When Meredith’s husband Aaron walked in the door, tired from working on the job site, she sat at her desk, absorbed in reading articles about the rare autoimmune disorder her mom had died from, highlighting portions of text. The baby cried, dinner remained unmade, toys skittered across the floor at Aaron’s heavy footfalls.
He disappeared for the shower, a two-hour process in which he listened to the radio while dismantling his layers of filthy clothes. Meanwhile, Meredith slammed down her highlighters and reordered her desk. She barked commands at the older children to pick up their toys, and threw together an edible dinner one-handed [the baby in the crook of her other arm].
She couldn’t continue this way, exhausted, grieving for her mom, who died three months ago. Didn’t Aaron consider her grief when he sat in silence at the table, his lip upturned at her execution of leftover spaghetti and refried beans that still bore the imprint of the can? Couldn’t he hear the baby cry, the children whine, or the sadness pounding in her heart?
She needed to take charge, organize her house, and forget about her husband’s bad attitude. She needed to unpack the multitude of book boxes she’d culled from her parents’ garage at her dad’s insistence [they’re all female books, he’d claimed]. Her parents were archetypes: Dad a take-charge man and no reader of fiction, Mom a supporting wife who read fluff and self-help books. And they were happy, or at least at peace with one another until death parted them.
The next day, when Meredith dared slit open the first box, she was taken aback at what she discovered inside–not self-help manuals, but marital guides. Maybe her parents’ happiness was not as easy as it appeared through a daughter’s eyes, but a construct propped up by her mom. At first amused, she flipped through the pages of the wifely advice books. Then she felt troubled. According to these authors, a good wife was Meredith’s polar opposite. She flipped the books over and studied the authors’ credentials: glowing Christian PhDs, all.
Maybe Meredith did lack the essence of womanhood. In order to test the advice, she would have to try it on Aaron. Her relationship with him wasn’t in shambles so much as it was nonexistent. Carefully, she picked one piece of advice from each book and set the stage for acting them out. If all men desired sexual serving wenches, as these books suggested, then Aaron would soften at that kind of approach.
When he walked in the door that evening, a chicken already spat fat in the oven, and a tossed salad chilled in the fridge. She caught him at the door, where she bowed at his feet and untied the laces of his work boots–as one book suggested she do–and tried to yank them from his feet. Massaging his feet was the ultimate goal, and she couldn’t do that without first removing the boots. He lost his balance and fell against the door.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked. “I can’t wear my boots in the house now?”
“No, you’ve worked hard all day and…I was trying to be helpful.”
His eyes, surrounded by grit, muddied with confusion. “I can take off my own boots.”
Emotions stuffed, she watched him disappear into their bedroom. She pulled dinner from the oven and sang out that it was dinner time. Aaron, of course, didn’t hear her because he’d already turned up his radio. She set him a heaping plate of food, just as another book suggested she do, and it was cold by the time he was out of the shower, which seemed to make him angrier than the boot incident.
After a few bites of salad and chicken, he shoved the plate aside.
“Do you want me to heat your chicken up for you?” she asked. “Do you want another helping?” She was supposed to feed him a second helping before he asked, but how was she to do that when he wouldn’t eat the first?
“I grabbed a bite on the way home.” He scooted back his chair. “I’m tired. I need to go to bed.”
“Wait, I’m not ready–” But he was already gone.
“Kids, go put your pajamas on and find a sleeper for Baby.” Soon, Aaron would discover her next romantic trap, and she needed them in bed when that occurred.
From the kitchen she heard him shout, “What the…?”
Nervously, she scraped dishes and dumped them in soapy water.
He banged out of the bedroom wearing nothing but underwear. “Why does the bed reek? Did I come home to the wrong house? Are you ill?”
She stared at the soapy water, wishing she could drown in it. “I sprayed perfume on the sheets to make the bed seem romantic.”
“It’s not.” With that, he pulled a blanket and pillow from the hall closet and stretched his long body out on the couch. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you today.”
Neither did Meredith. After the dishes were done and the children tucked in their beds, she stared at the stacks of pages on her desk–her research, which she now loved more than her husband because it was unflinchingly true, albeit not toward her. What would it matter, now, if she finished with the wifely ideas? None had worked yet. She picked up the paper where she had written the list, and her mind drew lines over her failures.
Then, her eyes skipped to the last. Enliven the bedroom with a costume. If possible, greet him at the door with it. In the back of the closet, somewhere, she had stored a Wonder Woman costume from an ill-fated college party where she’d drunk too much rum and vomited on the shiny red boots. That might do the trick to bring the day to a crashingly bad close. But she also considered drinking a whole lot of wine for oblivion’s sake [not to vomit on the boots].
She yanked the costume over her extra baby curves and filled a mug with wine.
“Do you want a drink?” she asked Aaron, who still lay prone on the couch, but with a newspaper, which caused him to mutter obscenities such as what the hell is fucking wrong with these damn people?
“That’s the best damn idea you’ve had all day,” he told her.
Most of the ideas she had belonged to others, anyway. When she handed him a mug of wine, he took a big swallow as if it were beer [he probably wished it was] and glanced up at her in disgust at the taste of the Merlot.
The wine spewed from his mouth. “What are you wearing?”
“I wanted to excite you.” She covered her chest and stared at the floor.
Nothing would work. She was a loser, a freak with lactating breasts bursting out the sides of a golden eagle. She would never be a supporting wife in the vein of her mom. She might as well return to her desk and highlight yet more useless marital advice tips.
“I always wondered what Wonder Woman looked like without her costume,” Aaron said, and he used the crumpled newspaper to wipe up the wine.
Meredith raised her eyes from the floor, hopeful. She reached her hands behind her back and tugged at the zipper. As Aaron drained what was left of the Merlot, he stared at her and waited. Finally, she gave up and fell into his arms, and she cried because the zipper on her costume had caught at the bust area and she, obviously, couldn’t do anything right. But not to worry–together, they could manage to disassemble even Wonder Woman.