Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
3147 words
SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018


by Robert Kerbeck

You’re sitting outside. In your car. Your rent-a-car. A Chevy Cavalier that stinks of cigarette smoke and body odor, the latter yours. You shouldn’t be sitting outside. You shouldn’t be there at all. Everything in your demented little head tells you that.

But you’re there. You’ve come. To see her.

What are you gonna do with your kid?

He’s in the backseat playing Zombie Hunter, though not in the booster seat you were supposed to get. Can you leave a five-year-old in the car? It’s March, but it’s also Florida. Maybe you can keep the car on with the A/C running, but then you remember that other time. You got yelled at for that, though it was no more than a couple of minutes, five max.

“I’m hungry,” your kid says.

“Yeah,” you answer, thinking about her hair. You always think of her hair. Except when you think of her breasts, which is most of the time.

Your son stops killing whatever zombified character he’s been forced to kill—the ex-wife, the boss, the drinking buddy—to glance up. “Why are we here?”

You stare at the shiny office building squatting in what used to be a swamp and read the sign again. A. Larson, DC.

“I’m hurt,” you say. “I need to see someone.” Though you’ve never seen a chiropractor before. You’re not much for doctors in general. They’re always telling you what you’re doing wrong when you already damn well know.

“A doctor?”

“Yeah.” Kind of.

He catches you eyeing him in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

Your kid isn’t like you. He cares about somebody besides himself.

“My neck is killing me,” you say on the off chance your wife is eavesdropping from over a thousand miles away. “Must’ve been the plane ride. I can hardly turn my head.” You reach up to rub a nonexistent pain and groan. Your wife wouldn’t have been fooled, but your son looks at you with sympathy, his blue eyes meeting yours in the mirror for a split second before you turn away.

You’ve got your excuse. You can go in. But what about him? What’s Angie gonna think when you show up, first time in, what, twenty years? No. Twenty-two. What’s she gonna say seeing you and your kid? You’re pretty sure she doesn’t have kids. You’re pretty sure she never married. You’ve done your homework.

You were surprised at how hard it was. You found other old girlfriends easily enough, even if they changed their names or moved away from New Jersey. You read their posts. Studied their pictures. Viewed their backyards.

But Angie was invisible.

You’d almost given up until you tracked her sister, whose name you didn’t even recall at first. BlockShopper showed the sister had bought a house in Boca Raton. And then, jackpot, you found Angie, listed only by her first initial and last name. She’d bought a house, too, on the same block as the sister. Searching her name this way led you to the website for her business, Revive Family Chiropractic, where you found a picture of her and her partner standing feet from where you sit.

How strange that your old girlfriend had moved to the town where your parents once owned a vacation condo. A condo Angie visited. You’d taken her dirt biking in the sand dunes that no longer existed, replaced by Dior and Prada and Chanel. She loved Boca then the way you hate it now. She particularly loved the Florida weather, not surprising coming from New Jersey. And now she lived here.

Because of those memories.

That was when you knew. When your plan to change your life was no longer a fantasy. You were going to visit her. Even though your folks were dead and the Boca place had long been sold. You just needed an excuse. You friended your parents’ old Florida neighbors, then private messaged them. Happily married. Five-year-old son. Sales career coming back after difficulties. Most never responded. One did.

You scarcely remembered Judy, now in her late seventies. Perhaps you played tennis with her once when you were a teen. She still played, five times a week, though her husband, Dick, no longer did. Bad knees. They were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

And there you had it. The excuse.

Your wife was skeptical since she’d never heard of these people. She didn’t seem to mind, however, probably tired of you hanging around the house playing Zombie Hunter while pretending to be job searching on LinkedIn. She said it was okay as long as you took your son. Oh, and that you didn’t spend a dime. She did give you permission to access her trove of frequent flyer points, accumulated from her role as a compliance officer for the Department of Corrections. Booking free flights, a rental car, and a motel room using points was almost as impossible as finding a sales job where you didn’t have to kill yourself to meet your quota, but you’d done it.

And now what?

“Come on,” you say and point at your son’s device. “And bring that thing.” The waiting room, you think. He’ll wait there while you go in to see her. Then together you can decide whether to introduce her. Angie was always smart. That’s how she got out. She’ll know how to handle it so your son doesn’t blab the second you get home about the attractive woman you had dinner with.

If you go home.

There isn’t much of a waiting room, however. The office is one large room with a reception desk, four chairs, and various pieces of gym equipment. Since it’s early on a Saturday morning, you and your son seem to be the only ones there. The bikes sit empty. The treadmills are still. There are two closed doors behind which, you assume, patients get manipulated, massaged, repaired.

Your first love on the other side of one of those doors.

“May I help you?” a serious-faced, thirty-something Latino woman at the counter asks. It is the same woman in the photo on the website, a copy of which you keep hidden in a secret compartment in your wallet. She is professionally dressed, wearing a collared blouse and dress pants, like she’s running the HR department at one of the corporations that won’t hire you.

