Jippy got a divorce. He didn’t want to ex his ex, but had to. She’d taken the kids, and left him with the other kids (goat kind) and the rest of the farm. She went back to the city, said she couldn’t take it out here anymore, too lonely, but not so lonely she couldn’t have an affair first with the farmer’s market handy man. Jippy’s turned into a bitter bitch, slandered her all over, to their kids and the postmaster and the cheese maker and the innkeeper.
That was the price he paid. Jippy could be a real asshole. Now his in-laws of the ex variety wanted stuff back. They’d loaned them, in coupledom, a rug and now she wanted it back for her apartment in the city. She’d sent her parents on it. Her father, all calm and gentlemanly, knocked on the farmhouse door. He was a fat short man who hated his life. He spoke all monotone and polite: “We’d like the rug back.” Jippy noticed the first-person plural, and for the first time in his life, noticed how vague and confusing it was. Who’s “we”?
Jippy was usually a mild dude, but this time, overcome by something he could only name as a lifetime of indignation and supplication to his in-laws, he said, no, I don’t think so.
That was all. He said it all deadpan. It was so satisfying to leave out reasons. He’d spent his whole life reasoning with everyone, justifying, justifying, mostly to himself. But now he just said no. And shut the door.
Jippy noticed, surprisingly, that he was shaking. He walked into the living room and stood arms at his sides in the middle of the once familiar room. He could hear his ex-in-law opening the door and entering the kitchen.
“Jippy, I need to get that—“
Jippy flew around the corner faster than he ever thought possible. Stiff-walking arm-raised like a hemorroided bull finishing a stump speech, he screamed, “Get the fuck out of my house, motherfucker! Get out!”
He’d expected to hear cheers and feel the satisfaction of the accumulated shed years, but all he felt was a vacuumed shame at the sight of his ex in-law running out the door with a look of genuine fear on his face. That was the point, that reflection of his own instability, at which Jippy realized what an asshole he’d become. He needed help. He wanted to call his wife. His ex-wife. Oh, he sighed, I forgot. Jippy couldn’t call his wife. He didn’t have one.
Jippy took to the projects around the farm that he’d never gotten to in his married life. He told himself his life/wife had kept him from these important tasks of daily work, the necessary joys of quotidian existence. But then, as he took to insulating the basement bulkhead door, Jippy felt a suffocating sensation that, in this act of insulation, he was sealing himself off from the rest of the world. At this time, Jippy had a lot of these grandly symbolic thoughts, which at the time seemed deep and life-changing, but would later feel stupid. So, in the midst of this project, Jippy changed his mind, and ripped out all the insulation on and around the door. And then he took it a step further and went around the house ripping out all the insulation he’d put in over the years of living in the farmhouse with his wife. They’d done it, originally, to save on heating bills, but now, the gesture seemed constricting, the house had gotten moldy and, Jippy told himself, so had he. I need air circulation, he intoned to himself. Then his house became freezing.
About the time after he’d ripped out all the insulation in the house, he received an email from his ex mother-in-law:
We know this is hard, but we need to get that rug
back from you. Please see it in your heart that this
is the right thing to do. We will come by your house
on Sunday to retrieve it.
Linda & Tom
Jippy read it, probably, twenty times back to back. Before this, he’d almost returned to a certain degree of equanimity with the rug process, then again he may have been simply freezing, and that made him numb. But now, reading the email, he again flew into an irrational rage.
“What’s ‘hard’?! What do you know about it? How could you know anything about me?! You never gave two shits about me, only that I provided sperm for your grandbabies and then you relegated me to eternal dish duty! And what do you know about my heart? It’s broken, god damn it, and you can’t see anything in it – it’s like trying to look into a shattered mirror, and plus you’ll get a ton of bad luck! And what do you know about what’s right and what’s not? Don’t patronize me, you self-righteous sonsabitches!”
Jippy realized, in a sudden snap-out moment, that his blood pressure was through the roof. That wasn’t good. He was going to blow his head off. Why did he get so irretrievably incensed by his ex-in-laws and their little requests? Today was Friday. He had two days to pull it together before they came for the rug. Suddenly the weekends, without his wife and kids, became long expanses of boredom and anxiety. He’d thought they’d be luxurious hours of coffee-drinking and newspapers and house projects. But he was out of coffee, fuck, he’d forgotten to stop at the store last night after work. And he didn’t have eggs. He might starve this weekend. His ex-in-laws would find his decomposing body strewn pitifully across their precious rug. They’d have to kick his limp body off their rug. Man, we always knew he should’ve learned to cook, they’d say. They’d take the rug before calling the police. The stink would be tremendous, a worm-rotting pungent death spike, and would stay in their nostrils for days. That was a pleasant thought. Jippy smiled for the first time in days.
He decided to go down and re-insulate the bulkhead door.
