Turning off the stove, Jan took the large pot by the metal handles quickly, nearly dropping it when her hands realized they’d forgotten their oven mitts. Breathing out slowly through her teeth, she ran cold water over her hands until they’d forgiven themselves the mistake.
Now armored with the mitts, the process went quickly and smoothly as it should have the first time, straining the pasta and replacing it in its pot to await the addition of the sauce she’d had on the back burner.
Her husband walked in to their tiny kitchen and looked over her shoulder at the meal-in-progress.
“I’m almost finished.” Jan told him with a smile, hoping that he would take the cue to wait in the dining room as habit dictated.
“What is it?” He asked, sniffing the air over the stove, over her shoulder.
“Mushrooms in a red sauce. I think you’ll like-”
“Where’s the meat?”
“Oh. I forgot to buy some when I was at the store this morning, and then I thought that I could just make do with using the whole carton of mushrooms instead of half of it.”
And with that minute reaction, he shuffled off into the dining room. She used to wish that he would help, but after suggesting it once and having it go surprisingly poorly, she just kept quiet and did the kitchen work by herself. The ‘fairness’ wasn’t worth the trouble.
After the meal had begun and he had taken a few bites, he huffed a heavy sigh before continuing the seeming labor of eating this meatless dish. Jan did not take the opening for an argument. Instead, she tried to imagine that someone else had cooked it all for her, and tried to appreciate the pasta as though it was strange to her.
‘That’s an interesting thing you’ve done with the mushrooms,’ she told the imaginary chef in her head. ‘Are they boiled?’
She imagined the mystery chef laughed pleasantly and told her, ‘No, no, I always sauté them with onion, and then add the tomato paste and the spices after they’re cooked into submission. I’m glad you like it.’ The chef winked.
‘Of course I do,’ she told him, ‘your cooking is always excellent.’ And though it was her hand ladling another portion onto her plate, she liked to think it was this happy chef, grateful for someone who enjoyed his work, urging her to eat more, to eat as much as she could.
‘Mangia, mangia,’ said the chef.
“Are you listening to me?” Her husband asked, snapping her out of the pleasant daydream.
“I’m sorry, I was just thinking of something.” Jan replied.
“Well, when you’re willing to join me back here on Earth, let me know.”
He was gruff. This looked bad. Jan took a deep breath and readied her olive branch.
“I’m sorry, dear. What did you want to ask me?”
“I wasn’t asking you anything. I was telling you that I think that doctor you found is useless.”
“Dr. Reyes? He’s nice.”
“Nice isn’t getting you pregnant, is it?”
“It’s not his fault, I’ve been taking the hormone treatments and he said from the start that this was going to be an uphill battle. We just have to be patient and keep trying.”
“It’s been a year, and those injections are making you forgetful.”
“I didn’t mean to… I just didn’t take the list with me to the store. I’ll bring it next time.”
“It’s not just that. You’re getting increasingly hard to deal with.”
“Deal with?” Jan’s voice was growing small.
“Just like this. You’re all sensitive and I can’t tell you anything anymore without you breaking down.”
“I’m not- It’s just-“
“See? You can’t even keep a coherent thought in your head.”
“I don’t…” Jan paused, got herself together to deflect this assault. “I’m sorry. What can I do to make it better?”
“I want a goddamn son.”
“Try harder, Jan.”
“But… I’m doing everything I could. Dr. Reyes doesn’t want to increase the dosage. These drugs are really har-“
“Then I want a woman who can have a son without the drugs.”
Jan was silent.
“Do you hear me?”
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“I can’t do anything.”
“Now you’re getting it. Now you see how I feel.”
He obviously wanted to get a rise out of her, but Jan was already miles away, tucked safely in her shell, ready to find that chef from earlier who was so nice to talk to.
Jan’s husband pushed his nearly full plate away from him, sneering as though it was garbage. This was very bad.
“I want a divorce.”
His words echoed in her mind momentarily, caught up in a blizzard of all the things she could be saying to him. All the reasons she herself wanted this divorce. Mostly she just wanted this conversation, all conversations with him, to be over.
“That’s all you can say, Jan? Okay?”
“If that’s what you want, there’s nothing I can do.”
“There’s never anything you can do.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I can’t deal with you. I’m going out.”
And with that, he was up and back in his coat, back out the door he’d only recently come in through. Jan sat for a while. She thought to call him, to ask him to come back.
‘You should not want him back,’ the happy chef whispered in her ear. ‘He doesn’t know what good cooking is. See how much of my meal he has left on his plate? You must find a hungrier man. One who is not only hungry, but kind.’
It had been an hour. Sometimes he’d be out for hours on end, and sometimes he came back quickly. She didn’t know how much time she had, so she went to the bedroom and filled her luggage with the most important things, the things she would need while staying elsewhere, the things she didn’t trust him not to destroy in her absence, and the things he never understood how to appreciate in the first place.
She began a note to him, about his drinking, about the insults, about the late nights, how much she hates the drugs, and why couldn’t they just adopt… but then she stopped and tucked the note in her suitcase with the other parts of herself he’d never bothered to know. It wasn’t worth writing a note. She was glad he’d made the decision himself, and she almost smiled to think about how nothing more needed to be said.
Emma Erlanger is a writer and visual artist in Los Angeles, CA. Her writing has been published in Backchannels Magazine, and she is currently finishing a Creative Writing program with UCLA Extension. She lives with four cats, one comedian, and the everlasting hope for happy endings.