by Amy J. Mendenhall
She hated her dead-end job, but what else was she supposed to do? There were bills to pay, food to put on the table, and a family to support. So what if her life hadn’t turned out exactly as she had planned, who’s ever did?
Besides, take away the crap job, and she did have a decent life: a loving and supportive husband, two beautiful kids, great friends and family that was always ready to lend a helping hand, whether it was taking a look at the ancient car to see just what that ‘ping’ was or as a free babysitter for an evening out without the kids. All in all, life was pretty good, she just needed to stop whining about it, stop being such a dreamer...
Her cell phone beeped and she sighed and picked it up. “Hello.”
“Why are you ignoring me?”
She looked around the busy office, checking to see if anyone was watching. The busy newsroom activities continued, people clacking on keyboards, chatting, yelling into phones over the noisy din of scanners and televisions; no one so much as glanced in her direction.
“You haven’t paid me one bit of attention for months now. That’s not fair to me, you know.”
She turned so she was facing her cubicle wall and cupped her hand around the receiver. “I can’t deal with you right now, I’m busy. I’m at work, for God’s sake.”
“You’re always busy. You used to make time for me...”
“I have to work, you know. I can’t just spend my time as freely as I want.” Click.
With a sigh, she turned back to her computer monitor and got back to work.
* * *
“Mommy, she hit me!”
“She hit me first!”
“She started it!”
She turned her attention away from the skillet on the stove and focused on the two little girls who were quickly escalating into a shoving match. “Chill out, you two! Mommy’s trying to make dinner! Go watch your video until Mommy finishes, okay?”
“I can’t! She turned it off because she wanted to watch something else, and then she hit me!” the youngest whined.
“It was my turn! You took my turn! Mom, she did, it was my turn to pick out something, and she put in her stupid cartoon!” the oldest countered.
“You hit me!”
“You took my turn!”
The cell phone beeped. She noticed the hamburger was burning. With a yelp, she turned off the burner and skirted around the kids to reach the phone. Please be your father, she thought. “Stop! Just the two of you stop for a second! Hello?”
“You can’t keep doing this to me. It’s killing me.”
“Oh, my God, will you please give me a break? Do you hear the chaos going on around me? I just can’t, okay? I have too much on my plate, I can’t add to the mess right now.”
The oldest little girl smacked the younger one, who set up a howl.
“Don’t hit your sister! Go to your room right now!” Then, back into the receiver, “Do you see what I mean? I have two little kids, that means zero free time.”
“I’m nothing without you, you know. Without you, it’s like I don’t exist.”
“That’s a little overdramatic.”
“It’s true. Without you, I just fade away.”
“It’s not that I don’t think about you all the time, I do. I’m just really busy. I don’t have time to commit...” Click.
She shook her head and replaced the receiver.
* * *
“I didn’t think they’d ever go to sleep,” her husband said, walking back into the living room. “I swear, bedtime gets later and later every night.”
“Not as late as it used to be.”
“True. We actually get some free time now instead of going straight to bed exhausted.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m still exhausted.”
“Yeah, but at least we can watch TV now without two little voices screaming for our attention. Come on, it’s Tuesday night, there’s some good stuff on.”
She cuddled up on the coach next to him and relaxed, letting the stress of the day fall from her. Finally, time alone with her husband. Free time, period, seemed to be such a luxury lately. There were other things she could be doing now, but she just wanted to veg out for an hour or two.
Just as her favorite program ended, the cell phone beeped. She leaned over and picked up the cordless. “Hello?”
“I’ll just go away, if that’s what you want.”
She sat up straighter. “That’s not what I want, and you know it.”
“You must. You’re sitting on your butt watching television, when you could be with me. If you flip over to that reality show, I’m gone.”
“My brain hurts, I’m too tired.”
“Make up another excuse. Go ahead. I want to hear it. But know this, if you don’t make some time real soon, you’re going to turn around, and I’m going to be gone. I’m gone already. You don’t even remember where last we left off, do you?”
“Yes, I do. Like I’m going to forget...” her voice dropped. “I have other things in my life. You’re not my only commitment.”
“You could spare me an hour out of your busy schedule. Look, your husband’s going to watch that show you hate. He’ll be occupied for an hour. The girls are asleep. One hour, that’s all I’m asking you for. You can walk away after one hour. You know you want to.”
She hesitated, and then snuck a look at her husband. “It’ll only be one measly hour.”
“It’s never one hour with you. It always turns into two or three.”
A waiting silence.
She felt her resistance melting.
She sighed. “Are you going to watch this?”
Her husband looked at her. “Yeah, why?”
“I hate this show, so if you don’t care...”
Understanding lit his eyes. “I see. Go knock yourself out. I’ll check on you in an hour or so.”
“Like you’ll be able to drag me away after only an hour.” She smiled and leaned over to kiss him. “I love you, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go have fun.”
She got up as if on air and went to the computer room. Stepping over the piles of junk she and her husband kept meaning to clean up, she sat down in front of the monitor. She clicked the mouse a couple of times and the screen lit up with her novel, her ‘other’ baby. She sighed and felt herself settling into her own little world, the one of her own making, the one that pestered her throughout the day no matter what, calling at her subconscious.
“Chapter Seven — the scene at the diner. I didn’t forget where we left off. And next is the fight in the car...” she trailed off as the words started to flow from her fingertips, the clacking of the keyboard the only sound in the room.
Her stalker was quieted, for now.
Copyright © 2005 by Amy Mendenhall