Valerie Luboff woke up
just after 6:00 in the morning to the sound of the garbage truck
outside. The grinding of the machinery was very loud as it compressed
the garbage. She looked over at the face of her husband half buried in
his pillow as the garbage collectors tossed the trash cans onto the
sidewalk, but he didn't stir. Valerie knew that her husband would sleep
for several more hours. She got out of bed and walked quietly into the
bathroom where she took a long hot shower, but she still felt dirty.
She wiped the condensation from the mirror and looked at herself. Her
shoulder-length hair was the colour of straw, and lately was similar in
texture. The lines showing around her eyes and the corners of her mouth
made her look much older than her 26 years. She remembered being
pretty, but the playful twinkle had disappeared from her dark blue eyes
long ago. She still had her figure, in fact she was a little too lean,
she thought. She realised that it wasn't really an athletic figure any
more, just thin. Looking back at her face, she noticed that tears were
She wiped her eyes and looked away. She didn't want to look at herself
anymore. It was time to get dressed. She pulled on her usual sweatshirt
and sweatpants. She could not keep the memories of the night before
from entering her mind. She and Bill had not made love in years, though
they had sex fairly frequently, usually when he was drunk. Last night
was no different.
She made her way into the kitchen, but it took some effort for her to
make coffee. It took effort to do anything anymore. As she poured the
water in the coffee maker, she reluctantly analyzed her life. She had
long ago trained herself to not think too much about it. That made it
easier for her to cope. So she was not sure where this self-examination
was coming from. Maybe she was just tired. She was tired a lot lately.
She was certain that she and Bill had been in love when they got
married eight years before, but she was not sure when the love ended.
She noticed, or perhaps admitted, shortly after the wedding that Bill
drank more than he should. Verbal attacks were frequent, but Valerie
attributed it to stress. San Francisco was not a cheap place to live.
The bills were piling up and the pressure showed on Bill's face. But he
never faced the problem. Instead, he hid from it behind his bourbon.
Valerie knew better than to mention it. She had learned early on how
much it hurts to be hit with a man's fist.
She had not noticed the gradual deterioration of her self-esteem but
she had stopped wearing makeup a couple of years back. She didn't go
out much, because her friends had gradually drifted away. It was too
difficult to cultivate a friendship when she had to put all her effort
into holding her marriage together.
Yesterday had been especially bad. Bill came home in the afternoon
after having been fired from his job. Valerie didn't allow herself to
start worrying about how they were going to pay the rent because Bill
started drinking right away. Valerie needed to keep her wits about her.
After the yelling was over, then the sex, Bill fell asleep. But Valerie
felt filthy and disgusted.
She wandered aimlessly around the house, sipping coffee, looking at her
familiar surroundings through the shafts of morning sunlight. Again,
she wondered why she was being so introspective. She had a tight
feeling in her chest and felt as if she were constantly on the verge of
crying. When her eyes caught some family photographs of happier times
with her brother, she remembered Peter telling her that Bill was no
good. She knew her brother was right but couldn't bring herself to do
anything about it. How could she? She had moved from her parents' home
into Bill's. They were married young and Bill had an outdated viewpoint
that a woman's place was in the home. She had no skills and no way to
support herself. She needed Bill.
"Okay, Val," she said aloud. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself."
The sound of her voice in the silent apartment seemed to shake her out
of her reverie. It was time to get busy. She walked through the bedroom
again, noticing that Bill was still sound asleep, and she started
gathering up the laundry. As she leaned over to pick up Bill's shirt
off the bathroom floor, she noticed some smears on it. It looked like
makeup. As she looked up at her own, unretouched face in the mirror,
she put the shirt to her face and smelled a trace of perfume, and
realized that Bill had not come straight home yesterday.
© 2008 Kelly Cheek