On a first date, Jamie is learning the thing to say, and it isn’t the truth; it isn’t the story of redemption, his own, or the difficulty of childhood, he is 58, or the way that prison teaches a man something about living that nothing else does, no. On a first date, Jamie is supposed to be attentive, is supposed to let them see the gentle meat of his grey eyes and the lines in his face that they can trace with a finger, later, when they know him, later that night or in a few weeks or months, but just later, when they know that he is the kind of guy they could love, that they could trust, that would give anything, yeah, anything, for their affection.

And, of course, when they meet him, they should feel safe. They are safe, anyway, so it is just a matter of them knowing it. Them, the girls, no, the women. They should feel safe with Jamie, they have every reason to feel safe. But, and yet, the murder has a way of looming. The thing you did when you were an idiot kid that every day since you regret, but it’s there, in the news, on the internet. In your heart. In the meteor of shame and guilt inside your belly. The act is there, is never not going to be there.

The homicide of his father is never meant to be first date conversation. Still, it is the kind of thing Jamie can’t not say for too long because then the women feel baited when, eventually, they figure it out. How can you be a person first though, without the blood ruining it all? It is the kind of thing that almost makes a guy not want to try, but then the drawer at home with the only two forks in it, and the way the moon hits the wall by his bed where there isn’t any kind of poster up, and the carpet by the door where his brown work boots sit alone, and he will always feel worse in the end not at least trying. Because at least with Jamie, the mess is already out on the table. At least, with him, the scars are there, are right there waiting, no needing, to be known, to be dealt some love, just anything, just a chance.

Doreen is the latest woman to have responded to his messages online. She is 52, divorced, and has two children, both in high school, both boys, and she works as a paralegal and has dark, curly hair that, from the pictures in her profile, seems to nest nicely around the round cheeks of her face. They messaged back and forth for a few days and then she had put a winking smiley which Jamie knows to interpret as an okay, let’s try this in the real live world. So, he asked, and she said, yeah, all right, let’s meet for a coffee or maybe a wine.

This is in Maine. In the state where Jamie had been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years for the murder of his father, and where he had been, somewhat miraculously, paroled after serving a total of forty-two years. It is the kind of thing that could also not have happened, and he could have continued to be a person who lived his life in prison until the life was all used up, like one of those yogurts that you squeeze from the bottom that he hadn’t known existed until two months after his release, back when he was staying with his elderly aunt who was kind, so kind to him, it hurts, even now, to think of what she’s done for him.

But Doreen. Even the prospect of Doreen would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Selma and Markus and Dwayne and all the good, kind folks who helped guys like him who got out and didn’t even really know what the internet was, except it was this all-powerful force that had swallowed up the world, when they, the guys like him, were being preserved in a vat of brine, just pickling in those walls, each day even more obsolete and useless and shrunken, and then you get out, and thank god there’s a place like the place he went where they teach you how to be a person in the modern world, so you don’t just end up on the street. But, no. None of this is what he can say to Doreen. Not at first.

Doreen knows what, after all. He is 58, he has no kids, he has short hair that is greying here and there, but he still has hair, which is another miraculous thing. And he has a steady job doing maintenance work for the hospital, and he has most of his college degree, and he likes fishing, taking long walks through the woods, and seeing all the colors, there are so many colors, and his dog, Albert, the Rhodesian ridgeback, and, of course, that he likes to read poetry, which is true it is good stuff that gets in your bones and almost, maybe almost, can make you feel like there is a woman beside you, but no, maybe not tell Doreen that part.

In the small space of the kitchen of his one-room apartment off Williams Avenue in Bar Harbor, Maine, Jamie prepares himself for the evening ahead. It is a Friday night, so he had gotten off work at 4:30pm, and he had come home, taken Albert for a long walk, and then microwaved a frozen burrito, eaten it standing up in the kitchen as he poured tabasco on each bite, and then showered for the second time that day, shaved his stubble only cutting himself in one tiny spot because he was nervous, and then sat on his bed, staring at the clothes in his closet and jamming his tongue nervously against his bottom row of teeth before finally picking out a white undershirt, a pair of boxer shorts, a pair of dark blue jeans and a red and yellow flannel shirt that he had bought at Goodwill. Sitting on his bed, Jamie had found it hard not to recall the sensation of getting ready for a date in high school, but back then his nervousness was overwhelmed by a false cockiness, an innate knowledge that the girl, his high school girlfriend, Karen, wanted him so badly that whatever he wore was beside the point. Back then they were in love. Back then he was a normal guy. There was an innocence, back then, they could both believe in.

