From Michelle Berry’s The Night Before the Day After

May 7, 2016 by

From Michelle Berry’s The Night Before the Day After

Excerpted Fiction

 

 

Sophie thinks, much later, that a lot of it began with the butter dish.

A Wedgewood butter dish. Blue and round, with a solid silver lid and beautiful creamy carvings of Greek Goddesses on the sides.

The butter dish is what sets her off. Paul’s grandmother’s butter dish.

Sophie carries the butter in from the table and thumps it down on the counter beside Paul. His hands are in the sink, up to the elbows in soapy water.

“Jesus, Sophie, you almost broke my grandmother’s butter dish.”

“What do I care about butter? Or dishes?” she says and walks back into the dining room. He said his butter dish. As if it isn’t hers.

Back into the kitchen again, this time with the salt and pepper in the crystal shakers given to him by his mother when his grandmother died. Sophie plops these down heavily on the island in the middle of the kitchen.

“Salt and pepper.” She wants to shout, but she’ll wake the baby. “I suppose they are yours too? Who cares?”

Another sip of wine. Paul is drinking the leftover wine in all the glasses from the dinner party. Helen had white, dry wine, Sophie had a rich red, Allan had beer. Allan stuck with beer all night. Paul doesn’t want to sip Allan’s beer. He drinks out of Helen’s glass and wonders if this is what it would be like to kiss her. He tastes her lipstick on the edge of the glass.

Sophie brings in the tablecloth. His, his, hers, she thinks. His, hers.

“Shake it outside.”

“What do you know?” she hisses. “Shake it outside.” But she goes to the back door and opens it to the chilly night air and shakes the cloth out into the rose bushes off the porch. The light goes on with the motion detector. She watches the crumbs scatter.

Paul has turned the radio on while he washes dishes. The dishwasher is chugging along beside him. He whistles to Mozart. He drinks out of Helen’s glass.

Sophie comes back inside and kicks the cat out of the way. She stops and listens to the noise around her. The radio. The dishwasher, Paul’s whistling. The swish of water on plates, the cutlery clinking.

“It was a good dinner,” Paul says.

“The chicken was too dry.”

“Sophie,” Paul says. “Lighten up.”

Sophie pours herself some of the leftover white wine in a new glass. Paul has washed hers. She notices that Paul is drinking out of Helen’s glass.

“Figures,” she says.

“What?” Paul continues to whistle.

Allan had been drinking beer all night. He didn’t even switch to wine for dinner. Sophie was appalled. Beer didn’t work with her dinner. Wine did. It made her angry suddenly, as she sat down across from him, to watch him suck on his beer. That’s another thing. He didn’t pour it in a glass. The glass she offered. Instead he drank from the bottle and Helen laughed and her lipstick stained the rim of her crystal wine glass. And Paul laughed all night. At all of them. With all of them. Open mouthed laughing.

The baby gurgles. She can hear her upstairs through the monitor on the kitchen counter. Gurgling. Rolling over in her sleep. Allan and Helen’s baby probably never gurgles in the night. Helen is probably never kept awake by the little sounds that come out of the monitor all night long. In fact, Sophie thinks, Helen probably doesn’t even have a monitor, doesn’t believe in them. Their damn kid probably sleeps perfectly.

Why is she so angry? Sophie doesn’t know.

Paul wonders why Sophie is so angry. His hands are warm and wrinkled in the soapy water. Sophie forgot to run the dishwasher before the dinner party and so the dishwasher is cleaning both the lunch and breakfast dishes. Paul is cleaning the dinner dishes. And Sophie used so many dishes. It seems to Paul as if he’s washed sixteen plates for four people.

“Should I check on her?” Sophie asks. “She’s gurgling.”

“She has a cold. Nothing to worry about.”

Paul is always saying no. No, don’t check on the baby. No, don’t worry about anything. Colds. Flus. SIDS. Nothing to worry about. Don’t worry about airplane travel, or public toilet seats, or snakes in the grass, or leaving the oven on. Nothing will happen, thinks Paul. Everything will happen, thinks Sophie.

