The surly teen simply rolled her eyes then shuffled to the fridge to procure a soda. With her emerald eyes still locked onto her mother’s face, she drank the entire can in eight loud gulps. A perfunctory belch followed, igniting a blotchy carmine flush on Maria’s neck and décolletage. “I’m going to change your brother. You – get in the car” she hissed. When the girl didn’t move she launched a coffee mug at the wall and screamed, “Do it now!”.
Maria, focused on manipulating toddler legs and pelvis into a Pull-Up, didn’t hear her husband enter the kitchen. She didn’t hear the teenager relay the details of her mother’s meltdown and the keys that were sitting “Right there in the fruit bowl, Dad. I swear”. The percussion of size eleven oxfords on polished hardwoods, down the hall to the right, was muffled by the ear piercing squeals of triumph from a freshly powdered toddler. Maria raised a threatening hand, daring the boy to further defy her.
“… the hell is your problem?” Maria’s husband boomed from just inside the door frame. Sputters of saliva accented his greeting, landing on the hairs of his beard and goatee. A vein was visibly throbbing on his forehead. David had grown weary of Maria’s fits. He no longer cared to discover the particulars of his wife’s need for therapy. Why didn’t anyone care about his need for a dinner from somewhere other than the microwave?
David shoved past Maria. In one motion, his hands slid under the squirmy toddler and lifted him from his the changing table. Maria stood still. As her husband exited the room, he snarled over his shoulder “I’m done with this. I’ll take Christina to therapy. You …” he paused, rocking backwards to the door so Maria could just make out the perfectly starched collar of his pinstriped shirt. “Pack a few bags. Go to your mother’s, go stay with one of your friends; I don’t give a shit what you do. I’ll call my lawyer first thing tomorrow”.
Maria could hear his oxfords on the hardwood now, and cringed at the thought of having to buff out the scuffmarks again. Why couldn’t he ever give her a break? She did everything for David; scheduling his clients, maintaining the books, keeping up appearances. And those kids! They were so demanding, so needy. Maria was sure that David was brainwashing them. The very notion made her skin hot.
David and the children returned to a dark house. “Crazy bitch shut off the heater”, he muttered as he flicked on the lights. He reset the thermostat and made hot cocoa on the stove while the plump toddler snored on the couch. Christina joined him in the breakfast room, now void of any evidence of rogue excrement. “Do you think Mom’s gonna be alright? I mean, I don’t care. I hate her.” his daughter’s voice fell flat. He watched as she drew in deep breaths of chocolaty steam. David said nothing.
He found Maria the next morning, slumped over his desk. She had ransacked the office. Empty bottles of xanax, lithium and risperidone were scattered on the blotter. A decanter of his favorite cabernet lay in her lap, with a portion of its contents emptied on the tufted rug beneath her.
David surveyed the damage. Maria’s college diploma hung lopsided on the wall to her left. A recent family portrait hung behind her head, its shattered glass now decorating Maria’s raven hair like a broken halo. In her right hand was a photo he snapped on their honeymoon in India, just before a local boy ran off with her handbag.
They were happy once. These images were proof of a wife and future that didn’t include psychiatric interventions and pharmaceutical cocktails. He thumbed through the ripped photos on the floor, the shock of reality enveloping him like quicksand. Through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.