“It’s such a waste”.
Martha slumped into her chair. It rocked back on its short leg which was missing the felt pad intended to prevent it from scratching the floor. She has all day to fix it, but it feels like it takes all day to get to the drawer. Besides, the floor was made of cheap vinyl.
The morning sun shone dimly through the closed blinds over the sink. Smoke rising from a cigarette joined the blinds to block out the sun that tried to force its way in like a door to door vacuum salesman. Everything in the room had been stained yellow over the years by the haze that Martha conjured every morning and steeped in until her husband came home. Sometimes in the evening, most of the time at night.
“It’s going to take all day to clean this mess”.
She watched the puddle of liquid build into a pool, breaking its surface tension and ebbing along the floor. It flowed following lined pattern of squares, surging ahead at the edges then waiting at the intersection for the rest to fill in the middle. Each square brought it closer to the unseen abyss that is the space under the refrigerator. Martha watched its progress transfixed and emotionally invested. Each square was a territory to be conquered by the building flow.
Magazines that lay on the table and the television humming on the counter told the same story. Some noble being striving and facing opposition to overcome eventually reaching their goal. Boyfriends running through airport lobbies to catch their girlfriend just before boarding her flight to beg her not to go. The underdog baseball team binding together to win the series. Some woman worked her way out of her menial secretary job to become the CEO of some company no one has ever heard of. Nothing like this ever happened to Martha and she certainly never thought it would happen in her kitchen.
As the triumphant pool reached its final destination under the fridge the credits rolled in Martha’s head ending with a special dedication to the broken pile from which the liquid came. Reality forced its way back in shattering any semblance of shared triumph Martha had. The sun had moved 4 cigarettes higher and was relenting its barrage on the blinds.
“Why can’t anything good ever happen to me? Why, why, WHY?!?”
With no makeup to occlude her tears they rolled down Martha’s face and dripped off her chin perfectly clear. “What was the point in putting on makeup?” she’d ask herself every morning and would always conclude that “he’ll screw someone else anyway.” Alex, Martha’s husband, had lost his love for her long ago. Maybe it was when he realized she would never get a job. Maybe it was when he learned her ability to cook turned out to only apply to casserole covered in Corn Flakes. Maybe it was when they were told by a doctor that her body couldn’t even figure out how to become pregnant. So Alex screwed someone else.
Her tears fell causing ripples to undulate across the floor. With mechanical precision achieved only though thousands of repetitions Martha lit another cigarette. They say you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing something to master it. Smoke erupted at the end of the stick only to be pulled in filtering through layer after layer of tobacco until it reached Martha’s mouth. She let it roll on her tongue for a moment enough to seep into every papilla and fill all of her taste buds before inhaling it deeply into her lungs. Five and half million puffs later Martha was a master cigarette smoker. Each morning Martha awoke twice. Once to stare at Alex as he dressed for work and once when her need for a cigarette become intolerable. She was only allowed to smoke in the kitchen since Alex hated the smell and joked “No one will ever come in there for your cooking.” It became less and less of a joke.
“Which is closer, the paper towels or the rag? Why did I have to go and ruin today. Why couldn’t I have let it be normal?”
Martha had passed so many hours in the kitchen that her perceived size of the world had shrunk down to the size of the house. Walking to get the paper towels or the rag felt like a thousand mile trek, so she weighed the distance to each carefully. The journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step and she was going to make sure she did not have to travel one thousand and one. The afternoon had already settled in.
“I didn’t mean to do it. Why am I being punished for something I didn’t mean to do? It’s not fair.”
Martha’s mind was a child standing in the corner of the room, face to the wall for having accidentally hit her baby brother. It wasn’t her fault he crawled up behind her. Her parents just hated her. Her brother hated her. If she told anyone about this they would be appalled at her treatment. Yet here she was having all the cruelty in the world rained down upon her. If that’s what they wanted then fine, she’d just stay there all night showing them just how miserable she was. The 10 minutes came and went and she wouldn’t leave the corner. Dinner was announced and set and she stood there reveling in the fact that they had to eat without her. The chicken and rice went cold in silence, no one talking because now she was punishing herself. She was punishing them. She had gained control and had won. Finally at 7:15 she decided to come and eat, her point made.
She got up and walked to the roll of paper towels having decided it was 3 steps closer. She hastily grabbed the roll and pulled it off the stand knocking it over as she walked away. She got onto her knees and began sopping up the mess. The edges had begun to dry and left an outline as she scrubbed tracing her crime on the floor like a chalk outline. 5 paper towels, 10 paper towels,
“HOW MANY WILL IT TAKE?!?!”
Keys outside the back door leading into the kitchen caused her to whirl around. She was still on her hands and knees sobbing and frantically cleaning when it opened.
Alex looked down and leaned his shoulder against the door frame. He saw the broken pitcher and his sobbing wife, chuckled, and sarcastically said;
“There’s no use crying over spilt milk.”