Welcome today's guest author, Margaret Ethridge, who has a hilarious outlook on marriage.
We all know love can be elusive—like the gossamer wings of a butterfly flitting along on a spring breeze. Capturing love can make a Salzburg nun’s attempt to catch a wave upon the sand look easy enough for Gretel Von Trapp to nail. And, oh! How delightful it is! Every brush of his hand sends shivers skittering down your spine...Every little joke is hysterical...And the looks! Those heated, hungry glances make your toes curl in anticipation.
And once you’ve corralled that fickle flame of true love and used it to light that perfectly pure, virginal white unity candle (because we all deserved to wear that white), everything is hunky-dory. The minute the ‘I dos’ are exchanged, you and your beloved float down the aisle on a pastel pink cloud of love so billowy no bump in the road dare disturb it. You truly become one mind, one heart, one soul existing only to nourish and feed—
Aw, crap. I’m making myself sick. I guess I’m not the mistress of fiction I aspire to be.
You see, I really just need to confess something. Ten minutes ago, I gave serious thought to whacking my spouse upside the head with the blender. Something was said about my stirring technique and…seriously? He thought I don’t know I need to scrape the sides? I know he needed to take about two steps closer…I mean, what better way to say, ‘I love you, I need you, I’m glad I chose you’ than a nice concussion?
Let’s be honest here. If you’ve been married for more than five minutes, chances are you have imagined doing your beloved bodily harm. Am I right? Yeah, I’m right. You have.
It’s only natural. I’m sure there have been times my knight in dingy white boxer-briefs has considered using my pillow as a muffling device. I’m certain he’s noticed the speculative glances I shoot at the guardrails and concrete embankments that whiz past as He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Passed speeds along the highway.
What? I only stare at the ones on his side of the car?
I joke. You know I’m joking, right? Thoughts of harming one’s darling have long been fodder for comics. I love to use Eddie Murphy’s old ‘Why don’t you just…go to sleep?’ bit from Delirious on my husband. It’s a joke—one of those jokes that have more than a grain of truth nestled in its dark depths.
When I was in my twenties, my girlfriends gifted soon-to-be brides with a nice heavy cast-iron skillet as an engagement gift. It was a gag gift. It was funny. Now we all know it was truly the gift that keeps giving. Not only can that skillet turn out delicious pork chops and light-as-a-feather cornbread, it’s also potentially more lethal than a Glock. Not that we’d ever use it for anything nefarious...Why risk denting such a marvelous instrument?
The fact of the matter is everyone, male or female, has caught their spouse doing something so irritating they’ve considered seeking annulment on the grounds of diminished capacity. It’s just a toss-up whether to claim their beloved’s, or their own when they said, ‘Till death do we part’.
In any marriage, it isn’t the big betrayals that lead to thoughts of murder and mayhem, it’s the little ones. It’s the fact that your beloved can sink a jump shot like Reggie Miller but can’t manage to hit the hamper with a pair of balled-up socks. The females of the species love to ridicule the males for their inability to ask directions. It’s true. They can’t and it drives us crazy. But, let’s not forget that to them, our ability to ignore the weird rattle-y sound the car has been making for...oh, about three weeks, I guess...counts as grounds for justifiable homicide when the car blows up.
These are the triggers. This is where the plotting begins. You see, the act itself is merely the launch point for a myriad of spectacular speculation. For me, it usually goes something like this:
How can I do this without making a mess I’ll have to clean? What defense should I use? Would I wear all black to the funeral or maybe a touch of plum? Do they still make those little hats with the veils like Joan Collins wore on Dynasty? How many husbands did Alexis go through on that show, anyway? Would my brand of mascara make it through the courtroom scenes or should I switch? Oh! Speaking of switches, should I keep the house or move to a swanky new condo? Can I afford a swanky new condo? How much life insurance does he have, anyway?
Crap—insurance! Did he make his appointment for his annual physical? Will his doctor check his blood pressure again? It’s been running a little high...I wonder if I can get him to start eating more fruit...We both should start eating a little healthier. We’re not getting any younger...He looks good, though...Pretty damn good...God, I love the salt in his hair...Oh, look! He brought me a Diet Coke...Nice guy...Mm, sweet kisses...
So, um, yeah...Where was I? That’s right...I was going to kill him, wasn’t I? Oh well, I’m sure he’ll do something to set me off tomorrow. We do like our routine.
So, if you’ve hatched any good plots lately, share! You never know where you’ll pick up a good tip. Oh! And what do you think of a hat with a veil? Too much?
Ooh! More kisses! Yes, I know they’re just a ploy, but I like falling for it. Circle of life...marriage...whatever the hell this madness is called...
Gotta go. I think I may still have a few butterflies to chase.
Buy Contentment: LINKMy Website: www.margaretethridge.com
Tracy Sullivan seems to have it all, a handsome, devoted husband, three beautiful children, a steady career, and the perfect suburban home; but she isn’t happy.
