Monday, April 6, 2009

Emancipation (Adult Short Story), Mark L. Hough

(PROMPT: Something is on the kitchen table that isn't supposed to be there...No time limit.)

I was wearing a fifty-four hundred dollar suit the day it happened…my family’s emancipation. The Mercedes was cooling itself off in the garage (amazing cars, those Mercedes’), and I had just put the mail on the counter, when I saw it.
It was simply an “it”; there is no easier way to describe the smoking mass of charred something on the kitchen table. It sat there, calmly filling the kitchen with its flame-broiled odor, while I stood and watched. It was 5:50 Monday, and I was all alone.
It wasn’t dinner—at least it wasn’t supposed to be. My wife and I—both members of the modern two-income society—took turns cooking. I took Monday and Wednesday while she took Tuesday and Thursday. We ate out on Friday and Saturday whenever I was in town. Sunday was my day out…golfing with the “boys” and dinner at the clubhouse. It was an arrangement we had both agreed upon, though we had never discussed it formally…we didn’t have time. We were both too busy reaping the illusive rewards of suburban success. Or so we thought.
The truth is, we were slaves, my wife and I. I don’t know for certain when the transaction took place, but it had. Perhaps it was the gradual nature of our transformation that made it difficult to pinpoint the moment of change; like trying to assign a date to one’s entrance into adulthood. But regardless of our awareness of it, we had become slaves…slaves to a stereotype.
I suppose we should have recognized the signs sooner…like when I started playing golf. I hated golf. Still do. At the time, Susan said nothing about my taking up a sport we both knew I hated. It was just…accepted, included in the contract—like the free golf balls that came with the three thousand dollar pigskin golf bag I bought.
It had all come together—a part of the successful-young-couple package you get when you become a slave. The new car. The new house. The dinners out. The other couples who talk endlessly of their stereotypical lives as if they were something unique. Their new car. Their new house. And somehow, my wife and I, we let it happen.
I studied the charred mass, completely unaware of what I was expected to do. I had felt the same way the night before. Susan had been in a rare conversational mood—going off about memories. Our first date. The Wedding. The early years of our marriage… The days had been harder then. Our house was so cold in the winter we had to huddle together to keep our teeth from chattering at night. Our fifteen-year-old Buick left us stranded on many a back road. Eating out had depended upon how many quarters we could find in the sofa… For almost an hour, Susan went on and on, until quite unexpectedly she began crying, and, like a spectator at a crash, all I could do was watch.
The whole next morning, I thought of what she had said. It was true the early years had been harder…but it seemed now, looking back, we had something then that we didn’t now, as if the transformation that took from us our difficulties had stripped us of our happiness. Without our knowing.
The thoughts continued on all afternoon like an IV drip, slowly pouring desperately-needed life back into my body. Why do we work so much? What happened to spontaneity? We were both happier back then. When was the last time we gave each other a good, hard look and saw the reason we were together?
The drive home had questions of its own: What would Susan say? Was she happier with the secure life we had? How would she react to a change? And if she wanted one, how would I know?
I took the smoking hunk on the kitchen table to be a bad sign. Was this...thing... the final summation of the last eight years...a smoking rebellion against the tedium that had become the routine of daily life?
I stared at it for at least ten minutes before recognition prompted me to smile. There on the kitchen table was my answer and I took it up with complete disregard for my jacket sleeves. Love was like this sometimes—demanding change...demanding action to secure the freedom of its lover. And, though actions may speak louder than words, nothing speaks louder than a roasted golf bag.

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