(Fiction, Written for class at Ball State University, 2012)
I usually spend my afternoons alone. I enjoy the quiet time without all the screaming and yelling that comes with having 3 kids. I do my best to be a good mother, nothing at all like how I was raised, but I feel no guilt in admitting: I like being alone. My husband is perfect though. The more he loves me, the more I loathe him. At night when I’m brushing my teeth, he’ll stand behind me and gently tuck my baby curls behind my ear and whisper “God, I love you.” It sends chills down my spine because I hate when people whisper. I think it’s rude to hide what you’re trying to say. You might as well just say it out loud where everyone can hear you. In church, the old ladies that sit near the back like to whisper about who is screwing who in the coat closet during the donut breakfast, and I just wish they’d speak louder. Maybe if they weren’t so afraid of someone hearing them, Jody Stiles would know her husband is a cheating whore, and then maybe Jody would finally have a reason to get on a treadmill.
People always worry about single-parenting screwing up a kid, but I’m fine. My mother had a line of men in and out of her bedroom throughout the 80s and I turned out okay. I grew up fast enough to realize that these men weren’t going to be my new Daddy. My mom was just lonely, as most manic depressive crack heads are. She got into drugs in the 70s, like every good college dropout that got knocked up by a hippie. She pretty much hated me my entire life for ruining her figure, causing her to lose the man of her dreams (as if he was such a catch), and ruining her life, but it didn’t bother me one bit. I was raised in a shitty home where I ate Ramen noodles for dinner my entire childhood, and as awful as I am, or will ever be, to my kids, at least I’ll feed them. Sometimes I wonder if I was evil to force my rearing onto my poor children. They didn’t know they’d end up with me, they just got dealt a bad hand like I did.
Last Wednesday, I had a meeting at the church with the town elite. All the women get together for “women’s bible study” once every few weeks so we can talk about Jesus without the judgement of others, that way we can focus on judging each other. The class was held in the multipurpose room in the basement of the church. The walls were depressing, a grey carpet-like fabric. The ground was a different shade of grey shag carpet. All the chairs were arranged in a circle close enough that it forbid you from being able to cross your legs. I knew that the pastor’s wife, who ran the meeting, would sit in the chair closest to the refreshments, so I purposefully sat off centered from her. She had a tendency to stare when topics became uncomfortable. I was one of the first people there because I had some downtime between dropping off Bryan at soccer and coming here (tonight was my husband’s turn with the two little ones). Christy Blanchard sat in her usual seat by the refreshments upon my arrival. I was hoping I could be invisible for at least 3 minutes before having to engage in awkward small talk with the pastor’s wife.
“Well, hi there Miss Daisy Mae!” she yelped in my ear. I assumed she was calling me that because of the low-cut sweater I was wearing, but as I remembered, God never said anything about cleavage.
“Hello Christy. How’s Dave?”
“Oh, well, he is just wonderful! I am so glad you could make it tonight. We really missed you last week!”
Last week I decided to nap instead.
“Oh, you know, just busy with the kids.” I spoke without eye contact hoping it would be rude enough to get her to stop talking to me. I rummaged in my purse for nothing, continually locked and unlocked my phone, and did the over-the-shoulder, “wow is anyone else here yet?” look, all to no avail.
“How are those adorable little monsters?”
“They’re great,” I said through a closed, smiling mouth.
As Christy and I had this exchange, more women trickled into the room, Jody Stiles among them. Alice Wells, a new member of the church who I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet in person, sat to my left. She had pitch black hair, shoulder length, and impressively sheen. I overheard her speaking to a few of the other ladies. Her accent wasn’t from anywhere I knew. Everyone in our little town in Nowheresville, Texas had accents as thick and slow as molasses. Mine was less obvious because I was a native of Chicago, and had only picked up the accent over the past 5 years. Our eyes met for a moment before I went back to looking at the black screen on my phone. No calls or texts from my husband so I assumed everything was going smoothly at home.
This week’s meeting was supposed to be about trust. Trusting ourselves, our loved ones, and most importantly, trusting our faith. Christy started by reading a few passages from her leather-bound bible, and having the women discuss what these words meant to them. Jody was always the most talkative.
“I sometimes feel like I can’t trust Steve. He is always finding excuses not to spend time with me and the kids,” Jody told the group. “It worries me.”
Jody shouldn’t trust Steve. Every single white female in that room knew that Steve was unfaithful, but nobody had the heart to tell her, which I guess made us just as bad. While Jody droned on about all her marital problems that would easily be fixed with a simple meet-cue with her and the mistress, I noticed Alice again. She didn’t look like the other girls from around here. She wore very little makeup, and simple clothing. Most of the women here were your average, everyday Stepford Wives, but not her. After a moment she caught me staring, but she didn’t care. She smiled, nodded her head, and continued listening to Jody.
She was an interesting creature. Rarely did someone come into our close-knit bible study group. I couldn’t quite figure out why anyone would want to move into a gated community that was run by blonde bittles. I wanted to know her story. I’m usually pretty good at figuring people out by just a few glances, but her eyes told a story I didn’t comprehend.
Christy closed the meeting with a few words of advice from her own God-fearing marriage. I realized that I’d zoned out for the entire session. Snapping back from my trance, I made a B-line for Alice.
“So what brought you to our little town?” I asked her.
“Work, actually. It was time for a change.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but she smiled at me like we were close personal friends. I gave her a quick once-over, and I noticed that Alice was much shorter than me. As we talked, she would shift her weight, almost like she was trying to grow passed me on the spot. During the conversation, I felt an air of competition set in. She had a job, so I let her have it. I knew the small talk was the dying out, but I still didn’t feel like I learned anything about her. In true Desperate Housewives fashion, I ended the conversation with a compliment.
