Kids Today

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by Kathleen

Arriving home after our neighbor’s play, “Buddha Revived,” we alert our sixteen-year old: “We’re home!” From the living room, Claire flicks on the lights. “Meet my boyfriend, Reed.”

Seeing him, I notice a person more seductive than credible: angelic, tousled hair, deep blue eyes. Claire’s first boyfriend is as beautiful as she is (and I’m an adoring father).

“Hello, Reed. Call me Chaz.”

Sylvia and Claire laugh in my face. “Chaz? That’s hilarious, Dad.”

“Call him Charlie,” Sylvia says. She punches my arm, still laughing (“Chaz!”).

“My mother Sylvia—Reed; Reed—Sylvia.” Claire’s first reaction still hovers above our heads. “Chaz. Jeez, Dad.”

“Good night, children,” Sylvia says. While she climbs the stairs, I fall into the armchair, and end up staring at Reed’s bare feet. Strong, graceful feet.

Claire, meanwhile, is staring at me. “Go upstairs, Dad. With Mom.”

“Have a drink with me first.”

Reed nods. “Mos def.”

“How ’bout martinis?”

“We’re underage,” Claire snaps.

“Live a little.”

“Martini, please, Charlie,” Reed says.

“Hendricks gin or Belvedere vodka?”

“Stirred or shaken?” Reed grins straight at me.

“Real vermouth or pretend?”

“Pretend vermouth, real gin.”

Claire says, “Goodnight, you stupid fools.”

Reed leaps up, catching her wrist. “Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not.”

In the kitchen, I fix the drinks. Reed switches the music station. Claire appears, tugs my shoulder, and whispers, “Have you flipped, Dad? Are you drunk?”

“Now who’s hilarious? Stay with us. I’ll open a bottle of wine for you.”

“No thanks.” She kisses my cheek goodnight.

Reed and I drink martinis and talk Keynesian economics. The boy’s in high school but reads The Financial Times. Ella Fitzgerald is singing, “Anything Goes.”

After three martinis, Reed stretches out on the couch. His eyes roll up, finding mine. If his specific, unsettling affect on me is a variation on common fatherly distress—Claire’s first boyfriend—it’s one I haven’t heard before. Sitting still in the armchair, I’m past terrified. I’m jellified.

Reed comes over and crouches above my loafers. “Most people,” he says, his hands cupping my knees, “aren’t all one way or another.”

Smiling hard, I brush Reed’s palms off my kneecaps. “I’ve heard that.”

Queasy, I let my head drop back against the upholstery. If Claire continues going out with this boy, my troubles will grow worse. And worse.

“Excuse me, Reed.” I step outside the backdoor. Shiver in the cold. Until panic disperses. I sneak upstairs and join my wife in bed. In twenty years of marriage, I’ve never strayed. Not physically. So it occurs to me—straight, gay, who cares anymore?

“Kids today,” Sylvia seems to say.

After five minutes, I hear Reed and Claire talking in her bed, which is acoustically impossible and so must be my drunkenness:

“Was it fun?”

“Yeah,” Reed says. “Of course, next time it’ll be much more.”


Paul said...

Lovely, Kathleen. Very powerful.

Stella said...

You're a devilish woman, Kathleen. I mean that of course in the positive sense of the word: brilliant rather than demonic.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks, Stella and Paul. And Stella, my demonic urges are real. Mostly, though, they play in my stories.