The snake in the grass will bite, the house will catch fire from the faulty wiring in the oven, the public toilet seats will give you a rash you can’t get rid of. It will spread to your internal organs and then slowly kill you. And airplane travel. My God, Sophie thinks. Airplane travel.

Paul wonders if Sophie will dry the dishes or if she will just stand there, looking at the baby monitor and sipping her wine. A scowl on her face.

Sophie thinks, why am I always so upset? It’s not like she wants to be this way. She used to be happy. Didn’t she? As a child. Even as a teenager. Always laughing. And now, Helen’s lips are on Paul’s wine glass (or the other way around) and Sophie hates Allan for drinking out of his beer bottle.

That’s another thing. It was his beer. He brought his own beer.

As if their beer wasn’t good enough.

“Was it?” Sophie asks out loud. “Was it not good enough?”

“What?”

“Our beer?”

“We don’t have any beer,” Paul says. “Allan drank it all.”

“Oh.”

So he moved on from his six pack to their beer. He wasn’t as picky as Sophie thought. But he was a drunk. Good thing he walked home. Staggered home. And Helen staggered along beside him. Although Helen doesn’t even look drunk when she is. High heels. Rosy cheeks. And she managed the sidewalk down the front of their house with no problem.

The baby sobs. One quick sob. Then nothing. Paul and Sophie stop and stare at the monitor. They look at each other.

“Dream,” Paul says.

“Fucking airplane travel,” Sophie says.

Paul looks at her quizzically. But he says nothing. Better, he knows, to say nothing, pretend he isn’t listening. Five years of marriage has taught him this. If only this. There are plenty of other mistakes he is always making and knows he is making. It’s just that he forgets sometimes, forgets to do the things she has asked him to do.

Sophie begins to dry the dishes. She thinks about Allan and his macho ways, the way he says, “how ya doing?” with a little wink when he comes in the door. She thinks about the way he kisses her on both cheeks when he leaves. Hard kisses. Hard hands that grab her shoulders.

But he smells nice. She’ll give him that. It’s a smell that comes off of him. A warm, clean smell. Even his strong cologne doesn’t mask it.

Paul licks around the rim of Helen’s wine glass. He hopes she has a cold. He could use a sick day. Call in to work and lie on the couch watching TV. But with Sophie and the baby at home he would probably end up fixing something or cleaning something or moving something instead.

Helen, Sophie thinks. Sophie has known Helen for years, before they were both married, before they both had kids. They’ve become better friends now, since they had kids at the same time, but Sophie doesn’t think she even knows her. Like what was Helen thinking when she looked at Paul and asked him to tell Allan how easy it was to get fixed. She said fixed, just like he was a cat. Neutered. Paul was shocked. Sophie could tell by the way he laughed loudly.

“Fixed?” he said, looking at Sophie. “Who said I was fixed?”

And Helen laughed then and said, “oops.” She said, “was that a secret?” She held her long painted fingernails up to her scarlet lips, her white teeth peeking through.

“Damn her,” Sophie says.

That’s another thing. She’s been talking to herself a lot lately. Swearing to herself. She can’t seem to help it. Days alone with the baby. She blurts things out all the time. In the grocery store, at the dentist even. Didn’t he have to tell her to stop talking when he filled that cavity last Wednesday?

“Who?” Paul stops washing the dishes. He dries his hands on the towel and then turns to Sophie and says, “Who? Damn who?” Paul knows he should say nothing but he just can’t help it.

“No one.” Sophie puts the dishes away. She forgets to dry them and just places them in the shelves wet. Paul watches her.

“You’re drunk,” he says.

“Ok,” Sophie says. She takes a deep breath. “You know that I hate when you say that.”

“Yeah, I know,” Paul says. “But you are.”

“And you are too.”

Paul looks at his wrinkled hands. “I am.” He picks up Helen’s wine glass and swallows the dregs. He wonders if her lipstick has come off on his lips. He wonders what he’d look like with red red lips. He wonders if his teeth would look whiter. Helen’s certainly did. “I am not ashamed of being drunk.”

“You should be,” Sophie says. “And it’s A drunk. Not drunk.”