“I don’t mean to be forward, but that perfume is delicious!” I knew how to play the game like the rest of these housewives.
I leaned in to get a generic whiff.
“Apples,” we said in unison. I recognized the smell immediately.
“Right,” she said with a skeptical look.
“Well, it’s just divine,” I said in my best Christy impression. We giggled and made eye contact once more before I pulled out my phone with a message from Michael:
“Picked up Bryn and went to get pizza. Meet us there? XO.”
I didn’t text back, and I didn’t meet them for pizza. Instead, I asked Alice out for a drink.
“I’d love to,” she responded with a smile.
I took Alice to my favorite bar outside the gates of our prison. It was the most typical Texas hub: wooden tables, peanuts, neon signs, and drunken cowboys. While in the car, I tried to dress myself down, taking off any diamonds, including my wedding ring. Luckily Alice didn’t know as she was checking her makeup in the passenger mirror.
It was just about 9:00 when we got to the bar. Alice walked in and made herself right at home. It was as if she was a regular. I tried not to think about that too much because this was my bar and my secret place to come for peace. If anyone was the regular, it was me.
“I’ve got the first round,” I announced loudly over the folky guitar music.
I ordered beers. I didn’t even bother asking Alice what she wanted to drink because I just assumed that she was no different than any other Texan woman. Although, when the beer appeared in front of her, she held it in between her palms, gently rocking it back and forth.
“Not a beer person?”
“No, it’s not that. I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Well that’s what the beer’s for!”
We went through three rounds before my small figure started to feel the effects. Alice seemed to be fine even though I had a good 4 inches on her, regardless of my heels. Maybe she was a heavy drinker. I honestly knew nothing about this woman, so I decided to delve.
“So, where’re you from?”
She was nice enough to ignore my drunken speech. There is nothing worse then trying to listen to a tipsy southern accent.
That explains why I didn’t recognize her speech.
“I moved here after this awful breakup with my fiance of 3 years.”
“That is downright terrible!”
I could feel myself screaming unnecessarily. My drunken state only increased after round five, so we took a Diet Coke break.
“I needed to get some space from him. He was the love of my life.”
She seemed far too sober to be declaring such things. I’d need to be piss drunk to admit anything like that about Michael, and even then I’m not sure I would.
“So he’s the fellow that bought you that perfume, huh?”
“He sure did. You’re a little drunk right now aren’t you,” she laughed.
“Well, you’re one sharp cookie.”
Clearly my attempts to hide my true state of mine failed. After comparing Alice to a baked goods, I don’t remember anything from that night. All I really remember was that for the first time in years, I actually had fun. Alice was nothing like my other neighbors. She had no shame in being belligerent and drunk in a shady bar. It was refreshing to have someone to talk to. In the next few weeks, I was spending a ton of time with Alice. Christy was nothing but jealous that I had somehow managed to snag the spot of “BFF” with the new girl in town, and I was nothing but proud.
When you have a medically insane mother and no food in your small apartment, rarely do you become the popular girl. Even in college, I never was around girls. My husband thought that bible study would be a way for me to meet women and befriend them, but I guess I’m just too judgemental for that. For some strange reason I was never jealous of Alice like I was with most women. It was like she was a long lost sister. We had dinner together twice a week, drinks on Thursday, bible study on Wednesday, and weekends at the gym. I couldn’t get enough of her quick witted jokes, and her charm. Everyone had been taken by her, even Michael and the kids. It was as if they’d start popping out “Aunt Alice” any day now. Alice was even helping my marriage. Seeing Michael light up around her naturally sparkly personality reminded me of when we first met. We started having more sex, talking more, and I was a more pleasant person to be around.
Wednesday came around, and as usual, I was preparing to carpool with Alice to bible study when Michael came home early. Everything was status quo. He hugged me from behind as I was applying my 3rd layer of lipstick. He leaned in to kiss my neck when I caught a whiff of his shirt.
Suddenly the room started spinning. Michael started undresses from his suit and started to put on his “Dad clothes”. I looked down at my watched and realized that Alice must’ve been waiting downstairs. I shook off the feeling and went along as usual. I opened the car door, and buckled my seatbelt before I noticed that Alice was perkier than usual.
“Ready to sit through another one of Christy’s sessions?”
I nodded and twiddled my thumbs, my long red nails clicking with every loop. I was mostly silent in the car, my brain included. I think I had wished for this moment so many times that when it finally happened I didn’t know how to feel. There was not a doubt in my mind that Alice and Michael were having an affair. I was sure of it. I wasn’t sure however, how to react. Leave him? Kill him? Kill her? My body didn’t know how to process it. Things always turn to shit right when you think it’s all going well. That’s just life. As calm as I was, I couldn’t help but relate to Christy’s lesson that day: Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
I scanned the room at the women in front of me. They all had secrets, and now Alice did too. I hated my husband, Alice was sleeping with my husband. Jody’s secret was more obvious because she tended to eat her feelings. Everybody has shit to deal with, and I was clearly no different. After the meeting I asked Alice to take me to my car. I told her I had to run to the market for some forgotten grocery items. She offered to come, and I declined. I hopped into my car and headed towards the market, but I didn’t go. Instead I drove around, passed the gated community and into the country. I could’ve gone straight home to ask Michael why he smelled of apple perfume, but like I said, I enjoy my alone time.