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the yellow house across the street

I forget what we had argued about. Most likely the fact that it was time to take a bath and go to bed. And most likely the center of the disagreement was the fact that it was still light out. Because it was summer, the sun was still blazing in the sky at bedtime, though heavy with August and reflecting an almost sepia tone on our street, making even the cicadas sound drowsy and sweaty.

My mom stomped to the bathroom, muttering, and angrily turned on the bath. I flung myself onto my bed with all of the angst that I could muster in my 5-year-old self and cried because it, whatever injustice I was suffering at the time, was simply not fair.

I fell asleep within seconds and quickly dreamed about sliding down a long, long tree trunk. I woke up, startled, just a minute or two later. The bath was still running and I was surprised at how deeply I had slept in such a small space of time.

My face was still wet from my tears and my curly, red hair clung to my temples, glued by the feverish sweat of an early summer evening nap. My eyes fluttered up to see the house across the street. Old, yellow brick and so very, very bright, especially with that lazy sun beating down on it. Its garish warmth did something to me, reset me somehow. A car roared down our cobblestone street and I gathered myself up off the bed. I stripped my clothes off and tiptoed to the bathroom, sheepishly avoiding my mom’s gaze as I dunked myself into the tub.

* * *

Last night, we came home and I stared at the mismatched contents of our kitchen. Payday and mortgage due date had come and gone, leaving us with just a few dollars for the next two weeks. In that space, we needed to eat.

Nothing was going the way I wanted it to. I was so fucking sick of our unemployment and underemployment woes I was ready to kick something. How had we screwed up so badly in our march through adulthood? And how much of this was our fault?

The ceiling fan buzzed above me, circulating the same stale air over and over as I grabbed a half-used box of elbow macaroni and a half-used box of tubetti. I knew we had butter and milk and flour and cheese. I poked my head into the living room and said, “Macaroni and cheese?” My husband shrugged and said, “Sure. That’s fine.”

I went through the motions of boiling water, adding the collage of pasta, adding the flour to the melted butter, the milk, the cheese. But something went wrong. The cheese started to melt but then coagulated into a disgusting lump in the middle of the pot. I stirred and stirred and it got worse. It veered into ruin when I optimistically added the drained noodles.

I angrily stabbed at the lumpy mixture with my wooden spoon and for a second entertained the thought of dramatically tossing the whole mess into the street and stomping it into the ground. I can’t make more money and my husband can’t even get a job and I think we’re giving up and now I can’t even make fucking macaroni and cheese?

This is just not fair. It’s not fair, dammit.

I stomped into the living room and dramatically flung myself into the big, blue, faux-leather, hand-me-down recliner with all of the angst that I could muster in my 31-year-old self. “Dinner’s fucking ruined,” I spat, not really looking at my husband from his spot on our creaky hand-me-down couch that regularly shit grease and sawdust and odd nuts and bolts onto our hand-me-down rug.

“Eh, whatever, dude. I’m not that hungry,” he said.

“I want out. Out of this house, out of this city, out of everything that isn’t working here.” I babbled.

He didn’t have any sympathy to offer and we bickered for a second, exchanging sarcastic suggestions in sharp tones, saying things we didn’t really mean but taking sick pleasure in making someone else feel shitty.

I stopped talking and the tears came. It wasn’t a dramatic cry, just a spilling over that needed to release. I was quiet, but breathed a little heavier as I waited for it, whatever this was, to end.

After a few minutes, I felt a little calmer, and the whine of the cicadas outside made my eyes dart toward the window, where I saw the yellow house across the street. Old, yellow brick and so very, very bright, especially with the lazy mid-summer sun beating down on it.

I wiped my face and swiped at the sweat on the back of my neck, stood up and went back to the kitchen. Looking at the ruined dinner, I rolled my eyes. “So typical,” I muttered. “Don’t have any money and I waste a ton of food.”

Looking around, I grabbed a baking dish and switched on the oven, then dumped the whole sad affair into the dish. When the oven clicked, indicating that it was done heating, I shoved the dish into the oven and waited about a half hour.

My son and I piled onto the couch and turned on Jaws and I told him my estimates of how many times I’d seen that movie. “At least 100 times. Maybe even 200.” He was impressed.

I pulled the dish out of the oven and was satisfied with the results. Not great, but not ruined anymore. I stuck my head back into the living room. “Somewhat salvaged macaroni and cheese?” I offered.

Work. Collapse. Wallow. Try again. The yellow house across the street cooled as the sun disappeared for the night.

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