Photo Credit: Jowita Bydlowska
I get up to close the curtains. Lit-up against this darkness we must look like a dinner-party diorama.
“I was cutting the umbilical cord and I just thought to myself, that’s it buddy, it’s all over now.” Rick laughs so hard the table shakes.
“What’s over?” Helen, his wife, says. She doesn’t look at Rick.
“Oh, you know. Life as you know it,” says my husband. “I’m kidding, Babe.” He smiles at me.
“Although there are many good things about it. Milk breasts,” says Rick.
Helen gets up and goes into the kitchen where she stands by the stove. I follow her.
“Do you have any cigarettes?” she says when I come in.
I open small drawers punched into the kitchen furniture. Candles, string, tape, sunglasses, a Valentine’s Day card. You are my love and my life.
“The one fucking night we get to spend time with each other,” Helen says and shakes her head.
“There are old Marlboros in a drawer somewhere,” I say and find them. “He’s just drunk. They’re both drunk.”
“We should get drunk,” she says.
“Look what I found.” I show her the Valentine’s Day card. “He thought I was joking.”
“I don’t know. Yes.”
She lights her Marlboro.
I turn on the kitchen fan.
“My grandmother told me every woman wants her husband dead eventually,” Helen says.
“The black fantasy.”
“The white is when you dream of your wedding.”
“’You’re supposed to just wait it out. It’ll turn. Secret to marriage.’ My mother.” I say the first part in my mother’s voice.
We don’t say anything for a while. We can hear Rick and my husband laugh in the other room. They are probably still talking about breasts. Milk breast. Breastfeeding breasts. Leaking breasts. Breasts.
“Are you trying to be writers again?” Helen says.
“He’s reluctant. He thinks it’s a waste of time now.”
“Oh. What an idiot.”
“I don’t know. He says, either you really do it or you’re just dabbling. Anyway, we plan to try again this summer. But it’s hard with Emily,” I say and think how there still isn’t anything I’d like to write about anyway. Maybe a children’s book, something about penguins.
Helen looks away, her face distracted. “I can’t do this anymore,” she says.
She turns on the tap and holds the cigarette underneath it.
“This,” she points with her chin towards the dining room.
I put my arm around her shoulders and she leans her head against me. She smells of Marlboro. “Christ,” she sighs.
We go back to the dining room.
Back in the dining room, Rick says, “Genes. Helen’s second cousin gave birth to a retard. They call a child like that something else now, but let’s be honest, that’s what we all think when we look at a child like that. What?”
Helen’s eyes are closed.
I watch the candle wax slug slowly toward the tablecloth. I stick my finger underneath it like a child. The burn is pleasant, quick then it’s gone.
My husband shows his bottom teeth in a yikes-smile, “Bro.”
I’ve never heard him say that, bro.
“No, but really, bro. The wife’s brother, right? And the husband’s aunt? And yet, they still chose to go natural. What a legacy. All I’m saying is that genes are not always the best thing to preserve. There was an unusual aggregation of you know in their family.”
Rick sits back and stares at Helen.
I try to imagine him on top of me. I used to be able to but now I no longer can.
“Nina says you might try to write this year again,” Helen says. “What about the book that you were working on?”
“I’m looking at some cottages,” my husband says. “I’ve lost that manuscript.”
“No, you haven’t,” I say, unsure if he has.
“Well, write something new then. You should write about us,” says Helen.
“Write what?” I say.
“About him,” Helen says.
Rick says, “I don’t want to be written about.”
“You know how the saying goes, ‘If you don’t want to be written about, don’t have a dinner with a writer?’” Helen laughs.
“Not true. We would never write about our friends,” says my husband. “Anyway. Nobody’s writing anything. Maybe Nina is.” He tops our glasses.
Helen takes a big sip of her wine. “I would,” she says and stares at Rick. “I would write about my friends saying shitty things.”
“I wouldn’t,” I say.
“Why do you want to be written about anyway?” my husband says.
“I don’t really. I’m just saying we should be careful. Everyone should be careful around writers,” Helen says and laughs again.
“In that case, you have nothing to worry about,” says my husband.
“Good,” says Rick. “We’re so boring and predictable anyway.”
“You are,” Helen says.
Later that evening, my husband has sex with me.
I worry about our daughter coming into our bedroom, seeing us.
I wait for the break in thrusts, when he rests his body on top of mine, and I ask him to close the door.
He gets up and closes the door.
I turn off the light.
He lies back down beside me and runs his hand from my collarbone down to my thighs.
“Let’s just go to sleep,” I say.
“Sure. Whatever you like.” He kisses my neck. He pushes against me.
“I’m sleeping,” I say and help to put his penis back inside me.
