I need to get ready. My hair is lying in greasy wings, and I’ve been swilling wine from the bottle and licking cheese off the knife blade. My evil sister-in-law made the wine herself in her newest self-improvement experiment, and I have grudgingly admitted that it isn’t half bad. There is a fruity pulp gathered at the bottom of each fat bottle, and I’m worried it will stain my teeth. My husband enters the room and the lamplight reflects off of his giant new veneers as he begins to yell at me. “What the fuck! We need to leave in twenty minutes!” He thrusts his wrist out and flicks the knock-off Breitling that his boss brought him back from China. I am drunk, and I don’t react. I lift up my arm to sniff my pit and quietly acknowledge the necessity of a shower.
I tilt my head up to look at my husband as he stands over me. He has been cheating on me. In order to gain a pass for his extracurricular activities, he has enlisted his family and employees for help in assassinating my character. I’m not sure if I should go. “Take Chickadaybay,” I say, using my derogatory name for his secretary who is pathetically and obviously in love with him. “She might have a nice tablecloth to drape over herself for the occasion.” He looks at me with amused resignation rather than his customary contempt, and I grasp it desperately as a sign of love. His emotions are fickle and shadows cross his face as his mood changes. “You’re going. Just try not to spill your wine all over the boss’s wife this time.” His eyes glitter with cruelty like hard, black little marbles.
“I don’t think we should leave the kids.” We both look toward the dining room table. They are ensconced in the pixilated world of Minecraft and would be oblivious to a nuclear blast. “They’re fine,” he says. He’s right. They never move from their places. I remember all the fun things we did with them before things went bad, and it hurts me now to see their vacant eyes, glowing by the backlight of their twin monitors. I can shower even if I don’t go. After all, things are getting a bit manky.
I set the empty bottle on the mantle and grab a Miller Lite from the fridge for a shower beer. I have lived in this house for fifteen years now, and as I make my way upstairs, I know to skip the third and seventh steps on my way up because I am barefoot and the treads have loose nails in them. The house is old. Upstairs the damp rot of the walls gives off a sweet, dusty smell. The plaster has crumbled away from the lathe in patches, making it seem like we are living in the haunted house in a Scooby Doo episode. As I walk down the hall, I am pulling at my sweaty sports bra. After my run I had allowed it to dry on my body, and a salty, damp band still clings to my skin. I kick the bedroom door closed behind me and the glass knob pops off. Years of practice has conditioned my wrist as I smack it back into place, twist it, and smack it again.
I hadn’t even mad it around the corner to come upstairs before the illuminated screen of his Blackberry lit up his face. His thumbs seemed to caress the keyboard as they flew over it. Was it a love letter? A secret message? He’s downloaded Taylor Swift songs onto his iPod. His family loves her already, I think to myself as I toss a push-up bra onto the bed. I go into the closet and pull my gray wool dress out. Toss it on the bed with the bra. Black Aldo boots with the three inch heels. They will make it harder for drunk me to walk, but she’ll be there, looking quietly through her hair, waiting for the day when she is the one holding onto his arm.
I hear his heavy, resigned tread on the stairs and I go into the bathroom before I have to talk to him again. I open up both taps and twist off the beer cap using the towel hanging from the shower rod. I set the beer in the corner of the tub. The steam from the shower and the coldness of the beer make me stalwart, and I let out a big breath as the needle spray washes away eight miles of dusty trail. I don’t have time to have the imaginary arguments that shower-time usually invites, and so I hastily scrape my legs with a dull razor and do the best I can with all the rest.
Knotting the towel around my hair, I toss back the lukewarm dregs of the Miller and chuck the bottle into the overflowing trash. Fuck climate change. The recycling bin is too far. I know my husband is in the bedroom because I can hear Bon Jovi on the Jambox. The same damn song on repeat. Something about it being his life and now or never or some bullshit like that. I think he plays it to goad me. After manipulating my damp ass into an aggressive thong, I take a swig of Listerine while hastily applying my makeup. Loving the clean, burning feeling of it, I hold it in my mouth as long as I can. Finally, I can’t hold it any longer and it explodes into the sink with an astringent, medicinal smell that is very pleasant to me.
Baring my teeth in the mirror, I am happy with what I see. I have a smile that usually costs parents thousands to procure for their entitled teenagers, and there’s nobody that could have bought it for me. It was a genetic consolation prize for having the worst father ever. I had had more concussions than an NFL player by the time I was fourteen. Luckily, my teeth had escaped the worst of it, and a nearly empty pantry had kept my figure slim and trim. In the next room, Bon Jovi rocks endlessly on. I hear the muted beep of an incoming text message and I throw open the door and catch him dead in the act. He is hardened to my pain, smirking as he sets his phone down, confident that I’ll never guess his password.
Without pausing to consider my actions, I stride toward the bed and scoop the phone off the nightstand. He reacts defensively, but he is too slow. There is a straight shot between me and the toilet in the next room. He’s moving toward me in slow motion, desperation and rage a frozen mask on his face. I throw the phone, and his reaching fingertips miss it by millimeters. We both pause, waiting for the money shot. It plops into the toilet like a wayward torpedo turd, and although my conscious self understands that there will be dire consequences, my lizard brain savors the perfection of the shot for a bare second that has the beauty of seeming to last much longer than a second should last.
His reaction is so swift that I don’t register how I am now on the bed with him holding my face into the comforter. Experience has taught me that the less I struggle, the sooner it will be over, but instinct forces me to thrash as I try to suck oxygen through the heavy down duvet. One arm firmly clamps my neck down deep, and the other, the pitching arm, lands a plethora of carefully placed blows. Ever in control, he never bruises me where anyone would notice. The back of my head, my shoulder blades, the small of my back light up with a thousand explosions of pain. I cannot move or breathe. It is only my pain and slowly dimming consciousness. I begin to relax as I recede from this event as a participant and gradually become a spectator. With one last violent twist of my neck, he doubles down for the grand finale. In the corners of my consciousness, the low dull thuds of his fists remind me of the scene in Rocky, where Stallone beats the hell out of beef carcasses as part of his home-grown training program.
These situations always seem to last must longer than they actually do. The aftermath is usually the worst. Shampooing my knotted scalp and walking up the stairs will require care and planning for the next week to ten days. I lay on the bed gasping for air as he plunges his hand into the toilet on an aquatic recon mission. In spite of the consequences, I feel oddly satisfied. I’ve separated him from her, if only for an hour or two. I know this will only add to my reputation as a crazy, jealous bitch as he retells the story to all his flying monkeys at work, but in truth, he will get a new phone and most likely will not have to pay for it. Now he plugs the hair dryer in and waves the hot air over the keyboard. I peer over the side of the bed just in time to see the display screen slowly dim, until nothing remains but a blank, grey square. Our eyes meet. He is resigned, still heaving from the exertion of the last minute and a half. I gingerly test my weight as I step off the bed and begin to dress. We have only five minutes before we have to leave.