The petty resentments that have built over fifteen years of marriage surface when Tracy tells her husband, Sean, that she is no longer interested in sex, and their marriage threatens to implode.
For the sake of their children, Tracy and Sean agree to lead separate lives under the same roof. With the help of a healthy dose of adult-rated fiction and some gentle prodding from a good friend, Tracy begins to rediscover who she is, what she wants, and the reasons she fell for Sean once upon a time.
After two years of soul-searching, Tracy is finally ready to embrace her happily ever after having learned that while happiness may be fleeting, contentment can last a lifetime.
Marriage, and the fairytale implied therein, is a cosmic joke. A giant conspiracy propagated for the sole purpose of clinging to societal mores which should have been cast adrift long ago. Tracy snorted and bent to scoop up a pile of dirty laundry from her son Patrick’s floor. This was no fairytale, and from where she was standing, happily ever after seemed interminably out of reach.
She paused in the doorway and stared at Patrick huddled under the blankets. Her eyes traced the outline of her baby’s body, marveling at the way he stretched almost to the bottom of the narrow twin bed. When did he get so tall?
Patrick was her first born, and in just over a month he would be fourteen. He was the first she held just moments after he was born. The boy who opened his eyes and stared right through her with his father’s piercing blue gaze. He was Sean’s son, through and through. Not only did he look like his father, but he inherited his father’s restless energy. Even when he was a toddler, Patrick trailed after Sean. He often sat fidgeting on a chair, inundating them with a steady stream of chatter which never seemed to bother her husband the way it wore on her nerves.
Clutching an armful of smelly boy laundry, she trudged down the hall and peeked into Erin’s room. She smiled as she caught her daughter curled on her side with the comforter pulled to her ears, but not quite concealing the glow of a contraband flash light.
Erin gave a guilty jump when Tracy sat on the edge of the bed. “Good book?”
The girl’s smile was sheepish as she placed a Hogwart’s bookmark in the crease to mark her page. “Not bad.”
She relinquished the book and the tiny flashlight she had smuggled from the glove box. Tracy smiled and placed the book on the nightstand, tucking the flashlight into the back pocket of her jeans. She leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to her daughter’s forehead. “Go to sleep, the book will still be here tomorrow,” she whispered. “I promise.” She scanned the room and stood, thanking God at least one of her children had inherited her orderly streak.
As she did every night, Tracy crept across the hall to Kevin’s room. Pushing his door open a little wider, she peered into the dim glow cast by a football shaped nightlight, and smiled. She dropped the pile of laundry to the floor, and moved to the bed. A tuft of jet black hair stood straight up on top of his head, defying the strictures of the haircut she had insisted on the week before. She smoothed the cowlick, lowering herself to the bed and curling her body around his.
He slept soundly. The heat of his skinny body warmed her. It’s March—almost spring. She snorted at the thought. Spring hadn’t reached Chicago, no matter what some hairy rodent in Pennsylvania predicted. She draped her arm over Kevin, snuggling a little closer and inhaling his little boy scent. A sharp pang of nostalgia made her stomach clench. She remembered doing the same with Patrick. Now, her older boy smelled like the Axe body spray factory exploded.
Tracy inhaled one last whiff and groaned, rolling onto her back and swinging her legs from the bed. She stood and gathered the discarded clothes strewn about the room, adding them to the pile before trudging back into the hallway with her nightly haul.
A draft of cold air seeping under the front door made her shiver when she passed. In the laundry room, Tracy tossed whites into the washer and sorted through the rest of pile. Pockets were checked for the stray pens, pencils, and the occasional crayon that always seemed to find their way into the dryer. As usual, her husband was the worst offender.
Once she started the machine, Tracy wandered into the rec room, flopped back onto the couch, and pulled the remote control from the cushions. Flipping through the channels, she finally settled on a sit-com rerun before slumping into the cushions.
Please let him be asleep before I come to bed.
An hour later, the whites tumbled in the dryer, and Tracy gave up the fight. Her steps dragged. The usual litany of excuses ran through her head, competing with her fervent hope she would find Sean fast asleep.
She nudged their bedroom door open and held her breath while she listened. When a low, deep snore split the silence of the room, she exhaled her relief and padded toward their bathroom.
Ten minutes later, Tracy dropped her clothes into the hamper and hugged the oversized flannel shirt she had long ago claimed as her own around her as she shivered her way to the bed. Her teeth chattered when she slipped between the sheets.
“Spring my ass,” she muttered, pulling the down filled comforter to her chin.
Sean snorted and smacked his lips as he rolled onto his side, reaching for her. “Finally.”
She stiffened, fighting to keep herself from pulling away from him entirely. “Laundry,” she murmured, ticking off the first excuse on her list.
“Always laundry.” He moved closer, pressing against her side.
“Always will be, unless we become nudists,” she answered, instantly regretting her flippant remark.
A throaty chuckle rumbled through the darkened room. “There’s an idea.”
