Life and family were everything to Caitlin Farr, but without excitement, life was hollow, and Caitlin increasingly felt that as she grew older, along with her husband, Jay, and their three boys, she was learning to cheat herself of life’s purest enjoyment by shifting affection from anticipation to expectation.
Caitlin should be waiting for life with a furiously beating heart, not taking it each day with a dull patter in her chest, but it was almost as if she were learning to be bored, and growing comfortable with the lesson.
Caitlin was running late. Again.
Most days were the same, and no matter how hard Caitlin tried to stay organized, focused on the family’s days and evenings, weeks and months, it was difficult to not feel as though she were running in place.
Today was the same déjà vu, different day.
Caitlin made her list and cleaned out the fridge, but forgot she needed gas. That 10 minutes it took to get gas was just enough to make her spend an extra seven sitting on Lansing, which was always backed up after 2:30 since the row of restaurants toward the end catered to late, liquid lunches. Nearly 20 minutes late hitting Lansing, caused Caitlin to hit a crowded grocery store.
Caitlin hated it when Greens was crowded. It was never as much fun to shop, and it made her wonder why she was dumb enough to fight Lansing to get there. She could still finish with her shopping in enough time and beat the bus, but that wasn’t how she liked to shop. Caitlin preferred taking her time, and lingering through the aisles. Shopping for the week was the perfect time to think of all that lay ahead, from that evening to the following morning and all the sunrises to follow, until the next time she was pushing a well-maintained cart down a wide and well-stocked aisle.
They were having fish tacos for dinner. One of Jay’s favorites. Of course, Jay loved pretty much everything Caitlin made. She was a great cook. Good enough for cooking to be one of the scant few things that gave her confidence.
It was the stuff after dinner and dishes that could rinse it to nothing.
Even on the best of nights, what waited in the dark could fill her with anxiety. It was far worse on a day like today, when Caitlin was wrestling with the usual guilt and second-guessing that always followed a fight with Jay. That was one of the reasons she had braved Lansing for the fancier Greens.
The Greens on Lansing not only had better avocados, the bigger grocery store gave her a greater chance to think, and because she preferred to do her shopping later in the afternoon, just before the bus dropped off the boys, the longer drive home often offered her the day’s final quiet. A place to escape before she pulled into the drive, opened the garage, and hit the mudroom to report for her endless call of dinner and duty. Then, after dinner, more duty to follow.
Caitlin looked at her watch, then hurried her cart down the aisle, wishing she had just gone to “Quickie Greens,” the rundown version of the Greens on Lansing just two minutes from home. Caitlin went to the Quickie often, because it was close, but made sure to treat herself to the wider aisles and well-stocked shelves of Lansing at least once a week. Still, quickie Greens was one of her favorite escapes. Because it was only a couple of minutes away, she could run in and out to capture a much needed break whenever she wanted, there for her to fly out and grab a suddenly needed ingredient, or a bottle or three of wine.
It was an almost always available and often needed escape which Caitlin took advantage of at least once a week. Sometimes several. With quickie Greens, Caitlin never took a list. With the Greens on Lansing, she never went without one.
With her cart mostly filled, Caitlin wheeled over to the produce section — the last part of the store she liked to hit, just before the register. She wanted to fill her cart with hard goods first so she could lovingly fondle the fruits, tucking them into the cart’s nooks and crannies as she did.
Caitlin always wanted to buy avocados most, though she fondled them last. Though she sometimes left quickie Greens without them, she’d not shopped at the Greens on Lansing once without bringing some home. Though she was buying a fruit — and maybe her favorite — that went in everything from soup to salad, Caitlin was in touch with herself just enough to know she was also buying a memory.
Buying avocados was ritual, which was why it had to be the last thing she did before leaving. She would feel the avocado in her hand, testing its ripeness by squeezing it like a breast in her palm. Every time, the memory returned; sweet and soft like a kiss at her neck.
