She stared blankly at the wall as the sounds of sobbing pushed through from the other room. This is my life now, she thought listlessly as she rubbed her tired eyes. Have kids, they said. It will be different when they’re yours, they said. You’ll totally regret not having them! It had its moments. This was not one of them.
The sobs turned into the dramatic wracking coughs and wheezes of sorrow that could only be mustered by a distraught toddler.
“Lord, take me now,” she murmured, turning from the empty wall and pouring herself another coffee into the gaudy floral mug she’d gotten for mother’s day last year (a last minute gift if ever there was one). She took a sip, then spluttered as the cold liquid touched her lips. “Son of a–!” She dumped the entire cup, then immediately regretted it as she watched the brown puddle dribble down the drain.
She could have reheated that precious liquid.
She used to be patient.
She used to sleep longer than four hours a night, uninterrupted.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and… realized the sobbing had stopped. Silence. But, not peaceful silence. Oh, no. Silence was never peaceful these days. It was the split second before the explosion. It was the plane falling through the air, the engines cut. It was the swell of the tidal wave just before it broke over the crowded city.
She swore as she realized her sock was wet. She tore it off and tossed it unceremoniously at the wall, where it fell behind a brown potted plant. She’d forgotten to water that fern for the past… Huh. She wasn’t sure when. She pulled off the second sock and continued on barefoot. She didn’t even bother checking what sort of liquids pooled around the house nowadays. She stomped past the large mirror in the entryway–good God, I need to get rid of all reflective surfaces in this house, she thought, ignoring the flyways in her hair and the smudged mascara from–When was the last time she’d put on makeup? Three days ago? How the hell was that still there? Oh, right, I haven’t showered in three days–and threw open the door to the toddler’s bedroom.
Just as she suspected, the room was in shambles. The sheets of the stylish little tent in the corner had been pulled down. Pillows seemed to fill the room, interspersed with an explosion of books. There was a flash of anger when she saw the neatly folded laundry–a painstaking task finished only hours before, after force feeding breakfast to a tantruming, over-hungry child–had been completely undone. Socks were hanging off lamps, shirts and dresses had been turned inside out and thrown into a (she assumed) confetti cannon and launched toward space. Elon Musk would be proud, she thought wryly, folding her arms and inspecting her child with a withering glare.
“Angie Jane Michaels,” she said sternly, meeting the toddler’s defiant gaze. Two long lines of green boogers were currently dripping into the child’s downturned mouth. “I told you to sit quietly for ten minutes and think about what you’ve done, not tear your room apart! You’re lucky you didn’t wake the ba–”
Right on cue, the baby monitor began flashing and the static of sound flared up. She sighed and unlatched the monitor from the band of her sweatpants. She flipped on the black and white screen: A squirming figure shifting around the crib like a worm struggling through overturned dirt.
She felt her eyes go blurry staring down at the screen.
“MUM!” The angry cries of the toddler broke through her momentary daze.
“Don’t shout at me!”
“MUUUUUM!” And thus began the sobbing anew.
The baby started wailing, until the small house was an echoing chorus of the misery of youth.
“Four-thirty can’t come soon enough.” She turned on her heel and walked down the hall, hearing the patter of toddler feet close behind, the cries magically morphed into sniffles.
No time for a shower. Grilled cheese for lunch, if they were lucky. Too late for order-in groceries. Could she order pizza? She could ask him to pick something up, but his trips to the grocery store always took twice as long and came with a bombardment of questions via text: “Which aisle is that in again? Did you want the organic or the regular? What size diapers does she wear?” (Maybe if you changed them more often, you’d know!) And that was if he thought to text. Sometimes, unpacking the plastic (he would always forget the reusable) bags was like Christmas morning: You opened each one to find a mysterious something that wasn’t exactly what you’d asked for, and certainly not what you wanted. It ended up in the back of a cupboard somewhere, collecting dust until next spring when you cleaned out the cabinets and tossed it. Who the hell buys organic almond flour anyways? A waste.
She had already ordered curry on Monday night. Now it was Wednesday. No, wait… Thursday? Either way, if she ordered in food again this week he would make some comment about it and she would feel guilty. “It cost how much for one meal? Plus tip?“
It’s not like she was bringing in any sort of wage at the moment. Even as she spent every waking minute in the house exhausted and overwhelmed, she felt like the second he stepped through that front door at four-thirty, she had to justify every single thing she had done during the day, like a checklist to prove that she wasn’t lazy or useless. Because that’s what she had always thought of the stay-at-home parent before she’d become one, hadn’t she? Kids just sleep all day, she’d used to say. Moms probably just sit around watching Netflix and baking brownies all day.
Oh, God, I would kill for a brownie right now.
