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Quantifiable Consequence
by Adam Padgett

art by Leslie June
art by Leslie June
I am twenty-six years old and sitting on my dad's couch, smoking weed, and he tells me about what a ruthless cunt my mother is for leaving him. The whole scenario feels entirely strange and entirely fucked. A feeling like moving to a new town doing things you wouldn't normally do: shaving your head, getting a tattoo, deciding to drink more. My dad holds the glass bowl to his lips and releases the carb with his thumb as he inhales. He hands the bowl back to me, and lets thick swirls of gray slowly drift from between his lips.

I bring the bowl to my mouth and toke on it. My father tells me more of my mother. Tells me that he met her in a strip club when he was twenty-two, she twenty. She danced to pay for the college degree she never finished and he talks to me about how he took care of her so she didn't have to dance. Took care of all of us. He talks to me about intimacy and sex in a healthy relationship and I ask him to stop and that I don't really need to know any more.

"We didn't hug you or your brother."

"What?"

"We, your mother and I. When you were little. Your mother gave those cold hugs with elbows out like this," he shows me, hugging air with his elbows out. "She wasn't warm, you know? That probably goes for the both of us. We didn't hug you like we should have."

"Hum," I say for, probably, the seventy-fourth time. Not having much to say. Not wanting to have much to say. Things did cross my mind though. Things that, for twenty-six years, I've had to say. But as the opportunity presents itself, I still haven't the balls to look this man in the eye and say my peace. Instead we sit on his couch and smoke-up and talk about hugs.

***

I am twelve and our family is in trouble. My father has punched my brother in the mouth and blood drips from his chin. My mother cries and holds his face with two hands and I can tell that he is holding back a cry of his own. My brother is a teenager—I, just on the cusp. My father's face has turned beat red and his anger widens in his eyes.

My father has never hit us, besides with a belt to our hind ends. I feel a terror in my chest that I have not felt before. My brother and I always feared our father, but this is new. This has substance. A quantifiable consequence that we have only been aware of as a theoretical threat. The family has now become something new and different. From then on, we would look at the other through a filter. A filter of a moment. A filter of a memory.

***

I am twenty-six and sitting on my mother's deck. The two of us have gone through two bottles of wine and have switched to mixing vodka with whatever kind of fruit juice is in the fridge. Several months have passed since she left my father. She moved into her own apartment, making ends meet with a bartending job in the city. She is very fit for her age, though she smokes as heavily as she drinks. Her straightened hair, tied up, stands out from behind her head like a Chinese fan. We talk about things we have never talked about before. We talk about girlfriends I'd not told her about. We talk about the asshole my father became over the years. She speaks of details I already knew, some I didn't. Secrets finally revealed. Like a magician explaining the trick and the answer to the question you had racked your brain about all that time didn't seem so surprising after all.

***

I am twenty-one and outfitted with a dense white make-up and oddly colored hair. The night before, I ran my car into a ditch. I've been drinking more than I should lately. The costume hides the cuts on the side of my head and I hope the children and the parents are none the wiser. My last name is Rodriguez, and I think the make-up and silly voice I use cover that up too. I juggle four beanbags and the children are impressed. They clap and laugh when I pretend to nearly lose all the bags, comically scrunching my painted face and red nose together. I do finally lose all the bags, letting one hit my head, and the kids roll in the grass with high-pitched giggles.

For my next trick, I fan out a deck of cards and a red-headed boy, with an impossible number of freckles about his face and forehead, removes a card, looks at its value, and then returns it to the fan, which I close into a solid stack. I break the deck in the middle and ask the kid to take the one on top. He does and I ask him, "is that your card?" A grin spreads across his face and his eyes twinkle at the magic of the trick. The children clap. They are impressed with me.

I move to drop the deck in my back pocket and, when I do, the cards arc a half circle around my body as the cards accidentally slip from my gloved fingers. The cards then fall to the ground, most of which turn over to reveal the secret of my trick. All the cards, the same card. All eight of diamonds. The children's smiles fade and look at the mess before them and I watch as the magic falls from their eyes.



All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.





Adam Padgett's fiction has recently appeared in Appalachian Heritage and Dew on the Kudzu.

Leslie June is an underwater photographer, writer, blogger, Photoshop instructor, graphic designer and fitness coach. She loves to swim with her camera.
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