Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When It Breaks (Short Story)


“Where were you last night?”
“Nowhere Tom, I was nowhere,” she replies, twisting the string in her hands.

Tom frowned, reviewing events of the past day. 7:30 a.m., he woke up, and prepared breakfast. Eggs, toast, avocados, oatmeal and milk. Then he made lunch- stir fry today. Broccoli, chicken, brown rice and beans. Two apples. She woke up later than usual, around 8 a.m, and tended to the garden. She returned 40 minutes later with handfuls of mini tomatoes in her pockets, set the pride of her morning on the counter. She took a piece of toast, chewed slowly, and furrowed her brows. “It’s dry. You left it in the toaster too long.” Pause. He had learned long ago the power of silence.

They left for work at 9:19 a.m. At 5 p.m. he called her workplace, as usual. “You ready to head back home?” “Oh this is Beth, Anne left an hour ago, did she not tell you? She got a ride from George, I think they were going to stop by Costco on their way back.” “Okay, no problem, thanks for letting me know.” Tom forced a carefree voice. Everything was fine. Anne would be back home by 6. Even when the kids were still home, it was common for his absent-minded wife to leave work early and return home later than him.  

This time, she returned much later.

“It doesn’t take three hours to buy a pint of milk.” Tom said, tapping his foot against the chair leg.
“It’s none of your business where I was, okay?” Anne threw the piece of string to the ground.
“I’m your husband, of course it’s my business.”
“I told you already, I went to Costco after work with George,” Anne said, her voice an octave higher.
“But you couldn’t have been there for three hours.” Tom repeated, his voice quieter. The rhythm of his foot tapping quickened.

Tom was normally a loud, confident person. Around Anne, it was different. Everything was different with her. She was volatile, explosive. A wrong move, and his wife turned into a monster. So Tom tiptoed around the house, submitting to admonitions, bitterness, discontent, for a feigned truce.
But Anne never crossed this line. Until now.

“Nothing happened, okay?”
 “NOTHING HAPPENED? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK WHEN YOU GO TO COSTCO WITH A SINGLE MAN? DO YOU THINK I’M STUPID? THERE IS A THREE HOUR SPAN FROM THE TIME YOU LEFT WORK TO THE TIME YOU RETURNED HOME. WHAT WERE YOU GUYS DOING?”
“We were just talking.” Anne said. She stared at her transformed husband in shock.
“TALKING? FOR THREE HOURS?”
“Yes, just talking Tom.”
“WELL WHILE YOU WERE TALKING, I WAS WORRIED SICK. WHY DID YOU NOT CALL?”
“I didn’t realize you even cared.” Habit made her tone snarky. Aggressive. Unsympathetic.

Silence.

“Why would I not care?” Tom had sat down, hands over his head. 
"When have you shown me that you cared?” Anne stared out the window, refusing to look at him.
“WHY WOULD I NOT CARE? I prepare meals, I clean around the house, I do everything for this house.” Tom’s tapping had turned into stomps, emphasizing every phrase.

“When have you done anything for me, Tom, huh? Anything for me?

“And George does? George really cares?” He froze and took a deep breath, bracing himself for the answer.

Pause.

“Yes. More than you.” Anne blinked rapidly. She continued looking intently at the fig tree outside.

Tom suddenly gets up, with a new spark in his eyes. He walks toward the door.

“Where are you going?”
“Out.” Tom turns the knob slowly.
Anne turns around, suddenly pale, and opens her mouth to say something.
“You have never cared,” He said, looks at her a final time, and slams the door.