This story is by Chelsea Jones and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Priscilla tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as she waited for the light to change. She bobbed her head to the music. I’m Every Woman by Chaka Khan came through the radio. It was her jam. “Anything you want done baby,” she hummed as the light turned green.
She had gone down this road hundreds of times before, but this afternoon was different. She felt lighter. The wind blew her hair all over her face. Normally, she kept the windows up, but today she wanted to feel the breeze. She focused on the red SUV in front of her and thought about the condo she’d be moving into the next few days. Finally, my own place, she thought. Finally, a chance to be away from Ron for good.
She couldn’t remember when they had been happy together in the past 25 years. Nine months after the wedding, she was pregnant. Three babies later, they couldn’t stand each other. Ron had stopped talking to her. Priscilla found something wrong in everything he did. How could you forget the baby formula again? When are you going to pick up your socks? You’re always working late. Arguing with her drained him. He soon stopped responding to Priscilla just so they could keep the peace.
She made a left turn on the street where they lived. Their two-story house at the end looked dull even though the early afternoon sunlight beamed directly on it. She glanced at the cardboard boxes in the back seat. They needed a few more to finish packing the last room upstairs.
Priscilla pulled into the driveway. Ron came out the front door.
“How many boxes did you get?”
“I got six,” Priscilla said.
“Ok, that should be enough. We just need to clear the stuff out of the closet and we should be good.”
Priscilla headed to the fridge as Ron unloaded the boxes. She was thirsty after the quick store trip. She grabbed a bottle of water, the only thing still in there. They had decided they would leave the fridge with the house.
Priscilla started up the stairs and heard Ron move something heavy to the side of the room. It was their oldest daughter’s bedroom but lately had become a storage room. She smiled as she saw Ron push the wooden changing table against the wall. He built it right after she told him she was expecting. She convinced Ron to let her keep it long after their three children had outgrown it.
“We should probably drop this off at Goodwill,” Ron said.
“Yea, we should.”
Priscilla felt a twinge of sadness as she thought about donating something that held so much sentimental value. Ron was now inspecting it, looking at the scratches it had acquired through the years.
His back was towards her. Priscilla looked at his graying hair and thought for a brief moment she would miss him. He was always so kind to the children, patient with them even when they acted up.
“I’ll start putting these left-over photos in the box. You should probably go through that desk drawer. You have some stuff in there,” Priscilla said.
Ron went over to the desk and opened the drawer. A bulletin from his high school reunion was on top, underneath was a manila folder. He opened the folder and saw a sticky note with the words PAID IN FULL written on it. It was attached to a stack of medical bills from his surgery 15 years ago. He needed a new kidney. Finding a donor had been stressful. He had to quit his job due to the frequent dialysis visits.
He looked over at Priscilla putting framed pictures in a box one by one and thought of how supportive she had been. Don’t worry about the money, she told him. I can pick up a few extra shifts to help cover the bills. You just focus on getting better.
That’s what he loved about his wife. She usually had the right words in the most challenging situations. What was he going to do without her? Who would help him if he got sick again? He grew anxious thinking about the children. They all lived out of state and had their own families. He didn’t want to burden them with caring for his needs.
Priscilla had taped up the box she was working on and now putting together a new one. Ron glanced out the window. Could he find love again at his age? His recently divorced best friend told him about the horrors of online dating. He got chills just thinking about it.
Priscilla was now on the bottom row of the bookshelf. She smiled as she picked up a picture of her and friends. They had gone to Las Vegas for a girl’s trip. Once the divorce was finalized, she would have even more time to travel.
She reached for the last photo. She had forgotten about this one. It was her mother, posing for the camera, at one of the family barbecues. Priscilla had sunk into a mild depression after her mother passed. Ron convinced her to go to the gravesite long after the funeral was over. She told him she was scared, so he went with her.
