• First Wife

    Madeline Cash

    Winter 2024

    Bud took four Seconal, masturbated into a tea towel, and decided to drive the Subaru into the sea. The passenger seat was piled with empty take-out containers. Looking over the discarded items, Bud felt like one himself. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the rearview mirror, the face of a man who hadn’t been cool for several presidential administrations. Who had contemplated but ultimately rejected three different ironic tattoos, and who, having nothing left to lose, was free—free according to the logic of Descartes, or was it Janis Joplin, he couldn’t remember.

    Bud didn’t like talk radio. It felt like eavesdropping on someone’s conversation. He did not care for esoteric polemics on gender or local politics or dog breeding. Although, admittedly, he did enjoy those true-crime specials about women in peril and falsely accused teenagers serving life sentences. When told well, thought Bud, a good story is like good cocaine; it has you eager for the next line. He briefly searched for a station that played the classics. What he really wanted to hear was a song that went like blinded by the light, something something something in the middle of the night. But, despite his forceful prodding at the touch screen, he could not access the car’s Bluetooth.

    “Hit pair with device.” The sitter, Hannah Something, was at the window. In the haze of barbiturates, Bud could not remember her name.

    “You snuck up on me,” said Bud.

    “I’ve been standing here for, like, a minute and a half,” said Hannah Something.

    “Can I help you?”

    “Mrs. Casey said you’d drive me home.”

    Hannah thought Bud Casey had an ineffable charisma. He was the kind of dad who might take you to rock concerts instead of ball games, who might look the other way when you pilfer a beer because he’d rather you do it in the house. She found him charming, rugged, perhaps a little dangerous. Bud did not share this opinion of Hannah. He much preferred the other sitter, Fiona Rappaport, who possessed the effortless beauty of an off-duty runway model, while Hannah was perennially covered in a layer of adolescent grease. Whenever he dropped off Fiona, Bud took the longer route to her house, pointing out some architectural feature or other, his breath mingling with Fiona’s in the confined space. Bud also did not care for Hannah Something at this moment because she was preventing him from driving into the sea.

    Hannah tossed most of the take-out containers into the backseat and then drummed her fingers on the dash. What should they talk about? His child, that was a subject of inexhaustible interest. So inquisitive, always asking things like, Where’s my dad? Why isn’t Dad sleeping at home? Where’s the other babysitter? I like her more. Bud did wonder what effect all this marital strife had on Max. He was already such a weird kid. It was hard to tell if it had any at all.

    “Do you know what Max says he wants to be when he grows up?” asked Hannah.

    “A combat drone pilot,” said Bud.

    “He makes me play a game where I’m in a refugee camp and he drops bombs on me.”

    “What does he use for bombs?”

    “The couch cushions.”

    Bud asked Hannah why her ear was blue and then wished he hadn’t. Hannah blushed and shrouded it in her hair.

    “We had color wars today.”

    “Color wars?”

    “We go out to the quad and throw dehydrated paint at each other.”

    Fiona Rappaport would never participate in such an inane activity, thought Bud. She’d watch from the bleachers and file an errant nail. Maybe sneak a clove cigarette or whatever their generation’s equivalent was—a vape? Hannah wished she hadn’t mentioned color wars to Bud. She sensed his disdain.

    “I mean, it’s stupid. The school shouldn’t be glorifying war like that.”

    Bud did not seem swayed by her critical discourse. He was imagining Fiona Rappaport washing blue paint out of her hair.

    “Mr. Casey!”

    “Yes, war, right.”

    “No, there’s a stop sign.”

    They were nearing Hannah’s cul-de-sac. She pulled some ChapStick from her bag and found that the tube was empty. She could scarcely fathom how this was possible. Bud pulled into the driveway.

    “My house is the next one, but it’s fine—”

    “Oh, I can—”

    “I’ll just walk over, no worries.”

    “Well. Thanks again.”

    Bud released the locks with an emphatic click, but his passenger did not move. Hannah stared forward into her neighbor’s wet lawn. Bud hit the locks again for emphasis.

    “Oh,” he said, “sorry. What do we owe you?”

    “Mrs. Casey already paid me.”

    “Right, then. Is there something else?”

    “I don’t know, is there?”

    Hannah pivoted toward Bud. Through his inebriation, it took a moment to register this as seduction.

    “Oh, kiddo—”

    Madeline Cash is the author of Earth Angel and the cofounder of Forever magazine. Her work has appeared in the Drift, the Baffler, and the Literary Review.

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