“My, uh, neck is killing me. I thought maybe—”

“Do you have an appointment?”

You shake your head, then remember it’s supposed to hurt to move it.

“Do you have insurance?”

You nod, gingerly this time, then realize no paper trail, and turn it into a vigorous shake, forgetting again. “I’ll pay cash.” Though you have hardly any. The little cash you do have has been squirreled away to wine and dine Angie, not pay for medical treatment. Maybe after a nice meal tonight, Angie will let you take her for pizza tomorrow.

The woman hands you a stack of papers. “Fill these out, please.”

You plunge into a chair, your extra-large, loose-fit shirt soaked with sweat, and peer down at your son. His face is damp, too, from fighting zombies. You try to convince yourself it’s just the Florida humidity that’s caused you to spring a leak. You fly through the paperwork but stop cold when you come to a question regarding marital status. Eventually you check married—you are wearing a wedding ring after all—but when you come to a line asking for your spouse’s name, you leave it blank.

You list no emergency contact.

“Here you go,” you say, handing back the pages. One of the doors cracks open and you hear a voice—her voice. You strain to make out what she’s saying.

“You can have a seat,” the office manager says. She can tell you’re eavesdropping and seems unduly perturbed by it, but there’s no way you’re sitting down. You want Angie to see you standing erect, not slumped over in a chair. You suck in your gut and pretend a rope is pulling you up by your neck. You grow an inch.

She comes out with her patient, an elderly woman. Angie is as you remember her, but also not. She is no longer young, of course, but you didn’t expect the glasses or the touch of gray. You find yourself smiling, however, happy in a way you don’t recall being for some unfathomable amount of time. Angie is talking to her patient, using that voice you spent hours on the phone with back when people spoke on the phone.

She glances at you, then goes back to her patient, then turns to you again. She sees you this time, and says simply, “You.”

You chuckle. You almost holler, “Surprise!”

“What are you—”

“My neck. I heard you...” The rest you mumble, despite having rehearsed with the bathroom door closed at the motel. You were supposed to say she looked great, that she hadn’t aged a bit.

“Oh, okay, all right.”

You can tell she’s completely wigged out. She heads behind the counter to touch the shoulder of the Latino woman, whispering in her ear.

“Hi Mom,” your kid says from his chair.

You whip around, half expecting to see your wife, her head cocked in eternal disappointment. Instead, her disembodied voice comes from the iPad. “Where’s your father? He was supposed to call me when you landed.”

“He’s going with the doctor.”

“What? What doctor?”

Angie has wandered away from the reception area to lead you toward one of the rooms. You follow her the way you did the night she took your virginity. You hop up onto the treatment table. She sits in the only chair. You can’t help but notice she doesn’t close the door as she did for her previous patient. You worry that your son—or your wife—might be able to hear. Behind her desk, the office manager is examining you.

“Well,” Angie says. “Uh.”

“Trippy I know.”


You can tell she doesn’t know what to say, that she’s about to get down to business out of nervousness and check out your nonexistent neck issue.

“That’s my son out there.”

“Oh my gosh, I didn’t notice. I’m so—”

“It’s okay.”

She stands to observe him, his head down, blond hair covering his face. “He’s just like you.”

You think she’s being polite since she can’t see a thing through his mop of hair, but then she says, “He sits like you.”

Your boy is bent over, elbows on thighs, legs splayed wide. Exactly how you are sitting. Caveman style, your wife calls it. You want to tell Angie he should be our child, that we should’ve had a son or a daughter—or both. But it’s too soon to say things like that, and probably too late. You’re both forty, though Angie’s a bit younger. It’s possible she might be thirty-nine. For some reason, this makes you hopeful.

“I know this is weird,” you say and prepare to tell her why you’ve come. You’re in love with her. You’ve always been in love with her.

“How did you find me?”

“Facebook,” you say, afraid the truth will scare her off.

“Oh.” She rolls her eyes and somehow her hair bounces.

“I, uh, have an aunt and uncle here. They’re having a party for their fiftieth anniversary. I figured since I was in the neighborhood—”

“Do your parents still have their condo here?”

“No, they’re both gone. They sold the place years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I really liked your dad.”

“He loved you. Of all my girlfriends, you were his favorite. He thought I was an idiot for breaking up with you. So do I, for that matter.”

You laugh like you’re joking. At the time it seemed like a no-brainer. Angie was going away to college, while you were about to kill it selling cars at a local dealership. Why bother with a long-distance relationship when girls would be throwing themselves at your feet?

You notice the office manager glaring at you, and now standing as well. Cries for help come from your son’s iPad.

“I saw your sister lives nearby. That must be nice.”

“Facebook again?” Angie asks, and moves to stand behind you.

You nod but only a little since she is studying your neck.

Her fingers touch you ever so lightly, cascading down your vertebrae. “I babysit for her a lot. She’s got four kids.”

“That’ll keep you young.”

“Or not.” She laughs for the first time. It breaks your heart you’ve wasted so much of your life not hearing that sound.

