June 12, 2024 Short Story

Frank and Mattie

Frank and Mattie Artwork by DALL·E
Just below the fine white linen tablecloth, on his lap where only she could see it, he held the sterling silver table knife to his wrist, pained expression on his face and they both laughed, it was funny, he was so funny, but she knew it was time to make an exit. He was bored or it had been too many of her people to be around for too long, the dinner running into a late hour. At least he’d agreed to come. She saw how hard it was for him, the effort he would make. She’d become grateful for the little things that he’d give her like tonight and attending the wedding, the dinner after with her. So, she’d made an excuse, she’d had to invent so many, and another escape had been accomplished after the usual hurried goodbyes to her family. She saw her mother look at her like she didn’t know who her daughter was anymore. She saw it this time, in her mother’s face. But leaving early, suddenly, didn’t even bother her anymore. He took her home, stayed to watch television for a while and she no longer expected him to stay for anything else as that had ended a while ago. He’d ended it. She’d accepted it and as time went by, she wondered why she’d done that, why she still did it. Accepting it made it seem alright. No one knew that he no longer touched her and that bothered her too, the way things were just assumed, things that no longer occurred.

When it had happened, after they’d been dating for almost a year, she’d been stunned because men didn’t do that to women. Women did it to men, she’d heard of that, but men didn’t do that to women, they just didn’t, they needed it and what was wrong with her? It had torn her up as she’d loved him so, but she couldn’t tell him to get lost, had thought it’s just something he’s going through, he will come back to her, so she’d waited and more time went by. But he hadn’t come back to her and now they felt kind of like a habit and she wasn’t sure she still loved him, wasn’t sure he’d ever loved her and well, was it ok to just be friends, her a hopeful one that one day he’d come back to her?

She’d met Frank at a singles dance, sparks immediately, and was turned on by him and was it the badge, maybe just a little? She’d never dated a cop. He’d let her hold his gun. And they’d played the beer game, both of them walking and then lazing around naked in his apartment, drinking beer, having sex, both in hysterics, imagining someone they knew seeing them like that. It had just been something fun to do one slow afternoon. He’d invited her to church, one that he sometimes attended, handing out turkeys around Thanksgiving. On the way over she’d seen a dead cat in the road, its white fur matted with red blood. Someone had at least pushed it to the side and she’d felt sorry for it, remembering all her kitties she’d had growing up, especially Soot, the tuxedo cat that had bought it in the road just like the white one she’d passed. After church he’d asked her if she’d felt anything. She’d told him she’d felt more for that dead cat in the road she’d seen coming over than anything the preacher said in the church service and had that pissed him off? She didn’t know. It was a Baptist service and she was Episcopal and he’d told her being Episcopalian was like having no religion at all. But he’d laughed, sort of scolded her, then taken her home and they’d made love and she’d come several times underneath him and beside him.

He'd taken her to meet his mother and that had gone well, she thought and secretly believed, that was a step forward, but soon his mother started losing her memory, started acting crazy, hallucinations, phantom people in her home and so she thought maybe he’d just wanted her to see his mom before she fully lost it. Maybe he’d known what was happening with her, so maybe the meeting hadn’t meant anything after all. That was in the good days, the ones before he’d changed their relationship. There were things, she’d reasoned, that had happened that had nothing at all to do with her. His sudden retirement after a long career on the police force had come out of nowhere. Just months after they’d met, out of the blue, he’d told her he was retiring. He was older than her, but not retirement age, not yet, so she kind of wondered. Then he’d had to find another place to live, two big things to go through, two big changes, but he was a grown man. And retirements, people thought about them for years before actually doing it, yet he’d seemed so unprepared. He’d told her he wanted to take up fly fishing and she was glad about that. She’d bought him a book about it, had found places nearby, within fifty miles, suggested a weekend trip, but he’d never once even tried it and she’d thought that so odd. Then it was gardening and another book, but that had gone nowhere also and no more damn books, she told herself. Still, she thought she loved him because it hurt so much to imagine life without him. It just fucking hurt is all.

He seemed in a funk. She would tease him about it because he had it made really, financially and all, and her question, said with jest because he was a cop, gonna eat your gun? became a running joke between them. But she began to wonder if she ever really knew him, maybe this was the real person, this man that was cold to her, yet wanted her around still. For what? For what? She knew she should just end things if only she could. Maybe she would be able to one day, but not now because right now the thought of never seeing him again made her feel physically ill and like she couldn’t breathe. She told herself she could live without that, she didn’t need it, but as she saw the distance between them grow, she felt cheated like something had been taken from her and she knew she’d lied. She still craved him. She stayed in it because there must be some reason that she would uncover, a way to fix things, fix him and how she would fight to pull him out of it sometimes. It only worked for a while, then he would sink again. Then she would wonder what to do.

They lived in separate towns, about thirty miles apart. Without that, it became an effort to go see him, driving back home so late at night, him letting her go, despite telling her that nothing good out there happens after midnight. He’d ask her to call him when she got home safe, at least in the beginning, not later on, not after and never now. Her mother, now with cancer and moved in with her was dying. She continued to make the forty minute or so drive over weekly to see him, to go out, get out, do something, sometimes just drive around town, his old beat, that seemed to liven him up a bit. She’d ask him sometimes, “why do you still want to see me?”

“It’s like you’re my pet,” his hand lightly touching her face and was he teasing? He had to be kidding, she’d tell herself later. He was great at avoidance, not answering direct questions and even better at deflecting and asking her questions, which often felt like an interrogation. His mother had told him that too so she knew it wasn’t just her. She waved it off in her mind, just him being a cop and it must be hard to get out of that mindset. It was funny and they’d both laughed about it when she’d told him.

It was afternoon when she headed over to see him, supposed to be to his place by three o’clock. Sometimes she would go over early, would go shopping first, but never told him, just wanting to feel that maybe if she found something to buy, something she needed, her trip over wasn’t a total waste of time and thinking of him, she sort of felt bad about all of that now. About ten miles into her trip the anxiety would creep in, something she’d gotten used to, but tried to ignore, tried to brush off like asking him, teasingly, both of them laughing at it, gonna eat your gun? But damn, sometimes…. But no, it was just a silly and funny thing between them. He was an ex-cop and he liked his guns, had three of them; the one in his glove box, the one in the safe and his Glock that he kept in the drawer of his desk. It had been the one he’d carried on the job, paying to keep it in the end, must have felt like a part of him by then. So, she thought of all this while she drove, as she got closer and would he be there when she got there? Sometimes he was just pulling in or he would be there and not answer right away, making her wonder, making her go there and dammit, she just didn’t know, couldn’t say for sure today…. She parked her car and had walked through a curtain of dread by the time she reached the top of his stairs, pausing outside his door.


The button in his hand read, I’m a cop spread your legs. He remembered her laughing when she’d seen it. Her laughter was what had drawn her to him, the first thing anyway. He tossed the button back into the box that contained his old uniform and other items from his twenty-year career as a police officer and detective. He’d hardly touched the stuff in the months since he’d retired. With his foot he shoved the box back deep into his closet. Instinctively, almost as a habit, he walked by his desk, opened the drawer and checked his Glock and closed the drawer back. She was coming over about three o’clock today. It was only ten o’clock. He sat down on his couch, looking around at the apartment he’d just moved into and he didn’t like the newness of it. For the last fifteen years he’d lived in an old duplex on the edge of downtown and that had suited him fine, but the old lady on the other side, always so quiet, perfect neighbor, the owner too, had died and the son wanted to sell, so he’d moved.

He started on his third cup of coffee and remembered the dream then, being chased, hiding, feeling scared, of what, he didn’t know. He’d woken up in a cold sweat, heart pounding this time. He’d never told her about the dream. And here he was again with a day, not knowing how to fill it. At some point he’d go see his mother who didn’t know him anymore, who would begin to cry if she suddenly remembered, asking, why did you put me here? How could you leave me here? He used to see her every day, had even introduced Mattie to her and when his mom started to lose it, he’d moved her in with him, but it hadn’t worked, she’d begun to wander. So, she was where she was, not perfect, but she was safe at least. He just hoped she wouldn’t get lucid enough to call nine-one-one again, the firetruck, ambulance and all and him asking, does she have to have a phone in her room? and being told it was the law. He supposed he should know that. He got up again, walked over to his desk, fiddled with the middle drawer, opened it just enough to lift the gun out, this time checking to see that it was loaded. He already knew it was, but he would check it anyway. After he’d met her, after they’d been screwing for a while, she’d do whatever he wanted, he didn’t know if it was just that he was a cop, the badge bunny thing or if she really liked him, but he’d let her hold his gun. She’d seemed fascinated, said she’d never held one before so that was that, but she’d never asked to do that again. He put the gun back inside the drawer and closed it.

