She had walked passed him on the couch without her customary greeting and sat down in silence hesitating an awkward moment before she spoke. “I’m hungry.”
He was working the daily crossword puzzle while their son played on hands and knees vroom-vrooming as he pushed his cars across the carpet and over the heater vent in the floor. “What would you like to eat?”
She didn’t respond.
The man glanced up from the paper long enough to see the pinch of tenseness in his wife’s posture. He marked another word on the puzzle and took a deep breath. “The house is full of food.”
“But it’s not our food.”
The man had known this is what it was. It was about his family once again. But he knew better than to engage. He stared straight at the newspaper and tried to focus on the crossword puzzle.
Their son scrambled to his feet and let the car hang loose in his hand as he waddled up to the couch. He set the car on the cushion before he pulled himself up. The boy sat between the man and his wife and cuddled with his father. The man didn’t look away from his puzzle although he was too distracted to figure out another clue. But even without looking the strained tempo of his wife’s breathing let him know that she was staring holes in him.
She breathed a bit longer. Then she stomped into the next room making sure to make her steps audible. Her steps boomed through the empty space under the plywood floor highlighting her unhappiness with the fact that they were living in a trailer, his mother’s house. She sat behind the table and glared at him. He sat and cuddled with his son not taking his eyes from the puzzle for another minute or two. They weren’t out of food. He had just gone to the grocery store with her the night before and watched her spend 150 of their last 200 dollars. She assumed that just because his mother was nice enough to help them out with the rent while he was earning his degree, she was going to keep giving them that money now that he had graduated and couldn’t find a job. She always bragged about her ability to shop on a budget, but just a few months ago she had been told that they only had 20 dollars left in their account and she should spend no more than 10 dollars on diapers and toilet paper. When she came back, she had spent 25 dollars and he was the bad guy because he yelled at her for it. And he got even more shit when they realized that he had made a math error calculating their balance in his head and she had not actually overdrafted their account. But her shopping was something that he had also learned not to complain about.
He put down the crossword puzzle, walked into the kitchen, and opened the pantry door. Their son began to pull cans off the lowest two pantry shelves. He tried to keep his son from making too much of a mess, but his son was just too determined. So the man just stepped around him and looked through the food they had just bought while his son plundered. He listed off two or three easy things that he could cook for her. He hoped that this small gesture might sooth some of her anger.
“Eat that stuff yourself. I’m not hungry.” Her voice was just as tense and clipped as her breathing.
“OK. Tell me. What is it that you are not saying? You know I can’t read your mind.”
“Why are you being such an asshole to me?”
“Because you are pissed off at me and won’t tell me why.”
“I’m not pissed off at you. You are pissed off at me.”
“Well I am not the one that is staring at me and holding my breath till my face turns red.”
“I’m not doing that.”
“This is what you look like.” He stared directly into her eyes for the first time since this exchange began, took a deep breath, and forced the blood to his head until his face was beet red. Their son pulled at his pant leg and whined to be picked up.
“You are an asshole, and I don’t want to be around you.” She stood up from the table and stormed into their bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
She was the good one. She was the woman that he loved. She was the one that he had gone back to church with. She was the wife that he was confident enough to have a child with. And it was times like this when only the thought of his son kept him from walking out the door.