“Have you had an X-ray on this neck?”

“Listen,” you say firmly, and she stops touching you. You turn to gaze back at her, dispensing with your ruse. In tune, Angie goes and closes the door, despite the look on the office manager’s face. She recognizes your need for privacy to say what you’re about to say.

“I’m sorry to barge in.”

“I’m glad you did. You seem to be doing well—other than your neck.”

“That’s the thing. My neck isn’t really that bad. I mean, it bothers me when I’m stressed or nervous. Like now, for example.” You give her the kind of smile that would land you a job if you could ever muster one in an interview.

“Well, you’re out of alignment.” She traces two fingers along the left side of your neck, and stops to press slightly. “You’re out right here, C4, for starters. C5, too.”

“I feel that,” you say. And you do.

“Let’s get you on your back.”

You follow her instructions and soon she is rocking your head from side to side as you lie on the table. Her hands slip under the back of your head—the last place you still have hair—to knead the knots she finds there. It feels magical to be touched like this, to be touched at all—and by her. She lifts the base of your neck and your head tilts back. You open your eyes and see her, upside down like the world feels to you, so focused on fixing you she doesn’t notice you staring. It makes you dizzy, but in a good way, for a change. She lowers your neck and disappears from view. You feel her hand on the right side of your head and then pressure, wonderful pressure, pushing your head hard to the left.

Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.

You giggle like the kid you were when you met.

“Somebody needed that,” she says and places her hand on the left side of your head.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

You smile, laugh, practically float off the table. You’ve never felt so much blood rushing into your face. You touch it like it’s new, or someone else’s.

Angie is by your side, her hand on your hip. She lifts your right leg and yanks.


She moves to the other side and repeats the sequence.


“Roll onto your stomach,” she says in a bedroom whisper. You hear music you hadn’t noticed before. The sound of steady rain. A harp.

She touches you again, her fingers going up and down, rubbing and pressing. Then her hand goes to one side of your head. You can’t wait for what’s coming.

Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.

“That was loud,” you hear her mumble and you think about that day. You pulled up in your ’69 Mustang convertible. Your best friend was dating Angie, who lived one town over, and he wanted you to meet her. Drawn by the sound of your muscle car, she came out onto her balcony. She smiled, her cheeks rosy red like the ’Stang. You revved the engine until you shook the earth. She screamed at you to stop, both of you laughing all the while. In all your life, you couldn’t imagine seeing a prettier girl.

Before your first date, you scrubbed the Mustang’s whitewalls with a toothbrush and spent hours making cassette tapes: Led Zeppelin to get the night started and then later—if things went right and you pulled over to make out, which you did—Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

You recall the trip with her to Florida, top down the whole way, Angie shivering by your side, even with the heater blasting, but never complaining. The Boss 302 engine got you there in under eighteen hours. You planned on beating the time on the way back; a tanned Angie wanted to check out other Southern cities along the way: Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston. You agreed to stop but only to buy M-80s and cherry bombs at South of the Border.

What was your rush? Why the hurry to get back to the jobs you thought would always be there, to the wife who’d make you sell the car she called “a money pit,” to the sweet child you’d one day turn hard.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

“You all right?” Angie asks, her mouth at your ear like the night you fell in love under the stars, under a tree, under her.

You nod as best you can. “Not really.”

“You were seriously out of alignment,” she says and rubs the small of your back like you’re a sick child. “I’ll introduce you to my wife, Magda, when you’re ready.”

She pulls the door almost closed, leaving you in the rain that hasn’t let up, though the harp is gone. If you were capable of crying, it would sound like this rain. Through the ajar door you hear her talking to your son. You fix your hair and take your time getting up.

Outside in the waiting room, the women stare as you lurch towards them. The adjustment has made you taller, but also stiff. Your son hands you the iPad. “Mom’s FaceTiming you again.”

“Hi, honey,” you say. “We made it okay. I, uh, tweaked my neck on the flight.”

“I looked up your chiropractor. Isn’t that the girl you went to your prom with? What the hell’s going on?”

“Angie’s married.” You laugh like it’s just a funny misunderstanding.

“So are you,” she says.

“To a woman!” You direct the iPad’s camera to catch Angie and her wife behind the counter. You smile wide at them as if they should do the same back to your wife.

“Did you know that when you went—”

“You’re breaking up,” you say, though you are the one that is breaking. You click a side button. “Sorry about that,” you say to Angie. “My wife is kind of the jealous type.”

“I’m still here,” her voice shouts from the blackened iPad.

“Dad, you gotta hold the button down to turn it off.”

You push it with all your might, your finger turning as red as your face, or the oil light on your old Mustang, then slide the power icon to off.


SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Robert Kerbeck

is honored to have a second story in Serving House Journal. The first one, Re: Connected, was adapted into a film, which has been accepted at film festivals across the country. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Normal School, Gargoyle, Cream City Review, upstreet, and The MacGuffin. His latest two stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Author’s website:

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury