Chapter 2: Susan
He’s demanding his dinner — like a spoiled kid — again.
Not gonna happen.
Why can’t he cook something himself if he’s really so desperate?
He used to be nice.
It’s getting to the point now where I’m ashamed to say I’m his wife.
He used to be such a nice guy, and it’s killing me to see him turn into the kind of husband from the last century who made his wife do everything.
I thought he understood about my writing, but clearly, he does not.
But how can he not? I made sure I told him, even though I was terrified he’d tell people that Tina was really Susan.
I look at my desk, which contains my computer, keyboard, mouse, and uneaten peanut butter sandwich.
My screen should be full of words, but I haven’t been able to concentrate since I left the kitchen with him still standing there looking like a master who expects a slave to do as she’s told.
It’s been like this for a while, but tonight was the worst. First he yelled, then he pretended it was all fun and games, and then he yelled again.
How much more of this can I take?
How much more of this should I take?
But what do I do instead of taking it?
He’s the man I love, the man I married, and the man I moved here to South Dakota to be with for the rest of my life.
Maybe if I keep ignoring him when he gets like this, he’ll eventually grow up and cook his own dinner for a change.
I shut down my computer. There’s no point in writing when I’m in this mood. I need to be Tina when I write, otherwise my stories won’t sound true.
The doorbell rings.
Good, he’s ordered something and isn’t going to starve.
I wish we could go back to romantic, candle-lit dinners when he actually did help a little, even if it was just to light the candles.
We’d get silly, make a mess with our food, and then take it into the bedroom. I think we stayed up all night at least fifty times in our first year together.
If I go to him now and give him our private look, he’ll respond with one that says, “Are you kidding me? I’ve had an oh-so-hard day at work, and you should know it, so the answer is N-O!”
On a Sunday evening, the part about having had a hard day at work would become something about how busy he’ll be tomorrow.
I know this because I’ve asked him outright and gotten those as excuses.
Oh why oh why can’t we love each other as we used to?
We used to see into each other’s souls, but now it’s as if a light has gone out somewhere, and the shine has left our marriage.
When I told my parents I was going to marry him, Mom said, “Good. Just remember that the passion eventually wears off, and there needs to be something left to hold you two close. Pile that fire high, and let it become something that burns forever, even if more slowly. Love has to run deep, or it will dry up. Do you think you can have that kind of love with him?”
“Oh Mom, you’re such a philosophical poet. Of course we have that kind of love.”
And, I thought, our passion will never in a million years run out.
I can’t bear the thought of calling home in Detroit and telling her our fire seems to have gone out.
I get up and walk over to my bookshelf. There are now nine “Tinas” lined up in order from left to right. The first one was written while I was still in high school, but not self-published until just before I met Martin. That happened when I was twenty-three, and although it was only eight years ago, it seems like a lifetime now.
The most recent one was published two months ago, and sales are already booming.
I run my fingers along the row of books and feel the same thrill I always do when touching them, but now it’s dampened by worrying about my marriage.
The second one came out just after I got married, and I can still remember how Martin took me for a roll in the sheets to celebrate with me.
When the latest one came out, he didn’t even say “congratulations,” or “that’s good,” but “okay.”
I’ve always celebrated his achievements with him wholeheartedly. When he became a personal trainer six years ago, I cooked up a feast for him and anybody he wanted to invite.
I walk back to my desk and pick up the sandwich. I take a bite, but it tastes like cardboard. I put it down and go sit on the bed.
How can we rekindle our marriage?
If only I could lie down and wake up when all our problems have been solved.
I do lie down, but I doubt I’ll get much sleep.
After a night of tossing and turning, I decide what I’ll do. I’ll set an alarm on my computer, and make sure I make dinner on time.
I tiptoe into our bedroom and see him in bed, still fast asleep. His face looks so relaxed and friendly when he’s not awake. The rest of his body is undefined under the heavy covers, but I know every inch of it.
There’s the scar on his left hip from when he walked into his dad’s workbench as a little boy and met the wrong end of a saw.
There’s the contrast between the tanned skin of his face and the pale skin of his torso.
There are his arms, hard and muscular, and then there’s his tongue, soft and muscular. It spoke our wedding vows in a clear voice, and then his soft lips told me what we could get up to later once the dancing was over and we were in the bedroom alone.
When that happened, his hands repeated the message, but in a more concrete way.
“Love you,” I whisper. “I’ll do everything I can to make things right.”
He turns over and mumbles.
I leave the room on tiptoe and go into the kitchen.
The remains of his dinner are on the table. He used to toss his trash and rinse his plate, but now he’s left it all for me to clean up.
Like the dutiful wife that I’m determined to be again, I wash the dishes and dispose of the trash.
I wash the coffee pot and load the machine with wonderfully fragrant Columbian. I start it and open the fridge to see what I might make breakfast.
Martin comes into the kitchen as I’m draining the bacon.
“Wow, what a surprise. Up early and cooking. What’s the occasion?”
I bite my lip and think before I reply.
“I thought about what you said last night, about eating together, and I agree, we should do that more often.”
“Okay.” He sits down at the table. His reaction isn’t quite what I was hoping for, but at least he isn’t yelling and is sitting down.
I serve breakfast and he eats it, but in complete silence.
I try to enjoy mine, and also to make small talk, but neither works very well. In fact, it would be more truthful to say that both fail completely.
He eats fast and then gets up and goes into the living room without a single word to me.
I hear him open the paper, and I take the plates to the kitchen and wash the dishes.
Maybe lunch and dinner will go better, and we’ll have a nice conversation.
I spend the morning washing the floors and cleaning the carpets.
