“Damnit, Marge. You’ve burned dinner for the last time.”
Like clockwork, Earl says it but it’s never true.
Every night I burn my husband’s dinner and pray to God he’s learned to take a hint. But every night his drunken ass stumbles back for more.
“Sit down and shut up, you old fool,” I say.
I drop the plate in front of him on the wooden table. There’s a note of finality in the echo of that sound. It suffocates me.
“Eat it before it gets cold,” I say.
Like clockwork, I sit across from Earl. I watch him shovel food into his maw like a farm animal, wondering what the hell happened to my husband.
He used to be such a lovely man: quiet, strong, and confident. But then life happened, like it does: slow and sure. It piled up. He lost control. Earl’s strength grew weak and his confidence was shattered. It was replaced by a frighteningly harsh self-loathing that revealed itself slowly and violently.
We don’t speak. I pour myself another glass of wine and drink my only friend.
Like clockwork, the buzz kicks in. I begin to dream and plot my escape. This is how I do it.
I softly stand up from my chair, pushing it back ever so slightly and carefully make my way down the hall and up the stairs. The last one creeks, so I step over it. The upstairs hallway is long and dark. At the end of it, the door to our master bedroom guides me with a sliver of yellow light.
Like clockwork, my suitcase is packed and ready to go. I double-check its contents. Everything except my toothbrush is there. I dive in to the bathroom and snatch it from the sink.
Leaving the light on, I dash out of the room, back down the hallway and avoiding the top step, I quietly sneak back down the stairs. As I pass them, the pictures on the wall take me back. We’re smiling. I wonder where that happiness went. I wonder if we can somehow get it back. I almost turn around.
Like clockwork, uncertainty slithers in. I’m tempted to believe I’m not stronger than those feelings. But I am. I shake them off.
This is where it gets tricky.
Like clockwork, Earl’s still in the kitchen. I roll my suitcase across the room, worrying that each bump the wheels hit on the tile will give me away. Somehow I always get lucky. Earl’s more interested in the meatloaf than he is in me.
At the door, I reach for the handle and turn it. The screech as it opens is long and loud, threatening to give me away.
Like clockwork, I take one last hesitating glance at Earl, but he’s just sitting there, hunched over and eating like a pig from a trough.
I walk out the door, quietly shut it and stroll down the sidewalk.
Like clockwork, I breathe a great sigh of relief but I’m always struck by how dead the air feels, like I’m breathing on the moon.
But tonight, I can taste a breeze.
Tonight, I whistle a quiet tune.
Tonight, I’m happy.