J Eric Miller's short story collection, Animal Rights and Pornography was published by Soft Skull Press in 2004 and has since been translated and published in France, Russia, and Turkey. His novel Decomposition (Ephemera Bound 2006) has been translated and published in France, Spain, and Italy; a cinematic version is in pre-production with Gedeon Productions. A number of his short stories have appeared in various journals, including: Semaphore, Starry Night Reivew, eFiction,Pindelyboyz, Clean Sheets, Manera, Burning Word, Ink Pot, and Outsider Ink. One of them, “Invisible Fish”, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
ATTACHMENT PATTERNS by J Eric Miller
It was going to be David’s second divorce. The plan was to handle it as friends, which had been the way it had gone with his first wife. Laurie wanted to have a baby, but he couldn’t see himself doing that again. This was an irreconcilable difference. The problem now was the car, a 2013 Audi, which was the only truly expensive thing he had ever owned. He’d grown up poor with parents too young. When he reflected on it now, he knew that either he had needed too much or that they had had too little to give. All their energy went into trying to maintain their own broken relationship to each other. Then he had had a child young himself, and now that boy was eight and lived, half the time, in David and Laurie’s rented townhouse, and the other half of the time with his mother, David’s first ex-wife, three miles away. Both Laurie and the boy’s mother considered David an excellent father—attentive, caring, patient, and truly present—and Laurie had a hard time coming to terms with the idea that he didn’t want to co-act in such an endeavor with her.
It seemed the right time for a baby. David and Laurie each had finished Master Degrees and had now been working on their careers for a couple of years. They had, as David put it, gotten their stuff together, and so came the Audi, just barely used, with a $419 payment to be made every month. Everything else easily decided, they couldn’t answer the question about who would get the newer car and its payments, and who would get the fully owned seven year old Honda CRV.
“Listen,” Laurie said, “the Audi was something you wanted. I said lease. You said possess. You were proud of it. It’s unfair to change your mind.”
“I haven’t changed my mind. Other things have changed. And I am proud of it. I just can’t afford it. You’ll be a little better off because it’s just you and no child.”
She almost winced. They were sitting at the kitchen table with some of what had been their things in boxes around them. She was going to move out over the weekend. He would need to keep the place for the extra bedroom. It would be strange, only half furnished, but David felt well braced. Laurie held the Chihuahua, Gangster, in her lap; she hadn’t really wanted to adopt it, but the dog had taken to her right away, and so it was naturally hers. At David’s feet was the terrier, Toughie, also an adoptee, who had followed him around from the beginning.
David put his hands up. He had tried to avoid fighting with his first wife as well. She’d said of him, “I think you’re as close as you’re going to get.”
He’d said, “Isn’t it close enough?”
Now Laurie said, “How can you just let it go?”
David said, “I don’t want to get hung up on the car.”
“David. We’re not fighting about the car.”
“We’re not even fighting.”
“David.” He could see what he thought was pain in her eyes. David looked away. He rose from his chair and picked up his keys and went into the garage and backed the Audi out and glanced at the CRV in the uncovered space and drove for a ways until he came to a bar. He parked and went inside and had two vodka sodas. Then he walked out of the bar and down the road until he reached the home of his ex-wife. He went to the window of his son’s room. It was dark in there, but the longer he looked in, the more sure he was that he could see his son’s face peaceful on the pillow.
Then a light came on in the basement window beside him. He squatted down and looked into the central room. The bathroom doorway was open and steaming. His ex-wife didn’t know about the divorce yet, but she would have to soon. She herself had been dating the same man for almost a year and probably would be announcing her engagement at any time. David believed he was happy for her. Then she came out of her bedroom. She was wearing only her bra and a skirt. She stopped in the middle of the room and struggled with the latch and zipper at the rear of her skirt. After a moment, she stepped out of it. She lifted and folded it. Then she took off the bra. He looked at her breasts. Her skin was soft in the light. He could not quite see the marks that he knew were there from the birthing of Jacob. He’d heard he claim being pregnant was the most fulfilled period of her life. She peeled her panties down and kicked them with a swift, neat motion into her hand. He could see the mound of her vagina. He’d been with her longer than he’d been with Laurie, but she seemed something entirely new to him. He raised his hand to knock on the glass, but he did not knock. Then she turned. He watched her ass like a thing he had never touched as she walked into the bathroom, and he watched the bathroom door close. He could hear traffic on the road, and he could feel the cool of the night.
On his way back to the bar, he collected a stone half the size of his head. In the parking lot, he looked around once and then looked at the car as oddly beautiful in the streetlamp as it had appeared to him when he saw it the first time at the dealership, and then he thrust the stone through the driver side window. He opened the door and wiped the glass off the seat and drove the car out of the lot and down into an industrial area, where he found a number of decrepit tractor trailers and a mound of concrete blocks. He drove the car along one side of the blocks, scraping both doors, and then he turned around and got the other side. Finally, he drove the car fairly fast into the mound. He got out, dusted himself off, and dropped a block on the hood and then hefted it and dropped it on the roof and then paused for a moment before he dropped it on the windshield. In the morning, he would call the police department and say that he’d locked his keys in the Audi outside the bar last night and walked home, only to discover, when he’d gone to retrieve the car in the morning, that it was missing. After that, he’d call the insurance company.
He walked home. Laurie was in bed but not asleep. He got in beside her. It occurred to him that very soon, he’d never do that again. His stomach felt hard and centering. He’d been through it all before. It was dark, but he could see the whites of her eyes watching him. He said, “I took care of the problem with the car.”