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It’s eleven o’clock at night, my husband is nowhere to be found, and I’m stuck here at home, twirling a stupid glass of orange juice while a tall bottle of wine mocks me from the corner of the kitchen. I tried to hide the bottle behind a jar of cookies, but the next thing I knew, I was chugging down wine and scarfing down chocolate chip cookies like my life depended on it. After feeling a little too drunk and calorie-infested, orange juice became my next source of companionship and consolation.
To be quite honest, this night has been the highlight of my entire week. The only other interesting experience I’ve encountered this week was talking to Mrs. Jones. She was heading to the grocery store as I was heading to the laundry room. Usually I would have looked immediately at the ground and kept to my path without acknowledging her, but I was able to muster up enough courage to ask, “How are you, Mrs. Jones?” for the first time since Jerry and I moved to this complex. She looked at me like I was some kind of alien and stuttered after she had reassured herself that I had actually spoken. She finally responded in saying, “Well, hello, Marian. Marian Adams, I believe. Am I right? I’m good, thank you. How are you?”
“I’m doing alright,” I said. “Just headin’ over to the laundry room. My husband has been out working all week and I have got a load of errands and chores to do. Hopefully, he’ll return soon.”
“What does your husband do for a living?”
“Oh, he’s . . .” I placed my basket of dirty laundry on the wooden floor and looked up at the ceiling. “Honestly, I don’t know. He got fired a month ago from his trucking company, but he told me he found a great job somewhere else. It takes up most of the day and all of the night, but at least there’s money on the table. He’s actually . . . never told me what he’s been doing for a living.”
Mrs. Jones stared at me with a blank face before it broke into a fake smile and she patted my back. “Well, that’s good for you. I’m glad he’s found something. What do you do, sweetie?”
“Oh, I’m just a housewife.”
“Just a housewife?”
“Well, ma’am, what’s wrong with that?”
Mrs. Jones looked at the cold gray railing on the staircase beside us before she spoke. “Nothing’s wrong with that. My mother was a housewife and I was a housewife for couple of years before my Henry convinced me to take a wonderful job as a waitress at Roberto’s Pizza Palace. It pays well and I enjoy working with all the other employees. I suggest you follow my example.”
“Because aren’t you lonely?”
“Sure, but I don’t have time for a job. My husband demands of me that I stick to cleaning and taking care of him like a good wife, and that’s what I plan to do,” I said. I picked up my basket of laundry and balanced it on my hip. “Don’t you agree?”
The woman twirled her neon pink purse around her finger and looked at me as if I was speaking Polish. “You know, we should talk more. I hardly see you at all in this area. What do you do? Just stay cooped up in here for days on end? Maybe you should come up to my apartment sometime. Of course, right now I’m going grocery shopping, but sometime later we should arrange to talk. It seems like you could use a gal pal. If you ever need a companion, me and my husband would be happy to provide you company.”
I smiled and hugged Mrs. Jones tightly. “Oh, thank you, Mrs. Jones. That’s very nice of you. I don’t have anyone to talk to when my Jerry is gone. He’s a good husband, but he sometimes forgets his wife.” I laughed and Mrs. Jones chuckled lightly along with me.
“It’s no problem, dearie. If you ever need anything, just give me a call, okay?”
“Most definitely! Thank you.”
The conversation ended there and I was never able to get in touch with Mrs. Jones since, but I have plans to set up a dinner between the four of us so that my husband and I can make some friends. Jerry always tells me, “If you stick to yourself, you protect yourself. We don’t know these neighbors. Let me do all the talking if it comes down to it, but if you speak to anyone in our complex, you’ll need an ambulance.” His intentions might be in the right place, but I am tired of his protective ways. His constant restricting, confining, and overall patronizing has worn me out and made me feel like I can’t handle things a normal person can handle. He leaves bed in the middle of the night to head over to his job, and then comes back the following day with a wad of money for rent. He yells at me when I ask him where he gets it from, and makes me stay in our bedroom whenever his coworkers come over. The only time I’m allowed out of my “jail cell” is when they need some food or a drink.
