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Robert Kerbeck

Robert Kerbeck

Robert Kerbeck, based on his short stories, was selected for a mentorship with the managing editor of Tin House, Cheston Knapp. His fiction has appeared in upstreet, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Philadelphia Stories, Willow Review and Crack the Spine with stories forthcoming in Gargoyle, Cream City Review and Serving House. He recently completed his first novel, The Ballad of Mr. Jack. Robert attended the 2015 Tin House and Bread Loaf conferences.

G.O.D. Live In Concert


Taking his thirteen-year-old son to see G.O.D. hadn't been Tom's idea. His soon-to-be ex had roped him into it. Natalia said she wanted him to stay connected to Peter, despite their acrimonious divorce, complete with dueling restraining orders. A series of texts and two loud phone calls (she hung up on him once) were required to synchronize a neutral pickup spot, and then drop-off and pickup times spread far enough apart to ensure there weren't any violations. After a brief pit stop at a bar in Ventura had washed away some of Tom's bitterness at the ridiculousness of the situation—picking up his son at a Kwik Trip to go to a show neither of them wanted to attend—they'd eventually made it to the Santa Barbara Bowl.

Tracey had made it too, herding a gaggle of thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls. Her daughter, Daisy, kept inviting more friends to see the boy band, and Tracey kept saying yes. The girls, all four of them, were a welcome distraction of unbundled energy and fresh-smelling hair. They reminded her of the first days of summer, carefree and almost, but not yet, hot. The audience was made up of similar-aged girls accompanied by their mothers. There were only a handful of boys and no men, except for one. The man had been handsome once upon a time, and still was in a couple of ways—he had a full head of gorgeous blond hair for example—but the California sun and, Tracey guessed, life had done their damage. He was weathered, that was the nice way to put it, a bit like the Cape Cod cottages she'd vacationed in as a girl. Maybe that was why she felt giddy when she realized he was sitting right behind her seats, though it was just as likely because she was so lonely, not to mention brokenhearted. Any man, formerly handsome or not— as long as he was straight—could have pushed her over (and into bed) with a pin.

Tom was surprised to see the number of women his age there. If he'd known, he might not have yelled and given Natalia so much crap about the expensive tickets she'd charged on his credit card without permission, a breach of their separation agreement. Still, he could have found age-appropriate single women for a hell of a lot less than the G.O.D. tickets cost. His son didn't care about the female-to-male ratio. Peter sat with his head down, wearing his new earbuds, still pouting about his mother making him go to a show featuring three sixteen-year-old dancing and singing Danish heartthrobs: Gregor, Odin, and Deo. Peter didn't even appear to notice the four cute young girls filling in the row in front of them, each taking note of his son's shock of blond hair with streaks that bordered on white. Women had often stopped them, when they used to take walks as a family, to lament to his wife that they didn't have hair that color.

"Is this row S?" Tracey asked him, despite knowing full well what row she was in. The venue's signage was crystal clear, with the row's designation brightly stamped in yellow on the ground. "What row are you?"

"We're in T," said Tom.

"Oh, okay, good." She stood for a moment, waiting for some additional response. If she'd been young and pretty, he would have said something else, of that she was sure. Because he said nothing, she knew she'd chosen the wrong outfit. The skinny jeans had been a colossal waste of money.

One of the girls, Angie, had taken the seat in front of the man. Tracey wanted to sit in front of the man. Perhaps he would tap her on the shoulder later to ask her name the way boys used to. But the leather-faced man...was it mean for her to think like that? Would it have hurt him to use a little sunscreen? Tracey insisted on sunscreen. She carried three in her car at all times: one for her face, one for her arms and normally exposed areas, and one for the more sensitive areas exposed by her infrequently worn bikini.

"Slide over, girls," she said, though she was specifically addressing Angie.

"But I won't be able to see as well."

The audacity of the child. When Tracey was young, it was Yes, Mrs. So-and-So or No, Mrs. So-and-So. There was no questioning the order of any grown-up, especially the one who'd bought the tickets and had just driven two hours to bring the too-skinny, freckle-faced girl to the show. The girl thought her freckles were adorable, but that was only going to last another year or two, max. Then those freckles would be the bane of Angie's existence. Tracey was considering sharing that information when the girl slid halfway onto the seat next to her, causing a chain reaction of moaning and groaning.

"Well," Tracey said sort of to herself but really to the man. He didn't say anything, so she sat down, trying not to show how much it hurt her feelings.