He and Doreen are meeting at the Bean, a coffee house that also serves wine and beer, so that if the night takes that course they can take it. They are meeting there at 7:30pm, and Jamie figures he will need to be there at 7:20pm so that he is early, but not too early, but maybe politely early. He had tried to read some articles online using the library’s computer about how to handle a blind date, but most of the advice he found was for women and how to protect themselves against a potential creep, and Jamie couldn’t help but know that he was maybe the creep that they were describing. A polite creep. A creep only in the sense of omission, but it isn’t even a permanent omission. It is—it is something he has to wait to say.

Jamie has now been out of prison for one year and it was six months into that year that he started trying to date. When he first had gotten out it was all so blinding, that the basic normalcy of adulthood, each moment of it, was like some kind of unknown jewel fallen in his hands that needed to be held and admired and saved. He had seen a prostitute, two different ones, twice, in the first month, mostly to be sure that everything still worked, but the act had made his heart hurt, and, besides, risking his parole seemed like a terrible idea, and mostly, the girls, these were girls, didn’t like him and he knew it. He was a chore to them. An old, sad guy with grey hair and a lined face and muscles where the skin overtop was just beginning to sag here and there.

But now in his kitchen, Jamie pours himself a glass of water from the tap and drinks it slowly, his left hand reaching down to rub Albert’s forehead and ears. He hasn’t yet told Doreen about his time served, which is intentional, only because the last few first dates he had found himself blurting it out as if to warn them about his inner violence. But he isn’t violent, no, he isn’t violent, even though, yes, he has done a violent thing. The blurting out, the redness in his face when he said something like, I have to tell you something, and they would ask, what, and he’d say, well I spent a lot of my life in prison, and, for what, they’d say, and, for murder, he’d say, and, oh, they would say, and then a pause and then, of who, they’d say, and, of my father, Jamie would say, and then there wasn’t much left to do but pay for the coffee or the beer or the frozen yogurt and say his goodbyes.

So, with Doreen it will be different. He will wait with this one. Because saying it on the first date, or in the online message before the date, or even saying it in his profile hasn’t seemed to work, has only seemed to scare the women away and for good reason.

“Hi Doreen, I’m Jamie.” These words, said aloud in the small kitchen, feel small, but feel right. When you spend decades without a space to talk aloud, the inside of your head becomes a well-groomed chamber, a place to place your thoughts, organize them, keep yourself sane. But it is just now seven which means it is time to go. So, Jamie glances at himself in the mirror, combs his right hand through his hair, gives Albert a milk bone and leaves the apartment, locking the door behind him and placing the key gently in his jean pocket.

 

Jamie arrives ten minutes early as planned, waits to order and sits nervously at the small two-top. He counts the sugars in the sugar caddy twice and then five minutes past 7:30, Doreen enters the coffee shop. He can tell it is her because of her hair and because she had told him she’d wear a red shirt. Her face is prettier, softer than what he’d expected from the photos, and her lipstick is red like her blouse, with just the smallest dab of it on the corner of her slightly yellow left front tooth, a fact which Jamie only notices later in the evening when she smiles with full teeth for the first time.

He rises to meet her and extends a hand which she takes limply in her own.

“Hi, Doreen?”

She nods and then motions toward the counter. “Should we order drinks?”

Jamie smiles and follows her to the register to place their order. Doreen orders a chai and so Jamie orders himself a cappuccino, something he has learned to do in previous moments like this one. When Doreen starts to open her purse, Jamie lightly puts his hand on her arm while simultaneously pulling out his own wallet, and she half-smiles, but he can’t help but feel her slight recoil beneath his touch.

