You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #59 of R.B. Wood’s THE WORD COUNT PODCAST.
The prompt asked that we use 3 words in the story:
NEWSPAPER | CIGARETTE | SCOTCH
NOTE: This story is excerpted and rewritten from a longer one, which I wrote earlier this year. It is partly inspired by a friend going through a difficult life change, and of course, by Pink Floyd.
* * * *
I’ve let go of so much. The kids are gone, moved away to University. They don’t need me anymore. My husband, Mike, still works. Someone has to pay the bills. He doesn’t need me either, but he puts up with me. I suppose it’s better than being alone, but my guess is it’s only marginally better for him. We navigate around each other without saying much. It’s not comfortable, but somehow we put up with each other. Complacency settles in after nearly thirty years of marriage, and with it, a dull ache fills my days.
It wasn’t always this way, but I remember exactly when everything changed. Six months ago, I picked up the Sunday New York Times like I did every week and read another study about climate change. I was a concerned citizen most of the time, but that day I thought: Why the hell should I care anymore? I’ll be long gone when the earth blows up. Even my grandchildren’s children won’t be around.
In that same paper, another article praised the benefits of alcohol and how previous studies had been overly cautious. In fact, scientists now encouraged drinking for middle-aged adults. Three to four glasses a day—beer, wine, liquor—it didn’t matter. Good for the heart and an excellent way to relieve stress. Next thing you know, they’ll be touting cigarettes as the new health fad!
I threw the newspaper across the room.
Garbage! All of it, garbage! I couldn’t believe anything anymore.
Something in me must have snapped because nothing was the same after that.
I was not the same.
* * * *
Hunger wakes me up, but I don’t get out of bed immediately. After drifting in and out of sleep for what seems like hours, I make my way downstairs. It’s already close to noon.
Dishes and a frying pan balance precariously atop the counter next to an empty sink—Mike’s bacon and eggs from last night’s dinner, his cereal from this morning.
The kitchen is in need of a thorough cleaning. Why my husband does not load the dishwasher is beyond me. The appliance does not exist for him. It’s the same with the laundry. He must think clean underwear and shirts just magically appear in his closet. I resent picking up after him, but he’s right about one thing—it’s me who has changed, not him.
I have not wanted to do anything in months. Even the thought of a few household chores hollows me. My brain feels pickled. Most days, I walk around sweaty and lethargic.
The light on the home phone blinks red. It’s been blinking for weeks now. I know the messages are for me, but I don’t want to listen to them. I wish people would stop worrying about me. I don’t dare turn on my computer. The thought of unanswered e-mails in my inbox makes my stomach lurch.
Something burbles to life and I spin in its direction. My feet shuffle in a robotic motion to find the source. The buzz continues, and I register it’s coming from my purse. I snatch the bag off the dining room table and empty its contents on the floor. My cell phone vibrates on the ceramic tile like a small, frightened animal. I grab it in a panic.
“When did you get up?” says the voice on the other end of the line. Mike’s words jolt me to attention.
“Right after you left for work.” I’m on the defensive already.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure, why?”
A pause. “I called earlier, that’s why.”
“Well … I must have been in the washroom, didn’t hear the phone.” I wonder if my friendly housewife voice fools him. “Did you want something?”
“Yes,” he barks. “Iron a few shirts for me. I need them for meetings this week.”
Please would be nice, I think to myself.
Mike’s words pinch, but I keep my thoughts to myself and somehow manage a cheerful, “Yeah, sure.” That’s how we talk to each other—no nuanced arguments, no fine points to be made.
I hang up and rage nudges up my stomach. It lodges in my chest like indigestion.
“How dare he talk to me that way?” I mutter to myself. Now I have to clean the house and iron. I loathe ironing.
* * * *
It’s Mike’s night out with the boys, and I manage to throw together a dinner of lasagna (from frozen of course) along with a salad (out a bag). He doesn’t seem to care. His mind is on watching the game and drinking with his friends anyway.
Now that he’s gone, I plod to the kitchen and crack an entire tray of ice cubes into the sink. I scoop up a handful, drop them into a tall glass of white wine, and gulp until the cold freezes my brain.
I’ve become an impressive drunk in that way where no one suspects I’m drinking.
My doctor prescribed antidepressants for me. They must be working, as I’m more productive now. I’m cooking again, and the house is clean. I even managed to respond to a few phone messages, and the other day, I fired up my computer. When I saw more than 300 emails in my inbox, I shut it down. Responding to emails would have to wait.
Playing around with what my doctor recommended has been tricky, but it’s one of the few things I do to empower myself. Instead of one pill with food, I take half a pill with a shot of Scotch. Yeah, the alcohol is a no-no, but … I seem to be okay so far.
I even had sex with my husband last night. Afterward, he flopped off me like a giant walrus, a fat limb-less torso. The only thing missing were the tusks. I didn’t enjoy it, but he must have. He seems nicer to me today than he’s been in a while.
As for me, I don’t feel much anymore. Numbness replaces the dull ache. It’s comforting really, much like a warm, cozy blanket.
Thank you for reading. ♥
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