Fiction by C. Christine Fair
He could have taken their dilapidated car to the co-op. It would’ve been quicker, but he rather savored the idea of an excuse to be outside for an extra 40 minutes. It was one of those six days in Chicago when one could enjoy walking a few blocks. At any moment, the city could bloom into a humid heat that made even a short stroll unbearable.
With his partially full jute tote in hand, his feet grew heavier as he neared their building. He dreaded walking through their door. No matter what he did or did not do, she would greet him with that minacious grimace. She would, as always, insist he got her requested items wrong. Even when he wrote them down and read them back to her, she still insisted that he scribbled them incorrectly either because he didn’t care anymore or, worse, he deliberately wanted to demonstrate his disregard for her.
He sat on the stoop staring at the bag and its pathetic contents watching a young couple make out at the bus stop across the street. They too were once young and hungry for each other. He felt the need to smoke. Just one, he thought. He forced himself to remember his dad, stented and dying in that hospital bed as his lung cancer ravaged him. Halfway through his Camel, he heaved an anxious sigh, rubbed it out and put a stick of gum in his mouth. He considered taking the elevator but taking the stairs would buy a few more moments of peace. He felt as if he were hauling his own corpse up the four floors.
He muttered perhaps out loud “Why don’t I leave her? What the hell is wrong with me for staying?” He turned his head to see if anyone had heard. This simple question stumped him. Maybe it was their shared loss of that first pregnancy. That day, she took the Number 6 bus home because he could not think to drive their then-new car to pick her up from the office. She didn’t bother calling him when she lost the second. He was self-absorbed and distant when she needed him, when she dreamt of sinking into the filthy depths of Lake Michigan like a rock.
How do you walk away from a shared grief that runs deep in your bones? When even you are ashamed for letting her take the bus home after feeling your baby slip out of her body and into that toilet. Twice. What did she think as she looked at those ethereal mass of bloody flesh before she flushed them away with her dreams of motherhood? How did she manage to return to her desk, collect her things and board the bus with her soiled pants? How could she forgive him when he couldn’t? She must hate him as much as he loathes himself.
He reached their floor and turned left towards their flat. The wood floors of the hallway groaned beneath his weight. He put his ear to the door to listen for her. Had she fallen asleep with her magazine? He wanted to flit inside, offload the groceries into the fridge and sneak off to his office and lock the door and open the bottle of scotch he hid in his file cabinet for such days.
He tentatively inserted and turned the key and opened the door as inaudibly as possible before softly closing it. As he slowly turned around, he saw her standing there, with her legs akimbo and arms crossed. He felt absurd. She surely watched him trying to slink in without her notice. She had been crying. Her blurred mascara rendered her a rabid racoon. Her swollen eyes were a transparent ice blue, which made them simultaneously exquisite and haunting.
Her tongue coiled up like an asp, preparing to strike. “Where were you all this time?”
He put his hands in his pockets and looked uneasily towards their wizened cat basking in the last remnants of the afternoon sun. He explained that he went to the grocery store, as she had requested.
“Well. Isn’t that interesting? You went to the store. What did you buy…at the store?” She lowered her voice menacingly as she articulated “at the store.”
His gut churned as he explained that he bought those apples and oranges she wanted. This was her “fetch me a rock” exercise, which she used to torment him. She’d tell him “Get me a rock.” When returned with a rock in hand, she’d grouse that the rock wasn’t igneous or she'd gripe that it was, in fact, igneous. It was either too smooth or too rough; too big or too small. And so, he waited for the questions about the kind of apples he bought. Did he buy the Fuji apples she had been craving all week or the tasteless, mealy Red Delicious apples which were ubiquitous and cheap these days? Were the oranges those uninspiring navel oranges she detested as of Wednesday evening or did he procure the juicy clementines she enthusiastically mentioned this morning?
“So, you didn’t buy my bananas?” she asked almost sinisterly, as if she had caught him in some nefarious plot.
Thinking on his feet, he wondered to himself whether she asked him to buy bananas. “Is she fucking with me again? For fuck’s sake, I cannot keep track.”
Looking back at the cat, he stammered, “So, um… about those bananas. I didn’t forget. Not at all. But can you believe those assholes were out of bananas? What grocery store is out of god-damned bananas?”
“No. Actually. I cannot believe they were out of bananas,” she said as she walked towards the phone and picked it up. Glowering at him, she asked 411 to connect her to the 55th Street Co-Op.
He stood there terrified as he awaited the verdict and the miserable night that awaited them both.