Fear struck him as he was turning onto the ramp for the interstate. He ran through his list again to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. “Scouring pads, check. Barilla pasta, check (Penne, check). Wine, check.” “Fuck, did I get the Rosé or did I just pick up a chardonnay which I wasn’t supposed to?” He turned around to discern the wine bottle in the heap of plastic bags but it was hazy and out of reach. Worse, he couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t he just remember this little detail? Was it because it was a detail or because it was little? Aren’t all details little? If God is in the details Trevor was most definitely an atheist.
In his frantic mental regression of the day’s grocery trip he almost ran into a truck changing lanes. He slowed down immediately, partly to calm his nerves but mostly to escape the glares and invectives of the enraged truck driver. Fuck. And double-fuck. Why couldn’t he pay attention to more than one thing at a time? (He could just imagine his wife laughing at the thought of Trevor paying attention to ANYTHING at all).
His wife. She was a sweet woman. Is a sweet woman. No, WAS a sweet woman, thought Trevor. But who was he kidding? It was this unending cycle of screw-ups that had brought them to where they were today – constantly sparring with rapiers. No quarter given but one always asked for. Trevor asked and always received it. Their relationship had gradually deteriorated into this tenuous avatar on account of Trevor’s unreliability. He forgot small things. He forgot big things. In fact, the only thing he never forgot was to forget. Rita put up with this behavior in the beginning, thinking of it as one of those small things. Soon, she started doubting that assessment. Every incomplete task ruined her increasingly hectic schedule. It was funny how the small things always piled up and caused the most misery.
There had been many ugly scenes. Intense frustration had driven Rita to question the very basis of their relationship; was it even worth it. Trevor had always lived in a fool’s paradise of love and trust without realizing the lava boiling underneath the surface. They had each other, what more could they want? Well, Rita wanted a lot more. The big problems in life were like fearsome storms rocking a catamaran. There was little one could do but pray and hope. You were fooling yourself if you thought you were capable of affecting the course of the storm. It was the little screw-ups that irked her precisely because they could be avoided with human intervention. Trevor disagreed.
He swore there were times when life would play cruel jokes on him. Like the time it sent a horribly short, sharp and intense burst of rain which drenched all the clothes he had painstakingly put out to dry. His plan was to wash, dry and iron them before Rita got home, a chore she had delegated in the morning. The rain just made it look as if he had forgotten all about it and then washed the clothes at the last minute.
He could feel another ugly scene coming. With a growing sense of dread he parked the car and rushed in to the house with forced cheerfulness. God help him if he had fucked up. God help him and this relationship because Rita was going to start some shit. He started unpacking the groceries and putting them into the fridge or store with amazing alacrity. Anything to get this task out of sight and out of mind quickly. Rita heard him and sauntered over to watch him put away the groceries.
“Got the pasta?”
“Yes, of course. Barilla penne, right? It’s right here” he said cheerfully brandishing the packet in triumph. He quickly gathered himself and got on with his work.
“Good. What about the cocoa? I need to carry brownies over to Jennifer’s tomorrow.”
“Yep! Right here!” Trevor thought it was a cheerful leprechaun speaking in his stead.
“What about the baking soda?”
He fumbled the packet of Krispies as he almost put it into the sink instead of the cupboard above it. He couldn’t remember if he had bought it or not. Every cell inside him screamed in agony at the thought of retracing the long and laborious path involved in picking up 40 items on a grocery list. But he had to, and he couldn’t. He bravely soldiered on with an unconvincing “must be there somewhere dear….just look.”
“Can’t find it” said Rita rummaging through the unopened bags. “Did you leave it in the car?”
“I’ll just check” said Trevor and sprinted out into the parking lot, mindful of the growing stormcloud in the sky and possibly, inside the house. Of course it wasn’t in the car. Why would it be? Why would the Al-fucking-mighty ever pass up some free entertainment at his expense? He took a deep breath and went back in.
“It isn’t there.”
“Are you sure you bought it? You DO know I HAVE to prepare the brownies and a cake for school tomorrow, right? Please tell me you haven’t forgotten. Please.”
Trevor looked balefully at his list and then the grocery bags. There had been a chance he could’ve done this right. Before he left the store there was half a chance he had bought everything he had to.
And then, suddenly, there were none.
Rita exploded. Her fury struck terror into Trevor’s heart. This was the last straw for her. What followed was a mind-numbing, soul-crushing tirade excoriating Trevor down to the last vestiges of his self-respect and sense of being. She had wasted her life with this ingrate and wasn’t prepared to suffer anymore. If he had any sense he’d just cease to exist, run away, kill himself. Anything. She just couldn’t take it anymore. Trevor knew this time it was for real. A line had been crossed which he could never step back from. Rita was inconsolable.
Later that night Trevor sat alone on the porch, trying to piece together the broken shards of what could have been a wonderful evening. A wonderful life. He was humiliated, embarrassed and just very, very sad. Further struggle carried with it the probability of faltering again. Rita was never going to give him a chance. Rita may not even be there tomorrow morning. He strained to hear what was happening inside the house. Was she packing? Was she speaking to someone on the phone? The doubt was killing him. Why wait for doubt?
He stood up, unsure if he had actually managed to with his dejected, stooping back and slumped shoulders. What was left of his strength pushed him into the house and toward the kitchen. He walked over to the oven. As he turned it on to full tilt he said a little prayer. A prayer of thanks for the years with Rita he had been unworthy of. A prayer of forgiveness for the misery he had caused her. Then he opened the door of the oven and quietly put his head inside. As the gas started to asphyxiate him he struggled to keep his hands from saving him. He let them scratch against the door of the oven, leaving nail fragments and deep marks the investigators would find the next morning. Then he let himself go quietly into the night.
Next morning found Rita sitting in a hospital corridor, almost lifeless. Like her consort currently in the ICU. She moved her listless head with great reluctance only because she saw a nurse running out of her husband’s room shouting “Doctor, he’s awake! Doctor…”
She escaped from what seemed like the infinite gravity of the hospital bench and ran inside to see Trevor. He was blinking in the bright sunshine streaming through the window.
“Hi Rita. What happened?”
Rita didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but the sight of Trevor, finally responsive and more importantly, out of danger cut through any anger or sadness she felt. She tried to beam, like those rays coming in through the window.
Trevor’s head hurt. “Rita, how am I alive?”
“Yes, HOW are you alive you fucking bastard?” she snarled holding back tears. She sat beside him and gently caressed his head.
“Trevor. You’re alive and that’s all that matters. Believe me. I don’t ever want you to think you don’t mean the world to me. We’ll work through our differences. Hell, I’ll even put up with you but don’t ever do this again. YOU UNDERSTAND?” She was trying to smile but the tears flowed freely now.
“Of course baby” said Trevor, weakly. “But how did I get here?”
Rita looked him in the eye and said “You forgot to pay the utility bill. The gas knocked you unconscious but it stopped soon after. The smell woke me up and I called 911. You screwed it up, baby. But this time, I don’t mind.”
Trevor and Rita stared at each other for a long time. Then Trevor burst out laughing. So did Rita but by now no one could make out anything because their heads were buried deep into each other’s bodies in a relieved, pulsing bundle of mirth and hope.