Friday, September 4, 2015

"The Things Inside Us" by Fred Skolnik

Pamela Smith woke up early. She generally didn't look at herself in the mirror in the morning but when she did she didn't like what she saw. She had never been attractive and now she was haggard. That hadn't mattered in the first flush of conjugal bliss and shouldn't have mattered now when she was middle aged and no one looked at her that way anymore, but nonetheless it depressed her somewhat. Her husband was still asleep, a lump. She brushed her teeth and washed her face and stared at the bottle of sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet with many wordless thoughts flashing through her mind. Then she went downstairs and had her coffee. She felt listless, out of sorts. After a while her husband came down, already dressed. He kissed her cheek and had his coffee too and after looking at the paper dragged his golf clubs out of the hall closet and said, "I'm gonna run."

   "Have a good time," Pamela said.

   "I always do."

   "Will you be back for lunch?"

   "I always am."

   He smiled. This was his sense of humor. After the late lunch he would watch the football game and Pamela would do some housework. She heard the car start up and looked out the window and saw him turning into the street and didn't know if she was glad or not to have the house to herself for a while. She went back upstairs and thought about getting dressed but decided not to because there was no point in getting dressed if she wasn't going out and it was Sunday after all and no one was expected. She made the bed and straightened out the bedroom. Then she went into the bathroom again and cleaned the sink and toilet. Downstairs the house was fairly dark so she opened all the curtains and a few windows as well and glanced at the lawn. Soon the first winter weeds would be coming up, their seeds buried in the ground all summer long. She glanced at the newspaper too. Nothing there interested her. As time went on she was becoming less and less interested in things and didn't have anything like golf or football to keep her occupied. She was becoming less and less interested in the children too now that they were grown. At first she had tried to control their lives but soon enough she had realized that there was no point to it and they would have to make their own mistakes and find their own way and she wasn't going to get too excited about their ups and downs. Not having the burden of her children's lives weighing down on her had been a great relief and she liked to say that not worrying about them anymore had added ten years to her life. They of course worried about her but she insisted that she was just fine and enjoying life like anyone else her age.

   Pamela wasn't hungry. She didn't have much of an appetite these days. She looked through some magazines and turned on the TV and then it was noon and she took out the leftover chicken and made some chicken salad. When her husband got back the table was already set. She got out the Diet Pepsi and watched him eat. He didn't have too much to say, other than that he had run into Donald Foster and his new wife.

   "What does she look like?" Pamela said.

   "About twenty."

   Pamela nodded. "I figured as much."

 Her husband wiped his mouth and said, "I'm gonna watch the game," and got up and went to the den with the newspaper. At halftime he'd come out to get some snacks so she put the snacks on the table and did the dishes and straightened out the kitchen. She thought about getting dressed again but decided not to. She went out back and did a load of laundry and swept up a little and checked the house plants. She scratched her ear and felt a short, stiff hair deep inside which proved too tiny to pinch out with her fingernails so she got some tweezers and tried to remove it but couldn't get a grip and found this very annoying and worked at it for a quarter of an hour without success and had to leave it where it was. Now her ear felt raw. Clearly there were things you couldn't get at, like parasites or an itch in the wrong place, and would have to live with.

   After the football game her husband spent an hour looking for some golf magazine and she helped him turn the house upside down. Then they had a light supper and watched some TV. One of the kids called and they chatted for a while. It was chilly in the evening so she put on a sweater and watched some more TV. One of the commercials reminded her that they were running out of toilet paper so she got up and made a note on her shopping list. She asked her husband if he wanted coffee or anything but he said no, he was fine, so she came back and sat down in the chair she always sat in when they watched TV together. 
At eleven o'clock her husband turned off the TV and said, "Let's go to bed." 

After they got into bed he signaled to her that he wanted to have sex, but she couldn't get into it so she lay there like a zombie until he finished. Then she went to wash and heard him snoring. She opened the medicine cabinet and took out the sleeping pills. The bottle was almost full. She poured half the pills into the palm of her hand and looked at them. Then she counted them and for no real reason rounded off the number. The glass was in a glass holder with their toothbrushes. She filled it and took a sip, holding the pills in her other hand. Then she looked at herself in the mirror, without thinking, without anything in her mind at all. After a while she poured the pills back into the bottle and went back to bed, blinking very hard in the dark room. She had come very close to ending her life without really knowing why or even wanting to.   

***

Fred Skolnik was born in New York City and has lived in Israel since 1963. He is best known as the editor in chief of the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, winner of the 2007 Dartmouth Medal. He is also the author of The Other Shore (Aqueous Books, 2011), an epic novel depicting Israeli society at a critical juncture in its recent history. His second novel, Death, was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2015. His stories and essays have appeared in over 150 journals, including TriQuarterly, Gargoyle, The MacGuffin, Los Angeles Review, Prism Review, Words & Images, Literary House Review, Montréal Review, Underground Voices, Third Coast, Word Riot, The Recusant, and Polluto. His poetry has appeared in Word Riot, Oak Bend Review, Free Verse, Boston Literary Review and Hacksaw. Under a pen name, he also published two novels in 2014: Rafi's World and The Links in the Chain.

The Things Inside Us originally appeared in Toucan, Issue 8, Fall 2010 and was reprinted in Page & Spine, March 2014.