Oath

by Bob Thurber

True story. So help me god.

In Family Court, late 1991, I listened to my ex-wife swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

So help me god, she said.

Straight-faced and glassy-eyed, she told a courtroom full of strangers what she’d been telling friends right along — what a worthless waste of human spirit I truly was.

Her attorney, who was better dressed than mine, asked: How often did the plaintiff visit his daughter after your divorce?

My ex didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink.

Maybe twice, she said.

I leaned into my lawyer.

She’s lying, I said.

He raised his legal pad on which he had written nothing and used it to hide our mouths. Relax, he said. They do it all the time.

I had no documentation, no proof I’d visited every Tuesday, no evidence that each week I handed cash to my vindictive ex and listened to her bullshit just so I could see my daughter for a few hours. Toward the end, my new wife accompanied me on numerous visits, but her testimony wasn’t allowed on the grounds of prejudice.

After a short recess the judge denied my request for joint custody and regular visitation. Then he terminated my parental rights on the grounds of abandonment and non-support.

So help me god.

Numb, woozy, I staggered to my feet. I couldn’t remember how to leave the courtroom. My lawyer put his hand on my shoulder and guided me like he was escorting a blind man.

We need to talk before you leave the building, he said.

I located my new wife, front row center. Her eyes were moist, but she wasn’t crying. I watched my daughter hop out of her seat and follow her mother out of the courtroom.

So help me god.

I said to myself: For the rest of your life, you will remember this moment.

My lawyer rode down with us in the elevator, just us three. He spoke about the appeal process. This is not over yet, he said. It’s far from over.

My wife clutched my arm and squeezed.

Take a few days, then call my office, my lawyer said. Make an appointment to come in and we’ll discuss your options.

He was noticeably thrown by the judge’s ruling. And friendlier then ever.

Don’t think this is over, he reminded us.

My wife shook his hand and that handshake turned into a hug.

Thank you so much for everything, she said.

I had thirty days to file my appeal, but why bother. No judge was going to take my word on anything. I was a writer with no regular income. My wife supported my existence, which officially made me a chump, a loser.

So help me god.

Time heals nothing. Wounds fester and ooze. Life drags you by a rope over rocks and stones and one day you look up, look back, and see you’ve been used to cut a path, mark a trail.

So help me god.

***

“Oath” is a selection from Nothing But Trouble, a collection of stories accompanied by images.

The Morning After

This piece of flash fiction by Michelle Alerte captures one scene leading to the breakdown of a marriage.

Mariane opened her eyes: two quick blinks followed by one slow. Even that felt like too much movement. She kept herself still and listened, trying to catch the thought scratching to the surface of her mind. Moving her head slightly to the left, she looked out of the corner of her eye. A naked back curved toward her, and Mariane shot up in bed, a hand covering her mouth. Catching the gusts of breath that heated her palm, she let her eyes caress every inch of the room she was in: a naked back, forest green sheets, glass nightstand, maroon Soft Roman shades.

The naked back beside her stirred and Mariane shrank away, held her breath, and waited. Stop panicking, she thought. You wanted this. Which was true. She knew how she’d ended up here. She knew who the person was. But her panic fed on the steamers of light peaking through the bottom of the shades. Last night she’d known how she’d ended up here. Last night she’d known who the person was. But what did last night mean for today?

“Are you okay?” Frank’s voice filtered through her scattered thoughts.

Still holding a palm over her mouth Mariane shook her head. No, she wasn’t okay. Not even a little bit.

“Come here,” Frank said, spreading an arm against her pillow.

She stared down at that arm, lying open and waiting for her. After a beat, she sank back against his chest. His arm curled around her shoulders, pulling her close.

“It’s okay,” Frank said.

On her side, Mariane let her hand drop from her mouth to his waist. “No,” she said, “It’s not okay. Everything is different now. There’s no going back.”

Without a word, Frank kissed the crown of Mariane’s head.

“Everything about today is different,” she spoke again.

They settled into silence, thinking.

“Are you going to tell him?” Frank asked finally.

Pause.

“Yes,” Mariane whispered. She had to tell Daniel. Because even with the panic, there was no way she could go back. No way to shrink into the box that was her life, her habits, her marriage.

Turning onto her back, Mariane stared at the smooth white ceiling.

“I’m sorry.” Frank’s voice floated to her side of the bed and Mariane shook her head and said, “It’s not your fault.”

Which was true.

“I fully participated in everything,” she said.

With a sigh, Mariane pushed back up to sitting. Now that she’d said that out loud she felt lighter. She had fully participated. From the second time they’d met, when Frank had invited her back to the same bar. She’d gone, knowing it wouldn’t be a late night at the office grading papers, as she’d told Daniel.

“I’d better go,” Mariane said looking down to where Frank lay watching her.

He didn’t reply. In silence, she pulled on the tan sweater from last night and slipped into her knee length skirt and comfortable tan flats.

“Will you call me?” Frank asked when she was ready to leave.

Turning back Mariane faced him. Would she call him?

She lifted her shoulders and decided to be honest. “I don’t know,” she said.

He was quiet as she slipped through his door to the day beyond.

 

Michelle Alerte has been in love with reading and writing fiction since she was a child. She enjoys creating honest characters and bringing their stories to life. Although her all-time favorite genre is romance, she enjoys crafting literary and horror stories as well. Working on “The Morning After,” Michelle wanted to capture the underside of love and marriage. She strove to capture the voice of a complex woman seeking to break the confines of the life she leads, for better or worse. Michelle Alerte loves hearing from readers. Contact her through her website: MichelleAlerte.com or find her on Facebook: Michelle Alerte, Author.