That Hotel Robe
So here’s the deal: what I really want to do is write fiction when I grow up. I’m going to be posting short stories here from time to time. Maybe even once a week. What I would like is feedback. Please.
The gnashing of the coffee grinder sounded harsh, making him wince. She had been sleeping in lately and he worried about waking her, even though he ground coffee every morning and it rarely seemed to disturb her. He really didn’t want to have to talk to her this morning.
He could swear he had seen her entering the kitchen just as he left the house on Monday, almost as if she had waited for him to leave. He didn’t want to think about the implications of that,but he didn’t want to talk to her either.
He threw a couple of eggs in the pan while the coffee brewed, and listlessly poked at them with a spatula. His commute sucked. His work sucked. Life sucked. But that’s what being an adult means, right?
The dog lumbered into the kitchen. Stopped. Turned twice in place, and dropped dramatically and somehow hungrily onto the kitchen tile. The man smiled. At least something didn’t suck.
When did things get this bad? It seemed like only a few years ago that they bought this place, adopted the dog, and settled into what was supposed to be the American Dream. Was this what a “midlife crisis” felt like? Didn’t they come with cars?
He turned to the cabinet as he thought about a Boss 302, grabbed a plate, and then deftly let it crash to the floor. The dog jumped up as if scalded and clattered across the kitchen tile to the hall and into the bedroom.
“DAMMIT!” he cried. And then slammed his mouth shut, realizing that if that racket hadn’t woken her, he just had.
As he swept up the debris she shuffled into the kitchen wrapped in her robe, the dog cautiously peering around her. “What did you do? Fred is terrified.”
It was the robe she had taken from the hotel in Niagara during that unseasonably cold weekend a few summers ago. He remembered her wearing it to bed both nights they were there and threatening to wear it to the restaurant, just to tease him. Things were better then.
“I dropped a plate. Sue me.” He snapped, pushing down the memory of the robe as quickly as it had surfaced.
She looked wounded. He immediately felt bad, but his own embarrassment stopped him from apologizing.
She reached into the cabinet, grabbed a plate, and plated his now-crispy, but still listless, scrambled eggs.
“Trade ya’ for some of that coffee.” She grinned as she held out his breakfast.
He softened for a moment, in spite of himself. “OK.”
They sat at the small kitchen table, facing each other. He jabbed at the eggs. She watched him, taking a sip from her mug.
“You’re still thinking about yesterday at the office.”
“Well, I do need to go there today. It’s not like I can just forget.” He replied, acidly.
She briefly looked hurt again. Then her mouth set.
“I don’t understand why you don’t just talk to him about it, honey. It would be better than taking it out on me.”
He briefly looked chastened, and then managed to work up some indignation. The indignation of someone who knew he was wrong and took umbrage at having it pointed out.
“It’s not that simple! You just don’t understand.”
“I don’t understand. What is it exactly that I don’t understand? Someone is taking credit for your work. Is there something else to it, or is there some secret code you boys work under that we simple-minded girls don’t understand?”
The sarcasm stung. As did the way she said boys.
“Look if they can’t handle it, forget them.” Forget was really meant to be another word, but she had always refused to use that one. “Quit. I don’t know why you put up with this. You know you can find something somewhere else, and if we’re going to have to go without your salary for a while, now is the time. And seriously, if you’re just going to come home and take it out on me…”
As her voice trailed off it became just a little bit hard. An audible ellipsis.
The ellipsis was loud enough to wake him up. More than the smell of the forlorn eggs. More than the rich aroma of the freshly ground coffee. It was louder than the plate, even. He assumed that she couldn’t understand the “subtleties” of his job, but here she was showing him how it affected their relationship. The relationship that he had more or less forgotten while wallowing in his self-pity.
He looked at her with new old eyes. She was his girlfriend again. The girl — the women — he met at the bar when Mike dragged him out for beers during finals.
The girl that changed a flat on the way home from his parents when his arm was in a cast. The girlfriend that fixed the toilet in that crappy apartment in Chelsea. The chick that stood up to the washing machine repairman when he was afraid to argue over a warranty.
The surprise must have made it to his face.
“What?” She said. “Stop staring at me and get to work. You don’t want to be late, especially if it ends up being your last day.”
She downed the rest of her coffee like a shot of tequila and headed to the bathroom.