Time For Play

 

My husband sits on the floor playing the stupid game I bought for his 30th birthday. I smack him over the head. He doesn’t move.

I’m leaving,” I say.

“Yeah.”

“How do I look?” I bite my lip. My hair is curled and the bags under my eyes concealed. For once I feel sexy.

“Good.” His eyes stay focused on the screen. Of course. I don’t have time for this.

“Dinner’s in the oven. Leave the Xbox alone and play with the kids, okay? ” I whisper in a rush.

He scratches his three-day beard and finally looks at me. “No way, the kids would love to play.” He grins showing off a dimple. I don’t smile.

I refuse to slip away unnoticed even though I know what’s coming. Anxiety turns my stomach.

“Guys, I’m leaving.” Every time I say goodbye it feels like my heart is being left behind, held by miniature dimpled fingers. Lev’s tears immediately start strolling down his cheeks like they’re trying to win one of his toy car races. He claws his face and screams his betrayal. His older sister doesn’t help the situation.

“Mommy, where you going?” Leah asks over Lev’s whimpers. Matt tries to calm our son. He fails. As usual.

“Out to see some of mommy’s friends.”

“Why?” She asks, pulling on her dark brown hair.

Because I forgot the adult word for boo-boo.

Because I haven’t pooped without kids sneaking into the bathroom for weeks.

Because I need to remember who I am.

I just say, “Because Mommy wants a playdate like you have sometimes.” Except with wine.

Her tears join her brother’s. I sigh. Ann is waiting at the restaurant. My short time of freedom is counting down like Cinderella at the ball.

I smooch two soft cheeks, heart chipping away. I plant a quick kiss on Matt’s stubble, which hurts, and leave.

Finally.

The night air is crisp. I feel naked without my kids beside me. My stomach twists into knots. Morbid thoughts plague my mind as I walk to the car, skinny heels crunching in the snow. I have a feeling I will die tonight. It’s a calm but sure emotion. I shiver.

The music at Chuggy’s Bar and Grill is almost as loud as my kids’ screams, but it can’t drown out the thoughts in my head. Are they okay? Did Leah take a bath without a tantrum? Does Lev have his blue bear? I look at my phone: no new messages. That’s supposed to be a good thing, right? But what if Matt can’t call?

“Leave your phone alone already. They’re fine. Relax.” Ann’s voice is shrill like a bug. Makeup clouds her lids in an attempt at shading but it makes her small eyes beady. She always reminded me of that woman from Friends. I half expect her to screech “Oh. My. Gawd!”

Yet somehow I love her.

The wine tastes bitter. I want to relax, but mommy guilt and that anxious feeling twisting in my gut makes it difficult. Plus, what does Ann know? She doesn’t have any kids to serve. There is a look of judgment in her gray eyes which says, “I will not be like that when I have kids.” Right.

The handsome waiter with his thick 50s style glasses and hairless chin arrives with our food. He’s young. Sandy blond hair sweeps across his frames like a Ferrari’s windshield wipers as he lays our plates. An oval shaped mole dots his left hand as if God stamped him worthy. He half-smiles at me. I twist my curled hair. My breath catches as I wonder what he’d feel like. A giggle rises in my belly. I squash it. I’m married.

I dig into my hunk of meat to distract myself. The steak tastes like angels relaxing on a juicy cloud. Relief. Six weeks wash away in one bite. I lean back in my wooden chair and sigh. No boxed macaroni and cheese or hot dog for dinner tonight. No food to cut except my own. My steak has a warm red center and is hot. Hot. Who could imagine?

“Good?” Ann smirks.

I just smile.

The waiter returns. “How’s everything?”

“It’s tasty,” I say with a nod and swallow.

The meat falls down my windpipe and decides to stay for a visit. I cough but nothing happens. Not a breath. I try again, muscles clenching, but nothing. Aww crap, how embarrassing. I stand up and decide sort myself out in the ladies room around the corner. Good thing it’s close by. Ann doesn’t even notice; the waiter has her entertained.
On the way I try to gag, but still nothing. Thankfully, the bathroom is empty. I grab the edge of the counter, make my body and stiff as a statue and hit my chest hoping the blockage will come out. The meat won’t budge.
One twisted black hair sits on the edge of the porcelain sink. The mirror’s water spots cover my pale face and blue lips. Black dots scurry around my vision like tiny bugs. I pound my chest again and again and still nothing. Panic settles in. My heart starts beating like a butterfly’s wings.

No time to call for an ambulance. Screw my pride; a mother loses that during labor anyway. I open the door to the bathroom and start making the I-am-choking-help-me-now gesture to anyone near.
An older couple chews their pasta. The woman squints through her glasses, raises one white eyebrow and goes back to eating.

“Help,” I scream in my head.

“Oh my God,” Ann’s whiney voice has never sounded so good. “Come on, cough it up,” She yells and slaps my back. Nothing. She wraps her thin arms around my body and pushes as hard as she can in an unpracticed Heimlich maneuver. It hurts, but still nothing. She tries a couple times more, then stops. I can hear her sniffling. She’s given up.

Crap.

I knew I was going to die today. Now that it’s happening it’s so much worse than I thought it would be. I am not ready.

True fear strikes my fluttering heart.

I can’t leave this world yet. Lev’s so small. Would he ever get over my betrayal? All I want is to see him grow tall and become the racecar driver he insists he will be. And Leah, my little stinker. I need to see her veiled and dressed in white. To watch her dance with her father wearing a smile only daddy can give. I need to see Matt. To kiss his painful beard and tell him how much I still love him, even after ten years of in sickness and health. I promise not to complain about his Xbox anymore. But the beard has to go.

As my vision tunnels, the only thing I can think is how I want my kids interrupt me when I’m in the bathroom. To forget adult words because the kid versions are better anyway. I just want to play with dolls and matchbox cars, and even the childish Xbox.

Please God, let me play with them. Let me hug my husband. Let me watch my tiny humans grow.
I am caught by strong hands, the left one with an oval shaped mole. They shove hard and in short compressions below my sternum. Still nothing.

My knees buckle. This is it. If I had breath, I would cry. I thank God for the life he gave me and wait for the darkness. The hands push again. Stronger. I hear a crack of a rib and the meat slops out of my mouth, a wet blob.
I breathe, and sob. The unhelpful room of people clap, the old woman’s eyes wide. Fifteen seconds later I feel normal, except for a painful rib. No bother. I smile and check my phone.

Matt:

The kids went to bed fine. Lev is snuggling his bear and Leah smells like baby soap. Playing Xbox. 😛

Mascara tears pour down Ann’s face. The waiter -blond superman- is happy to offer comfort, hands low on her back. I leave him an extra-large tip by my chilled steak and head home to play stupid video games with my husband.

 

This story was part of the Spring Writing Contest that took place a couple months ago. I didn’t win but my story did make the short list! You can read all the stories here.

I would love to read your work. Link up or share in the comments!

 

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