Natalie Gilbert (she/her)
You are driving home from work. A job you insisted you would never take. A job you despise, but altogether tolerate because it has a good health insurance plan and can help you build up your 401k. Back when things like health insurance plans and 401k’s didn’t seem to matter you told yourself that you’d never be caught dead working a job like this. But here you are, in the place you never hoped to be, doing things you never wish to do. In grad school you had grandiose visions of becoming a big-time corporate lawyer. You know, the type that negotiate big time trade deals and patents? The type pulling down seven figure salaries. But now you are just a filthy estate planner, your only clients are older couples trying to keep their children from cheating each other out of every nickel and dime. Or occasionally you will service the newly married couple who look at each other with so much hope and passion, and you assure them that any plan is better than no plan in terms of matters of the estate, but the whole time you will be thinking about when was the last time your wife had looked at you that way, or better yet, had she ever looked at you that way? But, despite all this there you sit, stuck in the never-ending cycle of profiting off of other’s inevitable death. But hey, there are much worse things to profit from, right?
As you drive home you try not to think about how miserable your job is and how your life has managed to derail this far, but you tell yourself not to. Instead, you stuff all those feelings into a big briefcase. The same one you were gifted by your mother when you first got into Columbia law school, the one that used to carry all your assignments and made you feel powerful and confident as you entered into moot court. Now the only reason you carry it around to make yourself more palatable to the boys club at the office. Funny how in a few short years things can change so much. But no, you will not think about that, at least not tonight, because tonight is special, and you tell yourself that it is going to be a good night.
While stopping at a red light you glance at the photograph that you keep on top of your dashboard. The traffic surrounding you and the ever-present honking reminding you of a camera clicking. The same camera that took the very picture you are pondering right now. In it, you see yourself, at least some distant version of yourself with short pink hair and matching pink overalls that fit your curvaceous body like a glove. And then there is your wife, back when you had just bought a house together. She is holding you from behind. You remember how after this photo was taken you both tumbled to the ground laughing, and how she pinned you down in the front yard and kissed you playfully while you giggled underneath her. Oh, how you miss those funny little games.
The honking of the car behind you brings you back, a singular camera click. But now you realize that you had not been paying attention to the road at all, and that you had missed your turn that will lead you to the supermarket. So, you are forced to take a ten-minute detour, but finally you arrive in the gray concrete monstrosity of a parking lot and you are heading inside. Tonight, you resolve that you are going to make dinner, something you haven’t done for quite some time. Something nice, something that your wife will appreciate. It is your fifth anniversary after all, and you reason that you should make it special.
You pause in the pasta aisle of the store. You could make lasagna; she always loves when you make lasagna. But then you remember that time that you made lasagna. It was Christmas time and you and your wife had decided that it was your turn to come to her family’s Christmas dinner and so reluctantly you went, and you labored over what you thought was the perfect lasagna that you would bring to the house in hopes that it could convince the in laws that you aren’t a steaming pile of dogshit, but when you got there your mother in law called it dry, so much so that it could even be labeled inedible. And so of course you cried which made your wife upset because she couldn’t understand why you were crying and then accused you of being too sensitive, and so you drove home alone from the Christmas party in the snowstorm, and now you’ll never be able to make lasagna without wondering if it is dry. You shake your head back and forth as if you are shaking off this memory, and then you promptly stop because you remember that you are in a supermarket and that people are there, and that they will think you’re odd if you just go around shaking your head. You eventually settle for the chicken parmesan; it’s simple and your wife always has a second helping of it so you figure it’s a safe bet.
Once at home you pile the obscene amount of grocery bags in your arms so that you’ll be able to make it up the driveway in one trip. The driveway is icy because your wife forgot to shovel it last night even though it was her turn, and so you say a little prayer with every step that you will not trip and that all the food you just bought won’t go tumbling to the ground. Better yet, yourself tumbling to the ground splitting your head open in two, as you watch the blood and brain matter sweep down the sidewalk in the style of a colorful mosaic. But then again, maybe that could be fun?
It’s so very chilly outside, and when you finally are done fumbling with the keys and unlock the door and walk into the kitchen where you are bombarded with the warm air that’s coming from the newly installed heater you decide to give yourself just a minute to sit by the vent before unpacking your bags.