Saturday was one of those fall days that made one grateful to be alive and not only simply grateful, but filled with a glorious sense of good fortune and, of course, lined with a foreboding sense that we were all doomed in this dying light. It sent the squirrels scurrying across busy roads like crazed Y2K homesteaders. The unfortunate ones lay squished on the asphalt with their guts squirting out their mouths.
Jippy immersed himself in the day. He walked, sat on the stoop in the sun, took himself out for breakfast at the diner (lonely but fine) and then drove for a bit around the back roads. He came upon an apple orchard he’d always thought looked inviting. He turned his truck in. It was filled with families picking their own apples, kids running around, falling, laughing, crying, getting back up. Jippy wandered. Without his kids and wife, he felt like Frankenstein walking the rows of trees. He expected kids to turn and run from him, screaming because of the plugs of sadness stuck out of his neck, but none of them did. They simply tore by him like he wasn’t there. A few of them inadvertently ran into his legs, and heaven forbid, that even made Frankenstein smile a little.
Then he gasped. Jippy actually gasped, something he may not have ever done in his life. His ex-wife and kids were ahead of him in the next row. He considered running, literally running away in the other direction. But then he calmed himself and knew he had to approach her. His kids spotted him first. Jippy wondered what they’d do, but they yelled out his name in pure happiness and ran directly to him, latching themselves onto either leg.
Turning to their mother, in stereo, they yelled, “Daddy’s here! It’s Daddy!”
Jippy smiled, or tried to. His heart was up in his throat or something was, pride, regret, sorrow; whatever it was had a good solid wedge in his throat and didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“Hello,” Jippy said.
“Hello,” she said. She smiled and seemed embarrassed.
“I was out for a drive. I didn’t plan to stop…” Jippy realized he didn’t need to make any excuses, but he did so too late.
“It’s fine,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day.” Jippy wondered why she was so embarrassed, a little made sense. He certainly felt embarrassed, but she was much more so. Then he saw the former farmer’s market guy step down from underneath some branches nearby and walk towards them.
Years later, after everything had settled out, it would be difficult for Jippy to understand, indeed even remember, the degree of extremity he felt in that moment. But then, as it happened and the pieces suddenly clicked into place — she’d come here with him, planned it, spent a Saturday morning with him, a Friday night — it literally felt like he would die right there in the middle of the orchard in front of his kids on the most beautiful day imaginable. Heart attack, a massive one, as if a dumbbell had been dropped on his chest. The end would be crushing, but mercifully swift. A relief.
Jippy’s lips must’ve tried to smile, but they were only two pale worms, blind and suffering, the bait for his stupid mouth. He must’ve said a few words. It seemed like a conversation took place or something like a conversation. What exactly, Jippy didn’t know and wouldn’t remember.
The kids screamed for him to stay, but he shook his head. “Daddy has to go.” No one objected too much, least of all Jippy.
Jippy was almost to his truck in the parking area when he heard his name. He turned. His ex-wife was running toward him. She was out of breath.
“Jippy, wait!” He didn’t really want to wait. He fantasized about just getting in the trunk and driving. That’ll teach her. But teach her what? That he truly was an asshole? There didn’t need to be any more proof of that.
Before she could say anything, Jippy interjected, “I’m sorry! About everything. I’m such a jerk.”
“No you’re not,” she said. “I am.”
An awkward moment passed. Maybe Jippy should’ve refuted her, but he didn’t really feel like it.
“I’ve got your rug,” he said.
“Oh yeah, you do.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Your parents are coming for it tomorrow.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. Whenever. I mean, I’d like the rug, but not as much as I want to stay friends with you.”
Another silence, but not an awkward one. Jippy felt a pure relief wash over him.
“Wren?” Jippy said.
“Could I call you sometimes if I need to talk? I don’t have anybody else.”
Jippy smelled manure in the momentary gap.
“Yes, that would be okay. I’d like that. You know we can’t get back together again, right? This isn’t one of those kind of calls, is it?”
Jippy sighed. “I know that.”
Jippy hid in the living room, lying flat on the couch. If he wormed his way up, he could catch a glimpse of the front porch, where the rug sat rolled into a tight, fat cylinder. He knew they’d stop by after church. It was on their way home. Soon.
And soon, he heard their car, and a set of footsteps, his ex-father-in-law. Jippy peeked. His ex-in-law was staring at the rug, and then he took it. The car rolled away. It was all over very quickly.
As he watched the car go, Jippy practiced something. He said, at first under his breath, “Muthafuckers.” Nothing happened. Then he said it out loud: “Mother fucking fuckers.” It was flat. He felt no vitriol. It was gone. Goodbye, motherfucking nice people, goodbye. The house was cold. He felt like taking a drive, seeing some people, being out. Maybe he’d meet a new friend. Who was he kidding? He never had any friends, but it would feel good anyway. Anyway, he went out.
Jefferson Navicky's work has appeared in Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, Storm Cellar, Stolen Island and The Cafe Review. He works as the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, teaches English at Southern Maine Community College and lives in Freeport, Maine with his wife.