Fiction Sad

If there’s two things most people know about Monica, it’s that she’s a woman of routine and sorrow. They go hand in hand - it’s because of the latter that she can’t live without the former. The sadness dripped in steadily like an IV fluid, bag after bag, until it grew into a torrential river that could only be held back by the dam of a saturated schedule. 

And so every Tuesday morning, during the forty-five minutes she allows herself between breakfast and Pilates, she visits Natalia. With her daughter, she routinely discusses the week that’s passed since her last visit but this time she was only halfway through recounting Thursday’s dinner with Ruby when a chink in the dam let loose a solitary tear. It was not a silent cry like when they watched dog movies or a heaving one like when doctors greeted them with apologies. No, it was the type of cry like when the object of her pity was herself. Natalia had rarely heard it before. 

“I’m sorry, Tali, I know I promised I wouldn’t come here anymore to cry. It’s just your selfish father -” Monica stops as abruptly as she started like a rain shower cloud. Almost as though she doesn’t trust herself to hold her tongue, she leaves twenty minutes earlier than usual.


This Thursday, Monica chooses a different restaurant for her weekly dinner with her best friend. She’s ordered some combination of the same starters and pizzas since they established this tradition so Ruby thought the change in venue peculiar but welcome. They take the only table at the taqueria a block away from the children’s hospital where she volunteers every Monday and Wednesday. It’s been more or less empty every time she’s driven by so she figures it’s as good a place as she’ll get to reveal her secret. Or is it her husband’s secret? 

Muriel behind the counter manages her one-woman show flawlessly; her service is polite, her carnitas tender, and her margaritas might as well have been labelled ‘liquid courage’. It doesn’t take long for Monica to feel at ease.

“Alex is cheating on me.” Her friend drops the taco she had just messily assembled as her jaw falls open, displaying the half-chewed slow-cooked meat. Ruby’s delicately curled tresses glide across her shoulders like a ballerina on a stage as she shakes her head in denial. But the evidence is indubitable. The photos on Monica’s phone from the past week predominantly capture the endless back-and-forth between her husband of twenty-eight years and a woman he has only named ‘Tuesday’. With a heart emoji. Why name her after a day? Did he have his own Tuesday morning routine of stepping out on his wife? Or was there a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that he did a better job of hiding? 

She thought she had mastered the ability of focussing solely on the next item on her to-do list until it and her eyelids drew to a close for the day. But she has been defenseless against the constant assail of questions and fears. On a cliff in her mind she hears her daughter shouting “Leave!”. The younger girl is dressed for skydiving and wears a smile that could lure a saint into hell. But each time Monica’s about to jump, a hand grips onto her dangling body and she lets it pull her back up. She can’t leave, can she? Where would she go? She’s never had a job or money to call her own (her husband reminds her so to regularly renew her dependent membership with the Association of Alex). She doesn’t know how to sleep in an empty bed let alone file her taxes. She doesn’t even know if she’ll have to pay taxes when she’s unemployed living off some pity alimony in a dismal studio apartment her friends would call “quaint” but avoid visiting. 

So while she noted the new price of salad leaves after the E. coli outbreak during her Sunday grocery haul, fear had already gained the upper hand. If she couldn’t go, and if she didn’t have the energy to change her husband, the only thing left was to change herself. Like the masterminds in the predictable thrillers she loved watching with Natalia, she intimated her oldest friend of her plan in the dimly lit room - she was certain it was the only way to guarantee success. Her friend was not. Ruby first chortled at what she assumed was a joke.

“You’re not joking?!” she screeches incredulously, breaking Muriel’s attention from her Sudoku puzzle. “Mon, you’ve done nothing wrong. Why are you changing for him? And besides, I know you better than anyone and even my hyper-traditional nearly-KKK uncle is more open to change than you.” 

“I don’t really have a choice,” Monica responds calmly. But her tone says she’s upset. That she’s lost too much and can’t lose this too. 


The next time she visits Natalia, she doesn’t have to rush to Pilates right after. It’s not that she didn’t enjoy Pilates - she definitely preferred it to her seemingly futile attempt at cycling earlier that morning. She also loves breakfast but that didn’t stop her from skipping it to make sure she gets into the jeans Alex chose for her to wear that haven’t seen the outside of her closet in a decade. 

She enthusiastically informs her daughter of her plans for the night and Natalia would’ve been excited if she could hear anything over the din of her mother’s discomfort. A man a few feet away stares at Monica like she’s the nude model at the center of his art class. She subconsciously rubs her eye as she frequently does when she’s frustrated. When she crosses her arms over her chest, the likely-expired kohl Ruby bought for her birthday years ago leaves a smokestack streak on her blouse. Once again, she leaves early. 


