For Course 201-Emotional Amplifiers
The afternoon sun was luxuriously warm against her hair and her neck as she sat at the kitchen table, engrossed in her task. It was 2:45, and working on this tedious article for almost two hours had put a flaming knot in her lower back.
She surmised she had at least an hour's worth of work left to do before she could submit it to her editor. A weight settled on her chest as she imagined finishing it after everyone else went to bed. The house would be quiet and dark, and she would be exhausted.
She looked up from the computer and scanned the room. Unfolded laundry dominated the loveseat. It was no longer a loveseat, it was a multicolored mountain. Debris spotted the rugs and tufts of dustballs rolled gracefully with the breeze from the open window. "Ghost turds..." she chuckled to herself. Dishes adorned with flecks of that morning's breakfast were scattered around the kitchen countertops.
The familiar pressure of shortness of breath descended. It would really be courteous to sort this mess before everyone got home, but time was scolding her for choosing to do something else: "Should've been paying attention to the rest of your life, Laura...Priorities!"
She tried to take a full breath, but it stopped halfway down, not quite reaching her diaphragm. She decided she wouldn't let it get out of control today, she would do the breathing exercises her shrink had taught her. The brown paper bag she breathed deeply into smelled like the paperbacks of the library.
"OK, I get it already..." she answered her conscience.
The thick curtain of her thoughts dampened the sound of the clatter of dishes unloading from the dishwasher. So much to do, she realized budgeting the evening hour by hour would be wise. She would write it down after she finished with the dishwasher.
Her attention snapped to the metallic tinkle of the silverware when she realized a thunderstorm was descending upon her cranium. The pain made itself known gradually, thwarting her efforts to stay focused. Her attention was hopelessly bound to her body now. She realized he had to pee.
"I'll finish this dishwasher, take some ibuprofen, pee, and then plan the evening." She thought.
On the way back from the bathroom, she was still attempting to refrain from gulping down her breaths.
Gathering dirty socks and hoodies cluttering the floor and the back of the sofa, her head pounded louder every time she bent down. It was like a toddler demanding attention.
It was 3:00 now. The urge to pee had been replaced with a hollow gurgle in the depths of her stomach. She was starving.
Clearly at odds with each other, her motivation had no desire to fix a turkey sandwich, but her body told her it wanted a buffet. She settled on a slim fast.
"Ok, what is the timeline here?" She asked the empty living room. "Finish loading dishwasher and cleaning kitchen. Start laundry, fold the mountain on the sofa. Vacuum ghost turds. Start dinner. OK, got it."
The hunger and the headache had teamed up. They refused to leave her alone.
The familiar "shuk-shuk" of the garage door opening made her smile; it heralded the arrival of one of the ankle-biters. Also it reminded her of the sound spaceship doors make when they open and close.
He was filthy. Grass stains decorated the knees of the khaki pants she had washed yesterday. Dirt cascaded in a pattern of splatter down one hip. His face, red and sweaty, greeted her with a toothy, gappy grin.
"Hey! How was school?" She asked cheerfully.
"Good." He replied. He threw his backpack on the floor, and removed his shoes, leaving them in the center of the floor in front of the stairs. He bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Rage began to bubble from her throat to her mouth. "GET BACK DOWN HERE!!!!"
He thumped back down the stairs. She caught a whiff of goat as she leaned in to his space.
"Please. Put your shoes away. Put your lunchbox in the kitchen. Get your backpack out of the middle of the floor." Her headache intensified as she uttered the words as calmly as she could through clenched teeth. Her jaw was a vice.
Huffing and puffing, he did as he was told.
"Do. You. Have. Homework." It was more a statement than a question, she already knew the answer.
"Yeah, but it's no big deal! It'll take me, like, fifteen minutes!"
"Then sit your butt down and get it knocked out, please." She wanted to sigh, but she still couldn't catch a full breath."
He up snatched the backpack, the motion was humorous. He had forgotten how heavy it was.
He sat at the kitchen table, hunched over the paper, writing furiously. His tongue was stuck out of his mouth as he erased and rewrote, erased and rewrote. She couldn't help but smile at this hot mess sitting at her table.
