The Modern Changeling
The door to the delivery room slammed shut behind him, cutting the child’s scream down to a wailing whisper.
When she woke, her second question for the hollow-eyed nurse was for her husband.
Half the books were gone from the shelves, half the closets empty, the kitchen table an orgy of empty photographs. She clung the baby to her breast, eyes resting on a wedding photo, the grain of the table showing through where the groom’s head had been.
The bell rang. A blue envelope delivered with a sad smile. She had been served.
In the motel, laptop open, surrounded by what was left of his life. All that could fit in the car, ownership indisputable. He tapped away on the free wi-fi, closing accounts, changing passwords.
“You should talk to her.” Mama said. “Let her explain.”
“Doesn’t have to.” He sighed over the phone. “It’s an old story.”
The lawyer’s office was cramped. Opposite ends of the table. Her mother was watching it, back at home. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, or address her directly.
“Both of you have expressed a desire to avoid going to court,” one of them said. “We believe this will be an amicable division of property.”
Two names, scribbled in ink. Like a wedding license, in reverse.
She caught him, outside. Grabbed his wrist. The big muscle in his forearm bunched, then slackened. His eyes drifted up to her stare, caught his own reflection.
“Do you hate me?”
Silence. Somewhere, a child cried.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
Neither of them were willing to look away.
“You can hate me if you want to.” he said. “If it makes it easier.”
He broke her grip, and her stare, and walked away.
There was a letter, decades later. Asking for a father that wasn’t there.