|Shirly watches out the bay window overlooking the backyard as the little squirrel dashes across the power line and jumps onto the tall picket fence.
Dog chases squirrel.
Dumbass dog runs into fence.
Squirrel stops on fence as if to mock dog.
Shirly takes small sip of coffee.
Coffee burns throat.
Two-year-old begins to mock Mommy. Lilly mocks Shirly.
Eight-year-old scolds two-year-old.
"That's not a nice word Lilly,” says older girl. Says Meridith.
"Eat your breakfast" says Mom. Says Shirly.
Ten-year-old comes in. Only boy. Favorite. Oldest. Shirt inside-out.
"Fix your shirt." Says Mom. Says Shirly.
"Yeah Sam. Your shirt's messed up. You can't wear it that way." Eight-year old says.
That one's sure turning out to be a bitch thinks Mom. Thinks Shirly.
"No" says boy. Says Sam.
Maybe it's not so bad concedes Mom. Concedes Shirly.
"School. Twenty minutes." Says Shirly. Says Mom.
It was always peculiar to Shirly that names are given at birth, yet a person spends a lifetime earning the respect it takes to claim them. It would seem to her that rather than a collection of memories and accomplishments, as some would earnestly believe, life was actually just a continuing back and forth between having a name and not. Just like she, her children entered the world and took on titles, but will have to earn the use of their names. They were the boy, the girl (sometimes playing under the alias of “the bitch”) and the baby, not Sam, Meredith and Lillian. What a scandal that as soon as a person begins to have a name, it is stolen away by the forces that give individuals the so generally universal nomenclature of “Mom,” “Daddy,” “Husband,” and “Wife.”
"Good morning, Babe," says Phil. She turns to see her husband wearing his collared Sofa Shack shirt. She gazes down at her Sofa Shack coffee mug, which stirs recollections of the Sofa Shack t-shirt she was wearing over her baggy heather grey sweats. She sees Meredith, the bitchy one, doodling on a Sofa Shack notepad with a Sofa Shack pen.
"Good morning," she sighs, though it goes undetected by Phil. "Would you like some eggs?"
"We only have three left."
Shirly waits for him to say something sarcastic about her getting off her ass and putting some groceries in the refrigerator, but instead he simply says, "Alright, three then. Better for my weight,” while patting his stomach.
"Scrambled or Fried?"
"Fried." He says. He sits for a while at the breakfast bar looking at the newspaper. That's what fathers did in the mornings he thinks. That's what his father did. That's what Sam would do. It didn't matter that he could care less about the news; he just had to pretend to read it. Every father in the neighborhood had awoken, brushed their teeth, shaved, and came downstairs to eat eggs and read the paper. He would too. "We installed a new phone line yesterday at the store." He says as if to beg Shirly's attention from the eggs so that he would have an excuse to disregard the paper. "Customers kept complaining that the phone was always busy, so we went from three lines to four. We should see how well it does after they air our new commercial at ten-thirty this morning."
Shirly rolls eyes. Dear rolls eyes. Mommy rolls eyes.
"We also installed two other lines. One that runs directly to my office and one that goes into Dave's." He says as he begins to write the number on the notepad that Meredith had abandoned interest in for her chocolates pancakes. "They should turn them on at nine and I want you to call this number at 9:05 to make sure that it is working."
Lilly tries to leap from high chair. Escape artist tries to leap from chair. The girl lets out a cry.
Mom rushes to catch her.
Mom catches her but her arm is scratched by the tray anyway.
Lilly begins to wail.
Mom embraces her and the wailing dissolves to soft whimpering.
"We could sue that damned manufacturer! We could fucking bankrupt with their asses! Imagine producing a piece of shit like that for infants." Says Daddy. Says Defender-Of-Those-Who-Reside-In-High-Chairs everywhere.
"Fuckksitsitsituck." Says the baby. Says the profane one.
"Well, she's actually not an infant anymore." Says the boy. Says the independent.
"Stop saying that, Lilly." Says the bitch.
Phil rushes to take them off the burner. "All I'm saying is that I didn't become the largest furniture retailer in the county by selling faulty pieces like that. And I would hate to think that infants, small children, whatever, are being pummeled to the ground like that."
"You brought that chair from Sofa Shack.” Says the boy. Says the independent. Says the favorite.
