Jenny Waring had a recurring dream. Someone else would have called it a nightmare. Jenny might have, too, if the dream hadn’t been about her husband.
In the dream, she could see herself preparing his lunch. Her husband was unimaginative to the point of obsession, so his lunch requests never varied. He wanted a fresh salad and a sandwich of cold cuts: one slice of turkey breast and one slice of pastrami with Dijon mustard on cracked wheat bread. Always an apple for dessert and four Oreo cookies for coffee-break.
Jenny saw her hands reach into the spice cupboard, digging under various loose packages of spice. Loose packages always stirred her husband's compulsiveness into a frenzy. She took out a small, double-wrapped plastic bag and slowly unwound it. In the bottom of it were three peanuts. She crushed the peanuts into a powder, then took apart two of the cookies and drizzled the powder onto the centre icing. The cookies, once again whole, were wrapped and placed with the others. He insisted that the cookies be wrapped in two bundles so that he could have one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Just before she woke up, Jenny saw herself reach into her husband's pants' pocket and remove his EpiPen.
As usual, Jenny woke up and looked over at her husband and as usual, he was sound asleep, on his back, mouth slack. One eye, the one on her side, was eerily half open, the result of a childhood accident that always made her feel like she was being watched – twenty-four hours a day.
The luminous face of the clock said five-thirty. Jenny sighed and eased herself out of bed, anxious not to disturb her husband so that she could have a few minutes of uninterrupted peace. Her worn fuzzy slippers fit her feet like a second skin; there wasn't much warmth in them anymore, only scant protection from the cold linoleum floor. Her bathrobe was equally worn and patched, no longer warm but at least giving the illusion of shelter.
In the kitchen, she poured a bowl of cereal, cut a banana over the top and added a half cup of skim milk – any more was an unnecessary waste according to her husband. Even though he was still soundly sleeping, his constant harping had made economizing to the nth degree an integral part of even her unsupervised moments.
Guiltily, she took her paperback book out from behind the stack of Hunter's Digest on the only occupied shelf of the bookcase. He’d skimmed that stack of magazines when they’d first arrived and then ignored them. But his tenets of economy wouldn't allow her to throw them out, so they made a safe hiding place for her book. She read a page while she ate her cereal and then put the book back in its hiding spot before she put the coffee on. Her husband had a keen sense of smell. The smell of coffee was better than an alarm for waking him up.
"Jenny! Get a move on. You don't want me to be late for work." He always greeted her with the same loving words every morning. She barely nodded an acknowledgment while she set the pot on the stove for his hot cereal. While the water was heating, she put three slices of bacon into the frying pan and placed two eggs on the counter ready. At just the right moment she put two slices of bread in the toaster. With a magician's timing, lacking only the appreciation, Jenny quickly placed a perfect breakfast before her husband. A breakfast fit for a king – Henry the Eighth, maybe.
"I want my good shirt ironed for my lodge meeting tonight, and I'll have a roast beef sandwich before I go." Through slitted eyes, he glanced around the immaculate living-room and added in a razor-edged voice, "I'm bringing Sam and Big Jake and a new guy home with me tonight, so for Pete's sake clean this place up. It looks like a pig-sty!" His instructions for the day delivered, he left, swearing as the screen door slammed behind him. Jenny stood in her wifely spot by the door, her hand dutifully raised in an unacknowledged salute.
She closed the door against the sunny morning. There was so much to do and she hadn’t any energy. Still, half an hour later, the dishes were washed and the counters gleamed. She sat down for her first cup of coffee. She felt guilty, but the ache in her back begged for a break. He didn't know about her back, the degenerating disc that the doctor said wouldn't get any better without rest.
With a sigh, Jenny rose to start the ironing and jammed her fists into the depths of her bathrobe pockets. A multitude of expressions washed through her: confusion, disbelief, fear, amazement ... peace.
Jenny took her hand out of her pocket and held it up before her eyes. She looked at the object dangling from her fingers.
It was his EpiPen.
Julie Whitley Pamerleau was born in London, Ontario and grew up in Stoney Creek where she wrote stories and poems from the age of nine. After many years of work as an RN at McMaster Children's Hospital, Julie returned to university for undergrad and graduate degrees. Creative writing was put on hold until her retirement last year. She has been thrilled to get back to the fulfillment and challenge of creative writing. Julie still lives in Stoney Creek with her husband, daughter and mother – a multigenerational household.
Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.