The sun wills its rays into the woman’s room, slipping through the slight opening of the curtains. She stirs, not quite ready to wake and face the day. She turns over and pulls the white down-filled duvet up to her neck, and tucks her knees into her body. She drifts back into sleep until her body wakes, naturally. She pulls the grey, suede mask off her face, the light making her eyes squint. She takes one more moment to savour the warmth of her bed before sitting up and turning her body so her legs now hang off the side of the bed, not quite reaching the floor. She stretches her arms high above her head, yawning as she does so, and adjusts her negligee, covering her exposed breasts.
She walks to the bathroom and slips out of the negligee and into a black sheer top and cropped black pants. She paints her face and runs a curling iron through her tousled morning hair. Satisfied with her reflection in the mirror, she slides her wedding bands on her finger as she moves to the closet and searches her selection of jewels for the perfect pair of pearl studs. As she gathers the rest of her items, she runs back to her vanity to grab her favourite blush lipstick and applies a layer to her lips. She gives herself one final glance in the mirror, smiles - she feels poised and desirable as she walks out of the house, locking the door behind her.
From her dreamlike state, another woman hears the faint sounds of an alarm. It takes a while for her to realize that the sound is coming from her phone on the headboard, seeking her attention. She lifts her eye-mask slightly, allowing only a small amount of light to infiltrate her bleary eyes. She pushes snooze and lays her head back down on her pillow until the blaring alarm intrudes her dreams once again.
She reluctantly rolls out of bed, and changes from her pink flannel pajamas to black leggings - still comfortable enough for this time of the day, but more aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of the other parents she will soon encounter. She washes her face and pulls her hair back into a ponytail. She applies a thin layer of mascara to her lashes and dabs foundation on her blemishes and looks at her reflection in the mirror. That will do, she concedes.
Her love drives her to her favourite, quaint town minutes away from their home. She steps out of the vehicle, clutching her purse and a black leather tote containing her laptop, notebook, and a shawl. She waves as she watches her love drive off, and excitement runs through her veins. Her pace quickens as she walks along the sidewalk, her black leather heels clapping the ground under her feet with each step. She pulls the large wooden door towards her and the aroma of espresso fills her lungs. She takes another deep breath as she waits by the magazine rack for a table to become available. She laughs to herself as, moments later, she watches a man sip his last drops of coffee, stand up from his chair, and begins to tuck his laptop into his messenger bag - he was sitting in her spot. She never claimed it as her own, but in all the weeks that she has been coming to this coffee shop, she somehow always ends up sitting at this particular table by the window.
When she has settled into her space - laptop placed on the table, jacket draped over the back of her chair, a pen on top of her pink notebook - she joins the queue, wallet in hand, perusing the menu of artisanal meals and beverages. She chooses a spicy chai tea latte and a blueberry scone, warmed, served with butter. Back at her table, she lifts the top of the laptop, waking it from its slumber. She rubs her hands together, partly to warm them, and partly in anticipation of what she will accomplish that day.
She hears the loud, familiar voices coming from the television in the living room, and the children arguing over something or another. She stops in the doorway when she reaches the kitchen and lets out a sigh as she takes in the scene in front of her. She encourages independence in her children, but when it results in spilled milk and Cheerios all over the floor, she wonders if it’s worth it. She finds a rag, wets it, and begins washing the floor on her hands and knees. Defeat starts to seep in at only half-past seven.
She fills lunch bags with containers she prepared the night before and turns the kettle on. She goes to the cupboard that holds their vitamins and essential oils and applies a drop of patchouli to the back of her neck, and a drop of serenity on each wrist, inhaling deeply a few times to take in the fullness of the aroma, waiting for its calming effect to settle in.
She scoops coffee grinds into the french press and pours the steaming water over them. Then the battle of getting dressed ensues. She feels like a broken record, repeating herself over and over and over, yet no one hears her, or they’re choosing to disregard her requests. Patience ebbs as frustration climbs. She wills herself to stay calm, to stay rational. She tries again, calling her children to dress for school, yet still, her pleas are futile. All logic and reason leave her body at that moment, and it is as if someone inside of her turned the knob on the volume and tone of her voice and she yells at the children, anger and irritation settling in her chest. Her heart pounds and her body buzzes - all hope for a smooth morning has vanished. Her main focus now is to control her tongue - she does not want her children’s first encounter with profanity to be from their own mother.
