He always left his underwear on the floor. Not in one spot either. He’d scatter it around the bedroom like some sort of boundary: near the bed, by the hamper, in front of the bathroom door. It reminded me of a dog pissing on trees around his yard. His cologne was everywhere. He would douse himself with it every time he had a shower. Obsession shower gel, Obsession aftershave, Obsession eau de toilette. It seeped into the clothes, the carpet, the furniture and stayed there. Sometimes I thought I could smell Obsession oozing out of the woodwork. Whenever he took a shower, while he marinated in his favorite scent, I would run to the kitchen and burn three sticks of sandalwood incense, partly to cover his smell with my own but mostly because I knew he hated it. Men aren’t the only ones who can piss on trees.
“If Jack were ever trying to run from the FBI,” I would say to my mother,” all they’d have to do is follow the trail of Obsession and dirty socks.” And then I’d laugh affectionately as if we weren’t driving each other insane.
“Men are like that,” my mother would say to me, “ always trying to prove one thing or another. Always trying to show everybody who owns this house, who owns this car, who’s in control. Don’t worry too much about it, honey. If he’s just marking his territory with dirty socks you should count yourself lucky. It’s better to just keep quiet, better to let him have his way.” Then she’d stare down at her hands or at the faded brown linoleum and I wasn’t at all sure we were having the same conversation.
“Dana!” Jack was hollering from the living room….. a room that was about 20 feet away from where I stood in the kitchen, lighting a stick of sandalwood incense. “Where are my clean white shirts? Dana? Jesus Christ what’s that stench?? Dana, have you seen my shirts?”
I bolted out through the sliding glass doors to the deck, threw in my earbuds, plopped into the nearest lounge chair and picked up the latest romance novel I was burning through. I read them with a fierce appetite, keeping the local bookstore in business, belonging to one of those monthly romance novel mail order clubs, borrowing from the library and trading with friends. If anybody out there was swinging from the chandeliers, I wanted to know about it. I could finish one in less than a day.
Blake reached for Desiree, coiling his strong hands in her raven tresses, crushing her against his chest-
My left earbud popped out of my ear, replaced by Jack’s grating voice “Honey, can you hear me? I’ve been looking all over for you. Have you seen my white shirts? I need a clean shirt. We’re having a meeting with the captain today. Honey?”
“Try the clothes hamper,” I said and yanked the earbud back into place. He looked shocked. And confused. Not even hurt or angry, just confused. I tried to blot out his face. I ignored him when he started running around the house, half-dressed in his police uniform, his unbuckled belt flapping against his thighs. Poor Jack. Seven months had gone by and he hadn’t even noticed I’d been cutting him out, little by little. One piece at a time. Ever since the day I knew for sure he was screwing around on me.
At first it was little things. I stopped greeting him at the door. Then I started getting up half an hour later, just in time to make breakfast for the kids but -oops!- none for poor Jack. Eventually I started making dinner early so that Jack could eat cold leftovers by himself. Not that he was home often enough to notice that one. Next it was his laundry. Then it was housework altogether. Just enough to take care of the kids but beyond that…nothing.
Sex had become routine long ago: every other Tuesday on Jack’s night off. Ten o’clock sharp so he’d be done in time to watch the news. That was the schedule: Joshua’s baseball practice at three, Alex’s ballet class at three thirty, Hannah’s story time at the library at four, pick up Joshua, pick up Alex, make dinner, sex at ten, news at eleven. Tuesday stayed pretty much the same except now I stayed up until after the news.
I lifted the left earbud, listening for any sounds coming from inside the house. When I knew he was gone, I went back in through the slider, looking past the kitchen and its sinkful of dirty dishes, disregarding the lint speckled living room carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed in weeks. I walked straight down the hallway to the bathroom, the only room I bothered to keep clean anymore and started drawing a hot bath. I poured in bath beads and bath salts and bath powder. I lit scented candles and an incense cone. Anything to dispel the loitering traces of Obsession. While the bath filled I went back to the kitchen to make a pot of cinnamon tea. That’s when I saw it. A note…..a plain, white note…lying innocently on the kitchen table.
Honey, could you wash my black socks, pick up my other uniform at the cleaners and get some sliced roast beef for my lunch? Thanks, Jack
There it was, scrawled out in his own frenetic handwriting. All the normalcy of a married couple. Black socks and roast beef. Clean white shirts and trips to the drycleaners. Had he actually not noticed what was happening to us? What I was purposely doing to us? Or was he begging me to be his wife again? Did he miss me or did he simply miss having clean socks and ironed shirts and roast beef for lunch? He was still seeing her, that much I was fairly sure of. Would he stop if I asked him to or would he just get better at hiding it? Maybe he’d deny it altogether. Maybe it didn’t matter either way.
Before I could see his face again, before I could get a clear picture in my mind of how confused, how lost he had looked with his belt buckle hanging loose and top button of his pants undone, I crumpled up the note and tossed it in the general direction of the trash. It bounced off the wall and ricocheted off to God-knows-where.
I picked up my pot of cinnamon tea and my steamy novel and trudged back down the hall to my warm, sudsy refuge. I submerged myself in the water up to my neck, leaving my hands dry so I could hold the book. Blake was doing delicious things to Desiree in that world where perfect people fell passionately in love forever and spent eternity climaxing together. I sank a little deeper into the water, until the bath bubbles tickled my chin.
I stayed there for four hours, until it was time to pick up my kids.