Warning: This story contains mature subject matter.
Peas and Carrots
By Hunter Crowther
Charlotte and Callum sat in the dining room where they ate with their two children every night. The rouge lighting bled through the empty doorway from the kitchen, setting an autumn-like atmosphere in the room that had been refurbished about a dozen times in a dozen years. The finest of samurai swords couldn't cut the tension that reigned throughout the home, mainly between the two Millennials who kept it running.
"Why aren't you answering me?” she asked.
"I...I don't know," he replied. "I have nothing."
"Well I knew that. You must have had nothing to do such a selfish act. You fucking prick."
A pair of earrings that didn't belong to Charlotte, a tube of opened-lipstick, and an unused condom were sitting on the dining room table.
"We haven't used a condom in years! You're such an idiot."
"C'mon babe, don't say th--"
"Don't fuckin' call me babe, you pencil-dicked fuck! You can call your whore babe!"
Callum knew he was in the wrong. Despite the last few years of marriage failing to find any enjoyment or excitement or any kind of -ment, he knew he was in the wrong.
“You have two daughters, what kind of dad would behave like that?”
His hands rubbed against his thighs. He could feel the friction burn in his palms.
“You’ve ruined men for them. I can’t trust any guy who comes into their liv--”
“Stop it, stop screami--”
“Zip it, you have no right to talk.”
“Don’t scream in my face.”
Charlotte slapped Callum across the cheek, leaving a hand print that included a small, but noted line from a ring on her ring finger. He stood silent. He wanted to burst into tears, the whirlwind of her revelation and the slap, the short gasps that forced him to catch his breath and get a grip on the situation.
“Charlotte,” her husband spoke softly. She didn’t interrupt him. The house was muted. “I want to talk for a minute. That’s all.”
“I want you to pack a suitcase and leave the house for the night.”
“Char, don’t do that. Just let me ta--”
“I don’t want to listen!” she yelled with a crack in her voice. “I don’t want to listen to your bullshit lies, the same crap you’ve had on repeat for years.”
“It hasn’t been years.”
“So it has…”
“Fuck me? Fuck you.” She shoved him. He shoved her back.
“You’re such a child,” he said, just loud enough so she could hear.
“Excuse me?” she replied.
He stood straight up and looked her in the eye. Callum wasn’t aware of how much he wanted to hurt her; he wasn’t in control.
“Every freakin’ day you talk to your mother on the phone and nag about how life isn’t what you pictured it to be. All I hear you say is ‘disappointed this’ and ‘disappointed that’. It’s never anything positive.
“It’s like you think the world owes you a fuckin’ favour,” he continued. “Well guess what? It doesn’t.” Spittle was coming from Callum’s mouth, face red and eyes watering.
Everyone has a threshold on how much they can endure before it becomes obvious they’re battling their demons. Adults -- humans in their 30s, can deceive anyone around them. They wear the former in comedy/tragedy masks, hiding their counterpart from the public with synthetic mannerisms and forged smiles that come off as the second step into adulthood; in reality, it’s a step back.
“Just leave,” she followed sternly. “Get out.”
“So you can just have the place to yourself? Did you wake up and plan on attacking me?”
“Are you blaming me? Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m the man who has provided for you and this family, who put food on the table, who will put our daughters through school and pay for their future. I’m the only thing that’s stopping you from sitting at a typewriter and taking phone calls for a middle-aged white guy who stares at your ass for eight hours.”
Charlotte had a slight gap in her mouth, unable to get anything out. She took a few steps back and leaned on the oakwood table, staring at her fingerprint stained reflection. Her eyes began to water.
She met Callum in freshman year at college: he was 22, she was 18. They dated for a year-and-a-half before she dropped out and moved in with him. They packed up and went to California when he was hired as a consultant for a public relations company, settling in the suburbs of San Diego. It was a fresh outlook from the depressing Massachusetts winters Charlotte grew up in. While her mother was supportive, her father seldom kept in contact with Charlotte after the move, his disapproval apparent when she told them she was quitting school. They wanted their daughter to make a life for herself, but she was set on a life with her man.
After Charlotte and Callum got married, Lilly was born, then Jane fourteen months afterwards. It gave the twenty-somethings a family while Callum rose through the company. Charlotte made friends with the parents of her daughter’s friends; after-school playdates, wine & cheese parties with the neighbours. Birthday parties became the weekend norm, drives to soccer practice, carpooling with peers. This gradual cycle rolled through the calendars, with Callum and Charlotte communicating less with each newly sprung grey hair. Their lovemaking declined, both in frequency and passion. They fell asleep facing away from each other.
