The New Normal
by Janet Yung
I try to reason with the cat. “It’s too hot to sit on the back porch.” But she persists, standing by the kitchen door to the enclosed porch looking from me to the glass doorknob meowing. The thermometer indicates the temperature is close to ninety and climbing. I know what Jay will say when he gets home and sees her curled up on the striped cushion she’s adopted as her own. “Someone has to have a little sense.” I suppose that would be me. “Go on.” Pittie tries one more plaintiff wail and I shake my head. She rubs against me and when that doesn’t work, pauses at her dish; its contents don’t meet with her approval, takes a drink, looks mournfully at the door and then pads softly out of the room.
Dishes are stacked in the sink. “How hard is it to put them in the dishwasher?”
“I don’t know, Jay. Sometimes it’s harder than others.”
We have imaginary conversations all day long. Sometimes I catch myself doing both voices. I’ve gotten good at being Jay. He’s never heard me. I don’t think he’d appreciate my talent. Four o’clock and I still haven’t showered.
“Did you ever think you need help?” Not imaginary; he actually said this to me and I know he has a point. Some days, I’ve skipped bathing. Especially when it’s cold outside. It’s not as if I’ve done anything to get hot and sweaty.
Once, in high school, I went without washing my hair for over a month. My mother didn’t say anything at first watching as my hair became oilier every week. I’d sit at my desk, pouring over a book, scratching my scalp and watching as the flakes fluttered down to the open page. Like shaking a snow globe. There was no reason for letting it go so long.
She offered to take me to the beauty shop. This was a sacrifice for her because she’d be humiliated if her hairdresser saw me in my present state, compelled to offer some sort of excuse why I looked the way I did.
“No. That’s okay. I’ll wash it.” Every night after school I found a reason not: I had too much homework; a headache; cramps. Then, as quickly as I stopped, I started. I never told Jay. By the time we met, I seemed normal.
I couldn’t decide what to do first -- load the dishwasher or get cleaned up. I headed towards the shower. Better to shower before starting the dishwasher. Pittie is curled up on the sofa and looks up as I pass.
“How are you?” I pause. She could use a little attention. I sit next to her, moving last Sunday’s newspaper to make a spot and uncover the remote, wedged between two cushions. Pittie climbs into my lap once I’ve settled down. “Okay, let’s see what’s on t.v.” The clicking wears me out. It’s only been an hour since I ate lunch; too soon to snack on something. Not to mention I’m supposed to be working on dinner.
“What’s for supper tonight?” Jay asks that every morning as he’s going out the door. This puts me on the spot first thing in the morning and is meant to motivate me to go to the store. “You should get out more.”
“I don’t know” and “I know” are my stock answers. You’d think after so many months, he’d figure out it’s only lip service I’m providing.
He’s barely out the door watching me wave good-bye when I’m back in bed. I didn’t sleep well the night before and a few winks won’t hurt. Two hours later, I’m waking up for the second time and feeling a little hungry. After taking the edge off my hunger, I might do a little laundry, tidy up a bit and consider I’ve fulfilled my obligations for the day. Why does he care what we have for supper? If that weren’t bad enough, he calls during the day at intervals to see what I’m doing. I made the mistake of telling him once I planned on committing suicide when he wanted to know what was on my agenda. Are plans really necessary?
“Oh, I like this show.” I lean back and put my feet up on the coffee table careful not to disturb Pittie. Thoughts of supper, taking a shower and starting the dishwasher momentarily forgotten. I’ve gotten comfortable when the phone rings. “I’ll let the machine pick it up,” I rub Pittie’s ears and her purring gets louder.
“Hi, it’s me.” Pause. “Are you home?” Another pause. “Well, I guess you must be out or busy or in the bathroom.” Pause. “Call me when you get this message.”
“I should’ve gotten up,” I tell Pittie who’s growing alarmingly heavy for such a small cat. After half hour, I gently move Pittie to the side. She opens her eyes for a moment, stretches and gets comfortable in her new space. I dial Jay’s number. “Got your message.”
“So what are you doing?”
“Working on dinner.” It’s a lie but I have the freezer door open trying to scrounge up a leftover not covered in frost or something I can pass off for home cooking. Frozen ravioli. I close the door softly, hoping he can’t hear. The pantry has an unopened jar of pasta sauce.
“What are we having?”
He accepts it and then shares what’s going on in his office and warns me he’ll be home after six. He doesn’t see it as a warning only a courtesy.
I turn on the dishwasher and hope its running won’t interfere with my shower. Back in the kitchen, my hair wet, but dressed, I’m boiling water for the pasta and heating up the red sauce.
The car stops in front and there are footsteps on the porch. A key in the lock and I know Jay is home, ready to start questioning me about my day. Pittie is at the door again. “Okay,” I open it and she darts out to her cushion.
Janet Yung lives and writes in St. Louis. Short fiction has appeared in “Writers On The River” and on-line “Foliate Oak” and “Terrain“.