Episodes from Someone Else’s Previous Marriage: 472 South Bellows Street #3

(Illustration: Nigel Parry)

(Illustration: Nigel Parry)

1. Sunday Morning Groceries

Every time it’s a sprint. Cilantro. Green pepper. Onions. Cabbage. Lemon. Tomatoes. Avocados—yes? No, not one close to ripe. Potatoes. Bananas. You no longer worry about coupons. Not even the store kind. Chicken. Pork chops—thin. No beef this week. Tossing and walking quickly. Milk, skim. Two dozen eggs—slowing only to peek. Cheese. Pinto Beans. Cans. Black beans. Cans. No comparison shopping. No label reading. Ten pounds long-grained white rice. Noodle soup mix.

Your goal is to make it home while he still sleeps. That way when he comes up from the basement, there will be coffee. The chicken soup flecked with cilantro and green pepper will be covered and waiting. Maybe you’ll be sautéing the rice. Maybe you’ve added the boiling water and salt. Maybe, if you’re very lucky, if the children are still watching TV and haven’t gotten loud, the rice will be almost done, the water almost all absorbed. He pats your hip three times, lifts the cover on the soup, tags the rice with a wooden spoon. Nice, he says, before walking to the living room to displace the children.

2. Savings

The women in your family, going all the way back on both sides, have always kept their own money: nest eggs, rainy day, mad money, pin money, slush funds, and cab fare home.

Even their fathers were conspirators. You girls are mean enough that you better be able to support yourselves when he leaves. Your grandmother went to State School in Mankato and taught country school. Her younger sister fixed hair and during the War went to work in a munitions plant in California when her husband was stationed overseas. In spite of all that—the work, the studies, the preparation, the plotting fathers—nobody ever left a marriage. They all celebrated the furniture and emerald anniversaries with church basement open houses and lapsed licenses and certificates.

You’ve always worked outside the house, automatically depositing your somewhat larger salary into the joint checking. Your money didn’t have a name.

You came home to Gavin sitting at the kitchen table. Receipts with change circled—$4.27, $5.12, $2.73—in one pile; the ones, the family of fives, the orphaned ten, and the change are spread out in front of him.

“There must be eighty, seventy dollars here,” Gavin says. “We couldn’t get the oil changed, but you have all this money in the back of our closet in a shoe box. What’s your frigging problem? I give you everything and you steal money from our family.”

So you don’t pay cash for groceries now. You use the card and get $20 cash a week. Try to save up the change for twenties that you can sandwich between the back of family portraits and the frame. Unless the picture breaks, the money stays hidden.

3. The First Time You Left Him

How did you not know better?

You’re rocking your son when it comes. It had started with picking. You slamming kitchen cupboards all Saturday. You haven’t been nice to your sister-in-law who with his brother has lived with you for seven months. (And he’s right, you hated her as she put beach balls and candy bars into the shopping cart and then disappeared at the register.)

You remember only his fists and trying to block him. You’re sure that it hurt—that there will be bruises on your shoulders, but you can’t remember. Your screams wake his brother and his wife, but fortunately not your children. His brother pulls him off. His sister-in-law pulls him off.

Run for the door with the baby. There is no suitcase. Barely a purse. Drive northeast to a suburb. Circle a hotel for five minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty. Drive home. Circle the block. The lights are still on. Circle the block again. There’s no getting your older two daughters tonight. Tell yourself that they’re safe enough. Go back to the hotel. Joke about the middle-of-the-night-paint-fumes-special. The clerk just keeps typing and doesn’t look up. Give them the card. Know it’s a week of groceries.

 

Kari Fisher teaches English at Normandale Community College, but has been an instructor in a variety of settings—including the old and new Saint Paul Jail, Ramsey County Workhouse, and Spruce Tree Probation Office. Kari is finishing her MFA in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, Washington). She and her family live in the Twin Cities area.

Leave a Reply