You kick off your boots and put them on top of it with the soles facing the ground so that the warm air will dry them a little. They aren’t a very practical pair with their one inch wedge and lack of warm padding, but you thought they were cute and they were on sale so you decided to buy them, and when you had gotten home your wife chastised you for being a frivolous spender. That didn’t matter though, you still like the boots. Then you shrug off your coat and your matching hat and mittens and hang them on the hook in the entryway like always.
Then you are throwing yourself into the task of assembling all the ingredients on the counter. The spaghetti noodles- you bought the Meijer brand because it was ten cents cheaper than the name-brand version. But you remember the last time you bought the Meijer brand noodles your wife punched a hole through the wall because Meijer brand just wasn’t as good as name brand, and then she cried and apologized profusely, and of course you forgave her because that is what you always do. However, this time you are smart and when you throw away the box you make sure to bury it under a mountain of paper towels, and just like that catastrophe is avoided.
Next you place the pasta sauce next on the counter. It is not homemade, but it tastes just as good, or so you tell yourself. Then you put out the remaining ingredients. The parmesan cheese, chicken, breadcrumbs, and an array of spices that you don’t know how to use, but you tell yourself you do anyway.
You stare at the raw chicken breasts, and for a moment you see it has eyes and a beak and it's staring right back at you.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it isn’t nice to stare?” the chicken asks you in his delightful cockney accent.
“Yes, I am terribly sorry,” you reply, embarrassed to have been caught.
“It’s no bother,” he says, and then he asks you about an array of subjects, including whether there is a god, life after death, and of course which came first, ‘the chicken or the egg.’ But you realize that as much as you would love to spend time engaging in a philosophical debate with your poultry, you have to get ready for dinner before your wife gets home, and she’ll be getting home anytime now. So you mutter a sorry to the breast as you place it in the microwave to defrost and try not to pay any mind to the chicken’s cries.
You shuffle to your bedroom. Your cozy bedroom that could have been a lot bigger if your wife hadn’t insisted on moving to this neighborhood. But back when you would have done anything to make her happy, settling on a small home in gentrified suburbia seemed like a small price to pay. Your bed is just how you left it: two identical indents on the pillows. The comforter missing from your side because your wife is perpetually cold and always gets more than her fair share of the blankets. Your mind cannot help but to drift to the last time you made love in that bed. When you made love, not just sex. Back to a time when you looked at each other with such eager eyes and whispered sweet nothings into each other’s ears, when was the last time? Weeks? Months? A lifetime ago it seems. And next to your bed the picture of you two in your wedding dresses. Completely different people, people you can hardly even recognize. You had always wanted to wear a ballgown for your wedding, but your wife had insisted upon you getting something a less grand and a little more subtle for your beach wedding, and you supposed she was right and you picked the practical A-line with long sleeves, and you weren’t even that bothered when your wife settled on wearing a ball gown to the wedding, coincidentally the same one you had picked out, but on you it seemed too grand. No, you just smiled and when your family congratulated you both on being a beautiful couple you agreed. Completely different people.
You move to the closet filled with the boxes of books and photographs from your time at university. You remember the first time you saw your wife. It was at a party. She stood in the corner of the room looking aloof like she always had with her day old, smudged eyeliner and her layered flannel over a band t-shirt, her band, come to find out. And you yourself the exact opposite, exuding warmth as you pass from person to person chatting with your too large of a smile and your rainbow tennis shoes and your bright blue hair. But, when she looks your way you can’t help but get goosebumps and then suddenly she offers you a beer, and then you are holding out your hand to her saying that your name is Bee. Yes, like the insect. And then she laughs a little, you aren’t really sure what’s so funny, but then she’s inviting you upstairs to a room, and you realize this is her room, and you are making out, and your cheeks are bright red, and you’ve never made out with a girl before but god you so desperately want to, and then suddenly her hands are between your thighs and she’s pulling you closer to her. And then the next day you wake up in her bed, hair crazy, but you gotta run to lecture because the professor has a no tardiness policy and will lock you out of the room if you are late, so you scribble down your number on a piece of paper and leave it on the fridge on your way out which makes her smirk in a way that makes your stomach turn in knots. Maybe it’s butterflies? Maybe it is just the bad Chinese food you ate last night?
Now you are ruffling through your half of the closet. You want to look nice, so you decide to forgo the usual sweatpants and graphic t-shirt combo you have gotten used to sporting after work. You pause at the sweater section, it is pretty cold outside, so maybe a warm sweater could work, but then you remember that time that you wore a sweater out to your wife’s work party last year and how when exiting the bathroom you heard one of her coworkers say that you and your wife make a beautiful couple, but that you had put on weight since the wedding and you have a pretty face but too fat of a stomach, and so now every time you put on any type of sweater you wonder if you just look like a giant trash bag, but then again, at least you have a pretty face, right?