Finally, everyone is strapped into the car, and she backs out of the driveway, coffee in hand. She takes a few deep breaths and turns on music that will soothe her and bring her nerves back to a healthy level, but inevitably the children beg for their beloved children’s songs and she obliges, not wanting to endure any more whining. Once at school, she walks the eldest to their classroom, praying they won’t cling to her hand, causing a scene. She didn’t have the empathy or compassion needed to handle such a situation this morning.
Sonatas and movements played by cellos and piano keys is her soundtrack as she effortlessly moves her fingers over the keys, turning letters into words, then sentences, then whole thoughts, and beyond. She is so focused, her energy exudes her and she feels like others might notice the sparks coming off her body as she writes faster and faster, not wanting any thought to go unwritten. She pauses only every now and then. Her hands hovering over the keys, waiting expectantly for their next move as she searches for the perfect word. It hits her like the strike of lightning, and with a look of aha! on her face, she settles back into her rhythm, her fingers tapping away furiously.
Her latte has cooled. So engrossed in her writing, she forgets that it is sitting beside her, but it doesn't seem to phase her. She continues to drink the now tepid liquid, never taking her eyes off the words in front of her. She wraps her Italian woven scarf tighter around her upper body, warding off the cool drafts that blow in from the comings and goings of customers, and stays like this, writing fervently, for hours.
Once back at home with the youngest, she pours herself a bowl of granola and settles on the couch beside her little one. She is glad for this moment, to be watching mindless children’s movies, enjoying her breakfast and the rest of her coffee. If time permits, she grabs her book and reads a few pages until the little one grows disinterested with the plot of the story unfolding before them and decides they’re hungry.
And so ends her few moments of peace for the day. From this point on, she meets her child’s constant needs - from continuous food cravings to pursuing art projects, to playing games on the floor. She spends most of the day on her feet. She picks up endless knick-knacks and toys from the ground, though she can’t quite comprehend how they manage to spill into every room and crevice of the house. She wipes counters and floors, puts clean dishes back on their shelves, and changes dirty diapers. She maneuvers multiple loads of laundry from washer to dryer to folded and in drawers with such ease and finesse, but she rarely enjoys herself while doing so.
As much as she loves her children, she always feels unsatisfied at the end of the day. Cleaning is always a chore, leaving her more frustrated than before she began. With children around, there was never a time when the home was without clutter and chaos. By the time she finishes cleaning one room, another would already be back in a state of disarray. It feels hopeless. She feels hopeless.
Hours pass within minutes. She looks at the time again and shock and disappointment overcome her. She isn’t ready to stop just yet. The ideas in her mind are still so vivid, her stamina still strong. She feels like she could go on for hours more. But alas, her love would be waiting for her outside momentarily. With a few final touches to the pages of creativity she has brought to life, she closes her laptop and slips it back into her tote. Despite her desire to stay longer, she feels renewed and alive from her day at the cafe, and eager to share her inspirations with her love.
She watches as he turns onto the street where she stands waiting and smiles as he approaches her. He comes to a stop in front of her and she swiftly lowers herself into the seat. She leans over, kisses him briefly before he turns his gaze back toward the stretch of pavement before him, and drives them through country roads back to their home. She sits smiling beside him, his hand holding hers in her lap. A feeling of contentment and peace washes over her and she wills this feeling to last forever.
After a day of tidying and cleaning, and yet having nothing to show for it, she begrudgingly leaves with her youngest, another school day has come to an end. She stands outside with other parents, her youngest in her arms. She sways her body in the cold, trying to stay warm. She waits anxiously, hoping her oldest will walk out of the classroom in good spirits, but as the bell rings and she sees the sour look on her six-year-old’s face, she knows that won’t be the case.
She gets verbally attacked on the lawn in front of the school for a few minutes, trying to keep herself composed - this would be another inopportune time for profanity to leave her mouth. She feels the stares of judgment from the other parents around her, as her child flails on the ground, defying her commands.
Upon arriving home, she slips into more comfortable leggings before she moves into the kitchen to prepare supper. She chooses the ingredients from the fridge that were delivered to her home that afternoon, and begins chopping vegetables, and boiling water in a saucepan. When everything is ready, they dine at the table together, conversing with each other about their days. She lights up as she shares details of her writing and his eyes gleam as he tells her about a mechanical project he is undergoing.
