The trashcan was pushed into the corner where the wall met the back of the refrigerator.
She curled three fingers under the lip of the lid and gently pulled the whole thing away from the wall until the dull black plastic was centered against the shining white metal of the side of the fridge. Where the flip lid couldn’t get wedged open, allowing the odors to escape and the cat to get in. Where coffee grounds didn’t end up spattered across the paint like a Rorschach test, where no one had to reach over it to dim the lights or flick on the ceiling fan.
Why the damn thing couldn’t just stay centered she didn’t know. It was a silent battle she and Vick played out daily. In the morning, rising with the kids to pack lunches, brush teeth, cook something more than a frozen waffle for breakfast, and double check backpacks, she would pull or push the can back to center. Returning from drop-off to get herself ready for work, when he had already left for the day, she moved it back out of the corner again. And returning home in the afternoon after school, and again, usually, while throwing some kind of dinner together. In the evening, between washing the day’s dishes and getting the kids a before-bed-snack, she’d have to slide it over again after Vick had left for the night. She could swear that she touched that damn trashcan more often than she did the handle on the coffeepot.
To be fair, she’d never actually seen Vick push it into the corner. And she never said anything about it; just constantly, without sigh or complaint or eye-roll (okay, sometimes with an eye-roll), moved it back again. It wasn’t worth the fight it would bring to say “Why the fuck can’t you just leave the trashcan here? Can’t you see this is the best place for it?” He was sure to say no, it wasn’t, and he would have a list of reasons why not, none of which would make any sense below the surface, and he would refuse to listen to her very logical, rational reasons for leaving it centered.
It wasn’t the first place they’d tried putting the thing, either. Before they’d had the kids, the trashcan had sat on the other side of the fridge, centered between the fridge door and the wall, opposite the counter where the microwave sat. They’d never fought about it then, never this tug o’ war of domestic proportions. But then Jensen had gotten big enough to need a highchair and they’d moved the trashcan to the other side so they had somewhere to put that awkward monstrosity of baby equipment in their tiny kitchen. And then, when it began to fill with dirty diapers, they had tried tucking it around the corner in the utility room. But with the changing table in the living room, it was just that many more steps to walk to dump a diaper. They had considered the garage, but if the utility room was too far to walk, the garage was certainly too far. So, they had moved it back to this side of the fridge and there it had gone back and forth from center to corner, on and off, for nearly five years.
They’d had no intention of staying in the house this long when they’d first moved in. At the time, they’d been in their mid-twenties, it was just the two of them, and they both had been busy with work and hobbies and friends. At the time, if they hadn’t been living together, they might never had even seen each other. She was working hard to build a marketing career, finishing up an internship while she worked a desk job at a low-rate local PR firm, the two jobs in separate towns, neither of which were the town she lived in. Sometimes she left the house at 5:30 in the morning and didn’t get back until after 11pm. Husband was working in construction, which was slow in the winter but almost beyond manageable in the summer. Their utility bills barely amounted to over a hundred dollars – neither one of them was awake in the house more than a few hours a day.
They were happy then. She had the pictures to prove it – dozens of flaps of ink and paper with their smiling faces glaring out, their arms wrapped around one another, their bodies close together. They pasted the walls of the living room and halls – anniversary pictures, wedding pictures, studio-shots of their little family, snaps from a day at the park or a baseball game or someone’s birthday party. She had dim memories of laughing with him, of nuzzling into his chest contentedly, of sweeping rashes of lust. Those were overshadowed, now, by memories of disgruntled arguments about her lack of energy while pregnant, of long, weary nights of rocking screaming babies, of drawn out battles over potty-training and bribing children to eat dinner with promises of candy and cookies.
Now they couldn’t even agree on where to keep the damn trashcan.
With both kids in bed, the house was quiet enough for the ticking of the living room clock to sound loud. Janice knew it was just a trick of the quiet – in the absence of the daytime cacophony, the sound of a bag of chips opening, the creak of the old recliner, the thud of her cellphone hitting the floor as it dropped from the armrest all sounded like an avalanche of pots and pans from a high cupboard. Some nights she was too exhausted to stay awake long enough to relish the quiet, but tonight she still had an hour, maybe two, in her. The kitchen linoleum was cool beneath her bare feet, the soft, buttered light from above the sink easy on her eyes. The cool linen pajamas she had indulgently bought for herself brushed lightly against her skin as she held a glass beneath the faucet, water swiftly rising within. She tried to stifle a yawn as she padded carefully out to the living room, settling carefully into the same recliner she could remember nursing her babies in, falling asleep with them nestled against her chest.