"Oh the germs..." she thought affectionately, "So glad I can't see them."
The last thing she was actually mindful of for the next two hours was getting the chicken out of the refrigerator to thaw. The rest was sort of a cloud of headache, breathlessness, and annoyance.
The other two emerged through the garage door much as the first had, only chattering like monkeys. It was as if the Amazon had barged through the door.
Choruses of bickering, laughter, and farting sounds permeated the house. At one point she realized she had folded laundry mountain, although she didn't remember doing it.
"EVERYONE GET YOUR SHIT DONE, NOW!!!!" Shouting explicative at her children was shamefully gratifying.
"I'm sorry. Will you all please get your stuff out of the middle of the floor, settle down, and get your homework done? Please?"
The house fell silent. Relief flooded her wrung chest.
"OK..." they were all blissfully timid.
She entered the kitchen with her head still swirling with thought. No amount of shouting could intimidate that into submission.
"I'm going to start dinner." She said gently, attempting to make amends.
"What are we having?" Her youngest asked brightly from the table.
"Food." Snapped one of her oldest.
Her glare could've caused his spontaneous combustion. He looked down at his paper.
"We're having chicken, baby. I'm not sure what to make with it yet."
"Can we have Mac and cheese?!? Pleeeeeeeze??"
She felt the annoyance begin to bubble again. She struggled through clenched teeth to force it back to it's hole.
"If we have it. Now get your work done please."
As she chopped vegetables, her head thumped at her attention again. It was an unrelenting bully. "Did I take those ibuprofen?" She thought. "When was the last time I had a glass of water today?"
She had at least another 30 minutes of prep time for dinner. And another 45 of shouting, cleaning, and hugging. How in God's name was she going to get dinner ready before the sun rose tomorrow?
The familiar shuk-shuk of the garage door refocused her attention. Her husband entered with a cheerful "Hey everyone! How was your day?"
She wanted to throw the butcher knife at him, stop chopping broccoli and chuck it clear across the room. She wondered if she could do one of those knife throwing tricks she had seen at the freak-show on the boardwalk in Santa Monica last summer.
He piled his backpack, sweater, jacket, and hat on the back of the sofa. It was becoming nearly impossible to stifle a scream. Everyone was chatting and laughing with each other, but she couldn't stop imagining setting the kitchen on fire and watching it burn as she laughed diabolically.
Her husband looked into her face. She lifted her eyes to meet his. A lump that was impossible to swallow formed in her throat as she looked into his blue eyes. Tears began to swell and threatened to spill down her cheeks, betraying her pride.
"Hey... how was your day?" He asked carefully. He had seen this expression on her face before, and he knew any wrong inflection in his voice could detonate the landmines scattered in her mind.
"F-fine..." her voice cracked. "Chicken..."
He hugged her tightly, and she shuddered. She hid her face in the soft folds of his shirt. It smelled deliciously like fresh laundry. "At least I got that dealt with..." she thought.
He pulled back and looked into her face. Taking the knife from her hand and laying on the counter, he surveyed the scene. "Do you want dinner here?"
She sighed heavily. "Not in the least."
He turned to the boys at the kitchen table.
"All right, you little punks. If you're finished with your homework, take that basket of laundry upstairs and put it away, and vacuum in here. Get all of this done within the next thirty minutes or you'll stay here with peanut butter sandwiches while your mother and I go to that new pizza place on the corner where the sushi place used to be."
They looked at him as if he had three heads.
"NOW! I mean it!"
They scrambled in a frenzy from the table. They looked like roaches scattering from a dark kitchen.
He retrieved a beer glass and a wine glass from the cabinet, poured her a glass of wine and handed it to her.
"Go chill for a few minutes." He said gently as he poured himself a beer. "I'll put all this stuff away, consider it prepped for tomorrow."
He kissed her forehead and patted her on the behind as she left the kitchen.
As she collapsed onto the couch in front of the x-files, she remembered why she had gotten married and had children in the first place.