When they are resettled at the table with their drinks, Jamie smiles broadly, inwardly imagining the creases in his face like so much drop cloth piled on a worksite.

“So you’re a paralegal? Was that something you always wanted to do?”

Doreen shakes her head and again half smiles. “To be honest, not entirely. It was more like something I fell into before I had kids, and then when I knew the father and I weren’t working out, something I could return to. Pretty romantic.” She pauses to blow on her chai and Jamie nods.

He can feel his chest tensing. He tries to ignore the feeling and the thought that silence could at any moment spread.

“What about you? You do maintenance work, right? How’d you get into that?” Doreen asks without meeting his eyes.

“I do—It was just something I got training for so I guess I picked up the skills and all.” Jamie can feel his feet inside his boots and concentrates on the feeling of his toe against the tiny hole in his sock. “Still, working with the law, that must be interesting stuff?”

“It can be.”

Jamie can smell her perfume and it smells like lavender. He opens his mouth to comment on it, but then closes it as he watches Doreen press her fingers into the sides of her ceramic cup.

“I’m sorry, I’m low energy tonight.” Doreen shakes her head and then sighs and Jamie hears the sigh, can almost see it in the track-lit room.

“You’re fine.”

Doreen raises her eyes from the mug and looks at him and Jamie can see that her eyes, unexpectedly, are green.

“Long day?” He is still looking at the greenness, like a small meadow in the white pouches of her eye sockets.

“You could say that.” She swallows another small sip of the drink and Jamie notices the red smudge of her lipstick on the rim.

“You can be honest.”

Doreen raises her eyebrows just barely. “What’s that?”

“It’s okay, I know I’m not as tall as you would have liked.” Jamie glances back to see her reaction and she smiles now, the slightest pursing of her lips.

“Yeah, you might be a little shorter than I normally do.”

“Yeah?”

“But it’s rare you get a guy over seven feet in Maine.”

Jamie nods, biting the insides of his cheeks slightly to stop himself from smiling and looks at her to see her looking at him. “So why the long day?”

“You don’t want to hear about that.”

“No?”

“It’s not the best first date chit chat is all.”

“Then what are we supposed to talk about?”

“Huh. Pets? Jobs? The basics.”

Jamie feels himself relaxing, feels the blood moving around his body in gentler waves, tastes the bit of foam in his mouth just slightly souring. “I want to hear whatever you feel like telling me. Honest.”

Doreen again raises her eyes to his. “You look a lot like your picture, you know?”

“Yeah?”

“Not all the guys do. But you do.”

“Well, good I guess?”

“Yeah. Good.”

Jamie takes another sip of his coffee and looks at Doreen again, this time more fully, lets himself really see the hair, its dark brown almost black color, likely dyed that way, and the way it floats in airy tufts around her face, and her breasts which are prominent but not showing any cleavage. “So we talk about pets now?”

Doreen laughs and Jamie hears the sound, small and sharp and jewel-like.

“My day in two words, teenage boys.”

“Yeah?”

“My sons, fourteen and sixteen. The older one, of course—oh forget it. On the way here I told myself I wasn’t going to talk about it.” She shakes her head and raises her right hand to her right eyebrow.

“It’s okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Jamie nods. “But maybe you want something a little stiffer to drink?”

Again, Doreen laughs. “That would be alright.”

And Jamie is on a good date, maybe the best date he has been on since he started this process, or the first one where he’s been funny and not just nervously waiting to talk. And the strange part is how normal it feels, how it’s like he’s a guy who a woman might like to talk to, might even want to holds hands with, and not some predator just waiting for the chance to feel a woman’s flesh, or just a bad guy who did a bad thing and should never be loved. And even as these thoughts percolate in his brain, he tries to quiet them and stop thinking and just be there, be honest, be plain, be himself, and more than that, listen, listen to this woman who is in front of him and is, herself, kind and funny and human.

