I struggled with whether or not to post today, because of all the terrific heartbreak surrounding the murder of George Lloyd, as well as our terrible acheivement of 100,000 now dead from the virus. Ultimately, I know that art and music and novels and films, and yes, weird short stories provide respite and strength for our minds in times of painful trouble. So I shared, and you should too. That is all. Oh, and I won a local award for this story, which makes me wonder: What the hell is wrong with people around here? Happy reading...
Marti decided that, for sure, she was having a nervous breakdown. Well, probably.
Her mind, once so compartmentalized, so neat, now looked like a hoarder’s house, full of trash and things she bought for no reason other than that they were cheap. It was strewn with half-formed ideas and half-written to-do-lists, but none of the to-do’s ever became to-done’s. This brain, which had taken her from birth to forty-four without so much as a hiccup, was closing in on itself like a soufflé that had been left in the oven a little too long. She should know; she’d made hundreds of soufflés over the years, with about a fifteen percent failure rate. They were tricky.
It didn’t help so much that her husband Mark was ten years her senior and comfortably settled into his own mid-life. He was content to watch the same news program every night - you know the one with the guy who never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise? Yes, that one - and to say the exact same thing every time they had sex (he called it “Adult Time” and it almost always happened on a Friday night after he’d had his requisite two beers) – Don’t move, Don’t move, I’m almost there! She would lay there, like a stone to be hammered at by an indifferent - and, let’s be honest here, mediocre - mason.
It also didn’t help that their sons, twin boys named Matthew and Luke - We had to flush John, Mark would say, laughing uproariously at his own crass joke time and again - were on the cusp of turning fourteen and being promoted from the eighth grade. Luke was good natured, much like she used to be, but Matthew was wild and unpredictable like the spring weather here smack in the middle of Illinois, sometimes bitterly cold, then rainy for days on end with brief bursts of blinding sun. It was all just too much.
So she did what she always did when she was troubled (although this went beyond just being troubled, she was sure of that): she baked. Quiches and tarts and pies and yes, even soufflés, though she was too distracted most of the time for them to turn out right, and she ended up dumping them in the trash, where they appraised her, their deflated folds sad and accusing.
Mark came home from work that Friday, pulling his accountant’s tie loose and walking into her kitchen. He gave her a quick kiss on the back of the head and a meaningful squeeze on her once pert ass - like everything else, it had been muddled too, by time and too many lemon tarts. It was Friday night. Anything could happen, she thought dully.
At least the boys were gone for the night. They were over at Jack Arden’s house, whose father was in the Air National Guard and a high school gym teacher to boot, so she knew he didn’t put up with much. They would stay until Sunday morning, most likely, until Mr. and Mrs. Arden were sufficiently sick of them. Their absence relieved her in ways that she was uncomfortable admitting, even out loud to her friends. These teenage years were exhausting to her, much more so than their babyhoods, when she was certain that she would never sleep again.
“Smells good,” Mark called as he exited the kitchen into the living room.
“Mixed berry pie,” she said, not thinking not about raspberries and blackberries and blueberries, but about the secret berries she had added, the ones that grew in the moist shade, along the natural limestone terrace that surrounded part of their property.
“Mmmm, pie makes everything better,” he said loud enough so that she could hear him from the other room. She was sure that he was smiling as he walked up the stairs to change his clothes. He had nothing to make better, though. Unlike Marti, Mark was never ruffled, he always took things in stride, he never came undone. It was most unsettling.
He enjoyed the pie – ate two pieces after picking at the chicken marsala that she had made them for supper.
“Too many onions,” was his comment, although he did eat a decent amount of the chicken, scraped clean of the rich and velvety sauce. What a waste, she thought. After the pie, he went into the living room and turned on his favorite news program, turning the volume high so that he didn’t have to strain to hear it over the sound of her cleaning up in the kitchen. He was not sexist - Not any more than any other man, she decided - but early on in their marriage she had told him that she didn’t really mind pulling kitchen duty, including clean up. That way everything would be put back just the way that she wanted.
