My bladder feels like it’s about to explode, but I can’t make myself get out of bed.
I need a few more minutes of silence.
When the alarm clock goes off a half-hour later, I stumble to the toilet, then drift downstairs following the delicious aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. My three-year-old son, Ian sits on the kitchen floor, humming to himself as he smears peanut butter all over my laptop.
He smiles up at me.
“Fuck!” I scream, grabbing the laptop from Ian’s grubby hands.
Tears well up in his eyes. He goes running into the living room, where my wife Kate is watching TV.
“Why was he left alone?” I ask her, holding out my sticky laptop as evidence of her poor parenting.
“Maybe because his dad decided to sleep in.” She sets her coffee cup down and gathers Ian in her arms. “Anyway, you shouldn’t have left it out.”
Ian wipes his wet face on Kate’s sweatshirt and starts sucking his thumb.
“That’s beside the point,” I insist. “My dad would’ve whipped my butt if I pulled a stunt like that.”
“Well, we aren’t our parents. I thought we agreed not to yell.”
She has me here, but I can’t let go of the argument.
“We did,” I admit. “But what kind of a narcissistic asshole will Ian grow up to be if we let him do whatever he wants now?”
She smoothes Ian’s curly blonde hair with her fingers. “Go be angry somewhere else. After you’ve cooled off, we can talk about an appropriate response.”
“Fine,” I say, already putting on my shoes. “I’m going to get some air.”
My father would’ve shaken his head at the sight of a grown man running away from his own home.
Walking through our neighborhood, it doesn’t take long for me to regret losing my temper. Kate and I always wanted kids. When Ian first appeared on the doctor’s black-and-white ultrasound, we couldn't stop smiling. During Kate’s pregnancy, I’d place my hand on her belly and feel him kicking, bending close to whisper promises I was sure he’d remember. Holding him after he was born, I knew I’d never love anything more.
I stop to turn around, ready to go home and try again, when I see a shiny, red tricycle lying on its side in the middle of the sidewalk a few yards ahead of me. It’s one of those vintage bikes with a bell and ribbons tied to the handlebars. I imagine Ian sitting on the tricycle, wearing a big grin and a matching red helmet. I’ll teach him how to ride and he’ll spend hours pedaling up and down our street as Kate and I proudly watch from the front porch.
I look around, then heft the tricycle over my shoulder and flee the scene before some nosy neighbor has the chance to question me.
After a couple of blocks, the adrenaline wears off, washed away in a flood of guilt. I picture the little kid who owns the tricycle sobbing, his poor parents trying to explain to him that the world is a scary place, full of horrible people who take little kids’ tricycles when they aren’t looking.
My own father would never have stooped so low.
When I think of him, I remember his callused hands. They were the type of hands a man was supposed to have, strong and tough from years of hard work. As a boy, I’d put on his rough cotton work shirts and steel-toed boots and march around the house, barking orders at the dog and pretending to drink coffee out of an empty mug.
My father was also an alcoholic. When he drank, he’d say terrible things that he was too embarrassed to take back when he was sober. Sometimes he’d whip us, but mostly he’d just yell. All my life I kept waiting for him to apologize, but instead he went ahead and got old.
The hospital had him hooked up to all kinds of machines when he died. Cancer had ravaged his body, whittling him down to a shell of the man he’d been during my childhood. I visited him at the hospital with Kate, back when we were still dating. He must’ve known that he wasn’t going to last long enough to see a wedding or future grandchildren, but he smiled and talked with us for a while about the bitter Midwestern winter we’d had and the snowstorm that was going to hit in a few days. I wanted to change the subject and ask him about the life he’d lived and what it had all meant, but instead I just stood there, nodding along as he talked about the weather.
I hustle back and drop the tricycle where I found it. Nobody notices, which somehow makes me feel worse. I practically sprint home.
Kate is in the kitchen, stirring a steaming pot of macaroni and cheese, Ian’s favorite food. My laptop sits next to the sink, scrubbed free of peanut butter.
“Feel better?” she asks.
I give her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m sorry about earlier. It won’t happen again.”
“I know.” She offers me a bite of macaroni from the wooden cooking spoon. “We’re figuring this parenting thing out as we go.”
“Upstairs, washing his hands for lunch.”
I take the stairs two at a time, eager to tell my son that I love him, that I’ll never make him cry again.
Bursting into the bathroom, my shoes are immediately soaked. The toilet is overflowing.
“Look, Daddy,” Ian says, pointing at the clogged toilet bowl. “I did it.”
He’s used an entire roll of toilet paper on this masterpiece.
Anger simmers inside of me. I take a deep breath. It took six long months, but he’s finally potty-trained.
I open the cabinet above the toilet and hand him a bath towel.
“Good job, son, but let’s use a little less next time.”
About the author
Logan Markko lives in southeastern Michigan with his wonderful wife, their toddler son, and a 100-pound American Bulldog named Sam. His stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Potato Soup Journal’s Best of 2022 Anthology
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