He'd met her at a singles mixer. Some he’d met online, dating websites, but he preferred a face-to-face. She was pretty and young, well, younger than him and her little body was hot, he thought. He’d fucked her on their third date, not really meaning to, he’d just asked her if she wanted to go upstairs to her bed and they could take their clothes off and just touch each other, nothing more and he’d meant it. But nothing turned into something like it often did and well, afterward he’d been smitten, talking to her on the phone at night, always getting hard when thinking of her. He’d had to see her after that, regularly, her coming to him or him to her, didn’t matter, he’d needed it, needed her. And she’d do whatever he wanted so far, he knew when to stop though, knew what type of women were for what type of sex, always had. She was a take home to your mom, church even-type, but then get her home and bang the hell out of her and she’d be into it, the church or the mom, he didn’t know which, maybe both, making her feel even more turned on, making her feel like she was being bad, like daddy wouldn’t approve. So, he’d liked her, maybe later even loved her too, but that was before. Now he just couldn’t feel too much and it wasn’t her. She hadn’t changed. He’d suddenly begun pushing her away because he felt so fucking useless and empty all the time, felt so fucking down.

She’d tease him, “you’ve got it made, you’re making more retired than you ever made working. You can find a house you like better than this apartment, just start looking. You should be happy. There is no reason you shouldn’t feel happy. Why don’t we just take off and go somewhere, on a trip?” They never had. She didn’t get it. She was one of those up people always. He always had stomach aches. They’d hit him in the middle of the night, sometimes even going to the fucking hospital he felt so damn sick. Nothing, they found nothing, ever, but the pain was there. It would go away and then come back again, always in the fucking night, just like the dream. He didn’t want her there in the night to see him like that. He kept her at arm’s length, but she still came. They still saw each other, went out, the movies, shopping, just riding around town, sometimes the park or sometimes just stopping for a cup of coffee. He knew it wasn’t enough to hold her, but she kept coming over and sometimes it would seem to him they both wondered why. They could still make each other laugh and he loved her laugh. Suddenly, he stood up. He went back into his bedroom to the desk, opened the drawer again, stared at the gun for seconds, maybe even a full minute, slowly closing the drawer once more.

He'd retired after putting in his twenty because he’d been working in Juvey and honest to God he just didn’t think he could do that anymore. He had no kids of his own, couldn’t relate. He was often attacked, even spit on. He’d wanted homicide, but those positions were hard to get. He hadn’t played the game right, kissed the required ass, whatever it took, so when he got his twenty in, he’d left. It was just that well, now what? Sometimes he wondered just who the hell he was if he wasn’t a cop anymore and could someone really just stop being a cop one day, just decide to stop because it wasn’t like any other job. Didn’t seem likely, but here he was. All his cop stuff put away, still he’d wonder, could the uniform really just come off like that? He’d meet his officer friends for coffee, that is what they do, meet for coffee and he was glad really, that he was out of it, hearing the stories again, fucking stressful as shit, that crap he’d taken over the years. But, when they parted, them back to the beat and him just what? he’d felt like he was floating up with nothing to hang onto, nothing to grab. He could go see his mom, but she wouldn’t know him anymore. He was just a man that visited her, he supposed. And sitting there, on his couch, he didn’t get up again, but he thought about the gun that lay just feet from him in the drawer, just fucking there, like a fucking goddamn taunt.

The time passed, soon she would be here, but why, he wondered blankly. He’d gotten dressed, stupidly, inexplicably in his uniform. In the end he hadn’t even worn it that much as he’d made detective grade and could dress like a civilian, but today he’d had the urge to put it on and the gun that was seducing him, he’d taken from the drawer and held in his lap. She would be here soon. She should be the one, he thought and maybe that was why she still came, why he let her. It was close to three o’clock now and she was always on time, something about her he’d appreciated. He could hear footsteps coming up the stairs, recognized the sound of her walk, something he’d learned to do as a cop. He lifted the gun and thought of her, thinking maybe he’d loved her.


She stood outside his door, hesitantly, fearfully almost, each time she came the fear would be worse, the anxiety like a fog she would drive through to reach him. She knocked and waited, he didn’t come, but he was here. She’d seen his car in the lot. She tried the door and damn, it was unlocked. He’d left it unlocked and cops never do that. They know not to do that. She braced herself, opened it slowly, just a crack, peering through, thinking to herself in that instance, seeing him, that he really hadn’t ever loved her, hearing her own scream, “Goddammit, oh Goddammit!” cursing at him, at the situation, at time and well, just all of it.