In the time it took to sprint to the bottom of the steepest hill in town, almost flying down, really, like one of those dreams where you’re flying, she decided: their relationship was over. She knew it in bed that morning. She didn’t get off; he did, but it was routine and expected. Why did she even let him have her?

Because he would fuss. He would be hurt. He would demand an explanation: “Why? What’s the matter? Please? I need it. Now I will have a horrible day. And it will all be your fault.”

Horrible day, she was thinking, like the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. As a mom of four, she read a lot of books.

He regularly blamed her for his problems during the time they had been “together,” through one year, two months, and three days, him complaining he was unable to get any painting done on his house, unable to get out of his sedentary rut, unable to get into healthy eating, unable to get his finances in order. The cloak of inability enshrouded and restrained him. Not a cloak of invisibility, a la Harry Potter, but a cloak of inability. As a former English Major, she liked words.

She’d given in to his plea to be excused from dealing with her family of four children, ages fourteen, twelve, nine, and four, so he could supposedly “get stuff done” at his own house, but then he would text:
Hey babe
I can’t sleep…
If I come over,
will you warm me?

He would sneak over late and would sneak out before dawn, backing his heavy chrome-covered machine out of her side driveway ever-so-carefully, inching it down the short hill, not kick-starting the bike into its godawful rumble until he was at the bottom corner. So much sneaking around; surely her kids must wonder. Weird grownups – always wanting to sleep with each other.

They’d gone on countless wild and amazing dates, all with him hoping to slip her into the shuffled playlist of his life. During Bike Week he took her on the back of his Road King up the Mount Washington Auto Road. The road’s edge had no guard rail for all 4,618” from its base altitude of 1,527”. She leaned desperately to the left, and the guy behind her yelled “Hey! You keep leaning like that, you’re gonna tip his bike!”

He took her numerous times on the replica 19th century paddleboat — the Winni Belle’s ‘booze cruise’, dancing for hours as they glided past the McMansions and summer homes on the lake. Her older daughters home, responsible for the younger kids. How did her daughters feel about this? She didn’t ask.

On New Year’s Eve she arranged for her kids to have a slumber party, so she could go out on the town with Eric. He took her to the Tavern’s Ring in the New Year Party, buying her drink after drink after drink. Slipping and sliding on the icy sidewalks, they stumbled back to his house, where she promptly passed out on his couch. Did he wake her and remind her to get home to her kids? No; instead, he posed his little dog on top of her in funny positions, taking pictures. At 5:00 AM she awoke, horrified to realize where she was. She ran home as fast as she could, picking out clumps of leaves and grass for safe footing among the ice.

She invited him countless times to pseudo-move in with her, like people do when they’re in love, hoping to slip him into the shuffled playlist that made up her life. One morning when he was about to dash home to get ready for work, she suggested, “Why don’t you leave some clothes at my house?”

“No, I have to go home anyway for Twinkie, remember?”

“Twinkie can come over here, too; we don’t mind. The kids love Twinkie!”

“Well… I don’t know, he’s used to his routine. I put him to bed in his kennel with the blankets covering the sides…”

“Will you come with me to the school play?” she asked one night when she gave up hope of trying to get the girls’ own dad to come. This caught Eric off-guard; however, he went. But then her oldest daughter cringed when she saw him sitting in their row, as it was unexpected, since they rarely saw him. “Mom!” she hissed; “What’s he doing here??”

“I just thought it would be nice, you know, for your sister, since Dad couldn’t make it,” she whispered back.

“Um, no. Look at him. Does he even want to be here?” They both looked at Eric – his legs crossed, one engineer boot rising up dangerously close to bumping the back of a mom in front of him. He took out his pocket watch, attached to a chain and began winding it, humming. “See what I mean?”

But today, a mantra repeated in her head since the unfulfilling sexual encounter. It’s over. It’s over. It’s over. It was the last of the late-night visits. The last selfish visit, which avoided the hustle and bustle of her youngest child’s Tee-ball night, avoided the thrown-together family dinner of left-overs from the past two nights plus some salad, avoided the group stroll with the dog and a brand-new bike rider wobbling proudly on the cinders of the bike path, glitter fauxhawk helmet sparkling in the last of the day’s rays. And finally, his visit avoided the read-aloud on the couch of Skippyjon Jones and Purplelicious before bed.

Helen traipsed in after her run and downed a long swig of tap water put into a plastic bottle. Endorphins careened from her spine to her brain, bolstering her courage, propelling her conviction. How to tell him: in person? A phone call? A letter? Did it matter? She knew one thing: they could not go to that wedding together. No way. The wedding would be too hard. How do you sit through a wedding with your boyfriend, who is practically in the wedding, when it was you all along who wanted to get married?

How do you sit through the wedding, with your boyfriend, who is really enjoying someone else’s wedding, when you know he will absolutely never marry you? Do you sit there politely? Laugh politely at jokes or possible comments about you two someday tying the knot? Jokes about catching the bouquet? What a pile of shit. This man was never going to marry a mom with four kids. And what was worse was that his friends all knew that.

She showered, rivulets of hot water cascading down her hard-earned body. She threw open the window for the torrent of steam building up and then she dressed in the clammy damp.