Jay slipped behind her while she was slicing them thin, a few weeks before they were married and about 20 minutes before their friends, the already married Marshals were on their way over for dinner. Caitlin licked the avocado from her lips and like a sudden gust of wind, Jay was behind her, breathing hot breath in her ear and fogging her desire with immediacy.
His hand slid past the waistline of her panties, then cupped her naked sex. After a few seconds of rubbing, she juiced all over her hand, which made her husband to be totally lose it. A second later they were butter to bread.
Caitlin started by dropping to her knees and shoving his cock in her mouth, which at that second seemed like the most important thing in the world to do. She had to feel the heat of his dick in the oven of her mouth. He was pipe hard and throbbing. Through every second she tightened her lips and slid them up and down his slippery shaft, until she could feel his need squeezing at the tip and felt a burning craving to have it blast inside her instead of her mouth, preferably from behind, so she peeled off her clothes and climbed up naked on the kitchen counter, crawling on all floors until she was centered on top, then lifted her ass in the air, spread her cheeks, and purred, “I want you to fuck me like an animal.”
Even with only 14 minutes until the Marshal’s arrival, Jay did. Twice. The kitchen probably smelled like sex as much as enchiladas, but Caitlin didn’t care. It was some of the hottest sex they had ever had, and she thought of it every time she was squeezing avocados in her palm, which was why she was willing to suffer through the stop-and-go on Lansing.
With a dozen avocados in a bag, sitting in the most protected spot up top, and the rest of her produce tucked into the available nooks and crannies, Caitlin was ready to check out. Halfway to the register she realized she had no dessert, and nothing in the fridge or freezer. She flipped a bitch and rolled her cart across the waxed linoleum until she hit the freezer. She grabbed two boxes of Fudgies, the family’s favorite organic chocolate popsicles, tossed both into the cart, then seeing that the full-serve lines were too long, headed for the self-checkout.
Caitlin’s eyes were on her groceries as she set them into the canvas bags she always brought with her, then set her neatly packed bags back into her cart. Caitlin grabbed her receipt from the machine’s mouth, folded it in half with two fingers, slipped it into her wallet, dropped her wallet into her purse, then headed for the parking lot.
She loaded her groceries into the back of her Honda Pilot as her mind circled the same three things it seemed to never stop orbiting: time moving too fast to slow, children who wouldn’t stop growing, and a wonderful husband she wished she could do more to please.
Caitlin keyed the ignition as Carly Rae Jepson was finishing Call Me Maybe. The song was everywhere, and while Caitlin didn’t care for it, the tune was catchy, and better than most of the insipid shit played on the radio. Like anything by Ke$ha, who would’ve been the most grating harpy on XM, even without spelling her name with a dollar sign.
By the time Caitlin dipped out of the Greens parking lot and was swinging a left onto Lansing, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” had taken Carly’s place. It was impossible to not like Swift, spinner as she was of high-school fairy tales. Caitlin had liked everything the girl had done so far, but probably nothing more than her latest – a biting break-up track that, despite Taylor’s age, reached a very grown-up conclusion: she is better off alone, and fairy tales are for children.
Caitlin sang at the top of her lungs, almost screaming, getting it all out and growing louder by the light, keeping her mouth on the lyrics so her mind wouldn’t drift to what waited at home.
It was hard enough waiting for something pleasant, waiting to step inside an argument’s aftermath was excruciating. Their fight that morning wasn’t especially awful, except for that it had happened at all. But Jay was upset and Caitlin hated that, and hated herself for not stopping it before it started. It was their stupidest, and most regular argument.
Most couples fought about money, their fights were slightly different.
Money was a commodity, thick with layers of meaning. It made sense that so many marriages wrestled over dollars and common sense; debt, spousal spending, needed versus want, retirement, risks, and everything else. It seemed that most relationships had one partner who was a spender and another who was a saver. Caitlin was wired to be a spender, so she worked overtime in her mind constantly training herself to be a saver instead. Jay, born to spend, was responsible for making the bacon that would keep them fat. He had learned to be a saver. Now everything was upside down and inside out, but in the best way possible — if only Caitlin would relax and let the best stuff happen.