The woman was not unattractive though she did seem frazzled, probably from keeping tabs on that many adolescent girls. Tom was glad he and his wife had only the one and that they'd had a boy, though there'd been a time he'd longed for another child. He often wondered if a little girl might have saved things.

Once the woman sat, Tom glanced down at her pants, as he would have glanced down at any woman who sat in front of him. Her jeans had slid down so that her crack was exposed. Indeed, half her butt was hanging out. He'd always been an ass man and felt he should be getting an erection. He checked, but there was no action, no waking up of his friend, who'd gone dormant since his wife had cuckolded him with a much younger and much wealthier man.

Should he tell the woman? It really was bordering on obscene how much her ass was sticking out. How would his son react when the show started and he finally turned off his music to look up and see that? While Tom considered the proper etiquette, he reached into his jacket for the water bottle he'd snuck into the venue and took a swig of the silver tequila.

Something about his drinking made the woman turn around. Maybe she smelled the liquor or maybe she was reacting to the "ahhh" sound he'd made after he'd swallowed. She smiled at him, and when he didn't return the smile, he saw that it made her sad and she turned away quickly. He didn't mean to make her sad. He had no problem smiling at her, even flirting with her. Heck, he needed the practice. She was sort of his type, too, dark hair, brown eyes, not much of a chest, and wearing all black, like an old punk rocker chick. But if he'd smiled and then later told her about her crack, would she think he'd been laughing at her? He couldn't imagine she'd like being laughed at. In his experience, women never liked being laughed at over their appearance, even when you weren't actually laughing at their appearance.

Tracey could tell he was another damned shy guy. He wore no wedding ring and she could feel him staring at her, but when she'd turned, he'd gotten embarrassed. She hated having to make the first move. It had been the story of her life and it had not been a happy one. If she hadn't made the first move on her husband, then perhaps she wouldn't have married a gay man. But how could she have known? Russ was as virile as any man she'd ever been with, his penis always hard. That was his big joke, that it was Mr. Hammer's job to be ready. And he was. But could she possibly pick two gay men in a row?

No, the man behind her was not gay. No homosexual man would allow his face to get that much sun damage.

Tracey stood and half turned, ostensibly to talk to her row of girls but also to open herself up for the man. "I'm going to get a drink. Would anyone like anything?" She smiled at the man, who looked like he wanted to say something back. She was making progress.

The girls inundated her with requests for sodas and popcorn and candy.

"I can't carry all that." She complained directly to the man, who looked amused. She was definitely making progress.

"Mom, we'll go get it. Give us some cash."

Again, no "please" or "can I," just take, take, take, like the girl's father, who'd fucked her silly into love and then left her—with her pretty years used up—when

she'd discovered he'd been sleeping with men for most of their marriage.

"Oh, all right. Get me a water." Tracey handed over far too much money, as had become her penchant whenever Daisy lacked for something.

The man was chuckling. She was winning him. And he was handsome, especially now that the sun had completely set. His face looked better in the dark.

"Do you boys want anything?" she asked. This was her moment and subtly done. Of course, he would say no, but then he'd have to be nice, then they'd talk, then they'd exchange numbers.

"No, thank you," Tom said.

"I'd like a soda," Peter said, looking up.

Tom had no idea how his son was basically deaf to any and all of his requests and entreaties until there was something that the boy wanted. Then, no matter how loudly his music was playing, his hearing was perfect.

"Sure," the woman said. "Coke?"

"Sprite." Peter lowered his head again, as if studying how his sneakers had been glued together.

Tom started to reach for his wallet, but the woman leaned down and put her hand on his knee.

"Please, let me. It's no big deal."

It'd been a long time since a woman had touched him like that, with such an invitation. She was saying, I'm yours, if you want me. And he did want her, heck, he wanted every woman he saw. The wanting wasn't his problem. It was the doing.

"That's very nice of you. Thank you." Tom saw that the girls were standing and watching them, wide-eyed, as if Tom and the woman were demonstrating an example of modern-day courting behavior. The woman makes the first move, the woman pays—if only it were that simple. Would he be duped again? Suckered in by a free soda? One that would cost him a billion times more than if he had just said no and gotten it all by himself.

Tom did what he always did when he was pissed about women, about his future ex. He took it out on his son.

"Go with these girls to get your soda. Help them carry their stuff back."

"Huh? What?" Deaf again.

"Get up." Tom pulled one of the earbuds out. "Go with these girls."

