All Andrew wanted was the typical American dream: a good career, a nice house, and a loving family. Instead, he has a dead-end job, a cramped apartment, and children who remind him of creatures out of a sci-fi movie. He’s also well aware that he’s not the only man who inhabits his wife’s thoughts and daily life. How can he put up a fight when he’s reminded of the competition every time Bethany turns on the CD player? After one eventful evening meal when expectations, disappointments, and secrets collide, life will never be the same.
I’m so excited that this story is out again, and thrilled to have it with Mocha Memoirs Press. This particular piece was written long ago, and it holds a weird, warped place in my heart. Although it’s not based on any relationship I’ve had, I think it’s helped me to deal with failed relationships to write a piece like this. Plus, it’s interesting to really deal with a character like Andrew who has these expectations that aren’t meant. That’s a very common experience, and it was interesting to write a character so different from myself and how he dealt with that.
Plus, of course, the musical aspect was fun. After all, it’s not just you and your significant other in a relationship, is it? It’s both your families, all your past loves, the people they interact with, the things they like, the music they listen to…you just never know what shadows are going to be lingering at the edges, waiting to insert themselves.
Still curious about the title? How about an excerpt?
Andrew squeezed to his place at the head of the table and glared at the boombox that sat on the counter right beside his head. With smug satisfaction he turned the CD off. As soon as the sound died away the spark of light that inhabited Bethany went out. Her slender shoulders drooped a little more, her delicate blonde head bent slightly, and the set of her mouth became tighter, as if she had a migraine coming on. Instead of being full of youth and motherhood, she looked like a tired homemaker or a condemned prisoner. Is this how she feels with me around? Is this the effect I have on my own wife? He bit the inside of his cheek and studied the vinyl tablecloth. Don’t I get tired too? Don’t I get disappointed? I’m trapped in this life, just like she is. At least I live in reality! It was petty and childish, but he felt so much better when the stereo was turned off. It was just a hunk of metal and electricity then, not a challenge.
Miranda and Gregory returned and dutifully sat in their booster seat and high chair. They smacked still-sticky hands together and bowed tousled heads in the pre-meal ritual. Andrew cringed in slight disgust. When he was a boy, his father had looked so happy at the end of the day. The old man had been full of contentment and Andrew still remembered being in awe of him. When he was nine at his parents’ dining room table he hadn’t been able to wait until that position of power and benevolence would be his own someday. And now here I am.
Yet as hard as Andrew tried, the corners of his mouth wouldn’t climb upwards as he glanced over at his kids. The longer things went on, the harder it was to smile even for his wife. The whole scene that should have been reminiscent of Norman Rockwell left him apathetic at best, and he fought the urge to check his watch. There were other places he could be – places he should be. Places where he belonged.
No, I belong here. This is what I wanted and now I have it. I have to live with it. It isn’t my fault I was given a raw deal. At least at the office he fit in, even if he was low on the corporate ladder. My opinion’s valued there. I’m around people just like me and not… Andrew’s thoughts trailed off and he swallowed down his frustration. This is my life, he reminded himself. It’s what I wanted – well, what I thought I wanted. I have to stick with it.
His inner pep talk faded when Bethany abruptly got up from her seat. “Forgot the broccoli!” She dashed to retrieve it.
“But I hate broccoli,” Andrew sighed. The kids relaxed their angelic poses and began to regard their plates with sneaky expressions.
“I know, but they really love it. It’s one of the few vegetables they’ll eat without a fight,” his wife countered, the edges of her voice worn with fatigue like old denim. Andrew grunted a reply and idly trailed his finger over the mismatched plate before he sucked off the juices.
“You’re not supposed to eat before the prayer!” Miranda shouted, jabbing an accusing finger at him. Gregory followed his sister’s lead and cast out his arm, nearly sending his baby cup flying.
“I just put my finger in the sauce!” he snapped. His voice was less the paternal tone he would have liked and more like a teenager’s lame excuse. Bethany re-entered, a frown tugging across her face as she placed the putrid green-filled bowl on the table. No wonder the kids loved it; it probably enhanced their natural stench.
Andrew coolly returned her stare before clearing his throat. Let’s just get this over with and then I can go get some real food. “All right, come on, let’s pray – what are you doing?!” Right in front of him, bold as could be, Miranda very carefully leaned over and ran a delicate pink tongue over the center of her plate.
“I just ran my tongue through the sauce!” Her voice was solemn and she took a moment to wipe at her mouth with her shirt sleeve. Bethany made a slight choking laugh before reigning herself in.
“Not at the table. And use a napkin,” she reprimanded, but her lip twitched as she struggled not to look his way.