Fiction Fragment: Shoes Off In the House

Janine loves this apartment. When they moved in, she designed the space intentionally- an aesthetic she calls “elevated embrace.” Cozy velvet upholstered furniture. Mahogany coffee table with organic edges. Everything is awash in warm, amber-colored lights. None of that sterile industrial vibe or harsh furniture from Max’s loft.

It can be especially welcoming at this time of the day. Work is done, the sun is setting, music is playing quietly in the background, and Max is in the kitchen, starting dinner. Her favorite routine they share.

He’s already changed into his favorite sweats- the worn, gray Nike ones with hems so frayed that the backs practically have holes at the heels and the blotchy coffee stain on the thigh that won’t ever come out. His head is buried in the refrigerator, bare foot tapping to the music.

“Hey,” she leans against the counter. “How was your day?”

“It was fine. Can you take your bag off the counter?” He leans back, hands full with heavy cream and a block of parmesan, the faintest hint of an eye roll visible as he rests the food on the counter.

It’s always like this with Max. There is usually some cardinal sin she’s committed- like putting the wrong color book on an improper shelf. “Okay.. sure. It’s not that bi-” 

The eye roll is blatant as he barks over her. “It’s DISGUSTING. You’ve been on the subway in the city. We’ve talked about this so many times, J.”

“Whatever. FINE. If it’ll get you off my back. Jesus!” She swipes the bag onto the floor, contents spilling like a fireworks display across the kitchen tiles. They glare at each other, gazes softening before averting, shame washing over them both. She washes her hands and makes small talk as she joins him in dinner prep. 

Max puts a pot of rice on the stove as Janine crushes garlic, removing cloves from their papery shells. Suddenly she stops and looks up, brow furrowed, knife still clutched. “Wait- where are the lentils? Don’t we need them for the salad?”

He stills, jaw clenched. Immediately she knows- she’s made a mistake. “I swear to GOD, Janine. You just hear whatever you want, do whatever you want. You NEVER listen to me.” 

“Are you serious right now? I just thought we were having lamb chops- that’s all! So how is this another episode of Janine can’t do anything right?” As she looks at him, she sees how angry he is, but how quiet and still, and somehow that is worse than all the other fights in the past where they’ve shouted or even thrown insults.  

He blinks slowly, stands up straight, and wipes his hands on a dish towel. Then, without looking at her, he walks out of the kitchen. “I can’t do this right now.”

She can feel the tears welling up, the panic rising like an ache in her chest and a lump in her throat.

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

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