Tom knew that for his son there could be no greater torture than to be set off with four unknown girls his own age.

"It's okay. I'm not really thirsty."

"Well, I want a Sprite," Tom said.

"You don't like..."

Tom leaned across his son and yanked the other earbud out.

"Ow."

"Go. Now."

Tom observed that two of the girls were giggling at his son, but the other two were eyeing him forlornly, as if his son was some romantic poet with a soul-crushing father. Peter got up, put back the earbuds, and shuffled out of their row, following after the girls.

The man had certainly turned around, Tracey thought, trying to suppress a smile. He wanted them to be alone as much as she had. That's how she remembered it was with shy men. They just needed to know the door was open and then they barged right in.

"I'm Tracey," she said, sitting back down with her body twisted toward him.

"Tom."

"Nice to meet you."

His handshake was firm, his skin rough. He did something outdoors for a living, which made her feel badly about judging him. Still, how hard was it to put on a little sunscreen?

"Nice to meet you too." He gazed down and saw that most of her butt was now facing the way the kids had just exited. Maybe he didn't have to say anything. If she stayed that way, her daughter would see the issue on her return and delicately inform her mother.

"Are you from around here?" Tracey asked, happy that he'd just checked out her ass. She'd hoped he wasn't a breast man since she didn't have much to offer in that regard.

"Camarillo. You?"

They were within commuting distance. Tracey figured non-rush hour she could get to his place in less than an hour, very doable. "West LA."

"Cool."

"You think? I don't. Too much traffic."

"Yeah, for sure."

"What do you do?" she asked despite the voice in her head telling her to hold off on the question for at least another minute.

"I'm a contractor. I have my own firm." Tom hated the way he sounded, pretentious and full-of-shit, since his firm had never been more than two goddamn people—himself and his former secretary turned wife about to turn ex. Now it was just him.

"That must be wonderful."

"Yeah, I like it. I mean, being my own boss. What about you? What do you do?"

"I do marketing for an Italian importer."

"That sounds interesting."

"It's fun, though Italian men can be a little sexist." She rolled her eyes like he understood all about it; then she laughed, so Tom did too, but he wasn't sure he was keen about her working at a place like that. She'd probably found one of the Italian men sexy at first and had slept with him, only to find out afterward how crass they were. What would happen when Tom picked her up at work and had to be nice to the sexist pig she'd screwed?

Tom reached for his water bottle to take a swig, but thought twice and instead offered it to Tracey.

"It's tequila."

"Oh," she said. "Well, why not? It's a concert, isn't it?" Tracey took a small sip, since she normally only had tequila via a rare frozen margarita. Drinking it straight made her eyes tear. As she wiped them, she observed that the water bottle was half empty. Had he drank that much? Or had he not filled the bottle to the top originally?

"You okay?" Tom asked.

"Just not used to..." She hunched over and coughed a couple of times, giving her crack the appearance of moving up and down, and while he wasn't finding it much

of a turn-on, he was aware that—for her age—her ass wasn't bad.

"You want me to get you a water?"

He'd climbed over her seat back to check on her, as if she was in some sort of mortal physical distress. She was fifty for Christ's sake, not seventy. But it was kind of sweet of him.

"No, the girls are getting me one. I'll survive until they get back." She coughed again.

Tom was glad she couldn't handle the liquor. Perhaps she'd be the one to drive them home after their dates, when he'd had one too many.

Tracey scanned for the girls and caught sight of the boy's blond hair bopping behind Daisy as the two proceeded up the aisle.

"I see them," Tracey said and pointed for Tom. "How precious is that? They're almost at that age. Well, my daughter is. I'm not sure about your son."

"No, he hates girls at the moment. As did I when I was his age. But it changes fast."

Tom looked at Tracey. He could do a lot worse. At fifty-five and struggling financially, he was no longer much of a catch. He contemplated if he should tell her before their kids returned.

Just then the lights dimmed, the mass of girls shrieking so intensely that both Tom and Tracey put their hands to their ears. Then they turned to each other and laughed at themselves. Tom figured it was now or never. He'd certainly want to know if half his butt was hanging out in public.

"Hey," he said.

"What?" Tracey pressed into him so that their bodies were connected. Tom put his mouth toward her ear, but before he could say anything, she turned and gave him the warmest expression he'd seen in some time on a woman's face. He glanced down at her crack, her ass now gleaming in the darkness, and when he returned his eyes to hers, she was smiling even wider.

G.O.D. entered to a thunderous techno beat.

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