Doreen stays for two glasses of wine and they talk about her kids, her son who is rebelling (drugs, a DUI), and the younger one who is angry at her for the older one’s rebellion, and the ex-husband who is more interested in his new girlfriend’s kids than his own, and her parakeet, Stacey, and Jamie’s Rhodesian ridgeback, what is the deal with the ridge anyway? And so, they talk for almost three hours, and it’s easy, and Jamie doesn’t lie to her, no, but also doesn’t really mention, and by really, he doesn’t mention, his time in prison, but not by lying, just because it doesn’t come up. And so they end the date, they part ways out front, and they hug, and she feels soft in his arms, but also strong, not limp, and he tells her that he’d like to see her again, and she says this is good because it’s what she wants, too, and then Jamie is driving home and gets home and takes Albert for a walk around the neighborhood, and he lets the dog sniff anything and everything he wants to sniff for as long as he wants to sniff, because Jamie feels good, feels generous, feels like this is what it’s like to be a free person, and it is nothing like the air in a cell thick with the breath and loss of a hundred desperate and dying men.

 

In the morning, Jamie is consumed by his routine. The guiding principle of his survival during the time of his incarceration was routine, was living by a strict schedule and giving each hour over to a precise activity or task, and this same way of living is what has made the transition to the outside world possible. On the weekends, when he does not have to work, he rises at 6:00am and does fifty push-ups and seventy-five crunches and twenty pull-ups, then reads for thirty minutes before washing his face, brushing his teeth and combing his hair. When he’s finished cleaning up, Jamie goes to the kitchen, feeds Albert, takes him outside for a walk around the block and then back upstairs to make coffee and oatmeal for his breakfast. He drinks his coffee black and eats the oatmeal with a ripe banana or some frozen blueberries, a luxury he did not have while in prison. When he’s finished eating, he takes Albert for a three-mile walk, returns home to write letters for an hour (to his friends who have not been released), then he goes grocery shopping and on any other errands that have accumulated during the week. After lunch, his afternoon is taken up by practicing guitar, a trip to the dog park with Albert, a visit to his aunt where she lives now in the nursing home, and a trip to the library to check his email. Jamie is saving up for a computer, but has not yet purchased one. In the evening, he eats dinner and watches television, unless he has made plans to see a woman. To this point, Jamie had not had the prospect of a second date, and it is this nervous energy that makes this Saturday feel different than the others.

At the grocery store, touching the avocados, or at the dog park, watching as Albert plays tug with a standard poodle, he senses a feeling like hiccups in his bloodstream or, yes, maybe butterflies, the prehistoric sense of a crush, something he has not felt since his youth, and for clear reason. Jamie is not entirely sure why this date feels so different from the others, though he is aware of his omission and its role in their seeming connection. On past dates, had he not made the women laugh, only to spoil it with the slip of I-committed-a-violent-crime-when-I-was-sixteen-for-which-I-spent-my-life-in-prison? It was a lot for any person to take in, and maybe it wasn’t even a question of timing, maybe it was a kind of flag on the play that meant he was forever out of the running, at least to the average woman.

At 3:30pm, Jamie, as per his usual Saturday routine, takes the pound cake he had purchased that morning at the grocery store and heads to the Future Dreams Retirement Facility to visit his aunt, his mother’s younger sister, Gloria. Gloria, who had taken him in after his release, who he had lived with for five months before getting an apartment of his own, whose own health had since deteriorated in the last six months leading to her move to the retirement facility and her gifting of her car, a 2003 Buick LeSabre, to Jamie.

Knocking softly on her door, Jamie enters after hearing her scratchy, come in, and entering, gives his aunt a warm hug and a kiss on her left cheek. In preparation for Jamie’s visit, Gloria has seated herself at the small table in her suite, and using her water boiler, boiled a pot of tea for the two of them. Jamie’s aunt is a smallish woman with a wreath of white hair and a slight hunch to her back. Her husband, a lobsterman, had passed away nearly twenty years prior and the two had never had children. Gloria is the most kindly religious person Jamie has ever known, and a particular lover of animals, so that Albert’s adoption had initially been at her suggestion, and the subsequent naming in honor of her late husband.

In the sizable suite, Gloria looks on Jamie with fond eyes, and Jamie smiles, settling himself at the little table and slicing the cake he purchased for the occasion.

“I got cinnamon this week, how’s that?”

“Looks delicious. I’ll take a big slice, honey.”

