The Sequential Mode of Existence
Her eyes open a minute before the alarm goes off at seven. The coffee is on a timer. They sit in the kitchen with buttered toast and jam reading the newspaper. One kiss before she drops her husband off at Hilligan Incorporated to examine and reproach numbers each day. She drives to a high-rise the size of aspirations, but not body weight. She parks in L7, decides what colors will create a season. Sometimes plaids are thrown in with stripes. Throbbing ambition balms her inner beige. A fashion peepshow is not grazed over, but thrust upon. The days are long and acute.
At 515P she picks him up. They watch the six o’clock news in two chairs with trays she unfolds every evening for over forty years. Sometimes she picks up take-out from the restaurant in her building. Sometimes leftovers are heated up, or two Stouffer’s frozen dinners are set in the microwave. Her husband favors the Salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese, and she usually pops in the chicken Alfredo for herself. They both drink a glass of wine. Words pass back and forth. Misheard, nodded at, mulled over, lightly argued, simply yes, and when the TV is shut off the air is contrite and clear.
She doesn’t know how they get in, but strange girls start to wander through the apartment. They barge in with bags of groceries, make meals, take over the place. She can’t even find a fork. Her husband is wheeled around and put back into bed for naps. One side of his face doesn’t agree with the other. He looks up at her with his right eye, despondent. Most of his hair is gone and she can’t find the car keys. Some lady calls her ‘dear’ and ‘honey’ as if they have some sort of history together. She wants to spit on her. One girl spoons food into her husband’s mouth until she knocks it out of her hand. “He’s not an infant, fool!”
Someone situates him in the living room in his wheelchair at six to watch the news. She tells whatever girl is there to set the trays up. The kitchen is battering with unfamiliar smells and sounds, ponytails flipping, strangers laughing into cell phones. The husband slurs when he speaks. Their plates are loaded with enough food to feed a family of eight, sharp and bitter spices bite the tongue. There is no wine. A glass of water is on each tray.
“What has the world come to?” he whispers.
Babies with misshapen skulls and eyes loll around the screen. “Who’s going to help them?” she asks.
“Wish we were millionaires,” he says through one side of his mouth.
“We could save a whole country,” she says. Banter rolls around their tongues like a piece of hard candy. Rigid, then chewy, then barely a sliver of a thing. Exploding cars, cafes, a city of people in a blow-up boat. They stare.
One evening a girl comes out of the bedroom and tells the woman that her husband is unconscious. She might be the same fool who spoon-fed him, although they all wear lumpy clothes that settle over them like sandbags.
“Get him up,” the wife demands.
Fifteen minutes later the husband is wheeled in. His head slumps into his chin. He is tiny, must weigh less than her. His eyes are closed. The wife studies the trembling girl who is clothed in a horrid matching shirt-and-pants sack with frogs on it. What has happened to form and color? she wonders. Her husband is swathed in pajamas with food stains on the collar and sleeves.
She studies the plump girl with contempt. “Are you serious?” she asks. “Where are his goddamn glasses?”
Meg Tuite is author of a novel-in-stories, Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press), a short story collection, Bound By Blue, (Sententia Books) and won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from (Artistically Declined Press) for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, as well as four chapbooks of short fiction, flash, poetic prose, and multi-genre. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, is a senior editor at Connotation Press and (b)OINK lit zine. Her work has been published in over 400 literary magazines and over fifteen anthologies including: Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good. She has been nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize, won first and second place in Prick of the Spindle contest, five-time finalist at Glimmer Train and finalist of the Gertrude Stein award. She is also the editor of eight anthologies. Her blog: http://megtuite.com
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Photograph by Ann Wuyts