I feel like an innocent criminal, stuck in prison for a sentence I shouldn’t be paying.
I put down my orange juice and walked over to our small living room. The old mustard colored couch that my mother –in—law gifted to us was pushed over to one wall and a lonely stool sat in the middle of the room, right in front of our small TV. I sat down on the stool and grabbed the remote control off the green carpet. Switching to the History Channel, I kicked the stool over beside the couch and laid down on the floor. The carpet smelled like fresh lemon thanks to my carpet cleaning solution, but the beige walls needed scrubbing. I heightened the volume on the TV and headed for the cleaning tools in the closet hallway. Within a few minutes, the walls were back to their dull color and I was stuck with nothing to do again.
I turned the TV off and left the apartment. Sitting right outside the door, I tucked my knees behind my arms. Closing my eyes and only listening with my ears, I could hear a husband and wife yelling at each other next door. I could smell the spaghetti and fresh tomato sauce brewing for a midnight snack from the apartment across the hall. I could feel the little tiny shakes of the floor as a dancer in the apartment in front of me took each position of her choreography seriously and with precision.
“Sweetie, what are you doin’?”
I opened my eyes and looked up at Hilary Barum from downstairs. I usually see her coming up the stairs with one of her many boyfriends. Her platinum blond hair touched the bottom of her lower back, thanks to some stringy hair extensions. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and sat down next to me. “What’s a young woman like you sitting here on the floor all lonely on a Saturday night?” she said. “Don’t you have a boyfriend you should be out with?”
“It’s eleven thirty at night.”
“What’s that for an excuse? Until it’s time for work, you should always be partying. Who are you anyway? I’ve never seen you in my entire life.”
“I would hate my parents if they gave me THAT name.”
“No, I mean, you don’t need to know who I am. I’m not supposed to be talking to you anyway.”
“Why? Do you know any of my ex-boyfriends? John? Luke? Harry? Matthew? Simon? Liam? Darren? Jaso-?”
“I don’t know any of your ex-boyfriends. My husband doesn’t want me to talk to anyone in this complex so that I stay safe.”
Hilary scrunched up her eyebrows. “Really? That sounds stupid to me. If I couldn’t speak to anyone, I wouldn’t know what I’d do. That sounds a lot like solitary confinement to me, something they do in prison for the really bad criminals.”
“It’s only for my own good while my husband is gone. He’s – oh, shoot.” I stood up and began to open my apartment door. “I’m not supposed to be talking to you. Or anybody.”
She grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. “But I ain’t that bad. I’ve made friends with everyone in this building since I moved here last year and somehow I’ve missed you. When did you move here?”
“Two years ago.”
“Do you have any friends here?”
“I’m friends with Mrs. Jones.”
“Well, guess what? You’ve got a new friend, and her name is Hilary. Do you actually got a name, honey?”
I scrunched my black hair tighter into its ponytail and looked down at my chocolate skin. “The name’s Marian Adams. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to wait for my husband to come home. He said he’d be home at nine tonight, but he’s still a no show.”
“What does your fellow look like?”
I pressed my back up against the wall behind me and looked up dreamily at the ceiling. “He’s tall, dark, and handsome. Brown eyes, thick muscles, a smirking smile. Things in a man you would only imagine being in a book. Oh, he’s definitely a keeper.”
“That’s great. I’ll keep an eye out for him. But meanwhile, why don’t you come to my place and we can have our own little party? You look like a twenty-something. I bet you know how to have fun.”
“Oh, I can’t. My husband will be waiting for me. He needs me desperately.”
“If he needed you, he would be here instead of at a casino.” Hilary’s eyes grew to twice its size and she covered her mouth in shock after hearing those words leave her mouth. “I mean . . . you need some company. I’m willing to give it to you. What’s the harm?”