Jamie nods and cuts into the buttery cake, placing a large slice on the small, porcelain tea plate and handing it to his aunt.

His aunt lifts the teapot to fill a cup for Jamie which he takes, holding the delicate vessel in his large, somewhat calloused hands.

“You seem good today, honey. How you feeling?”

Jamie nods. “I’m good. Been a long week, but I can’t complain. How about you? You seem good, too.”

“I do, I feel good today. Not doing the stairs anymore is really helping I think.”

“I’ll bet.” He smiles and sips his tea and lets the easy quiet build between them.

Jamie appreciates the fragility of the space he shares with his aunt and the sense of trust that this tiny, delicate woman gives him. It is a hard to describe feeling and he has never really tried to describe it, but there is something precious in the bones of her hand and the loving way she sees him, like they are just two people together in this suite with its afghans and its china and its photos, framed and placed like windows all around the pale yellow walls. It is like Jamie can be with his whole family in this space, and they can look at him and he can look at them, and it is quiet, and not angry, and safe.

“I dreamed about Margaret again last night. She was telling me how much she loved you, sweetie.” Gloria speaks, then slides a large bite of cake into her open mouth.

Jamie nods and closes his eyes, not meaning to but trying to picture Margaret, his mother, even still.

“I’ve been dreaming about her a lot lately, Jamie. I don’t know, what do you think that’s about?” Gloria looks toward him and her eyes appear magnified through her glasses’ lenses.

“You miss her? I’m not sure.” Jamie picks up a piece of cake and places it in his mouth, the flavor of cinnamon briefly tingling his nose.

“She was alone in the dream, I mean it was just the two of us and we were back on Mulberry street where we grew up. Remember that house?”

Jamie nods, studying the teapot with its small painted flowers that are maybe lilies or, if not, lilacs.

“I don’t know why I keep seeing her. We’re not girls in the dream either. We’re both grown up, but we’re back at the house. Strange.”

The flowers look hand painted, and it’s possible that they are hand painted. They look so delicate to Jamie and almost realistic.

“You know she loved you.”

Jamie nods but doesn’t open his mouth.

“She forgave you, I know she forgives you, honey. She—.”

Jamie reaches to take his aunt’s hand in his own and gently squeezes her fingers. His aunt’s eyes rise to meet his and they smile at one another for what is maybe a long moment, and then he places his aunt’s hand back on the table and he reaches for a sip of his tea.

“This cake really is delicious, honey, thank you for bringing it.”

“I’m glad you like it. Maybe we do chocolate next week.”

“I would like that.”

An hour or so later, after a few hands of rummy, and a walk around the gardens, Jamie is saying his goodbyes and making his way out of the home and back to Albert and the rest of the evening. In the car, on the short drive to his apartment, Jamie decides that he will call Doreen when he gets back and see if she would like to see him again the following weekend. He imagines their voices on the phone, and he can almost hear the lilt of her voice in his head, the potential that could come out of this for both of them and briefly, for a moment, Jamie lets himself feel confident that maybe this one could work.

 

The call to Doreen is successful if the slightest bit awkward, but she does seem happy to hear from him, and though he wonders if he is a bit too eager, they make plans for the following Friday evening to get some food and some drinks and to spend some time together. So then it’s just a question of getting through the week and not getting too obsessive over what the date will be like and whether she’ll look him up online in the time between (which he has heard is something that people do to one another) and whether he will find a good way to say the unsayable, and whether waiting till the third date is just a recipe for this thing, like all the ones before it, not going anywhere, but for lack of honesty instead of honesty, full frontal and present.

When Friday finally arrives, even Albert seems aware that something is at stake and his fervent licking of Jamie’s face upon his arrival home from work seems intent on expressing good wishes and an excess of love.

Jamie follows much the same routine as the previous following Friday minus only the eating of the burrito, but still the walking of Albert, the showering, the shaving, the tiny cut and the selecting of clothes from his closet are parallel actions. Jamie’s apartment is kept almost compulsively neat, largely from habit and the practice of living in a small, sometimes shared, space. In his kitchen, drinking his requisite glass of calming water, Jamie accidentally lets himself think that this neatness will pay off should this woman, Doreen, care to enter his home at some point this evening or in the future.