Well, she had watched a lot of Netflix since becoming a stay at home mom, but that was mostly because she was too tired to stand on her feet, much less clean or wash or cook anything. But if she asked for help, then she was the selfish one. She’d chosen this. She’d finally pressured him into it, not that he worried much over life decisions for the family. It had been she who’d picked out their car, she who had found this house, she who purchased all their clothes and books and decided where they would go on a date (if they ever went out again). Life had become a blur of decision after decision, while never truly decided on anything of consequence. Days were weeks were hours were years.
There had been a time, before all of this, when time was her own. Glass of wine on a weeknight? Sure. Weekend trip away? Why not. Staying up past minute to finish reading that last chapter of a book? Of course.
Now, though… She couldn’t remember the last time she’d finished a book. Or even read a sentence in one, for that matter. The last thing she recalled reading was a mommy blog post reminding her of how bad a job she was doing.
She reached into the crib and soothed the baby. His face had crumpled into a red mess of spilling tears and goo. Her boobs ached anyways. The pressure would be unbearable soon enough. Hell, every pressure of parenthood was unbearable. Time for another feeding. Then lunch. Then a shower, maybe, if the toddler went down.
You’ll regret it if you don’t do it! Don’t you want to be a grandma someday? Don’t you want someone to take care of you in your old age?
As she fed the baby, she thought of her own parents, still in good health and happy to do their thing. Did they only have her, her sister, her brother, because they wanted someone to take care of them some day? Because Steven was hardly responsible enough to renew his car insurance, and Rebekah would rather post pictures of her kids on Instagram and blog about her vegetarianism than check in on mom and dad and ask how they were doing.
DING. There was a chime, followed by a hollow knock, at the door. Or was it she who was hollow? She had enough awareness to flatten her hair and check that her shirt was on all the way and (mostly) unstained before she answered, the baby held tightly in the crook of her arm. At least I have strong arms, now, she thought. Too bad my other bits haven’t recovered as well.
Amazon delivery. The delivery man was already halfway down the stairs and turned back to give a wave to her before hopping in his van. She shifted the baby’s weight slightly and crouched down, shaking the package. She didn’t remember ordering anything. Right before the second baby came, she had ordered about fifteen different things online and they had all come in their own boxes over the following days. He had stared at them in shock and demanded how much money she had spent and why. Why, Christina? Since then, she’d stopped with the orders as much as possible. She didn’t feel like explaining the need for the bibs–Yes, honey, toddlers need bibs, it’s not a luxury; The plastic cups with the sippy straws so the toddler wouldn’t spill as much–Do you know how many sticky things I’ve stepped in just in the last hour?; Ah, and the nipple cream–Do you really want me to explain why I need this? No? I didn’t think so.
She carried the package to the table and settled the baby under the plastic mobile. She retrieved a butter-knife caked in peanut butter from the kitchen–it was too much effort to search for anything clean–and cut open the package. She pulled aside the unnecessary paper, which had been haphazardly tossed on top of the item as if that were enough to protect the contents and kill a few trees in the process, and reached in to pull out a white box the size of her hand. It was flipped upside down.
The toddler bunched her hands up around her teddy bear’s throat and smiled up sweetly at her mother. “Can we have a tea party?”
That girl knew how to soften her mother up. She sighed. “Yes, alright.”
She left the package on the table and spent the next ten minutes–for that was as long as the toddler’s attention span lasted–and pretended to drink fictional tea out of a plastic cup, followed by a spoonful of imaginary porridge. When that was done, the toddler ran off to find a picture book. In the momentary reprieve, she returned to the table after glancing at the baby and seeing him still happily swinging his legs and trying to bat at the dangling shapes with chubby arms.
She pulled out the white box and flipped it over in her hand.
Her breathing stopped for a moment. Her hand froze, her eyes staring down at the label. At the name on the ‘This Gift Belongs To’ text.
At some point, she heard the toddler calling for her. She blinked, stirred, shoved the white box back into the packaging. She would deal with that later. Later, she told herself. Her heart was pounding wildly, her mind shooting in sixteen different directions.
Cheating? No. No way. When? How would he have found the time? All those hockey nights? When he was ‘out’ with friends? Or his early morning visits to the gym? What sort of sick bastard had sex with another woman at six a.m. on a week day? Was there another, reasonable explanation? Was this her tired mind coming up with elaborate made-up scenes of an unfaithful husband? What about all those times he didn’t really have an answer for where he was, who he was talking to… All those times she woke up to the light of his phone peering through the darkness of their bedroom.
“WHAT, ANGIE?” She screamed back.
The baby started crying. The toddler stared, her eyes shining and her face turning steadily redder. Then, Angie too burst into tears.
She sighed, feeling her own tears and swallowing them before they could swallow her. “I need a shower,” she said hollowly, and walked down the hallway in a daze, leaving the two crying children behind.
This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents in this book are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.