After the baby things were different. It was like the windows were open all of the time, but you couldn’t shut them even if it was cold. That’s what it was like. Janice was struggling around that time, I could tell. I was struggling too in my own way. And it made everything real difficult.
I came home from work one day to find her staring oddly at the wall above the sink. A big pot was sitting on the stove. It was full of a dull yellowish liquid. It was starting to bubble up, so I turned down the heat.
Janice, I said.
She kept staring dreamily. I touched her hard on the shoulder.
Janice, I said. Is this soup?
She turned toward it.
Oh, yeah, she said. With some vegetables and rice.
Brown rice? I asked.
Yeah, she said.
She turned the heat back up on the soup and started to stir with a big wooden spoon. I took off my shoes near the front door and walked around the apartment. Things were quiet around there and everything looked okay. The smell from the soup was strong in the entire apartment. I could smell it in every room.
I went into the bathroom and washed my hands and face. They were dirty from working all day. It was hot out too. Outside it was hot under the sun and inside it was hot because the apartment manager had rented out all of the air conditioners and we couldn’t afford to get one of our own.
The bathroom felt real warm, and after washing my face I still felt wrong, so I undressed and got in the shower. For a moment I was upset that the tub and curtain were dirty. This was supposed to be the place where I got clean again. The walls were yellowing and the white curtain was turning dark with mold. I let it go though as the cool water calmed me. I was real tired then, and the dirt didn’t matter so much after all.
Janice came in and flicked the light on and then off.
Ben, she said. What are you doing?
Ah, Janice, I said, I’m real, real tired. Just give me a minute.
You want to eat soon? she said.
Yeah, I said. Just as soon as I finish here.
She opened up the shower curtain and looked at me inside there. It startled me when I saw her. She smiled in an odd way and made a gesture.
I’m real tired, I said.
And then Janice left back to kitchen. I kept smelling the soup that smelled so good. I mean, it got better and better. The smell of the soup started to make me feel good again. I began to feel less sore.
When I got out Janice was still in the kitchen stirring the soup, putting on the last touches. I got some plastic bowls from the towel next to the sink, where we let the dishes dry. I got a glass of milk for myself.
What do you want to drink? I said.
Wine, she said.
We had a big glass bottle of wine, bigger than most bottles, in the refrigerator. The wine was a deep red color, and it smelled good too. I put some in a milk glass for Janice and then took the drinks to the table in the dining room.
Thanks, she said.
Yeah, I said and patted her on the neck.
I sat down at the small round table and had a cool drink of milk. It went down nice. Janice came over finally with some bowls of that soup. Then we sat down to eat.
The soup was hot but I didn’t care. It felt warm in my chest and I started to sweat. It was still hot in the apartment but I was hungry so none of that mattered anymore.
We should get some bread, I said.
I got up and pulled a loaf from the top of the refrigerator. I got some slices out and laid the rest of the loaf on the table between us.
Here, I said, handing her one piece.
We dipped the bread in the soup and sucked it down. When I finished my bowl I got up and got another one. I was glad to see that there was a lot of soup left. I felt like I could eat the entire pot.
I sat down and ate more bread with spoonfuls of the vegetable soup. I looked up at Janice and she smiled. She got up then and went to the refrigerator and came back with a jar of pickles.
Good idea, I said.
She opened the jar and gave me one. The pickle was crunchy and hard and tasted good. The brine was cool and was good with the warm soup. I drank a big drink of milk, then got up and got some more.
Wait, I said when I was sitting again. I have an idea.
I went to the kitchen and got the one big glass platter that my parents had given to Janice and me awhile ago. It was yellow and huge and it was real special to me because I thought it was so nice. I brought it over to the table and set it down. It looked like a giant sun there.
Let’s put some pickles and slices of bread on it, I said.
And get me some more wine, she said.
What the hell, I said. I’ll have some wine too.
The wine tasted odd after having so much milk, but I didn’t care anymore. With the platter and the feeling of being full I didn’t care. We sat there drinking wine and eating more and more soup with the bread and pickles until I felt good and ready to end the day. The soup was just about perfect, and it was all that I wanted right then. It felt great knowing that we would have more soup leftover that I could have another time.
When we finished Janice started to clear the table.
Wait, I said. Let’s have some pie or something.
We have ice cream, she said.
Great, I said. Just great.
She rinsed out the plastic bowls at the sink and then put a little chocolate ice cream in each. With the wine the ice cream was just fine. I even poured a little bit of wine on my ice cream, which made Janice laugh.
We sat at the table for a little while after finishing, without saying much. Our bellies were full and I wanted to laugh but didn’t. Janice gave me an odd look after a few minutes and then came over to me.
What’s wrong, Janice? I asked.
She knelt down next to me and put her hand on my thigh. I wasn’t ready for it.
What are you doing, I said.
She kissed me then and tasted like alcohol. Her mouth still was cold from the ice cream. I stopped her.
Come on, she said.
I’m tired, Janice, I said.
I want to, she said.
The baby, I said.
After I said that she got up and looked down at me. She just started to clear away the dishes, putting them in the sink and running the water over them. When she got to taking the platter into the kitchen she stopped. She dropped it on the kitchen tiles and held her hands up to her face. She had tears in her eyes but she wasn’t crying real bad. I jumped up and walked over. On the floor I saw that the platter had been chipped along the edge.
God, Janice, I said. You chipped it!
I’m sorry, she said. I’m sorry, really.
She started to explain but I stopped her. I told her I didn’t want to hear about her apology yet. I told her to pick it up and that I was going to have a cigarette outside. When I came back I was feeling worse than before. Janice wanted to fool around and I was tired. That was all. But then after a great meal she broke the plate. I knew she was struggling and everything but that was a big deal to me, the breaking the platter. I told her so.
Then she turned her back to me and I felt warm again inside, but this time warm with something terrible and vague. I just sat watching her from behind. She took the pot of soup and started to pour the broth out into the sink.
Stop, I screamed. For God’s sake, stop, what are you doing!
What? she said.
Janice, I said.
What? she said.
Janice Janice Janice, I kept saying.
I didn’t know what to do, so I slammed my hand on the stove. It was still pretty hot, and I ended up burning myself a little bit, which made me angrier.
When Janice didn’t respond to my burn I lost it, and before I knew it she was on the ground and I was on top of her chest, her arms under my legs. I was spitting on her and grabbing her, pulling her hair. I hit her once.
This, I said. This, this, this.
I didn’t know what I was saying. I hit her again. Everything was coming all at once. The alcohol was making me feel odd. I could feel it in my blood and in my head. I was dizzy with many things. And Janice didn’t say anything, which made it all worse.
Say you’re sorry now, I said. Say it.
I’m sorry, she said.
She wasn’t even crying yet. I kept going.
I don’t care that you’re sorry, I said. It’s time.
I’m sorry, she said again.
I don’t care, I said. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.