Lately, my writing has consisted of poetry, children’s stories, and a whole lot of school work. But now I have graduated, and that opens up time for something else. I have three works of long prose, possibly novels, that I have outlined and would like to write. I’m really not sure which I would like to try to tackle first or which I am ready to tackle first. So, I decided to exercise my adult fiction muscle by working on some short stories and seeing how that goes. This is my first (very) short story and I think it went pretty well. By the time I was finished, I felt like I really knew the woman in the story. She has a lot of heavy stuff on her mind, but she doesn’t say much. Take a look at what is provoking her and tell me what you think.
“Do you mind setting the table?” she asked.
“Actually, I do,” came his curt reply. She said nothing, just kept making dinner. “Paper plates or regular?” he asked.
“It doesn’t matter. Paper is fine. We’re having fried chicken, so paper will work,” she replied. He grabbed the plates and began to set the table, somehow managing to bang paper plates as they were tossed into place. Silverware clanged onto hastily thrown napkins. He came back into the kitchen for God-knows-what as she kept making dinner. Her thin voice calmly inquired, “Were you serious about minding setting the table?”
“Well, yeah, kind of, I guess. I’ve been working all day. I’m the only one in this house who has been.” She verbally ignored the jab, but mentally felt the sting of the pointed, sharp smack. The other people in the house were three children of varying ages.
She had worked through the first two, but by the third child, she wanted to stay home for a while. She was tired of shipping them off to daycare, tired of missing so many firsts, but mostly just tired of the routine. Everyday, she walked in the door after work, took off her coat and purse, situated the children, and immediately started making dinner. Somehow, “fair” meant that she made dinner every night and traded off nights cleaning up after. He never thought about how tired she must be getting up everyday, getting the children ready everyday, dropping them off at school everyday, working all day, picking up the children everyday, making dinner everyday, and pausing only after dinner was done and the dishes were washed every other day. The pause was short. There was homework, baths, tomorrow’s lunches, laundry and whatever else couldn’t wait until the weekend. And, oh what a weekend! There was soccer, baseball, birthday parties, the mini workday repeat known as “getting the children out the door for church,” breakfasts, lunches and dinners to make, as well as all that housework that waited until the weekend.
He never thought about it because he never had to. No one ever walked into a messy house and thought, “Man, that husband is such a terrible housekeeper!” Ever. In fact, he got lots of praise from everyone, including himself, for helping so much more than other guys. From what she heard from her girlfriends, it was true, he did. But why, she wondered, why is he “helping?” Why isn’t he just doing like I am? I work just as many hours as he does. Why is all this my responsibility and he is just helping?
The memories flooded her brain, but her hands just kept steadily working, preparing dinner. She slowly said, “Well, you ask me everyday if there is anything you can do to help me get dinner ready and I never say yes. I only asked for help this one time. I never ask for help.”
Her gaze stayed steadfastly on the stove, but she watched him from the corner of her eye as he wound up like a frantic toy. His arms went up in the air and his voice became defensive and harsh. “Do you go to work and help me? No. I am the only one in this house who goes to work all day. Nobody helps me with my job!”
“Forget it. The kids are in the living room. I don’t want to fight. Can we not do this now?” He honored her request not to fight by leaving the room.
She had always wanted to stay at home with the kids. They had fought about it, negotiated, discussed, fought some more, and he finally agreed to let her stay home until the baby started school. She asked for this, and now she couldn’t wait to get back to work. It was funny, being a wife and mom was supposed to be the most noble job in the world, and for some, she supposed it was. But in order to get her self-respect back, she had to find someone who would hire her to be bossed around so she could get paid for it. Respect had to be bought; she always thought it was something you were given a basic amount of for existing and then you built on it and raised it when you earned it. Apparently, she was wrong. It was just a commodity like everything else.
She finished the dinner and called the kids to the table. As the family joined hands and said grace, her lips spilled out, “Bless us, oh Lord…,” but out of her heart repeated Jenny’s prayer over and over again.
Oh God, please let her fly.