“Can’t talk now, Mama.” Horace spun around the kitchen with his cell phone between a shoulder and ear. He retrieved a gravy-coated cooking spoon from under a mess of plastic bowls and potato and cho cho skins in the sink and rinsed it off.
“Look how long I’ve been calling you. From week yuh supposed to call me and not a peep from yuh.”
“Mama, with work and the kids and dropping Miss Hya home in the evenings—”
“Yuh jus’ forget ’bout yuh old mother,” she finished his sentence.
“No man, Mama!” He jabbed at boiled Irish potatoes in a pot on the stove. “Pass the milk, Janine.”
“Yes, Daddy.” Janine pulled open the fridge door.
“And hold it good.”
“So how you sound so excited—like Christmas come?” Mama enquired.
Horace’s face lit up. “Hehehehe. My wife is on her way.”
“Oh! So she’s coming back. Tink she run way.”
“Not my Janet. She supposed to reach Molynes Road by now.” He tore off a sheet of paper towel and wiped his forehead. “Janine, put the milk up for Daddy.”
“Yes, Daddy.” Janine took the milk carton from his hands and held it securely in hers.
“So how you never sound excited so when I call?” Mama pouted.
He hesitated. He could hear the spring of jealousy bubbling up from the bed of Mama’s heart.
“Have to run, Mama.”
“That’s right. Dash whey yuh ol’ modda and run off,” she seethed.
“Mama, you know I love y—” A loud click at the other end of the line cut his display of affection short.
Braking at a four-way intersection, Janet wound up her window and switched on the air conditioner in the CR-V. The city heat was searing, and the breeze blowing through the window only circulated the hot air.
Waiting for the lights to change, she stared through the rear-view mirror at the empty road behind her. Tryall was far away and home was minutes ahead. Bittersweet, she sighed.
Quickly slipping out her phone, she read Hayden’s text for the third time and tried laughing away the guilt wedged inside her ribs. Her eldest had concerns about Daddy cooking pork chops for Sunday dinner. He was afraid the kitchen would catch fire from the grease popping and splatting in the frying pan.
“To my mind,” the text read, “an hour of YouTube and Food Network doesn’t qualify Daddy to cook. Mummy, please hurry up and come home.”
She loved her children so much. Their stubbornness made her behave like a virago sometimes—the entire Red Hills hearing her mouth on occasion—but their antics made her laugh, even when she didn’t feel like laughing. And their hugs and cuddles turned her heart to mush.
No matter how many times she scolded them about wet bathroom floors and dirty towels; stinky school shoes left in doorways; filthy, heavy backpacks on her glass coffee table; or lights left on around the house, the second they snuggled up to her, the anger died a rapid death. Maybe their cuddles will lighten my heart today, she sighed.
The lights changed. She depressed the gas pedal, antsy to see her children but missing the bathroom she had to herself in Tryall. Janet covered her mouth and giggled until her eyes watered. Janine had a way of barging in on her to ask the same, stale question. It didn’t matter whether she saw mummy standing naked in the shower or seated on the toilet trying to concentrate, the question had to be asked, and with the same urgency it had been asked the previous 49 times.
“Mummy come!” Janine jumped up and down at the glass window.
Hunter skidded out the den, leaving the television on. Horace pulled his apron up over his head and tossed it on a bar stool. Joshua and Hayden threw down the sponges they were wiping up the counter and the rest of Horace’s spills with and raced out the kitchen.
Janet hesitated as she saw the front door opening. “I did nothing wrong,” she whispered, hands resting on the steering wheel and heart pounding. Emptying her heart to a friend, whimpering on his shoulder about a boring husband and confessing regrets about bringing four children into an affection-starved marriage wasn’t a sin—she hoped.
The children ran towards the CR-V, screaming. Janet alighted with a huge smile and hugged and rocked and kissed them. But she couldn’t do the same with Horace. She could barely look into his eyes.
Horace pecked her on the cheek and smiled. She stepped back. Her husband smelled really nice. He never usually wore cologne on Sundays. And this cologne, she’d never smelled on him before. He was an Old Spice guy.
“Smells like big food cooking inside.” Janet walked around to the tailgate for her bags.
“Pork chops and mashed potatoes . . . and a little veg: carrots and cho cho.” Horace reached for her bags before she could pick them up.
“Who cooked? Miss Clarice?” she teased.
“Me,” Horace said proudly.
“Impressive. Looks like I need to go Tryall more often.”
“Hahaha,” he laughed, took one of her hands in his and led her inside the house.
Janet glanced at Horace from the corner of her eyes. Why was he holding her hand? He hadn’t done that since their honeymoon. And why was he wearing the plaid, walking shorts and light-pink polo shirt she’d bought for him in Hanover? Oh, crap, she panicked. She’d completely forgotten.
“You notice anything?” Horace dropped the bags on the floor beside their bed.
“What?” she answered nervously.
He pointed to himself with both thumbs.
“Okay, yes, I see,” she stuttered.
“What’s his name? Andrew, Drew, something like that, said you asked him to drop them off.”
“Okay, yes! Yes! Right!” A drop of sweat trickled down her spine. The room was boiling hot. She fanned herself with both hands “He brought them up on Friday.” She noticed her voice had gone at least two octaves higher and wouldn’t come down.
“Saturday,” Horace corrected.
“Yes, Saturday. He couldn’t make it Friday; so he came Saturday. Right,” she floundered.
“Mummy, you should’ve seen Uncle Drew’s white Audi—maaaad!” Hayden gushed. “And the engine sounds wicked! And he’s like tall!” Hayden stuck a hand high above his head to show how tall. “Like taller than Daddy.”
She was going to kill Drew.
“Kids, go set the table. Soon come share out,” Horace instructed.
“Yes, Daddy.” They scrambled out of the room.
“So where you know him from?” Horace asked when the children were out of earshot. His jocular tone had become sober.
“Bank days.” Janet smiled uncomfortably. “He has a store.”
“Oh, okay. So that’s why you could order this stuff.” He tugged down the hem of his polo shirt.
“. . . Yes.”
“Not that young.”
“With more swagger than swagger itself!”
“Not that much swagger.” She chuckled and brushed it off.
“Good-looking too.” His eyes searched hers.
Janet’s gaze shifted to the bedroom floor, where the bags were sitting, then to the floral romper she was wearing. Her maid in Tryall had ensured she returned home with clean clothes. The purchases for the children had been laundered too. But not the stuff for Horace. After their afternoon of shopping, those had been forgotten among the million and one cologne samples and karochies Drew lugged around in his car trunk.
“He’s not bad,” Janet answered, subdued. The maid thought he was drop-dead handsome. And “mannersable”. And a good husband. She hadn’t corrected her. Face flushed, she looked up at Horace. His eyes were still fixed on her.
“So, was he at Tryall? ” he asked.
Janet nodded. “For work. He’s opening a MoBay store.”
Janet nodded. And decent, she mourned. For encouraging her to work on her marriage. For coaxing her to be honest with Horace about what she most desired from him and to seek counselling if push came to shove. Give it another try, he’d said, stroking her cheek and gazing into her eyes like a man who’d loved and lost.
Horace hugged her, pressing his cheek against her temple. “I’m glad you’re home.”
“Me too,” Janet reciprocated.
Image courtesy of Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/