I fantasize about repainting our bedroom, the whole house. When he’s gone.
“Nina,” he whispers into my neck.
His body feels like heavy rubber on top of me. A rubber man. It’s not anything he’s doing or not doing.
He stops. “What is it?”
“I’m not feeling it.”
“Oh, baby,” he says as if I needed consoling.
“Sorry,” I say.
He kisses me on the lips; his tongue is aggressive. He grabs the back of my head in the way I used to like and he pushes himself further inside me staring hard into my eyes.
“How does this feel?”
Lately, there have been a lot of articles about my husband raping me. Not about my husband specifically but about husbands who rape. The grey area of consent, the drunkenness, the middle-of-the-night inserting, this – what is happening right now.
I don’t feel raped. Many women are speaking up about it. The articles are asking women to speak up. But there’s nothing to talk about. It’s only biology. Traditional marriage: women belonging to men. We sleep next to men with our vaginas right there. What do you expect?
I’ve never stopped him before and I never would. I am not traumatized. I don’t interpret the sex in a negative way because magazines suggest I should. The articles are horseshit.
He is done now.
He wipes his cum off of my thighs, lovingly.
It is moments like this, of tenderness, that are important. I collect moments like this now because every little bit counts, every good thing between us is precious because there are so few of them.
Before I had my daughter, I went to Mexico with my father for an All-inclusive vacation.
It was there that my father told me about his father who moved his mistress into the house while the rest of the family was on vacation. Because of that my father as a young boy was homeless for two months and lived in a motel.
That’s why, he said, as if his past was enough of an excuse to explain what he had done to my mother, why he’d left. But it was okay; I didn’t care. We were all grownups now. I had my own life to fuck up.
On our vacation, we swam and sun-tanned on the beach during the day.
In the evenings at the resort, I watched my father take photographs of the local girls dancing in sequined costumes on the stage.
You could see their nipples through the cheap fabric. The girls were beautiful – young and with black hair, dark skin.
There were free drinks everywhere. Everything smelled and tasted of coconut.
On Christmas Eve, a band entertained the tourists in the cafeteria. Jingle Bells and Holy Night.
A young woman dressed as the Virgin Mary sat on a roll of hay and held the beach ball under her robe beatifically.
There were live chickens and rabbits and a donkey. At one point, one of the chickens escaped the enclosure and ran around the cafeteria.
My father got up and chased the chicken with the other tourist men.
A young guy from the band caught the chicken.
It’s Pedro he always does this. He laughed.
The guy’s English was perfect, I thought, just a little bit of an accent.
The reason why I was on an All-inclusive vacation with my father was because I needed to decide if I was going to leave my husband.
I decided yes.
He was picking us up at the airport and when I saw him, I felt nothing. He was just a guy picking us up at the airport.
He drove my father to the train station. My father was going back to Montreal where he said he lived with a woman, not anybody I would know.
My father told the story about the chicken, how he caught the chicken.
Before he got on the train he hugged me and whispered in my ear, I never stopped loving your mother.
It sounded like a bad line from a movie. It upset me but I said nothing, just hugged him back.
On the way to our house, my husband talked about how much he missed me and how a houseplant died and how he replaced it so I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference but he had felt guilty about it, which is why he was telling me.
I thought about how I didn’t want him to talk. Or how we shouldn’t talk about houseplants because we needed to be in a serious mood. How the shyness of seeing each other at the airport was a good prelude to seriousness and how he was ruining it now with his chatter.
But I said nothing.
After the plant story, he talked about something else, some product launch he attended or a gallery opening. Jokes, who he saw, who got drunk and sloppy.
At home, I unpacked all the sand from my suitcase, and he came up behind me and put his hands around me.
I moved his hands and wrapped them around my neck.
I pressed my back against him.
He said, Whoa.
Whoa, I said.
He said, You smell of coconut.
Tighter, I said.
He did it tighter.
I wanted to feel actual pain, bring myself back to him. But he would never squeeze as tight as to hurt me.
I wanted him to. I wanted him to be someone else – a guy who could hurt me.
Jowita Bydlowska is a writer living in Toronto, Canada. Her first book, Drunk Mom, was a national bestseller. Her novel, Guy, is coming out in 2016.
This was an excellent and challenging read. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the novel.
“Drunk Mom” was brilliant. Maybe you’re sick of hearing about it now. But you’ve set a high bar – of honesty and skill. I enjoyed this excerpt, and was uncomfortable at the same time. How come so few writers achieve this mix, these days? I can’t wait to read more.
Provocative and uncomfortable. I definitely want to read more.
Enjoyed it, was hooked from the beginning. Loved how it moved seemlessly between now, then and current events. The protagonist is one tough, sexy woman. Well done