Again, Jamie offers Albert a milk bone prior to leaving his apartment and then makes the short drive to El Tractor Azul, the Mexican restaurant where he and Doreen have agreed to meet at 8:00 pm. Jamie, arriving at 7:50 pm is escorted by the host to the table, a booth, by the host and then waits for Doreen to arrive, drinking his water slowly and not yet eating any of the tortilla chips from the basket placed in front of him by the server.

At just past 8:00 pm, Doreen arrives at the restaurant, and Jamie, on seeing her, feels his heart flail just the tiniest fraction. He rises and they hug and then they’re seated again and Jamie feels a brief thump of panic in the moment before conversation begins, like what, again, if he has nothing to say except for his small piece of truth? But instead, the conversation flows smoothly.

“And so your week, how was it?”

“Good, you know, long. But thankfully, the boys are with their father tonight so I get a little bit of a breather.”

After the second margarita and during the guacamole stage, Jamie feels comfortable enough to tell Doreen that he likes the way she smells, her perfume, the lavender again.

“You smell good, you know that?”

“Do I know I smell good?”

“Yeah, I mean your perfume or whatever it is. You wore it last time, too. I remember it.”

“Well, thank you. You smell good, too I bet, but I can’t really smell you over all the food.”

“That’s not the food, that’s me. I dab myself with avocado every day.”

“You know I thought that, but then I didn’t want to be rude if it wasn’t the case.”

When the food arrives, steak fajitas for Jamie and spinach enchiladas for Doreen, they are laughing, grinning and Jamie has even reached across the table to touch her hand and she has let him, she held his gaze and then laughed and said something about how he was wooing her and it was all too much, too much.

For his third drink, Jamie orders a beer and Doreen gets a glass of sangria, and they concentrate on eating for a bit. Then, shaking her head, Doreen looks at him and says, “It’s a little strange dating at our age, isn’t it?”

Jamie pauses, swallows the bite of refried beans and rice and starts nodding, “Yeah, I see that, I think.”

“It’s like we’re playing or we’re getting to play at being young again.”

“Yeah. It is a certain feeling like that. Like adolescence maybe.” Jamie reaches for a chip and submerges it in the salsa before bringing it to his mouth.

“It’s just, I mean I did love my ex, but I also feel like so much of my life got all swallowed up in that and when it was bad it was bad and then kids and all. If it didn’t sound so cheesy, I’d want to say, where did my life go, ya know?” Doreen closes her eyes for a moment then reaches to take a long swallow of her sangria. “God, I’m sorry. It’s the drinking.”

Jamie shakes his head. “No, you’re fine. I mean, I know the feeling.”

“You never married, right? Why is that, can I ask?”

“I just, I don’t think I was ever ready for it. I wasn’t mature enough, I––.” Jamie reaches for his beer, swallows some. “I, I got to tell you––.”

“You ever sad you didn’t have kids? You don’t have kids, right?”

“No, and no, I don’t know, again it’s that––.”

“Maturity? God. If only more people thought they needed to be more mature to have kids. Maybe if I’d been more mature I wouldn’t be dealing with what I’m dealing with.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Aww, don’t be sorry. I’m not sorry, that’s just life, right?”

Jamie nods and again reaches forward to touch Doreen’s hand, to feel her fingers between his own and she looks back at him, her lips closed but her eyes, bright and wet and focused on him alone. And later, Jamie will know that this is the moment she decides to sleep with him that night, or so he thinks about it later, when they are leaving the restaurant and she says, hey wait, maybe I can come over and meet your puppy, see that ridge and he says, okay that would be okay. Okay, she says and no, he meant that would be great, he says and what he doesn’t say, he doesn’t say, but not for lack of trying at least a little, and before he knows it she’s following him back to his place and his heart is a big fat knot.

 

At his apartment, she comments on the neatness and the lack of decoration and he explains that he has recently moved, and she laughs and says, okay, as long as he’s not secretly a serial killer, and he lets himself laugh at this one with her.