By the time her husband returns that night, the three-course meal of his favourites that Monica spent most of the day preparing has long gone cold. The reheated dinner doesn’t quite taste as she hoped it would but that might just be her overheating body talking under the itchy wool-blend material of her only full-sleeve maxi dress. Monica had thrifted the old-fashioned frock for her cousin’s winter wedding and never wore it again. For good reason. It draped on her like a shabbily pinned-together curtain. But it was her only dress that concealed her limbs (they hadn’t really taken to the afternoon’s laser hair removal session) and Alex’s only instruction was that she should wear a dress tonight. Perhaps not his only instruction. He had also not-so-subtly suggested she abandon her semi-regular monthly waxing. She had exaggeratedly shuddered when Ruby offered the same recommendation but coming from Alex, it suddenly seemed worth it. Sure, it pained a lot more than she anticipated - she had this unrealistic picture of lying in a tanning-bed sort of contraption that ran a sepia-tinted laser over you until the hair just kind of jumped off. But when her skin finally stopped mourning its former hirsuteness, her husband would lose another excuse to push her away when she kissed him goodnight. 

“So what’s all this for? Our anniversary or something?” he asks like they were the type of couple that celebrated another year together. “And weren’t you supposed to go for Ruby’s birthday dinner tonight?” She’s surprised he remembered something about her life that she can’t even recall telling him. 

When she tells him she’s paused her friendship with Ruby because of a disagreement, an unsettling smile creeps onto his face. 

“That’s good because I never really liked her.” 

Should she list the friends that she doesn’t like? Should she complain about his unbearable cycling pal that hasn’t stopped ogling her butt since she joined them a few days ago? Should she tell him she put in all this effort so he wouldn’t leave her for Tuesday or any other day of the week? 


As the week hobbles to next Tuesday, Monica finds herself in a back brace that makes her look like she’s about to land on Normandy in 1944. The straps don’t quite rest on her shoulders and her laughs, however infrequent, come out as breathless gasps like she’s about to die on a telenovela. Natalia can hear her mother’s thoughts: “Why did I have to get injured doing something I hate with a person I’m struggling not to hate?” 

Natalia wishes she could cry out to her mom and snap her out of this stint of insanity. Warn her that the path she races along is actually a circle and when she comes back to where she started, the only difference will be in her. And that her life will be littered with everything she dropped and she’ll struggle to pick them back up but some would’ve already been washed into the sewer. Until one day she loses too much of herself to even see a path and all that surrounds her is the confusing, deserted wilderness. Will she know then how to get back to the land of the living? 

But she can’t cry out. She can’t say anything at all. 


“We’re ordering in again?” Alex asks dispassionately. It’s not so much a question as it is an expression of his wife’s shortcomings. He’s always clutched onto a bottomless supply of those. 

“I mean, the doctor said I shouldn’t be moving around too much. And definitely no bending so cooking in our kitchen would be quite impossible.” 

“I mean,” he starts mockingly, “cooking is pretty much all you do so sorry if I expect you to actually manage that much.” 

Monica never thought of her husband as a compassionate man. Even when she was madly in love with him, she knew he could be unkind. But it was a whole other thing to hit her when she was already down. And down because of him. 

“You know what, Alex, you’re right. You do so much more than me. I don’t even know how you find any free time at all in the middle of all your bill-paying and life-excelling and philandering!” She was hoping she’d said that last one in her head but she could tell from her husband’s dumbfounded face that wasn’t the case. 

His mouth opened and closed like a hand puppet as he tried to frame his response. Before he could spin some half-baked excuse or spit out a half-intended apology, she says, “I’m just glad Natalia isn’t here to watch you age into some sleazy creep. I bet lovely Miss Tuesday is barely older than our daughter.” 

“Than our daughter would have been, you mean,” he corrects without hesitation. “Than she would’ve been if she were still alive. Because she died, Monica. She’s been dead for four years. And here I am desperately trying to move on. But you’re still in denial. Do you go to her grave every Tuesday morning thinking maybe her body will just magically spring back to life? Because it doesn’t work like that. In the land of the living, people don’t let their grief consume them.”

And just like that, it became her fault. They were no longer talking about where he let her down. Once again, it was her who needed to change. 


This time, her mother didn’t talk about her week. She was about to when she realized she had something far more important to say.

“I won’t be coming by as often, Tali. Your father’s right, I need to return to the land of the living. As badly as I wanted time to stand still, the world continued spinning and while I stayed in place, your father spun further and further away. And now I’ve got some catching up to do, sweetheart. There’s a lot of things I need to change about myself if I’m going to close the distance between us. And I know if you were here, you’d tell me not to give up. You were always so brave, my love. So I’m going to try to be like you at least until I get to where I need to be. I think I can muster enough strength for that much.” 

There was no one who knew her better than her mother but Monica had missed this nail’s head. If she were alive, she would tell her mother to walk away. 


“This doesn’t feel right, Alex. Monica’s become an entirely different person. For you. I’m fairly certain I go by my goddaughter’s grave more often than her now. And every part of her routine is basically decided by you.” 

“That’s the best part, babe. I know exactly where she’s going to be at every point of the day because I’ve sent her there. She’s even working at a bookstore now because I convinced her we’re short on cash. And since she’s gone so much more, we’ve been able to spend so much more time together. Isn’t it worth it, Ruby?” 

She hesitantly nods, mostly relieved Monica seems to have forgotten her college nickname: Ruby Tuesday. 

May 21, 2021 11:51

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