Ted stared at the fiberglass replica of an extinct prehistoric bird and thought about the woman he loved. Then he thought about his wife. He had admitted the affair and now divorce lawyers were sending bills. But his wife had said he needed to be the one to tell their ten-year-old son, Danny. That was why, on this Saturday afternoon, Ted had taken Danny to the natural history museum, just the two of them, so they could talk.
At some point during the day, Ted knew he would need to find a moment to carefully explain to his son why his parents couldn't stay married. He hoped to reassure his son that it wasn't the boy's fault, that there wasn't any need for guilt. Ted was worried about how Danny would take the news. Ted had been thinking about how he would explain it. He would have to explain it carefully. In words Danny could understand.
After walking through the dinosaur exhibits, and watching a video presentation showing African lungfish squirming across jungle roadways, Ted suggested they get something to eat. There was a sandwich shop in the building on one of the upper floors. They took the stairs and on the third floor they found a sign with directions. Ted hoped there would be healthy alternatives for Danny. They turned a corner and saw the entrance to the shop but, next to a red rope, a long line of people stood waiting to get inside. The rope reminded Ted of movie theaters.
Ted and Danny walked up behind a couple in their twenties who were arguing. The woman wore a green sundress and her red hair fell over her white shoulders. The man next to her was angry. He had on a rumpled black T-shirt and dirty blue jeans and beat-up sneakers.
“Bitch,” the man said loudly. Everyone heard.
Ted stepped back and put a hand on Danny. Ted looked around for the security guards, but they weren't in sight. The man kept arguing with the woman. Ted looked down at Danny for a moment and then back at the woman who was trying to start a sentence, but the man interrupted:
“Shut up and try to use your brain for once.”
The woman's eyes flashed in anger. Her hand balled up into a fist. Ted was about to take another step back, but more people had come up behind him. The young man raised his hand and said, “You're an idiot.”
Finally, Ted had had enough.
“There are others in line,” Ted said to the young man. “I've got my son here.”
The young man turned and Ted didn't back down. Suddenly, the man lashed out and punched Ted in the face. Ted fell back and landed on the floor. Voices came from all directions. The young man ran down the hall and took a stairway out of sight. No one tried to catch him. The woman was crying. She put her hand to her mouth. She almost kneeled, but then she hurried off down the long corridor. The crowd watched her till she vanished around a corner.
Two men helped Ted to his feet. He had a cut on his forehead. He reached up to the cut and his fingertips came back bloody. He wanted to get to a restroom, to a mirror. One of the men who had helped him pointed out a restroom sign just past the water fountain. Ted pressed his palm against his forehead and Danny followed him as he walked down the corridor.
In the men's room, Ted and Danny were by themselves. Ted stood at the mirror examining the cut over his eyebrow. There was blood on his shirt and some on his trouser leg. He opened the faucet and immediately wished he had some antiseptic to cleanse the wound. Ted touched around the cut. It hurt. His son was at his side, watching him in the mirror.
“Dad,” Danny said, “I wish we had never come here.”
Ted examined the strange shape of the gash. The man who had hit him must have been wearing a ring, Ted thought. He didn't remember seeing a ring. The cut kept bleeding and it appeared as though it might need stitches. Ted leaned over the sink and gently pulled the edges of the cut apart with his fingers. Blood trickled over his eyebrow. He took some tissue paper from the dispenser and held the paper under the running faucet.
“You want to call Mom?” Danny asked. “She puts that stuff on cuts. You know? That stuff, in the medicine cabinet, she says it kills the—”
“I'm moving out, Danny.” Ted stammered as he spoke. He was grinding his teeth because of the pain. “You have to understand.”
Ted squeezed some of the water from the wad of tissue paper. He tried again, but then he heard his own voice starting to shake.
“People change when they get older, Danny, and you notice the differences more, and it has nothing to do with fault, okay, like your mother is going to say, but don't listen to it because there are a lot of sides and it's not fair, and we won't change, Danny, you and me, we'll stay the same, but you've got to understand that I love a woman named Kate now, and she's really interesting, and I'm sure you'll like her, Danny, because she isn't like anyone else I've ever loved and she used to have a talking parrot.”
Ted stopped. He noticed the sound of the running water. Then he said:
“I mean, could you imagine your mother ever owning a parrot? You'll like her, Danny. Her name is Kate.”
He pressed the wad of damp tissues hard against his forehead. Water and blood mixed. With his free hand, Ted cut off the faucet. Then it was quiet. For a long time, Ted didn't say anything else. He realized the other face in the mirror said it all.