She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the hopeful prodding of his burgeoning erection against her hip. “Go back to sleep.”
He nuzzled her ear, mistaking her shudder of distaste for pleasure. “I’m awake now.” His lips grazed her cheek, working their way to her mouth, following a trail he had beaten down years before.
“Sean, I’m tired.” She gave his shoulder a none-too-gentle shove and then rolled onto her side.
He stiffened and pulled back slightly. She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing, dragging in a deep lungful of the thick air. She held herself as still as possible, hoping he’d get the hint and roll over.
“What’s going on, Trace?”
The silence threatened to smother them both. “What?”
“I have to know. I didn’t think I wanted to, but I have to… Is there someone else?”
“No! No! Why would you think that?”
“Why would I think that?” he repeated, his voice rising with anger. “Gee, I don’t know, Trace, why would I?”
She glared at him. “No!”
Sean’s gaze cut through the darkness straight into her. “I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth,” he mumbled at last.
“Of course I’m telling you the truth!”
“There’s no ‘of course’ here,” he argued. “We haven’t had sex in months. Months, Tracy!” When she opened her mouth to retort, he shook his head. “You don’t talk to me anymore. You don’t want me to touch you. I can’t remember the last time you kissed me. I don’t know what to do.”
The silence hummed between them. She stared back at him, searching in vain for one scrap of the desire she had once had for this man. “There’s nothing to do.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you don’t have to do anything.”
“That makes no sense. Obviously I have to do something.”
“It makes perfect sense.” She huffed a sigh. “It’s not you. It’s me.”
“Well, that’s fresh,” he grumbled.
“Sean, come on, this doesn’t have to be that big of a deal.”
He gaped at her, incredulous. “Not a big deal?”
She snapped. “I just want to be left alone. Is that too hard for you to understand?”
“What does that mean?”
“You? What about you? Is there something wrong with you?” Tracy didn’t answer. Sean sat up, propping his elbows on his bent knees and pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. “I don’t understand,” he said at last. “Is there someone else?”
“There’s no one else,” Tracy said quietly. “I don’t want anyone at all.”
He turned to look at her, his face blank. “What?”
“I don’t…I don’t feel that way anymore.”
“You know, like that,” she answered, impatient with his questioning.
“Like what? Sex? You don’t want sex anymore?”
“I don’t know, maybe,” she said, trying to be truthful.
Sean blinked at her as if he didn’t recognize her. “I see.” He drew the words out, his hands dangling helpless against the soft flannel covering his long legs. He swallowed hard. “What about me?”
Tracy pressed her lips together, a myriad of answers filtering through her head, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak any of them aloud. All she said was, “I don’t know.”
He raked his hands through his close-cropped hair and then shook his head again. “Un-fucking-believable.”
He threw the covers back and launched himself from the bed. Sean snatched his pillow from the headboard and tucked it under his arm before stalking toward the bedroom door. The eerie blue glow of the hall nightlight cast him in shadows. “Let me know when you make up your mind. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
She closed her eyes, wincing as she saw the anger and pain in his bright blue eyes flashing behind her lids. She’d stared into those eyes thousands of times, reading his thoughts, gauging his moods, and basking in his pleasure. She could map every line on his face. She knew every story behind every scar, and could paint from memory the exact pattern of gray and rogue red hairs speckling his stubbly beard.
Her hands had smoothed the salt through his peppery hair, stroked the worries from his furrowed brow, and teased his body to the edge of ecstasy. But now, lying alone in the bed she had shared with him for almost half of her life, she had a hard time remembering what she had seen in him.
Tracy tugged at a loose thread on her comforter and the seam that bound the corner unraveled.
She stared at the string, wondering how everything seemed to fall apart so easily.
Rolling the thread between her thumb and forefinger, she worked it into a knotty ball. The moment she released the pressure, the poly-cotton blend started to unfurl then fell from her fingertip to the tangle of sheets and blanket below. A flash of blind panic seized her by the throat, and she groped blindly, desperate to find the thread once more.
Knowing the search was hopeless, she pressed her hand to her hammering heart and stared up at the ceiling, wondering how she thought that tiny bit of thread could fix anything. Everything was broken. She was broken. Once, she had dreams. Not too terribly long ago, her life was driven by purpose and ambition. Now, her only purpose seemed to be attacking endless piles of laundry, and it took every ounce of drive she had to negotiate the car pool pick-up line. She peered in the mirror each morning and she barely recognized the woman staring back at her. Sometimes she looked at Sean and wondered what she could possibly have been thinking when she said, ‘I do.’
What in the world possessed her to look at this one man and think, ‘Yes, you’re the one’?
She’d hurt him deeply, but somehow she couldn’t muster the energy to care. She told him the truth. He wasn’t the problem, she was. Somewhere, somehow, someplace along the line, she had lost the girl she once was. And, if she didn’t know who she was anymore, how was she supposed to hang on to the man someone else had chosen?