"The reason the chair is not holding her is because she's too old for it. No law suit. She needs a booster." Says Mommy. Says Dear. Says Wife. Says Domestic Slave as she goes to the fridge to scavenge out a different breakfast for Husband. For Phil. For Suburban Alpha male, with whimpering Baby on her hip.
“So now what do I eat?” says Phil; not asked because he is actually just stating that Shirly will need to find something else. Shirly rolls her eyes behind the shield of the refrigerator door.
"It's okay. I'll just grab something on the way to work. Almost 7:30, I better run. I love you." Husband says as he kisses Wife on forehead. "We'll go pick out a booster tonight. All of us. Everyone gets a present and a treat tonight! Even Mommy."
"Are you sure, Mr. Stanley. We are in a recession," Says Wife. Says wife as she tries to disguise her resentment of the fact that Phil seems unaware of the concept of sarcasm.
"It's not so bad, Mrs. Stanley. Don't forget to call. 9:05." says businessman as he goes out into the garage and gets into his town car. Shirly watched as he backed down the drive and waited for another black towncar to pass before he turned out and drove down the street.
“Sam, Meredith, go get your bags and get in the car.”
"Alright, you two get in the car. We'll be out in a minute."
As soon as the other kids were out of sight, Mommy reaches into the ceramic jar on top of the refrigerator and gives the baby a piece of candy. By the time Shirly had her shoes on, the candy had been devoured.
"Good girl." She says as she carries her out to the car.
For all the misery of handling them in the morning, when Shirly returned home each day after taking them to school, she always felt unbelievably lonely. That was probably part of her motivation for starting her own business venture. Lilly usually slept from about eight in the morning until noon so that she would be rested for graveyard shift of alternating between screaming and crying over mysterious injuries that were only detectable by herself.
Six months ago Shirly had started making candles. It began as a purely therapeutic hobby but with growing resentment for her husband's success at the Sofa Shack she had decided to start an online catalogue to sell her creations.
Her order inbox was empty. It would appear that people really were satisfied with the two dollar scented candles in the grocery store. Nobody seemed eager to by her twelve dollar boutique quality pieces of art that she herself had all but given up on.
It was always at this time of day that she felt a struggle surmount within her. A few keystrokes away was the object of her obsession. Simply said, each day she feels compelled to unlock the door to her inner passion by venturing into a forbidden realm on the internet. A realm in which reality became blurry and time had no bounds. Could the emptiness of her life ever be truly filled, the mass in it would probably come from this source. This was place where she could trade her pretend reality in for a lie of a much less suffocating variety. This place, this compulsion, however, was not exactly normal, even by the tremendously broad psychological spectrum of "normal addiction".
Each day the realm that she seeks is that of the "Casual Encounters" page on Craigslist, of course. Up to today she has never even emailed one of the solicitors, but each and every day she feels her will power diminishing. Every day she calculates the details of her affair. She plots how to allude her husband. She fantasizes about her endless string of lovers and the passion she evokes from the daily scandal. Would her first time to cheat be in a nasty little motel with a proud proclamation of their luxurious amenities “HBO PHONE AND AIR CONDITIONING” on the slide letter sign that perpetually read “VACANCY”? Or would they begin their fling with a casual coffee date that would end with them tearing each other’s clothes off in the back seat of her SUV? Shoving small toys and graham cracker crumbs out of the way?
There were weekly repeats, clinical nymphomaniacs that by now she felt as if she knew. There were also new posters who always seemed so curiously shy, and innocent. No doubt that in a few months she will see their vague descriptions develop into more erotic and colorful innuendo. She always wonders if this progression was the result of actually consummating their desire, or did occur out of frustration in not having anyone take notice. She has always known that if she were to ever actually contact a poster, she would choose a novice. Something about feeling a little more experienced than her lover enthralls her.
She truly is a completely different sexual person in this world of internet solicitation. In real life, she is not particularly attracted to African Americans, but here, she experiences an intense wave of sexual desire when she sees a grainy self-taken digital snap shot of a black man. Though she is unable to fully understand it, she also finds herself unexplainably attracted to bald people, as well as Asians. It is here that she has discovered that outside of her usual boundaries of sexual habit, there is an entirely world, a sex buffet, of enticingly unique characteristics and culture, which she imagines (in great detail) would play a big role in making a sexual encounter with them exhilaratingly bizarre.
