"See how it's different when you cook with love?" Dean said while helping himself to more Lasagne. Leah looked at him and continued chewing quietly.
"....and he continued to be his stupid self. He just loves ordering me around as if I were a temp or something. What an impostor!" he shook his head.
She recalled her conversation with her colleague earlier that morning. He had come into the staffroom bleary-eyed to make his morning break coffee telling her how his baby girl kept him up most of the previous night because they couldn't find her pacifier. It took his wife and him about three hours to calm the baby down while frantically turning every cushion and blanket in the house until they finally found it in his wife's pyjama pocket. He said he'd contemplated a divorce right then and there.
"What's so funny, Leah?" said Dean offended.
"I'm sorry, I just remembered something funny. My boss came into the staffroom today and…" she wanted to tell him to take his mind off his colleague.
"Well of course, whenever I talk to you about serious matters, your mind drifts to stupid matters!" he cut her off.
"Are you done with your plate?" she stood up to clear the table before he could go down the rabbit hole of another rant.
In the kitchen, she turned on the radio and started emptying the dishwasher from the night before. The white plates go into the left cupboard and the blue ones go into the right cupboard. For some reason, despite her being a messy person, loading and emptying the dishwasher had to be done perfectly. It annoyed her when Dean did it, mixing different colour plates or, even worse, mixing the plates with the glasses. It wasn’t so much that he did them carelessly but that he somehow doesn’t care to even humour her minor OCD moments.
Her favourite song came on and she started singing along. She had been noticing that singing instantly raised her spirits. Like in a movie, she whisked the ladle out of the dishwasher and put it to her mouth singing aloud, really working her vocal cords. Dean rushed into the kitchen looking alarmed, "Are you OK, honey? I heard screaming!"
She looked at him in disbelief, "No, I'm fine, honey! Just the fact that you've, yet again, loaded the dishes in a way that this plate STILL has omelette on it made me scream. I hope I didn't scare you!" she said batting her eyelashes and flashing him with her sweetest smile.
He chuckled in amusement and closed the kitchen window so she didn't disturb the neighbours. When he closed the kitchen door after him, she stood there biting her lip reminiscing about the time when she had been hailed as the best singer in school for a few years running.
She decided to brush it off and enjoy the song while it lasted. She opened the window again and continued to load the plates into the dishwasher, this time humming quietly, occasionally watching her figure swaying slowly in the glossy, dark microwave door. She tried to love her figure, even the jiggly parts. "Especially the jiggly parts!" a motivational speaker once bellowed on YouTube. She had decided that he was right; hating her body or resenting herself for giving a home to the small pockets of blubber wasn't going to make the situation any better, so she decided to take this guy's advice and embrace her new figure, for now. One day, she will be a different person. The person that is hiding underneath it all; the small fat layers, the clothes layers, the unwavering smile that makes her face ache. For now, she just decided to have compassion for this woman she can see in the dark microwave, carving out moments of happiness.
It was interesting, she thought to herself, that she was a principled eater at work. She easily managed to stay away from the doughnuts and the muffins– it was always somebody’s birthday! But the minute she hit home she just couldn't stop munching on all the biscuits and crisps. Was that what they call emotional eating?
Speaking of biscuits, she opened the cupboard, took out one, covered it in Nutella and threw it into her mouth.
"Leah!" Dean called from the living room, "What time are the kids being dropped off?"
"Around eight o'clock is when the movie is finished," she yelled as she pushed the dishwasher button, "so perhaps they'll be here around nine."
She heard his footsteps approaching. She closed her eyes and plastered the smile onto her lips while she waited for the door to open.
He peered in and whispered, "I've found a great movie to watch before the kids come back!"
"I'm sorry, Dean," she said politely.
"Come on, Leah, the last time we saw something together was before Kevin was born!" he protested reaching his hand to her hair.
"I know!" she whispered trying to inconspicuously move her head away, "but there's a reason for that! This never ends well. We like different movies. I still don't want to always watch your movies! Do we really have to keep trying?"
