portion of the artwork for Ethel Rohan's story

Ethel Rohan

The list of accidents grew: a pebble cracked their windshield, a jam jar smashed on the kitchen tiles; a grocery bag burst—and shattered glass floated in red wine and egg yolks; and a hot Pyrex dish exploded into smithereens. Somehow, no one hurt. More, no matter how much she wiped down her kitchen counters and swept her kitchen floor, still she found pieces of glass, glinting up at her. Her husband said she was making something out of nothing.

She worked six twelve-hour shifts a week at the drugstore next to the mall. Supposed to be a starter job out of City College, she’d worked at the store eight years and counting. Wary now—since the accidents—she handled customers’ glass purchases with extra care, tense while she scanned and packed the items. The more careful she tried to be, the clumsier she became. During one shift a jar of mayonnaise smashed; during others, mustard, beetroot, San Pellegrino. Her manager pulled her aside and asked if she was working under the influence. She blinked and stuttered through his rank breath. Her wits recovered, she told him that if he wanted to get personal he should know about his halitosis, should clear the green pus from the inner corners of his eyes.

On the bus ride home, a baby in chalk-blue pajamas wailed. His mother bounced him on her knees, rocked him in her arms, shushed and cooed, waved brightly colored toys in front of his too-red face. Still the baby wailed. She closed her eyes to the baby and his mother, to her reflection in the bus window. They didn’t have kids. Something the doctors couldn’t explain. Sometimes she thought she only wanted babies because they would give her a break from the drugstore. Other times she thought their childlessness was for the best. On their salaries they couldn’t afford a family. Her husband sold life insurance. Seemed people didn’t care anymore about what they left behind. He’d practiced his sales pitches on her. More and more, he sounded like he was pleading with a doctor to save him.

As soon as she arrived home, she phoned her husband at work to remind him they were out of beer and wine. Get those sour cream and onion chips, too, she added. Time was, she purchased the alcohol at a ten percent discount from the drugstore. Then her coworkers and manager started to watch and whisper. She chewed harder on the side of her thumb. Maybe she should call her husband back and tell him to forget the chips. Hardly any of her clothes fit anymore. Her mouth watered. What was living if she couldn’t have her few treats every evening, some chips with wine before dinner after a hard day’s work. She thought to phone her mother, but felt too tired. She really should call her sister, too, one of these days. They hadn’t spoken in months.

She moved into her living room, turned on the table lamp with its happy yellow shade, and watched through the window for her husband’s silver car to appear. Her reflection stared back, flat and pale. For a mad moment she thought to grab the table lamp and hurl it through the glass. She closed her eyes and steadied her breathing. She listened for the familiar sound of the car’s engine, her husband moving up the front path, the bottles hitting together.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 29 | Summer 2010