When they finish, they clear the table and he loads the dishwasher while she adds a few drops of lavender and ylang ylang to Epsom salts to add to her bath. As the tub fills, she pours the salts in and lights a few candles before turning off the lights. In the glow of the flickering, orange candlelight, she slides into the steaming bath, her hair pulled into a loose knot on the top of her head. She exudes confidence, feeling sexy and desirable. She lies back, feeling the salts effervesce beneath her, and reflects on the day before taking a sip of her wine. She grabs her book from the wooden tray laying across the tub and reads, lost in a beautiful web of mystery and romance until the water loses its heat and she begins to shiver.
Somehow, they eventually get into the car and head for home, tears staining her cheeks as she assures herself it wasn’t personal, trying to make herself believe she didn’t do anything wrong. She prays silently, asking God to bring peace to the rest of their afternoon. But peace has become a lost art in their home, it is more like wishful thinking at this point. Meltdowns and yelling accompany their arrival and she walks straight to her bathroom after disarming the alarm.
She locks the door behind her and covers her ears as she rocks her body back and forth, while sitting on the edge of the bathtub. A swarm of thoughts circles through her mind. The loudest ones berating, You’re not good enough. You’re a terrible mother. It’s been ten minutes and you can’t even hold your shit together. You have no idea what you’re doing. Did you want to be a mother? Why? You’re completely inadequate for this position.
And with that, she crumples to the floor. Her mind’s accusations are right. She is inadequate. In that instant, she believes she is not capable of being a mother and making good decisions. She dries her cheeks and walks out of the bathroom, silent. She moves about the kitchen, ghost-like. Her children continue with their demands and endless requests, but she has lost the will to care. She lets them choose the snack of their liking, healthy or not. She has no fight left in her, and why should she bother when everything she ever says is either ignored or responded to with screams and defiance?
When the grueling task of making supper is finished, she calls the family to the kitchen and they sit at the table together. Not one minute passes before arms are flailing, insults are hurling and protests are made. The grueling is not over after all. She pierces her food with her fork, forcing back tears. She eats in silence as her husband demands respect from the children, and eventually sends the oldest to their room and spoon-feeds the youngest.
The day is not over yet. Soon after supper, the uproar begins again as bedtime rituals commence. While her husband takes the oldest under his wings, she gets the youngest ready for bed. They lie side by side as she reads to them in the soft glowing light of the lamp that sits on the nightstand across the room. She cherishes this moment of serenity. When the stories are finished, she turns off the lamp and lies beside the child, not wanting to go out into the chaos that awaits her on the other side of the door.
She finds her love reclining on the couch, researching his current interests. She sits next to him, his arm wrapped around her middle, and continues to read her book. Hours pass as she absorbs the characters and the story on the pages before her, until her eyes are weighed down with fatigue, and the effort to hold them open is too great. It is near midnight when she and her love head to the bedroom.
After shutting out all the lights in the house, she slips back into her black silk negligee and washes her face, keenly aware of his wandering eyes watching her from his place on the bed. She slips under the cool sheets, a stark contrast from that morning’s warm cocoon. She nestles in close to her love, wrapping her arms around his body, seeking warmth. He turns to her and kisses her with such tenderness that she feels herself melt into his arms. She tosses her inhibitions aside and savours the intimate moments that follow.
She tidies the kitchen, savouring the quietness, as she prepares tomorrow’s lunches. When she finishes, she collapses on the couch beside her husband and stares blankly at her phone, scrolling through words and images of unimportance, yet the mindlessness of it attracts her. A moment to forget the horrid feeling in the pit of her stomach, reminding her of her inadequacies. After hours of staying motionless, in this state on the couch, with her phone in her hand, she decides to retire to her room and call it a day.
She slips back into the pink flannel pajamas, and a cotton shirt, and crawls under the cool covers. She places the mask over her eyes and turns toward the window. Her husband reaches over and kisses her neck. She turns herself further away from him, embarrassed of the way her body has changed since having children, scared to think how her husband views her soft, stretched skin. She whispers, Goodnight, and feels his hands slide off of her with a sadness that makes her ache even more.
The two women lay in bed, listening to the whirr of a fan, their minds playing through every moment of their day, analyzing every highlight and low point. One question remains unanswered - How is it possible for one woman to live such contradicting lives?
Written January 2016 by Vanessa Voth