The dark outside was new – there were still hues of indigo and cerulean at the horizon – a sure sign that spring had arrived, despite the thin flurry of fluffy snow still swirling through the air. In a few weeks she would have to start covering the windows in the bedroom that Jensen and Jenna shared if she still wanted to put them to bed at 8:30. Sitting with her feet up now, a light blanket thrown over her legs and a book waiting on the side table next to her, she wondered how if she could stand having them stay up till dark, at 9 or even later. Mentally, she made a note to start looking for blankets to hang over the curtain rods to block the summer sun out.
Janice reached out for that book, pulled it into her lap and flipped through pages until she found where she had left off. She had given up on bookmarks about three years ago, when one of Jensen’s favorite activities had been to pull them out of every book she’d been reading. His sister, exactly one year younger, the stealer of birthdays, shared his passion for removing receipts, notecards, postcards, sticky post-it notes, and even actual, free-from-the-library bookmarks from closed, unattended books. It was one of the small cruelties of motherhood. Jackie had become accustomed to an audience while she showered, pooped, vacuumed, cooked, tried to have a sophisticated, adult conversation with her brother over the phone, or did pretty much anything else. But the bookmarks stung.
As it so often did these days, her mind drifted to the resentful thought that Vick did not suffer such inflictions. He would tell her it was her own fault – that she should never should have allowed them to start following her to the bathroom or around the house in the first place. But what was she supposed to do? They had legs and once they could walk, how was she to keep them from following her? Her bellows, unlike Vick’s, did nothing except produce tears and wailing. Locking them behind baby gates had only resulted in the same, and really, she thought, what was the harm in them following her around, anyway? They were only looking for a sense of attachment. It was a sign of love, really.
And just like that, as she did with a million other slight wounds of daily compounding, she had excused and forgiven her children for their childishness.
Not so, Vick.
Janice flipped a page, the story floating atop her decompressing thoughts like a light luxury yacht, sails trimmed, upon a stormy sea. She was not consciously considering all of her husband’s shortcomings. They were simply bubbling the in the soup of her subconscious, bumping around with grocery lists and fever monitoring and project deadlines and redecorating ideas. She sipped at her water, briefly considered bothering to get up to pour a glass of wine and retrieve a bag of chips, turned another page.
It hadn’t been an abnormal day. These were not thoughts churned by some extraordinary, explosive fight, or by a day drained by dealing with exasperating children. It was the deceptiveness of nice moments interspersed hourly that kept Janice’s therapist asking leading questions, like
“And how did that make you feel?”
What, when he looked at me and said, “Hey hon, I think maybe you should start hitting the gym again. It looks like you’ve gained some weight?” Well, crappy, of course, but then he made dinner so I didn’t have to, which was nice.
“And how did that make you feel?” What, you mean when he busted in, halfway through a tantrum, exploded all over my emotionally sensitive five-year-old, and completely subverted everything I’d been trying to do? Well, furious, of course. But then he said he didn’t mind putting the kids to bed so I could go have dinner and drinks with my friend, which I needed.
“And how did that make you feel?” What, you mean when he spent the whole damn day picking at me for stupid shit like the thermostat being turned up by two degrees or there still being bits of ramen left in the sink or because the remote wasn’t where he’d left it or because I cooked the porkchops with the heat turned up too high on the burner or because I drove around too long looking for a parking spot at the supermarket? Well, exhausted and defeated and small, of course. But then he gave me a neck rub and told me my eyes were pretty.
Janice gave in and got up to pour herself a glass of wine. Not good, expensive wine. She couldn’t stand the stuff. This was a four-dollar bottle of alcohol disguised with notes of fruit and slight carbonation. She poured the pink liquid down into the same glass she’d already drained the water from, being careful not to let the glass bottle clink against the rim of her drinking glass – Jenna was a light sleeper and it was a small house. Closing the fridge, Janice leaned into the darkish hallway leading down to the two small bedrooms, listening to one of the kids turn over in bed, mumbling something in their sleep. Somehow, she never could tell which one of them was fussing until she’d actually walked back and pressed an ear against the door.
She carried her wine and a fistful of chocolate still left from Easter back to her spot in the living room. Her book was good, a story of sisters coming together after their respective divorces, but wasn’t holding her attention the way she’d been hoping it would. A really good book, one she became obsessed with, she could whip through in three or four days. Reading late into the night, getting through chapters while the kids watched TV or even while she stirred a pot of pasta on the stove. She supposed one day she would get back to the point where she could sit and read in the middle of the day, consuming the four or five or even, sometimes, six books in a week she once had. Even this hour of reading before bed was a luxury in comparison to the past few years, with two children under two and then two toddlers and then two preschoolers.
She set the book on the floor beside her chair and picked up the remote. She could easily waste an hour with two episodes of House Hunters, time enough to get a buzz from her wine, enough to make her mind foggy so that when she went to lay in bed with nothing to distract her, her mind did not launch into a rant against Vick, postponing sleep for another hour or more. She had taken to having a glass of wine every night.
