It was 5:01 PM when she pulled the fresh baked bread out of the oven. The familiar clomp of handmade Italian leather shoes echoed on the wooden steps outside.
“Millie? Is that you?” The voice was accompanied by plastic bags rustling.
“Hi, James. I’m about to start making dinner. What would you like?” She gave him a tired smile but he didn’t notice. He heaved four overloaded grocery bags on the center island. James, husband of five years, matched his wife’s height: 5′ 5″, 5′ 6″ on a good day.
That was the only way they were equal.
“I’ve got to send off a quick email. Could you put these away?”
Still holding the panned loaf of bread, she shook her head. “I’ve got my hands full. You just got home…can’t the email wait?”
“I don’t want it dangling over me. I’ll check if off of the to-do list now.” He turned unbuttoning the neck of his pressed cotton shirt and loosening the tie.
She watched him walk out of the kitchen. If she weren’t married to him, Millie would’ve nodded sagely, pleased at his ‘can-do’ attitude. To a point, she even understood his dedication. But it was a Friday night. Both of them were done for the weekend. And there he was, scampering to his email account.
But why say anything? A good wife always make home feel comfortable and safe, her mother told her. (Then again, her mother killed herself after a particularly depressive episode when Millie was in high school.)
Mille grabbed a long serrated knife from the knife block; a wedding gift from a college friend. Oh, I’m so jealous you’re getting married. You must be so happy!
Mille carved the bread with a little more force. Five years; not all bad or good, always changing. But why did it feel like there were more bad days than good?
She set down the knife to start putting away groceries. She pulled half of a pound of steak from the bag. She wanted to throw it against the wall. James would want her to broil it for that night’s dinner (or give her a brief respite and request it for tomorrow).
And she would do it. She would grumble about balancing other chores, researching for her new assignment at work, but when it struck six o’ clock, the kitchen would fill with spicy aromas.
She slammed cans of garbanzo beans into the cabinets and thrust the head of lettuce into the fridge. Goddamn, ungrateful…
“Billy! How’s it going?” James walked back into the kitchen, blabbering on his phone. “Yeah, Millie’s making dinner, so I figured I’d give you a call back. Have you watched the markets today? I couldn’t believe how erratic Facebook is right now. If you ask me, I would steer clear.”
Rage came closer to the surface. Millie knew, from all the wifely anecdotes that screaming would do nothing. But she felt her muscles get tight and tears gather in her eyes and she didn’t know what else to do.
“GET THE FUCK OFF THE PHONE!” She smashed the cabinet door shut; if she didn’t keep letting this emotion out it would stick to her insides.
James rolled his eyes and walked out. Millie could hear him saying something about “Millie being stressed”.
Millie had to move. She grabbed her purse, shut off the oven, snagged the keys to the Toyota and let the door rattle behind her. She needed to leave. Now. Get away and let loose.
When she hit the highway, her anger had subsided. The music blared out of the windows and the flapping of her hair and the warped sound of the wind passing through the car helped.
At 8:15 PM she walked back in. The kitchen didn’t smell like oregano and basil and the table wasn’t set. She perched on the sofa with a new book. There was no sound other than the whoosh of turning pages. Five minutes. Fifteen. Then, clomping.
“What was with you tonight?”
Millie snapped the book shut. “Do you know how many times I’ve asked you not to talk that loudly in the house?”
“I called back Billy. What did you expect me to do?”
“Keep your voice down!”
“Whatever. I don’t know why it bothers you.” He made a move to walk away.
The rage was back. “Stop it–”
(Apparently, so was his.) “No, you stop! I don’t know what your problem is. All I did was walk into the kitchen and you started screaming. God, you’re so miserable all the time!” He stomped out.
Millie exhaled fast. She tried to take solace in the silence, in her new book. She turned pages without remembering what she read.
She had to get out. Maybe this time, for good.