As she cleaned, she hummed to herself a bit, a tuneless melody. She was feeling a little better now. She was drying the last of the dishes when Mark poked his head around the corner.
“Sorry to ruin “Adult Time” tonight,” he said, actually making air quotes with his fingers, “But I need to go to bed. I’m feeling pretty lousy.” He patted his stomach when he said this.
“Probably shouldn’t have eaten two pieces of pie,” he admitted sheepishly as he made his exit.
“Probably not,” she called after him. There was a cheery lilt to her voice that had been missing for a few months. “G’night, honey.”
Marti felt a rush of energy, the blood in her veins snapping and crackling like perfectly fried chicken as she finished the kitchen cleanup. Afterwards, she went into the family room that Mark and the boys never used. She looked for something on the television to hold her interest, but she found nothing, other than a popular televangelist that was crying into his $1,000 handkerchief, screeching I repent, Lord! I repent! Save this sinner, Lord! All of this made her smile dazedly.
Before bed, she covered the pie and pushed it towards the back of the counter. She would throw away the rest of it in the morning. But not in the trash, where it might look at her disapprovingly, like the ruined souffles always did. Instead, she would grind it through the garbage disposal, where it would disappear as if it had never been.
She went upstairs and instead of turning left into the bedroom that she shared with her husband (her customary traffic pattern), she turned right into the seldom used guest bedroom. As she folded herself around the door, she noted that the usual snoring - it was as familiar to her as the c-section scar that bisected her lower abdomen and almost as annoying - was, in fact, absent.
“I’ll just let him rest,” Marti thought. a giddy joy blooming from somewhere below her stomach. She took off her clothes, draping them neatly over the chair. It was an ugly and outdated plaid from the early Nineties, the first piece of real furniture she had bought at the tender age of twenty-two. I should get that recovered, she thought, excited to be making plans for the future, even if it was something as small as a worn chair in an often forgotten room. The boxes in her mind began to sort themselves again, donating what they couldn’t use and discarding that which was of no use to anyone anymore.
She slept completely naked, as she hadn’t done since well before the boys were born - Mark had complained that it wasn’t really sanitary, so she had stopped doing it. She dreamed she was in a long room. There were windows at the far end and it was completely bare except for a child’s quilt. peppered with strawberries, laid carefully on the floor. There was someone behind her that she couldn’t see, yet she wasn’t afraid. Whispery hands moved across her yielding body and the presence at her back did not allow her to slip to the ground, even though she only wished to lay with her head on that quilt and think of nothing but the warm sunshine and the taste of ripe berries as they burst across her tongue.
The orgasm was so powerful that it woke her right up from sleep. She sat upright, the morning light glinting weakly through the single window high above the bed. Footsteps, loud and unencumbered, filled the hallway.
“Mark?” she called. He shouldn’t be up. He should be “sleeping” (she saw the air quotes in her mind, even though she did not make them with her fingers).
The knob turned and Matthew’s seal-sleek head appeared around the door. His hair was much darker and thicker than Luke’s. He was, Marti admitted privately, a much more handsome boy than his fraternal twin. If only his attitude matched, she had sighed, more than once to a friend.
“What are you doing home?” she asked, confused and, to be honest, still very much aroused.
“Mr. Arden had weekend training, so he dropped us off on the way to the armory. What’re you doing sleeping in here?” he asked, only half interested.
“Your father wasn’t feeling well…” she said, and then remembered. The boxes snapped completely into place and everything was so clear, too clear.
“Oh god, that pie, you didn’t eat that pie DID YOU?!” The blanket slipped a little, coming dangerously close to revealing her nakedness to her son. He scuttled back with a half-disgusted, half-frightened look on his face.
“Jesus, Mom, chill – I only ate a little piece,” Matthew said, safely behind the door. Marti clawed at the blanket with her inexpert fingers, pulling it close, only realizing at that moment how scratchy and uncomfortable it was against her skin.
“Luke’s the pig,” Matthew said belligerently, through the hollow door. “He already ate two.”