As if to ease the discontent for the day, fate has a delivered a very large batch of new posts this morning. A young woman, probably nineteen, but could easily be underage and Shirly cites this as a reason to exert caution in the future when choosing her mail-order lovers, has posted a picture of herself smiling coyly in a pink bikini.
"I'm a college student here in Heftsfield, and I just don't know anybody. I’m 5’5”. 120 lbs. I will do all positions but I have never done a girl. I’m lonely. You know what I mean. I'd like to get some people in a very....raw way."
Shirly admires her ostentatious flow and felt very intrigued, but has always feared that if fate granted her the opportunity to meet this woman under the pretenses of sex, they would probably both be very disappointed with the encounter, as Shirly knows she would be completely lost as to how to entertain a female body. She is unsure enough of the male kind. Still, this makes little sense to her. She sometimes suspects that she should be more comfortable with a woman, as she has spent every minute of her life the same condition. She cannot think of any other situation other than sex in which most people were more familiar and comfortable interacting with someone completely unlike them. Throughout the history of humanity people have performed most of their habits with people that were similar to them. However, in sex, the more unlike and different a person is, the more erotic, exciting, and satisfying it seems to be. Only in sex are the boundaries of prejudice and broken. Perhaps that's part of the mystery of why sex is such a transfixing and fascinating art.
She reads through the rest of the page, feeling immensely satisfied. The satisfaction she gains from reading the posts does not deter her from fantasizing about the satisfaction that could only be gained by contacting one these solicitors. Still, she is daily beguiled by the enigma of insecurity, and considers that she will probably never have the courage to come out from behind her electronic curtain.
She decides to refresh the page before she logs off, just in case someone has posted in the last ten minutes.
There, at the top of the page is the new, unhighlighted title "I can't believe I'm doing this."
Her heart jumps, her spin quiver. The guilty ones are always the most interesting. They are then, both scandalous and novice. People rarely feel very guilty after cheating for a long time. Time and pleasure numb them, she has assumed.
"27 year old busness man. Looking for something steamy and scandlous. Let's pretend you're married even if you're not. Let's try things your way. Let's not even ask each other's names. I’m in shape. I can go for a while. You won’t regret it"
What a verse. A tingly chill travels down her spine. Longing and obsession overcomes her. Reading the post over and over, for twenty minutes she sits staring at the screen. Heat causing her to blush and her ears to warm and then melt down her neck and back. Staring. At the words. At the number.
She begins taking a more tactical look at the post. She assumes he is lying about being twenty-seven. She guesses that he is actually closer to her own age. The truth is, there just aren't many twenty-seven year olds who are that confident. But beyond that, she is a little unnerved by the misspelling. Of course, even if he is too confident to her liking, she could take pleasure in the fact that she was smarter. A nice consolation, though not substitute, for being more experienced. Of course, she thought, she couldn’t ever become more experienced if she had to settle for the ordeal that occurred bi-weekly with Phil and averaged four minutes and left her feeling that perhaps she had only imagined it to begin with.
Still, she feels that, perhaps, she has finally found the perfect starter lover. This would be the true fulfillment of her addiction, which was largely undefined considering she had never even under its tangible influence. Like a baby born addicted to heroin, it occurs to her that she has been dealing with a sex addiction, not a post addiction. This could be the new beginning to her life. This could give her the ground she needed to become the assertive, independent and powerful person that she always dreams of being.
Under the provocative invitation is a number and instruction to call after nine. It is only 8:30. She should take a shower, and thoroughly consider all of the repercussions of such an act of unfaithfulness.
As she makes her way up the stairs, she thinks about her marriage. The twelve-year ordeal that began when she was twenty-one interrupted her junior year of college. She was majoring in English and dreamed of being a literary critic or an editor. She had come from a conservative family produced like the potatoes in an equally conventional Midwest town in Idaho. She met Phil at a party after meeting Jose Cuervo and had lost her clothes in about ten minutes after learning his name. It was that simple, as his aforementioned prowess had not diminished but was rather just much the same as when it was in college, act that led to a pregnancy which led to the marriage.
