Image acquired from the Internet Hive Mind (multiple postings)
Joe stopped inside the living room. The house was clean. Not just picked up trash clean which was intimidating enough. Because between two small children, one of which was nursing, and a fairly full-time job as a real estate agent, Cheryl usually met “at least not smelling of garbage” standard until he had the weekend to bring everything into the healthy livable please-don’t-call-social-services-on-us environment.
Today his son laid in his onesie in front of the television, wet hair slicked back from a recent bath, watching “Frozen” and not a toy was in sight. The determined dust bunnies and stains he had not been able to unseat had been murdered by a vacuum and … he sniffed … lavender-scented carpet foam. A sparkling white playpen, bleached clean of the thousand of teeth marks and grubby fingerprints, contained his daughter trying to pull her socks off. So far the infant was unsuccessful because the feet kept moving on her when she reached to grab them with her hands. She smiled and gurgled at the challenge.
He continued through the Stepford Wives perfection to the kitchen where his wife scrubbed the dishes he had left soaking the night before, her blond hair swept back into a bun without a hair out of place, her make-up perfect for house-showing, and her nearly re-tamed belly brushing the counter as she leaned over the sink for leverage. He didn’t mind the paunch, two children stretch things, but she hated it and had the adults of the house on diets.
“My love,” Joe bravely called her attention to his existence, “how was your day?”
Cheryl turned toward him, her eyes sparkling angrily, her hands scraping the scrub brush against the non-stick pan hard enough to remove the special surface and leave groves. Through gritted teeth, words emerged.
She nodded sharply to a plate and glass, beside a ruler and a water-soluble child’s over-sized magic marker. The only dirty dishes in the room. Even the dusty wine glasses had been washed. While she could not drink alcohol, Joe abstained. He never was much of a drinker anyway. The last time she wasn’t nursing or pregnant, they shared a bottle of champagne in belated celebration of their anniversary which likely lead to the baby in the crib now. That was the sum total of in-house consumption.
Walking over to the plate, he examined the offense. A hot dog had been chewed length-wise beside a half-a bun. A bit of ketchup, strangely not a blob, but with a portion wiped clean. Apple pieces broken in the center. A green mark had been made midway on a glass of milk, with the top of the milk aligned perfectly to the mark.
Joe closed his eyes a moment, trying to contain himself. Don’t react, don’t react. He thought to himself. She’s still hasn’t rebalanced hormonally from the postpartum. Life would be easier, maybe, if her balance shifted to the more typical to the depressive state instead of manic.
“So, my love, did you said he couldn’t go outside and play until he ate half of what was on his plate.”
“I blame you!”
Don’t laugh. For the love of God man, don’t laugh. Don’t even say “But you agreed food was the perfect way to teach children fractions.” She will hear it as “I told you so.” The couch is not comfortable, far too short and some of the springs are broke from Scott bouncing on it. And don’t forget she knows where all the knives in the house are. She just finished polishing them.
Staring at her a moment, considering all of his options, Joe’s mind got distracted. She was beautiful. How did he end up with someone this special? Clever, brilliant, utterly gorgeous, driven. Shaking himself mentally from the fatigue of work and wonder of his wife, Joe returned to the temporary minefield of his house. “I’m sorry, my love. Truly. Could I help make it better by finishing the dishes before we eat?” And saving what is left of the non-stick surfaces, he added internally.
(680 words – first publication 2/28/2016)