By Katie Cortese
Some girls want to marry men like their daddies, but if you had my daddy I bet you’d be like me. There’s a word for what he was, but the end result was I wanted no part of any man who stocked a bar in the garage next to his power tools. This is why, I guess, I took up with Rex, someone so far from my father he didn’t even qualify as the same species.
I met him at the bar in the bowling alley. The ceilings didn’t seem particularly low to me, but at five feet I rarely have to duck for anything. Rex, though, he had to hunch those powerful shoulders just to get in the joint, and even so, his brown fedora grazed the ceiling, sending down fine flurries of white, granulated plaster. I was coming off a nightmare relationship with another hygienist at Dr. Dugan’s office who kept sabotaging my workspace after I’d pulled the plug; I’d come in to find my waterpicks and scrapers marinating in a tray of honey, or a new box of floss teased into a hopeless knot. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but still. Rex was different right from the start. Soon as he spotted me, he drained the dregs of his pint and tromped out from his corner, loping powerfully across the stained, paisley rug. I let him buy me a Cosmo and take me home to his lair, and within the month, he’d moved into my second-floor duplex on Trowbridge.
I didn’t see the similarities at first. The way he’d roar at odd times throughout the day whether I’d done something to deserve it or not. He was on a raw diet but refused to cook so I ended up buying piles of red, bloody steaks at the Stop & Shop, slapping them on a paper plate, and watching while he ate them, steak and plate together. I started to remember things that I’d had to work hard to forget—the way my dad had tossed dishes like Frisbees, for starters. The way any little thing could set him off, the Pats missing a field goal, an empty box of crackers set back in the cupboard, a Barbie left in the hall where he could step on her stiff plastic body. Rex began to remind me, more and more, of the man I’d sworn to forget, until the day finally came when I had to exorcise both of them once and for all.
I waited for him to come home from the museum where he posed all day for minimum wage, screwing up my courage so I could shout into his Kelly-green eye when it came even with the bedroom window. “We’re through,” I said when I thought he was close enough for his tiny earholes to register my voice.
He closed that eye and moved past the window, taking the stairs four at a time. The door opened and he ducked through roaring, incoherent, the way I have to admit he’d always been, though before I’d always pretended to hear sense in it.
I’d packed his stuff earlier in a Hefty bag: Jergen’s lotion for his leathery, sensitive skin—he really suffered from the central heating—a Louisville slugger he’d sharpened for a toothpick and a pair of rubber-tipped aluminum grabbers I’d gotten him for Christmas to compensate for his spindly little arms. His fedora sat next to the bags. It was big enough for me to curl up inside of.
The floorboards shuddered beneath us as he shuffled forward, poking one bag with a long, deadly claw. His open mouth gaped and from between his stalactite teeth the odor of raw meat wafted—raccoons he’d munched on the way home from work, hopefully, and not our neighbor’s spiteful calico. It occurred to me then that the grabbers weren’t good for fine work. Who else but me would be willing to crawl in and brush those back molars for him?
I shook my head against the blockage in my throat. He was standing over his things as if they didn’t belong to him. His tiny arms waved uselessly. His great green eyes welled up. “Oh no you don’t,” I said. “You don’t get to cry.” But it was hopeless. I was already moving toward him, taking his reedy forelimbs in my hands, sitting him in the deep depression he’d made in my sofa and trying to stem with my bathrobe the great salty river that had begun to issue from one of his sensitive eyes, the exact shape of a regulation-sized football. He snorted and my hair lifted straight up off my shoulders—a game we used to play that had made me laugh.
Some women date a T. Rex once or twice, let him buy her drinks and tickets to the movies and make him terrorize her old boyfriends for fun, then lock their doors one day out of the blue and go around bragging that they tamed the ultimate bad boy. And then there’s the woman who wraps her arms around him and tries to warm his cold-blooded body with the heat that pulses through hers. For the moment, I didn’t think about anything. I only pressed my cheek against his mottled skin, and let him roar against my shoulder, a sound I’d always taken to mean he was sorry, so sorry, for making yet another terrible mistake he’d never make again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Cortese is the author of the forthcoming Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015), and holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. Her work has recently appeared in Gulf Coast, Blackbird, The Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.