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Domestic Violets(4)
Matthew Norman

“What is it?” asks Anna.

“Well, first off, I’m sad to report that Ashley has asked me to move out. Well, to be more clear, she did more than ask. She was pretty adamant about it. You know how she can be.”

“Oh, Curtis. That’s terrible.”

“What happened this time, Dad?”

Anna’s glare is sharp and sudden. Perhaps “this time” wasn’t completely necessary, but it’s late and I’ve had a shitty night.

He returns to the morose study of our kitchen, touching a shriveling orange that’s sitting on our countertop. “A lot of things, I guess.”

Anna pours herself a glass of wine, too, and I sip my own, and now we’re both drinking, waiting to see what my father has done now.

“It’s a little embarrassing. But I’ve become involved with someone else,” he says. “Another woman. I didn’t intend for it to happen. It just did. It was an accident. It’s something I simply couldn’t control.”

“Of course,” I say.

Anna touches his shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. The fact that she can be acting both surprised and concerned by this inevitability is worthy of an award from the Screen Actors Guild.

He frowns, showing a row of deep-set lines above his eyebrows. He’s about to say something, but suddenly he’s gotten distracted. “Anna, dear, my God. What have you done? You look absolutely wonderful.”

My wife blushes and tugs at the bottom of her old T-shirt. “Oh, shut up,” she says.

“No, I will not shut up. I’ve never seen you like this. You didn’t have surgery, did you? You’re too young for surgery.”

“I wish. That’d be a lot easier. The gym, five days a week. It was a New Year’s resolution.” She pats my stomach. “Actually, it was our New Year’s resolution.”

“Well,” he says, “it seems one of you is more committed than the other. I urge you to keep it up. You’re doing mankind a great service. Look at your calf muscles. I didn’t even know that calves could look like—”

“What’s your other news, Dad?” I ask.


“You said you had a lot of news. So far you’ve just told us one thing.”

“Thank you, Tommy, you’re right. I have some gifts for the two of you.” He sets his wine down and digs around in his overnight bag for a while, finally removing a bright yellow T-shirt. Across the chest it reads, “WWCVD.” Beneath that, “What Would Curtis Violet Do?”

“What does it mean?” Anna asks.

“I’m not entirely sure. One of my Advanced Fiction students came up with it. I guess he made dozens of them, and he’s been selling them around campus. Apparently it’s a satire on some religious saying, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ I guess when Republicans or God people are confronted with a challenge or some sort of existential dilemma, they’re supposed to think about what Jesus would do and then use that as a guide. I thought you might like one.”

“Of course,” I say. “I don’t see how comparing yourself to Jesus could cause any problems.”

“But that’s not all.” He’s on too much of a roll now to be baited by sarcasm. Next he takes out a thick, hardcover book. There’s a black-and-white picture of a much younger version of my dad on the cover. He’s sitting at his old typewriter, a sweater around his shoulders, looking all square-jawed and WASPy. I’ve seen it many times—it’s The Stories of Curtis Violet.

“Dad, we’ve got like five copies of that.”

“But look, I’ve signed it for you.”

On the title page, I see that he’s written: To my son and his beautiful wife—Curtis. Next to his name, he’s drawn his trademark violet, twisting and looping through his messy script.

“Thanks. But you signed the other ones, too.”

“Oh, I know, Tommy. But I thought you might like another one. I imagine they’re going to be pretty valuable someday. Maybe you can sell it and buy some furniture.”

He’s smiling at us in his academic way, and beneath the bloodshot eyes and the patchy growth of hobo beard, I see a familiar arrogance, one I haven’t seen in a while. “OK, Dad, I’ll bite. Why’s that?”

“I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen online, signed first editions of Pulitzer Prize winners can bring in a lot of money.”

Anna gasps into her hands and a chilly path of goose bumps runs up my arms like electricity. “You’re kidding me,” I say.

“Sonya called this morning. A lovely surprise, at long last.”

Anna hugs/tackles him laughing and they nearly fall over the kitchen table together. “I thought Nicholas Zuckerman was gonna get it again this year,” I say. “That’s what everyone was saying.”

With my wife in his arms, Curtis Violet rolls his eyes like he’s smarter than all of us combined. “Don’t be an ass, Tommy. That boring old Jew couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag.”

It’s easy for me sometimes to forget who my father is, especially when he shows up drunk and reeking of pot. But the world has a way of continuing to remind me.

“We need another drink,” my wife says. She’s smiling and a little flushed. It reminds me of the first time she met him, back when we’d just started seeing each other. I was so ridiculously in love with her then after six dates that I pretended not to notice how flustered she got when he kissed her hand.

“I agree,” says Curtis. “I don’t think this one bottle is going to do it, though. What else do we have in here, Tommy? You don’t have any dingo champagne do you? Koala, maybe?”

Chapter 3

It’s nearly 1 a.m. by the time I manage to get my dad settled in our office/extra bedroom. We hug, but we’re both a little drunk, and so we almost fall down. “I’ve missed you guys, Tommy,” he says. Alcohol has always brought out the many different sides of Curtis Violet, and tonight he’s sentimental.

“Where the hell have you been, anyway?” I ask.

“Here and there,” he says. “New York mostly. But I’m here now. I’ll just stay for a night or so, if that’s OK? Maybe I can spend some time with Allie tomorrow. That might be fun. What kind of things does she like to do?”

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