Sunday, March 30, 2008


Editors note: Fiction alert.

Respectfully submitted,

The Wife

She tugged at the cabinet door again. Finally the swollen wood gave way and it swung open with a jolt and a creak of protest. In late summer, they always stuck. The combination of the heat and humidity outside, and the dampness from the pressure cooker and boiling water as she canned whatever she could out of her garden to store for the winter, wasn’t kind to cabinetry that should have been thrown out with the rest of the stuff when they gutted the old church downtown.

Frank was so proud when he brought them home. “I got those new cabinets you wanted,” he beamed.

She’d nearly cried. She had visions of him building nice new ones that she would sand and paint. Maybe even do some extra sewing to make enough money for those pretty little decorative knobs. Anything to make this old, broken down home seem more like the ones she saw her friends living in. The ones she imagined living in as a little girl. Instead, she got a ramshackle 50-year old story and a half that didn’t have indoor plumbing the first year of their marriage. And there he was with these ancient, tired cabinets they’d salvaged from the church basement, with the awful Formica top and the peeling paint. When they didn’t quite fit, he’d just taken off the base and cut one end off, leaving them about two inches shorter than a standard cabinet and with one “half” shelf with no door.

She pulled out some more jar lids, and shut the door. The stack of bills on top of the cabinet fell and scattered. She stooped to gather them, cringing at the red “past due” stamped on more than one. She gathered them up and tucked them back in the shelves, looking at her long fingernails, stained various colors by the gardening and the canning, and her hands, cracked and dry from working outside in the fields as they finished the summer haying. She slumped into a sitting position at the bottom of the stairs, and the tears started to roll.

She remembered that sick feeling in her stomach, amplified by the soft undulations of her extended belly, when she heard the news that they’d found his car across the state line. Joe was fine; just wasn’t prepared to be a parent. She had sat in their tiny apartment, trying to decide what to do. Remembering making that humiliating call to her parents and asking for help. Waiting for the “I told you so” that she knew they had to be thinking after the shot gun wedding months ago. Remembered packing her clothes and few belongings, including the baby layette she’d started accumulating, and going back home.

Frank had been mature and charming when they were first dating. It was 1970; a divorced woman with a toddler should consider herself lucky to have found someone with some property, a good work ethic, and, more importantly, who could love and provide for her baby girl. She couldn’t think beyond the immediate situation. Couldn’t take the time to entertain those dreams she still had. Returning to Europe. Summers on the eastern shore. A day at the art museum followed by a moonlight walk on the shores of Lake Michigan. Finishing her commercial arts degree. At that moment, though, Frank just seemed like a fresh start for a woman with few alternatives.

And here she still sat. Hadn’t left the state since they got married. Still living in these same six small rooms, with the worn linoleum, the leaky ceiling, the uninsulated walls and the hand-me-down furniture. Still rising at six every morning to milk the cows and start breakfast for a man who spoke in gruff, three-word phrases and a few well-timed grunts. Still staring at ugly, peeling cabinets that she knew she could never afford to replace. Knowing that this was all just part of a path she had chosen years before, that would never lead her back to those old dreams. She pressed her palms into her eyes, and rested her elbows on her knees, her shoulders shaking with each sob.

“Mom, why are you sad?” came the voice above her head.

She looked up to see her oldest daughter sitting on the stairs above her, a worn copy of a Nancy Drew novel with the library sticker on it tucked under her arm, wearing homemade corduroy pants and second-hand sweater from the neighbor girl. Her daughter smiled, her front teeth slightly crooked. No money for braces, either. She was awkward and skinny at age ten, but smart and responsible. Simple.

She tried to speak, but the sobs caught in her throat. “I hate,” and here she paused, and turned away, before saying “these ugly cabinets.” Wondered if her daughter heard the “my life” echoing in her mind.

She felt a thin, small hand patting her back. “Don’t worry, Mom. Someday, I’ll buy you new cabinets. I promise. Someday, I’ll buy you a whole new house. Just don’t cry, Mom.”

She wiped her eyes and turned to give the girl a hug. “Someday,” she whispered into her hair. “Someday.”

1 comment:

Betty said...

I love the reference to the Nancy Drew novel.