By Duke Harten
Rex put his hand on the top of Barry’s head and Barry felt like a droid who had obeyed its programming but still come up short. “This is not,” Rex reiterated, “anything to do with you.” Barry rolled his eyes. Grownups were myopic enough, he knew, to miss the nuance of a child’s guilt. Barry didn’t consider himself the prime mover of this divorce—he considered himself a failed failsafe.
In other words, Barry felt like the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor. Had he just done his job, the structural weakness in his parents’ marriage would have been rendered irrelevant.
Melissa looked at the boy. Here was her son: eight years old, freckled, missing three teeth and one finger. His head, a small melon under Rex’s mighty paw. “Dad’s right,” she said. “This is not your fault.” She remembered her roommate Tina coming home one night and hanging a new coat on the row of hooks. The fixture had, with this addition, finally surrendered to the accumulated weight of the two women’s outerwear and come tumbling out of the wall under a cloud of white dust. Melissa had to remind herself it wasn’t Tina’s fault, really: both their coats weighed heavily on the thing. Tina’s was just the final straw.
In other words, Melissa was willing to shoulder fifty percent of the blame for this divorce. But Rex had been the one to break the camel’s back.
Barry styled his hair after Luke Skywalker and was particular about how it fell. Rex took care, then, not to tousle the boy’s reddish mop as he removed his hand. “I know it’s not my fault,” said Barry. “I love you both.” Rex eyed his wife. Their final dispute had come late Sunday night when Melissa showed him the @humansofny Instagram feed and said the prisoner in the picture didn’t deserve ten years for smuggling cocaine. After all, went her reasoning, he had lived in Honduras making four dollars a day. Who wouldn’t accept six grand working on a boat? Rex insisted he’d seen too many friends die to cut this guy any slack—you run drugs, you go to jail. Melissa called him vindictive; he called her a bleeding heart. A fight ensued and they agreed to divorce.
In other words, Rex held such brittle moral tenets that even a gentle challenge produced results this dramatic. He knew it was stupid, but he wasn’t about to back down now.