He wasn't going to budge, "Come on! This one is one of those mopey, dragging dramas you enjoy so much! It's got high ratings!" He said winking at her.
After ten years of marriage, he deigns to watch something she might enjoy. She could feel her chest rise, her lungs gasping for air. She'd been getting short-breathed and short-tempered. Very unlike her. Control yourself, she thought.
"Erm, I'd planned on taking a hot bath because my back really hurts and when the kids are here, they don't let me. Greta always decides she needs the bathroom when I'm in it!" she said trying to keep the smile, fiddling with her button. This was her loose button that was undoubtedly going to be lost soon. Mental note to self: tighten that button.
Dean gave her his wounded look and left the kitchen, quietly closing the door behind him again.
She turned off the radio. Songs these days, so loud!
She went upstairs to take her long, hot bath. She locked the door and took off her jeans and shirt and sat down on the toilet. Most times she didn't even need to pee, but she automatically sat down to pee whenever she needed a moment.
This was the only place where she could sit alone for a few minutes talking to her. Or was it a "him"? Since she was a little girl, Leah had a knack for seeing patterns that nobody else seemed to see. For example, at work, on the landing between the two sets of steps, there was a snail. A snail looked at her quite distinctly from one of the tiles. A brown body and two beige feelers. She smiled every time she went down the stairs. Once she asked her colleague, Anita, as they were going out to lunch, "Do you see a shape in those tiles? An animal?"
Anita stopped and squinted looking intently, tilting her head in different directions.
"I don't know. A heart split in half or somethin'?" she asked bemusedly.
"Never mind," Leah laughed and continued briskly descending the stairs.
In her bathroom, however, there was a person. On the tile right next to the door, there were two big grey eyes. One of them was bigger than the other, but both had asymmetrical eyebrows. One was slightly more raised than the other.
She looked at her and whispered, "I know, I know! I'm too harsh to him. He's been really trying, and I'm being a fat bitch. I just can't imagine having to sit through yet another movie with him, where he is either enjoying it so much while I cover my eyes during every fight OR he spends the whole movie complaining that my movies are meaningless and pretentious."
She paused for a second closing her eyes. "OK, I'll watch it. It's not going to kill me, right? But it'll spare me the silent treatment for the whole weekend. I mean perhaps this time I can do as my mum always says and block the comments out. Just laugh at his 'jokes' and manage to enjoy it?"
She stood up and flushed the toilet. She picked up her jeans from the floor again and got one leg in when she heard a soft knock on the door. "Yes?" she looked at the door.
He said from the other side, "I just got an email, I need to finish that report by Monday, so I won't be able to babysit the kids tomorrow while you go to the cinema with your sister. But you don't like movies anymore, I feel".
Before she could find something to say, she heard him go into his office and lock the door.
She smiled ruefully at the face in the tiles, "Too late! Now I can't even take a bath anymore. If the kids ring the bell, neither one of us will hear them!"
She put her jeans and shirt back on, unlocked the bathroom door and headed downstairs. One of the picture frames was always crooked. Every time she went up or down the stairs, she tried to adjust it. She knew she was supposed to hammer in another nail or do something, but she always told herself that she wasn't going to fix it because she was going to leave this house one day.
She went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. She leaned back onto the worktop listening to the water in the kettle boiling vigorously and the dishwasher whirring gently. She closed her eyes while clutching her crossed arms to her chest. The whirring became beach waves; the heat from the kettle was the sun kissing her bare arms and back. She conjured a childhood memory where there were seagulls calling and roaming in the clear blue sky overhead. The smell of coal and chicken filled her nose.
Perhaps she didn't remember the memory itself, but a photo of it. She was five or six, holding up for the camera a heart-shaped rock she'd found on the black rocky beach. Her freckled face was beaming at the camera with pride.
She smiled at the idea of how real it felt that she was at the beach right then and there. She was loved and bursting with contentedness.
The doorbell rang, and her eyes opened with a start. She got excited and this time, her lips smiled big without her willing them to. She ran to open the door, "Welcome home, you gorgeous little things! How was the movie?"