“So should you.” Paul leaves the kitchen, moves into the dining room, looks at their dining room table and remembers when they bought it, when they went into that horribly expensive store in Yorkville and handed over a credit card and bought it. Like it was nothing. Like they did that kind of thing every day. Spend $5000 on a table. Not even the chairs. Just the table. That was before they were married. Before they had the baby. Paul imagined dinner parties on that table. Dinner parties like tonight’s. When you would drink and eat and be merry. You would laugh and then clean up, all the while talking about how fun the night was. And then you would go to bed and lie together and continue talking and touching and kissing.

“Ha,” Paul says to himself.

“You’re doing it too.” Sophie is right behind him. He didn’t hear her come in the dining room. “You’re talking to yourself too. I’m not the only crazy one in this house.”

Paul looks at her. His wife. He hears the baby sigh on the monitor. He reaches out towards Sophie but she walks quickly past him and goes into the living room. She plops down on the couch and puts her feet up on the coffee table (another expensive purchase from before they were married). The coffee table has scratches on it from use, from time. Scratches on his heart, Paul thinks, and then snorts.

“Do you think Helen and Allan had a good time tonight?” Sophie calls to Paul in the dining room.

Paul steps back into the kitchen, grabs their wine glasses and then walks into the living room and sits beside Sophie. He puts his feet on the coffee table next to hers. They both face the dead fireplace. Paul hands Sophie her wine.

“I don’t know. Helen looked like she was having fun. Allan said something, though. About a argument they had earlier. There was some tension.”

“Like a rubber band,” Sophie says. “Snap.”

“Once Allan starts into a few beers he gets bossy. Have you noticed? Telling Helen how to eat her food, how to hold her fork. Like she isn’t an adult.”

“And she kept phoning the babysitter. Can’t she go out for one night without checking on every crappy diaper?”

Paul laughs. “Is that what she was doing? Poop count?”

Sophie smiles slyly. “Their baby isn’t perfect if she’s pooping through the night.”

“Yeah,” Paul laughs. “Who shits in the night?” He touches his toe to Sophie’s. A tender moment. She pulls back.

“Did you just notice that?” Sophie says. “About Allan being bossy. You just noticed it tonight?”

“No, I….” Paul thinks. Yes he did just notice that. Usually Allan seems so easy going.

“He’s always like that. He makes me sick.”

Paul looks at Sophie. Really looks at her.

“You don’t like Allan?”

Sophie shrugs.

“Why do we have them over for dinner so much if you don’t like him?”

“I don’t really like Helen either,” Sophie says.

“Oh.” Paul looks at the coffee table. He looks at Sophie’s feet. “I like Helen. I think she’s nice. She’s smart.” Why did he say that just now, he thinks.

Sophie hits him. Smacks his leg hard.

“Ouch. What was that for?”

“I’m going to check on the baby.”

“Don’t check on the baby. You’ll wake her and then she’ll be up all night.”

Sophie rises. “I’m going. There’s nothing you can do to stop me.” She stumbles a bit, staggers. Almost spills her wine.

“I could hold you here,” Paul reaches up and takes her hand.

“Let go.”

“Don’t check on the baby.”

“I’m going to check on the baby.”

“Helen isn’t that great, actually. Now that I think about it.”

“She’s amazing,” Sophie says. She sits back down again. She leans forward and puts her head in her hands. She rocks back and forth. “Things never happen the way you think they will,” Sophie says.

Paul nods his head but Sophie doesn’t see him. He is thinking about the chicken, about it being dry. Sophie was right. It was dry. Sophie is thinking about life, how it hasn’t gone the way she hoped it would go. Sophie wonders if she has post partum depression.

“Do you think I have post partum depression?” she asks.

“Maybe.” The chicken was dry, Paul thinks. The rice was sticky. It wasn’t supposed to be sticky. It was Basmati, not Japanese.

“The baby is three months old. Can I still have it? Am I still post partum?”

“I think post partum means any time after you have kids.”

“So when she is forty years old I could still have it?”

Paul laughs. And then shrugs. He thinks. “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe not.”

 

Michelle Berry, who teaches writing online at UofT, is the author of three short story collections and six novels, the latest of which, “12 Hours,” is coming out in September 2017.

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