Guilt Trip by rl goldberg

Our preacher says, “We are the salt of the earth.” We pick up take-out on the way home. Our driveway is mottled with oil stains from our daughter’s car. Our son won’t come to the table when we call for him. He is cutting T-shirts into long strips. He says he is going to tie them together and hang himself in the garage tonight because we won’t buy him a car, which speaks not to his wants but his resentment for being the unfavored child. He tells us to save his dessert in the refrigerator for tomorrow. My husband texts his mistress with one hand and squeezes my nipple with his other. I am certain that, like every night, his mistress is at home tending to her husband, a supposed paraplegic. My husband reads her response out loud. The mistress messages back that she wants to smother her husband in his sleep. She writes that he won’t even be able to fight back, not like a real man would. She wants to know if this makes my husband randy. She wants to know the dirty perverted things he will do to her. Our dinner is too hot to eat yet. Our son calls, “How much weight can the pipes hold?” We say, “Don’t know, how much do you weigh?” Our daughter is out. She had bruises on her collarbone this morning at breakfast. We said, “Did you fall down the stairs?” She said, “My boyfriend beats me.” Her brother, our son, said, “Good joke.” She said, “I pity you.” Our son yells from upstairs, “Mom. Mom, Mom. Mom,” ad infinitum. His father, my husband says, “Let him self-soothe.” He is eating butter from the refrigerator with his fingers. He says, “I got some dirt in here.” He loosens his tie and unbuckles his belt. I sit at the table and practice my posture and wait for dinner to cool. The steam still rises. It can’t stay hot forever. I realize that I’m not one of those women who has good sex. I want to be one of those women who doesn’t stop in the middle to remove a stray hair from her tongue. I begin to sob and pull my hair into a bun. My husband says, “That is not behavior becoming of my girlie.” My mother calls from the nursing home. My husband, her son-in-law, answers with butter on his upper lip. He says that I am on a business trip. I hear my mother’s voice break before the line goes dead. I am a pedicurist. I paint over my client’s cuticles rather than trimming them; that is my secret. My husband’s mistress sends a string of text messages. His phone vibrates in circles on the glass tabletop. He skids on the tile as he scrambles to his phone. He reads the messages out loud. All ten say, “I did it.” I snatch the phone and write, “Your phone is malfunctioning. It just sent the same message ten times.” She writes back, “No, I just can’t believe it. I was processing and it was still true each time I wrote that I did it.” My husband cradles his head in his hands. He says, “This is just like Fatal Attraction. I feel nauseated.” I say, “She’s obviously lying, it’s pathological. I’ve even seen her husband walk. Get it? He’s not a paraplegic.” My husband slams his hand onto the tile floor. I jump. He shows me the dead roach in his hand as if to surprise me, but I heard the chitin crunch before I saw the body. I say, “Be a big boy and wash your hands before we say grace.” My son screams from upstairs, “In some countries roaches are a delicacy. You two don’t appreciate anything.” I mouth to my husband, “He is always listening.” We are being watched by our children. My husband washes his hands at the kitchen sink. We sit down at the table. We are quiet. We hear our son slicing through cotton T-shirts with the meat scissors. He took the scissors from the kitchen. My husband’s phone vibrates. It is his mistress’s husband this time. We don’t read the message yet. We don’t need to; it will just prove that I’m right; he isn’t dead. We say grace. My husband salts and peppers both of our plates. He says, “I wish our daughter were here.” Upstairs, we hear our son stop cutting. We hear him gently lay the scissors on his pine desk. We hear him creep onto the floor and rest his ear on the floorboard, body prostrate on the floor above us. My husband cuts into his meat with a water-stained butter knife. He says, “You know what would be the worst? If our daughter was a lesbian.” Upstairs, we hear our son breathe, “She is.”

rl is a third-year MFA at the University of Florida, and a 2012 graduate of Harvard College. rl sometimes tweets @rl_goldberg.