In his bedroom, after meeting Albert and giving her a beer and briefly stepping outside to let Albert do his business, they sit on his bed and he wonders, briefly, if maybe she is too drunk and this is a mistake, so he asks her.

“Are you sure about this?”

And Doreen laughs, that ruby sound, and she kisses him, and it is an incredible feeling to be kissed by someone who wants to kiss you and to feel those lips pushed up against your own, and all that that means right there, felt in that pressure, in that softness and in that heat.

Jamie undresses her, slowly, carefully, sees the white flesh of her belly and the stretch marks on her arms and sides, and it is all so different from when he was young, but still beautiful, more beautiful, maybe, because of what it means, now in his age, and place in life. They make love, twice, slowly, carefully, using protection, and then Doreen yawns and presses her face into the soft pillow and closes her eyes and asks him to hold her, please, just hold her until she falls asleep.

An hour later, Doreen is asleep in his bed, her naked body covered by his red comforter, but Jamie is still awake, and so, gently, he pulls his arm from around Doreen, doing his best not to disturb her, and pulls on a pair of boxer shorts and walks to his kitchen to get a glass of water. Albert, who has been asleep by Jamie’s side of the bed on the carpeted floor, gets up to follow Jamie to the kitchen. Jamie drinks his water and looks out the window to the right of his refrigerator. The streetlight obscures any stars and the view is not unlike the view from his window in the prison, the last room he lived in before his release, a private cell, luckily, and one with a view of the exterior, a tree, some barb wire and a lamp pole with a light that burned all night long.

When he finishes the glass of water, Jamie walks to the bathroom, but before he does, he looks into his bedroom to see Doreen there, vulnerable and pale in his bed with the moonlight gently embalming her visible skin, the arm tucked around her head and the toes, painted a deep purple and poking out from beneath the bottom of the comforter.

Jamie continues to the bathroom and quietly closing the door behind him, sits down on the toilet to pee, something he does sometimes now, in his late fifties, something he did not do in his youth. The urine quietly hits the inside of the bowl and Jamie rests his head in his hands and closes his eyes and tries not to think about it, but does anyway because it is the thing that is always there.

He had not planned to kill his father. It was not premeditated, which ultimately helped with getting parole, but the act was done, with a shotgun, a burst of hatred and anger and violence that eclipsed all reason and led to two shots through his father’s chest in the living room on a Sunday afternoon in late February. His mother was not home, but his younger brother was outside practicing his lay-up on the hoop outside their suburban home. Later, his younger brother said he heard the shots, later his younger brother said he had always known Jamie was broken, was evil, was not a good person at his core.

He and his father had never gotten along, not even when he was a child, but there was no clear external abuse, there was only the below-the-surface tension, the spite and distaste his father had for him from birth, the jealousy or envy or whatever it was that everyone in the family silently acknowledged but never spoke about, and then there was Jamie’s own immaturity that wasn’t a lie to Doreen when he said it, that was the truth. He was not mature, maybe not even now.

So he had been hunting with friends that day, had come home with the shotgun, had seen his little brother out front with the basketball and gone upstairs to clean the gun and put it away, and his father had been there, said something, nothing important but something cruel as usual, and Jamie didn’t think, didn’t even know he did it till it was done, but the bullets sprayed the chest, the face screamed and turned white, and the mouth hung open as the man fell to his knees then to the ground and then the blood, so red and perfect, came out in beautiful rivers on the white, Berber carpet. And the thing they don’t say is that shame and fear and regret are instantaneous, are there even before the fugue state lifts and the sound of the gunshot hits your ears and Doreen, Doreen, this is what it was like, but tell me can you love me now, ever, tomorrow?

Jamie shakes the drops of urine from himself and stands up, flushing the toilet as quietly as he can. Outside the bathroom door, Albert whines quietly and so Jamie washes his hands, opens the door and then squats down to pet the animal and to feel the ridge along his beautiful, tawny red back. Then Jamie stands up again, straightening himself and enters his bedroom, where as gently as possible, he gets back into the bed, pulls the comforter over his body, and reaches out an arm to cradle the sleeping, innocent body beside him.

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