Things had been going ridiculously well for Jay at work, which meant they should have been going equally well for Caitlin at home. Jay was in advertising. He worked at Miller & Hodge, the biggest firm in Inferno Falls, and home to Punchy Bear, the newest brainchild of Insight Toys. A stuffed animal you could punch. The first team at M&H wasn’t quite sure who the market was, angry parents or angry kids. They thought the project was a mess and treated it that way. Insight threw millions at the campaign, much of what went straight into M&H’s coffers. After the first team shit the bed, the project went to Jay. He knew the product, as evidenced by the jingle, should be marketed as a joke:
Did you have a bad day at work? Is your boss acting like a jerk?
It’s okay, you can brighten your day, with Punchy Bear.
The song went on for several stanzas. Insight had cleaned up during the Christmas holidays a year and a half before and sales were still going strong. The company was now launching several companion products including Slappy Salamandar, Walloping Wallaby and Kick Dog. Running Insight had become Jay’s full-time job at M&H, which was fine with Jay now that he made partner.
Making partner had literally doubled their income, and yet Caitlin was afraid to spend a dime, fearing a dime would turn into a dollar and a dollar into debt that would see them to drowning.
It was so easy to think the worst was going to happen before it ever had a chance to get to the best.
The most embarrassing part of the fight was the nature of the argument itself. Jay wanted Caitlin to spend more money. It had been a struggle surviving on a single income, but with three boys neatly spaced, staying home and managing the family seemed like the right thing to do. At least while it made sense. Their youngest, Sebastian, was ready for Kindergarten that September, but Jay was making more than enough to keep Caitlin at home, rather than returning to the physical therapy job that had given her purpose in her earliest days as an adult woman.
For nearly a year, Jay had been trying to get Caitlin to step into her new life, to enjoy being a full-time wife and mother, to take care of herself and her house with the little things she wanted and surely deserved. The fight that morning was about her refusing to make an appointment at Escape!, the chi-chi spa he’d been trying to get her to go to for months. She had a hard enough time justifying the higher price of the avocados on Lansing. Still, she felt bad arguing with her husband over him wanting her to spend more money on herself. Caitlin didn’t have a friend in her phone she could call to bitch about that, at least not without them wanting to hang up on her, after thinking she was an asshole.
Caitlin hated fighting about money, but she would take that argument every day ending in Y over sex, the only other thing they really ever argued about.
Sex was either cement or a wedge, depending on the couple, and maybe the particular minute of their relationship. Caitlin understood the conflict, arguing about sex wasn’t really about the sex itself, it was about feeling loved and cared for, and deeper needs for connection and affection. On the surface, Caitlin understood that a good sex life was essential to a person’s overall health and happiness. Marriages with great sex had partners who felt mentally and physically better. Hectic lives often put sex on the back burner, which was why it happened less and less. For Caitlin and Jay, frequency wasn’t a problem.
One of the worst things that could happen to their relationship, at least according to Jay, was having their sex life become routine. Boredom would follow, he seemed to always suggest but never quite say.
At least when they argued over money, the sides were clear and the arguments loud. When they fought over sex, Caitlin danced around her feelings barely whispering truth while she could feel her husband doing the same from his side.
Caitlin quit mulling the inevitable and swung a hard right onto Farquar, looking at the clock and cursing herself for not going faster at Greens, or ditching the errand altogether. She was running tight, and it was possible the bus would beat her home. Though they lived in a safe neighborhood, Caitlin hated for the boys to be home alone, even if only for a handful of minutes.
Two minutes after her turn onto Farquar, Caitlin was pulling into her garage where she sat for a long minute listening to the end of “We Are Young,” though that was really an excuse to sit for another minute and a half, tapping the steering wheel and stalling her immediate future.
Caitlin drew a final breath, climbed from the car, stepped through the mudroom and opened the door to a clattering chorus of “MOM!!!”