A Father First, by Hector Duarte Jr.
The restraining order only mentions her name, nothing of the twins. What better afternoon to show up and surprise them with their favorite birthday lunch? Peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Michelle likes hers as is: white bread, lots of peanut butter. Nichelle’s always been pickier: wheat bread with just a slather of spread and three slices of banana descending from the top left corner down to the right. “Like Tic Tac Toe,” she once said.
Today you prove their mother wrong. Now it’s time to show actions speak louder and all the other shit she’s been sharing on Facebook lately. Lame portraits with the new man. A pathetic attempt at a nuclear family. Michelle and Nichelle looked sick-skinny on the last picture she posted. She hasn’t blocked you, wants it to be seen. Always with the God damn posts.
It was just once. She came home drunk after an office happy hour, smelling of Grey Goose and flirt fumes. The burgers were cooking. You couldn’t take the girls to dance. They cried in tandem, asking why she would do this.
“Where were you?”
“At a happy hour.”
Pointing to the girls, you said, “Hope it was worth it.”
She made for the car when you questioned her motherly instinct. Convinced she’d wrap herself around a light post, you grabbed her arm and pulled her in so she wouldn’t get away, but God damn it if that woman isn’t the hardest-headed creature. Strong too, she yanked from your grip. Five feet, two inches of fireball, keys jangling with each step. She hit the floor like a sack of shit after you slapped her. The girls wailed like banshees.
Across the street, Carmen and Wayne Colson watched as the cops cuffed, sat, and drove you off. You were released to a restraining order and no family.
A few days after it cooled down you showed up after school to talk to the twins about it. The Dean of Discipline blocked the front gate and asked you to leave without a scene. It would’ve been so easy to spike his nose into his face. You took the high road.
The rent on the efficiency near the school is cheap enough to hole up a couple months.
There was a time you could walk into a school and drop off lunch by just saying the kid’s name and homeroom teacher. In these days of fingerprinting and Amber Alerts, you grab two forms of ID and the snub nose with the serial numbers shaved off. In case the security at the front gate is one of these buzz cut, military types who takes his job to heart. School records have changed and you are now persona non grata.
Michelle and Nichelle will get their favorite birthday lunch today. You make the sign of the cross, praying to the vigil candle of Saint Michael the Archangel. Being a father first gets you into heaven.
Hector Duarte Jr. is a writer out of Miami, Florida. To keep himself financially stable, he teaches English to seventh graders. To keep himself mentally stable, he reads, and writes as many stories as he can.
His work has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Rockwell’s Camera Phone, Near to the Knuckle, and Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK.
He loves his cat, Felina, very much.