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M. L. Owen

Martha and George

        So you want me to express my emotions? Fine. My emotion is anger. Your emotion is fright. See, I do pay attention to your feelings. You're scared. I'm pissed. That's our feelings. We've communicated. Fix the goddamned meal. I'm hungry.
        When we first dated he would stand in front of me when the wind blew out on the playground. If anyone disagreed with something I said in class, he would make a little movement in his chair, just a little one but enough to get their attention, and then he'd stare at them, and they'd shut up.
        What the hell you want from me, anyway? Blood? I work. I bring my paycheck home. Anything about the house, the kids, I let you decide. I just want my food in front of me, a little nooky, two, three times a week, and no hassles. Jesus H. Christ, woman, ain't that fair? 
        He never forced himself on me, the way some of the girls said some of the guys did on them. He'd always stop when I said to. Some times I didn't want to say it. Some times I didn't say it. I remember the first time he touched me, here, under my blouse, under my bra. I remember the first time I touched him, there, between his legs, along his belly.
        All right, there was that one time. The only one. I hit you. I was drunk, and it was stupid, and it was a long time ago. How many times do I have to say I'm sorry for it? I never did it before. I never done it since. One god-damned time.
        When we finally did it, really did it, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. We thought it was required. We thought it meant we were in love, or should be, or would be, and we thought love conquered all.
        If I want to get yelled at, I'll go back to work and get paid for it. My folks yelled when I was a kid. Teachers yelled at school. Tom yells at work. Now you yell at home. You didn't think I was so god-awful when we got married. Who the hell'd you think I was, Rockefeller? Einstein? Joe fucking Montana? I was me. I'm still me. Who the hell are you, all at once?
        The idea of kids was like the idea of a new car. Yeah, there were responsibilities, but there was pride, too, and happiness. Boy were we wrong, even if we were right. Becky was nearly three months old before he could hold her for more than one minute. Even then, he held her like she was a tea cup. He never changed a diaper. He never cooked any of them a meal until they were big enough to eat barbecue.
        Damn! Is this the change? Is that it? I thought that was supposed to be when you were like sixty or something and all dried up. You still got a great body. Your tits hang a bit, but they're bigger, and you got a really great butt now. Is that it? Is it because I want sex too much? Shit, I can't win this one.
        At first, when I started thinking about this kind of thing, I would always want, you know, Fabio. I was reading a lot of romance novels. I'd had that, though. He's big and strong, and he took good care of me. I've made love in the grass. Now, now I want something else. I want mystery. I want to be doing something that'll catch me up so much that I don't notice it's time to make dinner or remember that the sheets need changing. Something outside of me. No, something inside of me. Yes, that's it, inside of me. 
        How the hell am I supposed to know what you want? I got to read Ms. Magazine or something to find out? What the hell's so hard about just telling me, telling me in a way I can understand? It's like when one of the kids cried. How was I supposed to know what it wanted? You always seemed to. It's a female thing, I guess. I never felt so helpless in my life. I'd go away, and you'd take care of it. I can't go away this time. I don't know who'd take care of it. I don't know what to do.
        He was so strong, and so stupid. Maybe I was too, at first, because I didn't see his stupidity, only his strength. I got smart, though, and he didn't. I grew. I came to see that there was more, at least there could be. There ought to be. 
        Sometimes I tell you what you ought to, whatever, be saying, doing. A lot, I guess. When we got married, even before we got married, you seemed to want that. You sort of followed my lead. Like in dancing. You want different things now. Okay, only don't blame me for not knowing. You got to tell me. Now you have, and I'll try to remember. Only, give me a break, I've got habits. 
        We were kids and so of course we were stupid. I've grown up, and I want him to. He's still treating me like a kid, but he's the one who still is a kid. I want him to get out of my face and into his own head. He shouldn't have to be told that. He should want to do it on his own.
        And, I don't want you telling me what to think or say or feel. You wanted me to be the leader before. At least you never told me anything else. Now you don't. Well, I'm telling you up front, I don't want it. I'm my own person, but this kind of stuff is new to me. I don't think about these things like you do. I don't even know what these things are. I need some time. Maybe some help.
        If I leave him, I'm stuck. I've never worked outside the house. I wouldn't even know how to look for a job. The kids would be with me, of course. Even if he was good about child-support, and he would be, I know that, I'd be the one who'd have to get the lunches, taxi them everywhere, stay home when they're sick.  I wouldn't be leading my own life at all. I'm not doing it here, either. I want my own life.
        If you leave me, I'm up a creek. You'd get the house. You'd get the kids. You'd be doing what you want. I'd be going to a job and then coming home with no one to come home to and no reason to be there. Weekends I'd see the kids and pretty soon they'd hate me for taking them away from their friends and stuff they'd rather be doing. I'd roll over and curl up around a pillow, instead of a warm butt. Maybe I'd learn how to cry. Maybe I am learning.
        I wouldn't want to have not had the kids. I wouldn't want to have not had him. I'd like to have had me for a while, though. Maybe this is me. Him. The kids. This life. Maybe everyone wants more than they got.
        I thought we'd be something like before, now that the kids are older. Not young again but some of that. The being close. Knowing again what the other one is thinking without really having to talk about it. Or talking about one thing and really be talking about something else and knowing exactly what was being said. 
        They say you should be grateful for what you have. They say you have to keep working at it, not take it for granted. Too many times I've gone with what they said and been wrong. Too many times I've gone against what they said and been wrong. 
        How about if I fix us something to eat, and we talk. I hope you like scrambled eggs. 
        Who is this man? Who am I? Why are we smiling?
M. L. Owen lives and writes under the giant redwoods of Northern California and has published in over 20 literary journals, such as The Bookends Review, WENSUM Literary Review, South Shore Review, Sequoia Speaks, and CafeLit.
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