Distance from Loved Ones
(after James Tate)
After his wife cheated with a mailman, Peter decided to get the Porsche he'd always coveted. He flew to Germany, picked up his new automobile, and embarked on a driving Tour d'Europe. Somewhere between Stuttgart and Paris, sobbing helplessly at 120 mph, he T-boned an Audi. Remarkably, Peter walked away unscathed. (The Audi driver lost his left big toe.) But a brain scan at a French hospital revealed a tumor in his cerebrum (if you know where that is). Immediate surgical excision was advised and subsequently (successfully) performed. Ten days later Peter flew home, horizontal, Paris CDG to Dallas-Fort Worth. His shaven head bore a five-inch scar that (even in first-class) caused the stewardess to wince audibly.
All of this my brother relates on our Christmas Day call, and I say: 'But who is this guy Peter?'
To which my brother: 'I am Peter.'
'But you're Keith, Keith,' I correct.
'All my life I'm Peter,' he insists. 'Eighty years, one damn thing after another.'
'I'm sorry you feel that way. Truly, I didn't know.'
'Ach, sorry! You think I'm your brother is all.'
A pause. Not true, I want to say but say instead: 'We're getting a divorce. Claire and me.'
What Claire? Claire who? I half-expect him to ask. But nothing. Did he not hear?
'Keith, are you there? Peter?' No answer, just the line's dull humming. 'What Claire?' I ask. 'Claire who?' A further, deeper, duller silence. Neither of us caring, or daring, to speak or hang up the call.
Paul Blaney teaches writing at Rutgers University. His novel, Jardin des Animaux, will be published in 2024 by Signal 8 Press. This is the tenth time his work has appeared in The Cafe Irreal, most recently in Issue 83. His work also appeared in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from The Cafe Irreal (Guide Dog Books 2013).