Husbands and Wives
by Sarah Bain
Jack went to the store a while ago. I have about ten more minutes before I start imagining his demise. He knows this about me, and I know that he’s the slowest shopper in the world. You’d think we’d give each other a break or at least demand that I do the grocery shopping. He runs out for the small things: eggs, milk, cheese, broccoli, diapers.
Tonight I needed tortillas and avocados for the tacos, and Jack needed to get out of the house so he went to the store. I had to write these two things down on a list because if he went without a list, it’d take him even longer. Me, I could go to the store without a list, buy the two ingredients, find a couple more things we need and be home in fifteen minutes. Jack takes that long just to get to the store.
So now it’s been forty minutes, and I start running through the routine in my head. He’s always late; I know this. He’s just looking at all the avocados trying to decide if one is in fact ripe enough for me. But how long can that really take?
After forty minutes I think he should be home. I spend five minutes imagining him getting into the car, starting the car, flipping on the radio station, turning around to back out, backing out of his parking spot, waiting for the traffic to ease up before turning left onto the street, looking both ways. Surely, he should be home.
He’s still not home.
It’s getting dark, and the kids are screaming that they’re hungry, and the dogs are barking and I refuse to feed them because it’s Jack’s job and it should have been done twenty minutes ago and where the hell is he? I start putting the food out—lettuce, hamburger, tomatoes from a can, grated cheese, mild salsa, sour cream. But without the tortillas, what exactly is this meal?
For a few more minutes I remain worried that something happened. Did he take his medication this morning? Is he having an episode? I see him driving along slowly and suddenly swerving on the road, unable to pull over quickly enough. Maybe he hits a cyclist, someone walking her dog, a telephone pole?
For the next ten minutes, I’m angry. The anger builds inside of me. He’s not home, crap. He’d better damn well be dead or else. I think of all the things I’m going to say to him, all the words I know that I shouldn’t say but I’m not sure if I have the ability to contain myself.
Then I hear it. I hear the car in the driveway, the tires crunching against the gravel. The dogs bark harder until they realize it’s our car that they are barking at. Then their tails get all waggy and excited. They could care less how late Jack is. They only care about the fact that he’s home.
I look out the window and there doesn’t seem to be any damage to the car. He’s just slow; even though I know this, even though I prepare myself for it, the anger always surprises me. The anger rises up, and I try so hard not to let him see it, but he feels it as soon as he walks in the door. The excuses start flying out of his mouth. Something about going down the wrong aisle, but I can’t hear him because all the while I’m screaming at the top of my lungs and the kids are screaming and he starts screaming which is bad because he never screams and he throws the tortillas on the ground and the dog sniffs at the plastic trying to decide if it’s worth ripping open.
I let him take care of dinner and the kids by then because I’m just too angry to eat or to help or anything so I go up to my room, our room, and lay in bed and feel the anger moving through my body. All I really want Jack to do is come up, lift me out of bed and kiss me, but it’s too late for that. I can hear him calming the kids down, asking them who wants what in each taco.
I close my eyes and try to relax. I realize that I had a couple of choices to make when he came home. I realize that I could have gone up to him and given him a kiss and told him that I know it’s hard for him to shop, to be out in the world among people, that next time, perhaps we should remember to send me when I’m in a hurry. I could put my fingers through his hair and rub my hands up against the back of his neck and give him a hug. I could have felt the relief wash over him and his shoulders relax and his arms wrap back around me.
I could have done that and I could have been downstairs among my family, saying grace, eating dinner, being thankful for who we are, who we are with.
But I didn’t make that choice, did I?
I remember the last time that we went over to some friends’ house for dinner and Silvia’s husband, Artie, fell asleep on the couch. Silvia kept apologizing for him. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m sorry. He had a long day at work, a shitty day, and he’s so tired.” But I could see the anger filling her up and spinning around until we walked out the door. I could see the smile on her face disappearing and I could hear her voice as we were leaving, as we were opening the doors to our car, sitting down to buckle in and drive away. I remember thinking how ugly it sounded, the screaming from within the house. How glad I was to have Jack, to not have Artie, to have so much more than what she was feeling.
I remember thinking how her anger if I was to reflect it in a mirror would come out all ugly and witch-like.
We drove home that night and lifted our sleeping children out of their car seats and into their beds. We went into our bedroom, took off all our clothes and climbed under the covers together, naked and grateful for one another.
Sarah: I am a writer, mother of three, wife and dog owner who lives in Spokane, Washington writing in the middle of the night, between snacks and often with a 35-pound dog on my lap who's terrified of trucks that drive by on our street.