Vick had not had to give up on the things he loved – the “hobbies” that were more a part of who he was than an activity to engage one’s free time. He still jammed with his “band buddies” three nights a week, and in the middle of the day or in the evening after dinner if he wanted to strum on his guitar he simply closed himself up in the bedroom while Janice entertained the nearly-twins. Every night, he left just prior to bedtime to go play video games with his brother, and in the summer he still tended the little garden that he had dug out the summer before Jensen was born. Janice did not begrudge him these small life luxuries, but she did sometimes wish he was as accommodating of her as she was of him.
“If you want to go do something, just ask,” Vick had said a couple of years ago when she had tried to express this thought to him. She had sighed, not quite sure what she had been expecting.
“Why do I have to ask?” she had asked.
“Okay, so then don’t ask. Just tell me when you’re going to go do something.” Vick had made it sound simple, as if there were no additional considerations to take into account. But Janice had not felt, and still didn’t feel, that it was simple. Telling him that she would be leaving the children in his care while she went out to doing something purely self-indulgent felt selfish, but having to ask made her feel like a rebellious teenager or a stereotypical 1950’s housewife – a person practically owned by another person. She had not been able to untangle the knots of discordant threads tying up her mind then, and she hardly felt she could do any better now.
The woman exploring houses on TV was looking for a three bedroom with a basement and a fenced in yard for the two children she would now be raising on her own. Janice mentally ticked off what she liked about each house – The kitchen is okay, but I’d have to change those countertops! Oh, Jenna would love that pink room! Wow, that yard is amazing, but I can’t imagine having to mow it all by myself every summer! – ignoring any thoughts that included Vick’s preferences where they contradicted her own. Which was most of them; they’d never shared similar tastes in music, movies, aesthetics. Vick was outdoorsy, loving to hike and bike and garden, while she was indoorsy, preferring a treadmill with a giant television, art museums and theatre. They hadn’t had much choice when they’d moved in to this house, and it was already partially furnished, so they had only had to settle on a couch neither one of them hated and balancing their knicknacks between the living room and bedroom. Janice imagined that if ever they found themselves on one of these type of shows, there would be a lot of close ups of the realtor’s exasperated face as he tried to find a compromise for a couple that couldn’t agree on anything.
Janice sipper her wine, feeling the flush of blood flood her cheeks, sure her entire face was nearly as red as her hair. During commercials she flipped through other channels, wasting time, hovering between this and that, not quite sure where to stay or for how long, not wanting to miss the previous show but not wanting to turn it back only to find a commercial and miss something good on this one. Half-an-hour later, having missed the endings of all three shows she was trying to watch, her mind was pleasantly foggy and her eyelids heavy. She yawned, rolled her head on her neck, stretched. She turned the TV off, flipped the switch on the table lamp, and collected her empty glass and chocolate wrappings to deposit in the kitchen on her way back to bed.
The door connecting the kitchen to the garage opened with a rush of cool air just as she was passing and Vick emerged from the darkness beyond. He wore a black jacket and dark jeans, a dark beanie covering his shaved head. His eyes were red and bleary, from beer or pot or both, and he sniffed loudly as he tried (and failed) to shut the door quietly behind himself.
“Hey! What’re you doing home?”
“What, I’m not allowed to come home?”
Janice stifled a groan. “No, I just mean you aren’t usually home this early.”
“I was just joking, lighten up,” Vick said as he pulled the beanie from his head and tossed it with his keys onto the kitchen table, the loud thud reverberating down the hallway. Janice thought she heard one of the children turn over in their bed.
“Well, I was just getting ready to go to bed,” Janice said, being careful to set her glass on the counter lightly. Vick leaned down to let her plant a light kiss in the beard around his jaw, avoiding her lips still contaminated with wine and chocolate.
“I’m going to get something to eat and I’ll be in later,” he said. “Night.”
“Okay. Night, love you,” Janice whispered as she headed down the hall, hearing his muffled “love you too” as she went. In the bedroom, slipped her house socks over her feet so Vick didn’t wake her in the middle of the night to complain that her feet were freezing, and slipped down between the covers. She imagined herself decorating her favorite house from the episode of House Hunters she’d just finished watching, trying to ignore the sounds of Vick opening and closing the fridge, running the microwave, pulling a plate and cup from the cupboard, ripping opening packaging, and bumping into the kitchen furniture as he made himself something to eat.
Faintly, just as she was drifting into a light sleep, she heard the distinctive sound of the trashcan being slid across the linoleum and bumping into the corner of the wall and refrigerator. Her eyelids flew up, like the old-fashioned spring blinds in her grandmother’s house, and her heart began to pound as her bare feet hit the carpet.