At lunch, he sits at the table again and eats what I’ve made, but doesn’t say much, but at least he isn’t as silent as he was at breakfast. Maybe he just needs to see that I’m doing my best and then he’ll open up and we can talk about our problems. Or maybe our problems will just go away once he sees that I’m doing my best.
In the afternoon, I sit and read a romance novel, while Martin reads a fitness magazine. We’re both in the living room, although not sitting together.
“Do you have any training courses coming up?” I ask him when he puts the magazine down.
“Do you have any training courses coming up?”
“Are you looking forward to them?”
“Are you excited about the training courses?”
I go back to the romance novel.
Dinner is about the same as lunch, and just as I’m putting away the dishes, Martin storms into the kitchen.
“I don’t even any clean clothes and I’ve got work tomorrow.”
His voice isn’t extremely loud, but his tone is belligerent.
“When was the last time you did laundry? I have about fifteen sets of work clothes. I can’t go to work in filthy clothes, so you’d better do something about it.”
I lift up a stack of plates and put them into the cabinet.
“Are you listening to me? We’re also almost out of clean towels. I can’t go to work without a shower, and I can’t have a shower without clean towels. What the heck is wrong with you these days? You sit on the couch reading some trashy novel by some trashy writer trash and I end up with no clean clothes on Sunday night.”
How many times did he use the word “trash” or a variant of it in that last sentence? What was it, “trashy romance,” and then “trashy writer trash?” So that’s three.
“Hey, I’m talking to you!”
Yes, I know, I think, and I’m getting a hedache listening to you.
“You can’t leave dirty clothes in the hamper for so long or they really stink. Come on, leave those for later and go do your job!”
Why can’t he learn to do his own laundry? If he doesn’t know how to work the machine, I can help him, but I’m sure he does. I mean, he uses all those fancy fitness things at work, so I’m sure he can operate our simple washing machine and dryer.
“Hello, I’m talking to you, where the crap are you?”
He’s waving his arms theatrically, as if he thinks he’s some kind of performer in front of a huge audience who thinks he’s the most important man in the world.
I’ll bet he doesn’t behave this way with his clients for even half a second.
I put the last fork into the cutlery drawer and close it slowly.
I walk out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?!”
I go down the hall and into my office.
I shut the door.
I sit down at the desk and start the computer.
He bangs on the door and I click on the file I’m working on.
“I need my laundry done now!”
I start typing. When I’m somebody else, I can ignore him almost completely. He can bang on the door all night, and I can work. He’ll get tired and go to bed, and he’ll either wash his own clothes or wear what he’s worn all day. It’s not like reading a fitness magazine and the paper got his clothes dirty. I’ll wash a load of his stuff tomorrow while he’s not here.
Eventually, he stops banging and yelling and goes away, just like I knew he would.
It looks like I’ll have to sleep here again tonight.
I finish writing the chapter, shut down the computer, and lie down.
Tomorrow will go better, I know it will, it has to. He’ll go to work and I’ll do laundry and then I’ll write until it’s time to start dinner. Then when he comes home, we’ll eat togetrher and maybe, just maybe, he’ll be interested in me.
I sleep a little better because I have a plan, and I wake up when I hear him get up.
I make us breakfast, and he eats it in silence. I notice he’s wearing yesterday’s clothes.
“Bye honey,” I say as he puts on his shoes.
No honey? Okay, fine. I can play this game, too.
The door closes behind him, and I collect all his dirty clothes from the floor in our room. He used to put them in the hamper.
I carry them down to the laundry room and begin to sort them. They smell of him and I bury my nose in his shirts. He’s wrong; they don’t stink, they smell like the wonderful man he is beneath the layers of whatever’s going wrong in our marriage. Such a shame I have to wash them, but he does need clean clothes for work tomorrow.
Once the laundry’s done, I go back to my office and write.
At 4:30, my alarm goes off.
What am I supposed to do?
Oh yeah, dinner.
But I’m in the middle of a chapter, so dinner will simply have to wait a little longer.
I silence the alarm and go back to work.
I finish the chapter just as I hear him outside my door.
“Hey honey, I’m home. Did you forget dinner again?”
Oh right, the alarm. Oops.
“I’ll be right there.”
“I need dinner now.”
“Yeah, well hurry up, because I’m starving.”
I close the file and click Shutdown. A window about an update fills the screen.
I’ll have to wait until it finishes, turn it back on, and shut it down again.
“How long do I have to wait this time?”
I watch the progress bar, which moves ever so slowly.
“Susan, this has gone far enough, open that door now and come and make me some dinner!”
The screen flickers.
Then the progress bar comes back to life.
It’s moving even slower now.
I shouldn’t turn off automatic updates, but I hate it when the computer decides it needs an upgrade right in the middle of a great chapter.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
If it were made of metal instead of cheap wood, it would hurt his hand and he’d stop sooner.
How can the hands that abuse my office door be the same ones that used to send me to the moon and back three times over in an hour?
Martin, my dear Martin, where are you?
You are not the angry man on the other side of the door, that’s for sure.
Soon, I’ll wake up, and the real Martin will be standing beside our bed, holding a cup of coffee and grinning at me like he used to.
He’s still banging on the door, and the update still hasn’t finished.
“What the devil are you doing? Come out now and cook dinner!”
Do people actually still say “what the devil?”
Maybe this is some bad time travel movie and I’m hearing Martin’s grandpa talking.
The bar’s about a third of the way there.
Maybe once the computer starts back up, I’ll start writing another chapter. I can make something quick for myself later, or even once he’s ordered his and gone to bed. That’s what I’ll do. There’s no point in us being together tonight. I’ll set the alarm for tomorrow, and this time, I won’t shut it off and go back to writing.