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 welling up.

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