Fiction: God Wants You to Be Free and Not Have to Put Up With Other People’s Shit
By Steve Passey
The last time I saw Victor, his hair was on fire.
Now when you get divorced, by statute you have to attend a Parenting After Separation class. Only upon completion – and the issuance of a certificate - will the courts grant the divorce. I was in there with a couple named Don and Stephanie, who were with each other now after having separated from their former (or, soon-to-be former) spouses. They were here to get their certificates and get the goddamn divorces done and make everything for themselves legal. I’d have a coffee with them at the breaks. Stephanie was frank: Her ex-husband had been a serial drug abuser and had been through rehab, on his family’s money, and on their money, his, hers, and the kids, ten times in fourteen years. He was never going to get clean. She had tried, but he had failed. That’s why she was here.
Don was forthright and succinct. His ex-wife, he said, was a cunt.
Peter came over to us. Peter was coaching the course, and was some sort of counsellor. He had a religious bent, and I felt like he was trying to restrain himself from proselytizing. He iterated that the most important thing was to not use the kids as pawns. The second most important thing was not to badmouth the other parent to the kids.
You know, Peter, I said, I think everyone in here is already doing just that already, or they’ll never do it, ever, and no amount of coaching will get them to.
Well, Peter said, maybe they’ll come to that realization through the intervention of a higher power.
Stephanie beat me to it. The cops, she asked?
No, not the cops, Peter said. God wants you to be good, he added.
He walked away, looking beatific.
I looked at Stephanie and Don.
I knew that fucking guy was going to preach, I said. He was filled with the spirit. Like helium. He was bursting.
Stephanie excused herself to use the restroom. I asked Don how long he had known Stephanie.
Forever really, he said. We went to school together from kindergarten on, and then life happened, and you know what? Here we are. It’s good.
That’s really cool, I said.
Forget what I said about my ex, he said, I’m trying to be good about this.
After, in the parking lot, I saw Peter smoking alone.
Have you ever tried to quit, I asked.
Ha, he said. Never.
Maybe you should ask a higher power, I suggested.
I’m not ready to do that yet, he said, but I have no doubt that it would work.
He took a big drag and blew it out slowly.
What’s your story, he asked me?
My story, I said?
Well, I said, back in high school I rode the bus, like everyone else. There weren’t many of us. Our bus driver was a guy named Victor Martz. Victor was a lanky dude, and had long, flowing blond hair. A rockstar. One day a girl named Hayley, maybe 14 years old and already smoking a pack a day, kind of absent-mindedly lit Victor’s hair on fire with her lighter. Hard to describe, but she did it. Do you know what burning hair smells like? So, Victor slammed on the brakes, bouncing all of us around the inside the bus, patted his burning hair out, and kicked Hayley off of the bus. There was a great deal of profanity – all from Victor – and Hayley didn’t argue. Not a peep. She had to walk home. I’d guess it was a mile. It was a cold and snowy day in March. Not brutal, just typical country weather. Hayley had a twin sister – I forget her name, isn’t that funny? She had better impulse control than Hayley. A quiet enough person so that I can’t remember her name. Anyways, Victor dropped her off at the farm while Hayley walked home in the wet and cold. The parents complained, and Victor – poor rock star Victor – was suspended. For one week. With pay. Fuck you, he said. I quit.
I never saw him again, Peter, I said. So, the last time I did see him his hair was on fire. That’s my story.
How did that get you to the here and now, in the Parenting After Separation mandatory, Peter asked?
I don’t know, I said. It’s all part of God’s plan, I guess.
Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collections Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock (Tortoise Books, 2017), the novella Starseed (Seventh Terrace), and many other individual things. He is a Pushcart and Best of the Net Nominee and is part of the Editorial Collective at The Black Dog Review.