For all these years she has tried to convince herself that they were destined to marry and that if the baby that brought them together had not remained viable, they would not have been left them void of a reason to be married. She has tried to escape the disappointment of never attaining her degree; of never becoming anything other to the people around her than Mommy. Before, she had assumed that she would have a more prestigious title. She has also tried to forget that Phil asked several years after their wedding what she had studied at school. She has tried mostly to convince herself that the three subsequent children were truly the equivalent of the happiness she had sought in literature. She has never been thoroughly sure of any of that though.
As she undresses in front of the mirror, she gazes upon the renegade stretch marks that run zig-zagging across her formerly-perfect stomach. She never considered herself of great beauty, but a great stomach she did have. Even now it laid perfectly flat, it's only imperfections were the stretch marks.
If asked to divulge a dark secret many women who have been married for a long time would admit to leaving many hygienic rituals unattended. Such was the case in the shower of Shirly Stanley most days when she would only shave to her knee, rather than all the way to bikini line, and beyond. At its longest, the hair on her thighs had reached a peak of about a quarter inch, but today, she finds herself desiring a much sexier charisma, and seeks it out by leaving everything below the hips completely hairless.
Out of the shower, she moisturizes and applies her anti-aging cream. Throughout the entire bathing, she hasn’t been able her mind completely off of the post that still is on the screen of her laptop.
She pulls her bathrobe on and goes back downstairs to the desk where the computer is. She begins to scrutinize the post. She has never even considered contacting someone who hadn't posted a picture. That's a true gamble, and was it worth taking on her first adventure into adultery?
She opens her cell phone and dials the first five digits. Hangs up. Sighs.
She waits an ear-pounding eternity totaling forty seconds and then dials the number again, this time its entirety.
Two and half rings pass with intense apprehension. It was during those three rings that the images from her entire marriage passes through her mind. Much like people, whom Shirly dismisses as being poor authorities on the subject as they, by default are actually alive, claim one’s entire life does just before it ends. However, these imaging do not deter her from desiring the experience of an unknown man experiencing an unknown woman. She imagines his hair, his chest. She has never been a muscle enthusiast, but in the infinity condensed into the seconds-long wait for the man to answer, she imagines his body being the most sinewy she has ever laid eyes on. Even now, at the point when her audacity has climaxed to fullest she can recall she still blushes at the thought of him seeing her spindly stretch marks. A bit of perspiration forms on her neck, and another chill dances down her spine.
Just then the ring is cut off and she hears the phone click and then fall. Following what sound like a gust of wind aimed directly into the other end’s receiver, she hears a tirade of cursing come out of a male voice and then finally an inquisitive "Hello..."
Why is that we always answer the phone as a question? Shirly has often contemplated that everyone always poses the question of "hello". Hello is a word with two meanings. Shirly can’t remember the term for such words at the moment but she knows that most people would not place hello into that category. We never confidently assert the statement of hello, but we always use it as interrogatory expression to discover who is on the other end. However, face to face, it is a straightforward, plain device to greet another person.
She feels her voice leave her larynx as if it is a firefly being released out of a glass jar. Her tongue begins to swell. It is very possible that she will choke on her tongue and die right here before ever having the opportunity to experience the twenty-seven year old nameless business man.
"Hi, there." She says in her most low, grainy voice. If she heard herself, she would undoubtedly think that she was trying to make her voice sound sexy, which she would have ordinarily, but in this case the voice is merely the result of struggling to speak at all.
"Well, hello Mrs. Stanley! It's about time. It's nine-fifteen! How does the new line sound?" Says the businessman. Says Phil. Said Husband. Says Daddy. Says Cheat. Says Liar. Says Deadman.
"Oh. Um. It sounds great, Dear. You're the furniture king, Love. How very accomplished you are for such a young age." Says Shirly. Says Wife. Says Mommy. Says Sex Addict. Says Liar. Says Cheat. Says Shaved.
"Thanks. I…don’t feel so young," says Husband.
"No? I’d say you don’t look a day over twenty-seven, “ says Wife.
"Uh…yeah. Hey it’s real busy up here. You have no idea." Says Husband.
"No. I think I do." Says Wife.
"Oh really?" Says Husband. Says Dumbass. Says Clueless.
"Yes. And Honey, would you please pick up some eggs on your way home?" Said Wife.
"Absolutely,” says Husband. Says philistine.
"Thank you,” says Shirly.