Charlotte looked up and cast a harsh stare at the man she fell in love with. Callum adjusted his shirt and dried the tears that stained the bags under his eyes. Both were holding their ground.
“I want you out of this house this instant.”
He walked to the shelf and pulled down the bottle of maple whiskey Charlotte brought from Massachusetts. You could only buy the particular brand at the corner store that wrapped around the street their first apartment was located. He grabbed two glasses and poured a generous amount in each one.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
He finished the drink in one swig and slammed the glass on the table. She approached and took the other drink as Callum paced back and forth. His tie was loosened and hair greasy from the lethal combination of crusty hair gel and fresh sweat. She was wearing a cotton sweater with beige sweatpants, her bare feet feeling cool on the mahogany floor. Their silence held for a minute, then another; he refilled his glass, then downed the 12-year-old whiskey without a single facial expression.
Earlier in their marriage, Charlotte would wake before the rest of the house and go on her jog throughout the neighbourhood, Dave Matthews Band ringing in her headphones. She would come back while Callum and the daughters were getting ready for work and school, respectively. She’d prepare the girls’ lunches, make her husband the same sesame-seed bagel with margarine and coffee with a milk and sugar, give everyone a kiss on the cheek -- save for the odd tongue-attack from Callum -- and send them off, father driving daughters to school and himself to work.
She would spend the rest of her day reading, usually going through a novel or two before the afternoon, then blitz through whatever magazine her husband had previously brought her, followed by the same household chores and coffee dates with her cousin Anna (“coffee” meaning a Skype chat while stealing the free WiFi at Starbucks).
Those morning jogs became less frequent, homemade pancakes turned into the girls skipping breakfast, those good-bye kisses replaced with either a cold “Bye” or nothing at all, with Charlotte just laying in bed till noon. The only thing that stopped her from eating chocolates and drinking wine all day was the fact she hated cliches and didn’t want to follow in her mom’s footsteps. The image of her mother’s struggles to get out of a chair, losing her breath when tying her shoelaces, the same hankie she brought with her wherever she went. Not for me, she thought. Never.
In recent months, Charlotte would only put makeup on when she would pick the girls up from school, keeping the other parents from thinking she had completely given up (and with the half-serious hope that a younger dad would notice). Her efforts around the house were nil, meals were mediocre, and time spent with others or herself felt wasted. There was no oil in her motor. There was no pit-stop in sight.
They were approaching the end of the bottle, each on their eighth or ninth but no one was counting. The tension felt earlier was in a low swing, Charlotte and Callum standing across from each other with the oak table in between them. Every so often they’d glance at each other, then look down when the other would catch them, taking another swig of the golden brown. Hours had passed since she first asked him to sit down before she showed him the earrings, lipstick, and condom. They weren’t in the same mindset as then. They hadn’t felt like this in a long time.
“Y’know, you’re still such an asshole,” quipped Charlotte.
“Ahem, yeah?” her intoxicated, insubordinate, inexplicable husband replied.
“How old was she?”
“C’mon Char, I don’t want to--”
“Callum, we’re past the point of initial anger and screaming and swearing. Just answer my question.”
He sighed heavily with a mixture of horror and relief, knowing his marriage and relationship with his family was incurably damaged, but that the lying and deceit and frustration of hiding what he was feeling was gone.
Charlotte was startled. “44? Over a decade older than me?”
“You asked. I just...I don’t know. It wasn’t an age thing. It just sorta, happened.”
Charlotte didn’t burst out with aggression, but merely shrugged her shoulders and finished her drink. They had finished the bottle, and the sun was beginning to rise.
“Have we been awake all night?” said Callum.
“It appears so.” They peaked through the stained glass that completed the dining room, trying to make out what the rest of the world looked like. Nothing changed.
The alarm clock rang, startling the pair. They gathered themselves, Callum adjusting his tie and Charlotte fixing her hair in the mirrored fridge. Each waited for the other to speak. Charlotte took the honours.
“I’m not kicking you out of the house, but I need you to leave for a few hours. I don’t care where you go or what you do, but I need to be alone for a bit.”
He stood there for a moment, nodded, and grabbed his suit jacket before taking his keys and heading for the door. Before leaving, he turned to face Charlotte and held a stare for what felt like eternity.
He left. She dropped on the couch and laid her head down, feet up, eyes directed at the silver-rimmed lights on the ceiling. Her head was pounding, unable to think of anything in the moment.
She felt relieved.