In the old Plymouth van, they bumbled along first to the high school, then to the middle school, and finally to the elementary school, with lunches made, reports assembled, gym clothes hastily stuffed in backpacks, hair braided, shoes tied, jackets zipped, goodbyes said and waved.

She fed, watered, and walked the dog, up and down the hill, thinking, thinking with the rhythm of his four little paws and the long nails click-clicking on the pavement. She loaded the van, this time with the day’s work essentials, gripping the vacuum with the left hand and the caddy with the right, and kicking the screen door open carefully and just enough so as not to allow escape of said dog. She scrutinized and considered, and went back in, searching for one more microfiber cloth and the pack of straight-edged razor blades, because of the glass cook top at nine and also the abundance of dust in that house. Thinking, thinking, watching the clock on the dash in the car.

Thinking some more as she said goodbye to the customer, who was taking himself out to do errands that morning, leaving her alone with his lingering smells of onions and garlic, the insufferable scent of an indulgent breakfast not for her. And that did it.

That was the moment she grabbed the phone and went to her Favorites and touched the icon of his face with the word, “pumpkin” beneath. She said, “Hi,” and, as per usual, her boyfriend was not doing much, not going to work, not doing anything productive because he didn’t feel up to it and he called in sick.

From the way he responded, it was as if he didn’t hear what she had to say. It was as if she had said, Hey, did you know you left your socks at my house this morning when you snuck out before dawn? But he couldn’t respond, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll just get them later’ because there would be no later, it was over.

He said “What? What did you say?”

“I said it’s over. Us. I don’t want to do it anymore.”

“Oh, geez. You know, I hardly got any sleep at all last night. I think I have insomnia. And, I can’t seem to get anything done. I’m home, you know. Did you hear me? I said I called in sick. I’m out of coffee, too. I should have made coffee at your house. You know, I’m not getting any exercise. Maybe I should –”

“Are you not hearing me? I said it’s over. I don’t want to go out with you anymore. I mean it. I’m serious. I’m done. We’re through.”

There was a long pause.

“What about the wedding?” he asked. Then his voice began to rise; “Are you going with me to the wedding? You’re making me mad now. I’m in the wedding. I can’t go to the wedding alone. That would be awkward and embarrassing.”

She said nothing. She scraped the straight-edge blade across the dried burnt sauce on the glass cooktop. She sprayed the oily polish on the silver refrigerator and swirled a microfiber cloth around and around, shining out the fingerprints.

“What about the wedding?” he asked again. “You’re expected to go to the wedding – they think you’re going.”

“What do you want? I’ll do whatever you want,” she said, just to get it over with as easy as possible. Maybe she could go to the wedding. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. She cradled the phone between shoulder and chin as she used two hands to put the cleaned large glass tray back in the over-sized microwave. “If you want me to go, I’ll go.” She paused, picked up the toaster and wiped crumbs out from under and then added, “Do you really feel comfortable going to the wedding with me after I just said that?”

She scrubbed, scoured, washed, crawled, bent, extended, shuffled, hunched, flexed, and moved on to the next room with swift precision, organization, and ceremony, while he sighed into the phone. Actually, she hoped he would not want her to go to the wedding. Not the wedding.

He sighed some more.

She kept holding the phone with her right hand to her left ear as she dusted her way through the dining room, with the cloth in her left hand, getting the bottom rungs of the chairs, crawling from chair to chair. She couldn’t put him on speakerphone, which would have made things easier, due to not being sure if or when the customer would be popping back home.

She knew if she didn’t go to the wedding, his friends would really hate her for that. Especially the ones getting married, Vera, who also happened to be a mom of four, and her fiancé, Kenny, who had moved in with Vera and her brood, one of which was pregnant, one was just out of jail, one had recently totaled his mother’s car, and the youngest brought home a cat, which had some very cute kittens (because they didn’t get it spayed) but now the whole household had fleas.

Vera had a best friend, Reagan, and the two of them took on Eric as their pet project until Helen came along. When Helen came along, these women did not want to hand him over. Helen could feel their disdain as they playfully jumped in on the dance floor and physically blocked him from dancing with her on more than one occasion. She could feel their disdain as they bought Eric one too many drinks in the Tavern, and then laughed as they left him with Helen who really needed to get back home to her kids, and didn’t need to be screwing around getting him home and getting him and his dog all set for the night.

And now Vera was getting married and Kenny had made Eric his best man, of sorts.

Finally, as Helen was standing up and taking a breather before moving on to dust the buffet and the china cabinet, he spoke. “No, I think I don’t want you to go to the wedding with me. Not after this. Why? Why are you doing this to me? Why now? Do you know what you’re doing to me? Now I really won’t be able to sleep. How am I going to work if I never get any sleep?” He waited, and in the dead air space, as the time ticked on and he wandered circles around one of his Harleys taking up most of the floor space in his kitchen even though it was now May, she hung up.

She blocked him before he could call back, tossed the phone in the cleaning caddy, and flipped the vacuum switch to ‘on,’ filling the air with its godawful noise.


Karen M. Flynn holds an MA in English Literature from the University of New Hampshire and has been previously published in the RavensPerch with her story The Extra Housewife.