowed to invite any guests unrelated to Sammi, so I told Renée to crash. I had my hands on her bare shoulders, while she reached behind and fondled me.
The videographer approached, his phosphorescent lights drowning us.
“Hi, folks,” he said, “any words for the bat mitzvah girl?”
“Get away from here with that fucking thing,” I said.
“No, wait,” Renée said. She reached for my face, turned it, and flicked her tongue into my ear, like a cobress. This, a crasher whose son was somewhere in that hotel ballroom.
“GP-13, folks,” the videographer said, annoyed. “Keep it GP-13.” Then to his assistant, “Make sure that the family never even sees that.” The light turned away.
“I have an idea. Wait right here,” I said. “Or get a drink. Run up my ex-wife’s bar bill. Get two drinks.”
I went to find Gabe, my six-year-old. I spotted him running onto the dance floor and skidding in his socks until he slid off the polished wood, landed on carpet, and stumbled for a few steps from the momentum.
“Hey, buddy,” I shouted over the music. “Nice tie. Is it a real knot?”
He nodded. His shirt was untucked from his pants.
I leaned over. “Who helped you with it?”
“Uncle Jeff,” he yelled. That would be my ex-brother-in-law, who paid my ex’s legal fees to make sure that I didn’t get custody.
We have two kinds of divorce in this state, my lawyer had explained to me. First, we have uncontested, no reason specified, except the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Then there’s contested, which hardly anyone does anymore, with a specified reason, such as adultery, as your wife has alleged against you, he said.
Jeff had made sure that my wife went after me using the second kind of divorce. It was an overreaction, if you ask me. It wasn’t your classic-type adultery.
“Hey, buddy. Do you have a key-card to the hotel room?”
“Mom told me not to lose it,” Gabe said. “She said she’ll kill me if I do.”
“That’s nice of her. I won’t lose it. I just need to borrow it.”
Gabe reached into his sock and produced the card. “Put it your sock,” he said. “That’s a secret hiding place.” I did as he said. I had made up an explanation about having to take a shower, but I didn’t need to use it. Oh, what a sweet trusting boy.
Renée held two drinks when I found her. She handed me one. In the elevator, she started to rub against me. I pointed to a half-orb hanging from the brass-colored ceiling. “We’re under surveillance,” I said.
She toasted the camera, lifted her black skirt, then her leg, and placed her high-heeled shoe on the flat railing that I leaned against.
“What if your husband saw a tape of this?” I asked. She opened her legs and started rubbing me with her panties.
“Ooh, then he’d have to spank me.”
In the suite, I knew from the clothes on the beds which bed was my ex’s. I pushed her clothes onto the floor and pulled down the bedspread and sheet. I wanted her bed to smell of Renée’s perfume, sweat, and juice.
On that bed, with abundant pillows lifting Renée’s hips, we watched ourselves in the large mirror over a bureau. “Do you like this angle?” I gasped. “Do you like the view?” Her chai tattoo was backwards.
I heard my daughter’s voice outside in the hall: “It’s a fancy place for me to do it with you, you know, and we can like lock the door.”
Click. Boom. The door unlocked and hit the heavy security latch.
“Huh?” my daughter said. She called through the two-inch-wide opening, “Who’s in there?”
I forced my brain to think quickly. Do I pretend no one’s here? What if she waits to see who emerges from the room? What if she tells her mother that someone was in their room?
Renée slapped me on the nose. “You asshole, I was about to climax.”
“Owshh,” I said, combining “ouch” and “ssh.”
My mind raced with calculations and options. Then something dangerous poked through the crack of the doorway, like a snake’s head. My heart slammed against my ribs. I froze. My mouth went dry. I thought that my ribs would break from the slamming. One half of a cell phone was aimed at me.
“It’s me, honey,” I managed to cry out. “Dad!”
“What are you doing in our room?” Sammi demanded.
“I needed a shower.” I tried to stop my lungs from heaving from my exertions. I had shriveled instantly inside Renée.
The cell phone receded. “Oh, thank God, thank God,” I said to myself, my shoulders unclenching and my heart easing its attempts to break through my ribcage. “There is a God in heaven, there is a God in heaven.”
I called again to Sammi. “I got hot, you know, from the horah and lifting everyone in chairs.” I thought a moment. “I’m not saying you’re fat. The chair was heavy.” I tried to stop panting. “See? I’m still breathing hard.”
“You’re weird, Dad.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Um. Coming to find you for the candle-lighting ceremony.”
“How did you know I was here?”
Outside the door, someone stifled a snigger. It was a male stifling a snigger.
“Good guess, I guess,” she said, trying to sound light-hearted. “Don’t be late like you are for everything.”
“Go play Coke and Pepsi now,” I said cheerily. The door closed. “Enjoy!”
“We could have used a photo of us together,” Renée said. “We still don’t have one, you know.”
“Now I’ll have to take a shower, or at least run my hair under the water,” I said.
“Honey, when you’re done doing me, you’d better need a shower, or you didn’t do me right.”
I scanned the room and the scattered clothes, and felt my nose. I wondered where the key-card was and what I’d tell Gabe if I couldn’t find it. I began working on my story.