Short Fiction by K Wholesaler, 2023

“I’m leaving you,” Kelly repeated herself. Bramden hadn’t asked her to repeat anything, he just hadn’t reacted. He often failed to respond when spoken to, and they fought about it all the time, maybe more than anything else. He insisted that in these moments he was not ignoring her, but processing the information. It took time to work through the bottleneck, and harassment only delayed his response, he said. Thus would start one of those cyclical arguments that couples have.

You know I hate repeating myself, Kelly would say.

Then don’t repeat yourself. I heard you.

How can I know you heard me if you don’t respond?

I always hear you.

You either don’t hear me, or you’re ignoring me. Which is it?

I told you, it takes time for me to respond. That’s just how I am.

Around and around they would go. In truth, his bottleneck was real, but he had also learned to use it as an excuse to not hear, to not have to react or respond. This whole latency issue was made worse by his flatness of affect… and his strabismus. Kelly knew it was unfair, but in these past few whirlwind days she had been facing hard truths. One, that she needed to leave her marriage. Another, that she had always found Bram’s whole face uncanny. She had thought she would get used to that face, and she had, to a point. Every now and then, though, she would find it so jarring that she couldn’t think properly. Then, it would be him asking, Did you hear what I just said?

She didn’t have a sweeping prejudice against lazy eyes, at least she didn’t think she did. A disconjugate gaze was goofy, but it was also something that quickly vanished from conscious awareness, if she found the person’s personality pleasant. Strabismus does not usually impart a sinister cast to a person’s features. Yet that was the case for Bram. His divergent orbs made him look like a chameleon, and he had a lizard-like inexpressiveness to match.

He had never acted defensive or insecure about his strabismus before, until he said that he was not photogenic enough to be on Kandem’s KingdomTube channel. He had not seemed embarrassed or wounded about it. He was only stating a matter of fact. It was a business call, when he decided to cast and hire Noah to do the videos with Kandem. His job was to stand in for the father who definitely would have provoked an uneasy feeling from the audience and hindered his son’s development as an influencer.

Kelly waited for a reaction, longer than she normally would have waited before beginning to rant. She didn’t have to look at Bram’s wet, wobbly eyes, because he continued to face the monitor, idly clicking at the software where he edited the Kandem Krusade videos. Kelly repeated herself one last time to the back of his head.

“I’m leaving you Bram.” She approached him, took the mouse from his hand and minimized the window he was working in. She repeated, next to his ear, in that voice of firm, weaponized patience she liked to think she had mastered. “I said I’m going to leave you.”

She waited for him to go into a tirade, to say, Yes, I heard you but I am literally waiting for thoughts to form, and it is only with thoughts that I can make words, and those words must reach the speech motor cortex and translate somehow into articulate sounds that I don’t dare hope will be understood as human speech, since you insist on misunderstanding everything that I say?

It was obvious that he rehearsed his phrases in imaginary arguments. He reused his favorites. It had stopped being hurtful long ago, when she began to find him pathetic. But he did not go into his tirade, didn’t move or acknowledge her hand over his, just stared at his desktop wallpaper. A strabismic sphinx. She had braced herself for a defensive counter-salvo, and when denied this confrontation she grew visibly angry. Her nostrils flared and she prepared to escalate the situation with her raised voice.

Then he spoke, without looking up from the display.

“Kandem said to me the other day, I wish you were like Video Daddy.” Bram knew about the affair. Of course he did. She had pushed the envelope, flaunting physical affection with the doppelganger, hoping it would be especially painful to Bram, to see herself opening sexually to an upgraded version of him. He had remained stoic, though, until she gave up on prying a reaction from him. He seemed truly indifferent to their lingering touches, the too long hugs, the laughs and smiles. He did not seem ignorant of the implications, and he was not feigning indifference. It was a void of emotion where something should have been elicited.

He hadn’t shown much of that type of interest in her even before the Video Daddy came into their life. Of course, in the way of blatant adulterers she had wanted him to say something, so that she could explode on him, and say, You invited this man into our home! You cast someone who looked just like you, without the lazy eye or frozen face, to pretend to be you, and make YouTube gaming videos with your son. You never even noticed or cared when he started fucking your wife!

There at the end, he denied her the least bit of heat with his reaction.

“That’s okay. Noah will get his fee per video and I will help out so you can keep homeschooling Kandem.”

Kelly’s jaw clenched. Perhaps in her emotional throes she had miscalculated something about the business. Bram was very shrewd there.

“You don’t even script anymore. You’re not going to keep pocketing all the money from Kandem Krusade.” Pausing, then threatening weakly, “We’ll start our own channel.”

He shook his head. “You can’t. When the divorce is settled, Kandem won’t be joint property anymore. He’ll be mine solely until he’s 18. Look up the Child Influencer Protection Act.” He pulled the video editing window back up. “Anything else will need to go through the lawyer.”

Kand made the transition admirably. Video Daddy had, after all, been a hit with him from the very beginning. At first, he told his parents that it was weird to play video games with the strange man, when he could play them with Daddy, who was just Daddy then. But Daddy explained that it was for the videos, and that the videos made money, so he could just play video games all the time without having to go to school. He liked playing the games and he enjoyed the patient companionship of the video daddy. In time “the video daddy” became just Video Daddy. Daddy had gone from just Daddy, to The Real Daddy, to real daddy. Kand had already made the important transformations, as real daddy shrank into the background, so the divorce was only a formal arrangement. Something for big people, he was assured. Everyone loved him more than ever, and he had more followers than ever on KingdomTube.

He was like the best Christ Force player in the world. He had leveled his apostle up so high that no one would ever beat him, and lots of kids loved to watch him play and mommy and real daddy got money. He didn’t have a Video Mommy, but sometimes real mommy would pop in with special snacks for him and Video Daddy. For his birthday this year he had even gone to Praise Park where he rode big water slides. He had been there before with real daddy but Video Daddy went this time and mommy filmed a video for the fans. Video Daddy was a lot more fun than real daddy had been. He went down the tall slides before him so he didn’t get scared. He didn’t just sit in the chair by the pool looking at his phone the whole time.

Mommy was happy with Video Daddy too. She smiled a lot when Video Daddy was there and he loved to see her smile. She said that they would be going to a different house so that Video Daddy would always be there. Real daddy was going to come and be around and he was also going to go there some weekends and he could still play games there but not do videos because the fans didn’t want to see real daddy’s sumbissmus which was the way his eyes went this way and that way, he said because his daddy didn’t take him to the doctor when he was little. Kand tried to tell real daddy there wasn’t anything wrong with that because Jesus loved him just like that, with his eyes the way He made them, and that’s what Kandem Krusade was all about: Being kind even when someone was Lost or they had something wrong with them like sumbissmus.

Kand was really excited about going to the National Nativity in a few weeks. They were going to make a crossover video there with FaithSoldier in the whole nation’s capital. Mommy and Video Daddy were really, really excited about the trip too. Something was going to happen there, they said. It was going to be a Blessed Miracle. They were going to be there with a lot of people, who also loved Jesus with all their hearts, and had become fed up with the way this old world had become. They would start at the National Nativity and go from there, marching and bringing God’s Glory. It was going to be a real life mission, they said, and he even had little goggles and special armor for the mission. He had tried it on and he was just like his leveled up apostle from Christ Force. Mommy had said the mission might get scary in parts and to just stay with her. Kand wasn’t scared, though, just excited, because he was leveled all the way up.