Your eyes comb over all the pieces of clothing you will never ever wear and finally settle on an emerald green silk dress, the one your mom bought you after you miscarried for the first and last time. Mother had always told you that when you are feeling your worst you must look your best, and whether or not that was actually true you still got a beautiful dress out of it so that was nice. You always liked the way it seemed to hit your body at all the right angles. Tucking in just above your waist to give you the illusion of the hourglass you really don’t have, and its deep v-neck that leaves little to the imagination as far as cleavage goes. It’s the only thing that you have in closet suitable for a date night so it will have to do. For a second you look down at the dress and imagine your wife biting it off of you, and your cheeks blush again with desire or embarrassment at your naivety, you aren’t exactly sure which.
Then you unclothe yourself and stare in the long closet mirror. When did you begin to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself? Your hair, which used to be long beautiful golden blonde, the envy of all your friends and family is now shaved as close to the scalp as you could manage. Everyone had thought that you wanted to look punk, but really you just wanted your wife to stop using it to throw you into things. At first everyone was shocked by the change, but now you just cover your head with hats and leave ‘why’s?’ up to other’s imaginations. You look down at your side and neck and all the bruises lining your body. You had never in your wildest dreams thought your lover’s sweet touch would turn to slaps, punches, and kicks. Your father had always been the one yelling at you or throwing you down the stairs, but then he’d always apologize saying he was just drunk or he just ‘lost control’ and smashed your hand in the car door, and so it wasn’t much of a surprise to you when over time your partner started doing the same thing. Sometimes it makes you think about whether you had just traded out one abusive relationship for another. No matter what you did you always ended up in the same old cycle. You put on the dress.
You ask yourself when you had not been enough for her. You remember the day you found the bra stuffed under the bed, weeks ago was it? You were laying in bed together, your arms holding tightly around your wife’s waist and your head cradled on her shoulder, and things felt safe and warm for the first time in months and you just want to hold onto that feeling and suddenly your pillow fell off the bed and you sleepily reached down to grab it, but when you did your hand brought back something unfamiliar. The red lacy thing that was far too small for you to fit into, and your wife hated the feeling of lace against her body. And when you confronted your wife about it, she told you that you were crazy and that the bra was hers, but you knew it wasn’t, so when you asked for her to try it on and she hit you instead it just confirmed your suspicions. And so, you didn’t ask when, or why, or anything else, you just balled up all the unanswered questions and threw it under the bed in the exact same place you had found the bra. And then you look at the alarm clock. 6:15, its blaring red light tells you. Time to start making dinner.
You head to the kitchen and toss the pieces of chicken in the pan and place the noodles into the boiling water and watch as they begin to change from their ridged form into a more liquid one. Once they are done you fling one noodle on the fridge like your grandmother had always taught you to. “If it sticks, you know it is done” she would always say with a wink. It stays there for a minute and then falls to the floor. Perfect. Then you heat up the premade sauce and you stare at the leftover glass can. “Smash it into pieces,” and so you do, and now blood is dripping onto the counter and you have to clean it up, and it’s already 7:15 and your wife will be home anytime now, and so you bandage it and continue preparing.
You pull out the candles onto the dining room table. The same candles that you had bought a week after you started couples therapy and your therapist suggested you both should try making more romantic gestures. If she had known, or more aptly put, if you had let her know what was happening behind closed doors, you don’t think your therapist would have recommended something like this. But at the time you had thought it was a good idea, so you bought the beautiful lavender scented candles and decided that you would draw a warm bath one night for you and your wife, but of course that was before you found the bra stuffed under the bed and after that you didn’t feel much up to making romantic gestures. But now you are glad you finally get to use them because they were expensive, after all, and you were so looking forward to using them.
As you light each one your hand lingers on the match just a little too long so that the flames begin to lick your fingers, but you don’t mind because god it feels good to feel something again.
Now that you have lit the candles and positioned all the food and arranged it on the table in the way your wife will appreciate, you sit down. You realize the oven is still on and that you should probably turn it off, but you don’t and then you are making your way towards it, staring into its warm interior and thinking about how nice it would be to sit inside there, so you slide your head inside on the rack and wait for your wife to come home.