“What do you know that I don’t?”
“I don’t know anything. I’m drunk. My boyfriend allowed me to drink a little too much, if you know what I mean.” Hilary laughed weakly. She grabbed my wrist and began to drag me down a nearby staircase. “It’s just that I’ve been watching the news lately and your fellow sounds like a guy on one of the news stories. I’m sure I must have been drunk when I saw it. Forget what I’ve said. We’re going to have fun. Just the two of us.”
“Alright. But it’ll be our little secret.”
“Of course, of course.”
The inside of Hilary’s apartment very much reflects her personality. Neon colors cover different sections of walls, each one screaming at you to pay attention. Strangely shaped furniture were placed carelessly in different areas of the living space. A couch was in the kitchen, a fruit tray was in the bathroom, and pots and pans were in the dining room.
“Is it always this disorganized?” I asked her.
She closed her apartment door and threw her purse on the kitchen table. “Yes. Always.” She motioned me to the living room and turned on the TV. “Sit down, sit down. Mi casa es su casa. I believe that’s a little French for you.”
A knock sounded from the door and Hilary rushed to answer it. I poured myself a glass of water from the water pitcher and glass she gave me. I heard quiet whispers from the foyer area become louder and louder, and suddenly, a policeman appeared from around the corner of the wall.
He coughed into his hands and said in a low, rumbling voice, “Hello, Mrs. Adams. How are you?”
I crossed my ankles over each other, put my glass down carefully, and laid my hands in my lap; the only way I knew to look respected and cultured. “I’m fine, thank you. Is there a problem, officer?”
“No, no, well, yes. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, Mrs. Adams, but your husband is currently involved in a manhunt under the charges of being involved in a huge poker cheating scandal in Las Vegas.”
Suddenly, everything was quiet and the only noise in the apartment was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner. I looked at my water glass and stared at the calm water just sitting in its glass. The water was so carefree, so relaxed, so worry-less.
I looked back up at both the police officer and Hilary. They looked at me expectantly and waited for my reaction. I stood up and squarely placed myself in front of them “I have no idea what you are talking about. My husband is hard at work providing for his wife. He has never even killed a bug, let alone committed a felony. I think you have the wrong man, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to my apartment.”
I stood up from the couch and headed towards the door. The policeman rushed towards me and said, “Well, then maybe you should take a look at this.” He dragged me towards the living room area and switched the TV to a news station. The headline said: “THREE MEN IN CUSTODY FOR POKER CHEATING.”
I sat down and held my breath, hoping my Jerry wouldn’t appear on the screen. The newscaster started her coverage of the story and said, “After a manhunt that started just this week, the wanted suspects of the Las Vegas cheating scandal have already been found. The men in custody are Lewis Renolodo, Harry Springer, and . . .”
I covered my eyes with my hands and whispered, “Please don’t say Jerry’s name.”
“Jerry Adams. The scandal began when . . .” The TV cracked once I threw the remote, and both Hilary and the policeman looked at me with wide eyes. Before they could respond, I stood up and walked out of Hilary’s apartment. Rushing up to my own apartment, I packed up my things and everything that I thought Jerry didn’t deserve. I threw my duffel bag over my shoulder and tightened the grip on my suitcase handle. I slid a note in Mrs. Jones’ mailbox, stating how appreciative I was of our conversation and how I very much planned to get a job once I left town.
Looking up at the yellow ceiling with the dim light shining through the corridor, I thought about my husband, sitting in a jail cell with other criminals. The image seemed so right for him, now that I knew his true personality and deeds. I wished I could say one last thing to him before I left him, but I didn’t want to see him for the rest of my life. And it looked as if I didn’t have to once the charges were pressed. I pushed open the dirty glass doors of the building’s entrance with its filthy smudges on the handles. I rubbed the dirt off my hands and onto my ripped jeans. I walked onto the bus and waited for the new chapter of my life to begin, one without restrictions, but with true love.