Ron had put together a box and was setting stuff he wanted inside while tossing stuff he didn’t in the trash. Priscilla glanced out the window. A bird had just landed on top of a tree limb.
The condo near the bay was something she dreamt of for years. Long ago, she decided she would move there once she left Ron. She had always admired the view. Who will cut the grass, she thought? She never worried about that since Ron always took care of it. Her 2008 Nissan Sentra wasn’t in the best condition. When it stopped, she called Ron to pick her up. He would lift the hood and tinker with the parts. If he couldn’t get the car started, he’d call one of his friends to help him move it.
Priscilla’s stomach turned just thinking about it. Who will I call if I have car trouble? She thought about the condo with its two bedrooms. She had never lived by herself before. Would she be afraid of living alone? Even though they slept in separate rooms, Priscilla was able to fall asleep at night knowing that Ron was in the house with her.
The sound of tape unwinding broke her thoughts. Ron was finished with his box.
“I’m going to miss this place,” Priscilla said as she watched her husband. “It’s like I don’t want to leave.”
“Yea, there will be a lot of change going forward for sure.”
“I believe I’m going to miss you, Ron.”
The words caught him off guard. It wasn’t like Priscilla. For years, she told him how much she wanted to leave him.
“I believe I’m going to miss you too.”
Ron glanced around the room as he sat on the floor. Finally, they had finished packing. The taped-up boxes stacked on top of each other echoed the lonely days ahead of him.
“You may think it selfish of me, but Priscilla, I’m kind of afraid of what life is going to be like without you.”
Priscilla thought about her blue Nissan sitting in the driveway, going to sleep by herself in the condo.
“Yea, I’m afraid too.” Priscilla bit her lip. “But Ron, we haven’t been close in years. You stopped being my friend after our last baby was born.”
Ron lowered his head. It was true.
“Honestly, Priscilla, you became difficult to talk to. It got to a point where it seemed like I could never do anything right. You always pointed out my shortcomings.”
Priscilla was kneeling in front of the bookshelf and shifted to sit. Ron was right. The more energy she spent on trying to be a good mom, the more impatient she grew with him. She often felt tired. It was easier to complain about Ron’s annoying habits than to spend more energy finding his positive attributes.
“I understand, Ron. I know I haven’t been the easiest to live with.”
They had decided once the kids were grown to go through with the divorce they had often talked about. Now the time had come, but instead of looking forward to a life without each other, all they could think about is what they would miss.
“Ron, I guess we should have just communicated more.”
“Yea,” Ron said. “I used to love talking to you about anything, hate we lost that.”
He paused, thinking he shouldn’t say what was on his mind but decided anyway.
“Priscilla, I don’t want you to leave. I still love you.”
Priscilla bit her lip again. It was no use in lying.
“I still love you too, Ron.”
Her husband scooted close to her. She could smell the delicate scent of his aftershave, something she always loved but never told him.
“Priscilla, I’m open to being your friend again. If you let me, I’ll try to be the husband you want me to be.”
Priscilla briefly thought of the condo. Although the view was breathtaking, it would never compare to this home where she and Ron raised their children, the place where they relied on each other when life became difficult.
“I’m open to that,” she said. “I’ll try to be the wife you wanted all these years.”
Ron placed his hand on top of hers. The touch reminding Priscilla they were in a room full of stacked boxes.
“Do you really think, Ron, that after all these years of not being happy we can make it work?”
Ron sensed the worry in his wife’s voice.
“Priscilla, dear, we spent 25 years unhappy with each other and managed to make it work. Choosing to love and see each other this time around can’t be much harder than that.”
Priscilla thought about what her husband said, appreciating the optimism he often had in challenging situations.
“Ok, Ron, let’s give this marriage another chance.”
She glanced up at the man sitting next to her, her eyes moving from the graying curls around his temples to the large, brown pupils looking intensely at her.
“Ron, I love you.”
The man leaned in to kiss his wife.
“I love you too, sweetheart. I always have and always will.”