This story is by Marien O’ and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Julie, the physics teacher, popped another pill into her mouth. The year’s work was done. Reckless love for her job made her give her whole heart to the project. Julie had enrolled for a full day schedule for summer school in July. She needed the extra money. Her students thrilled her with their work and perseverance. Her professional life was fantastic. Got her so pumped up.
But things were different at home. Disaster struck after seven years of marital bliss.
Julie’s dream now was to save enough money to go to China with her girl friends.
Ever since the birth of her second child, Stefan, strange events had begun to show its bleakest face. The Matthias family was, by far, the handsomest family that sat in the middle pews at church. Julie had done everything to perfection, following all the rules of the book, raised as she was on strict moral guidelines set by her well-heeled, educated Indian parents .
Andy had come along in her sophomore year. Julie hadn’t noticed his admiring looks or that he always chose to sit across, gawk at her during lunch hour. Her best friend, Sarah, pointed him out.
“Hey Julie, you reckon Andy has the hots for you?” Sarah winked at both.
Andy winked right back. He cupped his chin on his hands, staring at Julie in shameless admiration. Her dark straight hair ravaged his attention.
Julie gulped in fear. She knew the rules laid down by the harsh Indian society.
The parents had never forced arranged marriage strictures on the kids, but the pressure nevertheless was deep down in her psyche. Julie was typically shy but this adoration from an all-American boy thrilled her!
The following week he asked her out. She agreed with some reserve. A whirlwind romance followed that year. He took her to meet his family of an eccentric Auto dealer, and a chubby mom who couldn’t see what her good boy saw in the brown girl with long black hair.
It was at the end of the first year of wild love that Julie realized that her boyfriend was not all together right. She saw him popping pills with strange long names. There were days he moped around and smoked like a chimney. Gone were his chances of becoming the doctor he had pinned his hopes on from the time he was seventeen. Julie didn’t mind. As long as he didn’t hit the bottle which he did at times, it was all fine.
Wedding bells rang for the couple- destination Thailand.
Andy wasn’t a great conversationalist. Large imposing men and crowds made him stutter. Julie often came to his rescue to save him from delayed verbal predicaments.
Soon a doe-eyed baby, Tara arrived. Those were the best days of their lives. Andy was the perfect dad. Up at night to change diapers, he helped Julie catch her beauty sleep. He even learnt an Indian lullaby to sing to his little baby girl.
Tara grew to be a gorgeous six year old by the time Stefan arrived. Not a whit jealous, she loved the little imp with all her heart, mothering him as she did her dolls.
But the bills started to add up. A part-time garage mechanic, with a plan of investing in a automobile workshop, meant less salary, and lower social status.
Julie was beginning to feel the pinch.
“Andy honey, why didn’t you buy the provisions? You were out the whole morning.The fridge is empty. Spinach tonight as well?”
“I can’t. I’ve maxed out for this month.”
“Ahhhhh! You never shop these days. Anyways, what ARE you spending on?”
“You being a credit cop, Julie?”
Stefan, darling babe, slept in his own crib.
“Andy, please feed the baby at 2 am. I gotta sleep. It’s a big day tomorrow ..the science fair, and my headache is killing me,” she said.
The long suffering husband recalled that Julie had been his strong tower when he was jobless.
Meanwhile his old mama warned him of the hussy. “Don’t cater to all her silly whims.
You’ll be dancing to her merry tune if you don’t take care, son!”
Andy was torn between the two women. Eros love had temporarily vanished, but his mother was still mom.
One day Andy came home late. The kids were already in bed.
The good dad tiptoed quietly to their room. “Goodnight, my darlings!”
His drunken breath descending as hot steam.
“Papa, you’re stinky,” Tara giggled.
As Andy rubbed his eyes with the first stream of morning light through the pretty white curtains, he felt a huge book land on him. Julie was yelling obscenities. He covered the little girl’s ears.
“ F… you, you jackass, how dare you creep into this room!”
“ Julie, be quiet. Don’t be foul mouthed. Mind your words.”
“What do you mean? Coming drunk late at night and slipping into the kids’ room?”
“I’m sorry, while saying goodnight to Tara, I fell asleep,” Andy muttered under his breath.
“Do you want Tara to see her dad drunk every night?” Julie broke down. A stabbing pain hit her left brain. Everything was going wrong.
This scenario repeated itself every weekend with a deliberate evil frequency. Things were getting ugly. Julie was gasping, like being breathless underwater.
Momma found him an AirBnb to move into. Old dad cared more for his cat.
“Andy dearest, move out. You’ve got your life to live. Do you want to fall sick and die?” said mama.
“Hey listen, Andy, you’re making us all sick. Tara vomited in class today. Stefan is constantly screaming. Go, find your own space. Somewhere. Anywhere.”
Lady Macbethian spirits were conspiring against the young man. His mom wanted him out to get a life. His wife wanted him out of her nest to get hers back.
“Who am I? I’m a stray cat that strolled in,” he thought.
One day he said, “Tara, I’m leaving home. Mama needs some space. I’ll come fetch you every Friday for your class. I’ll take you to the park, or we go fishing by the river, alrighty?”
“Papa, please don’t go. Please, papa, don’t leave us!” Tara cried her heart out.
Tara cried herself to sleep every night, except on the weekend when Papa took her out. The determined young thing decided to make the best of a bad deal.She began painting her anguish- a little bird with a wing clipped off; a home with a roof fallen off in a storm; a garden with a broken fence and the flowers weeping on the ground.
Julie became distant, but more regular at church.
The priest was droning, “Let’s pray, God hears, just as He heard Abraham”
All knelt and prayed. Julie couldn’t believe she was on her knees pleading with a faraway God, who she couldn’t see or touch.
“Dear girl, make a fresh start. To get your family back in order, you got to forget yourself. Stop whining,” the counsellor, spoke in her sweetest voice.
Julie had to swallow her pride. All her years of rock solid, self- righteous living, ingrained in her as a growing kid in Bombay, where she avoided the drunken, the druggie, the jobless. Alcohol was a no-no ever since her best friend had died. Andy was being a fool, all three-in-one.
It was Maundy Thursday. The message from the pulpit rang clear in her mind. As night fell, it echoed louder in her brain. Julie tossed her head on the pillow. What had Reverend James said of washing someone’s feet? Somebody’s smelly feet? Yuck! What indignity was that?
How was she to wash the feet of this man whom she had begun to despise? Now a stranger in her eyes- the man she had forced to move out of her home? A pathetic man, led astray by an overpowering virago?
Forgive seventy times seven? Why did she have to forgive? Shouldn’t forgiveness be mutual? Did Andy ever say ‘sorry’?
Sunday morning. New day dawning.
A man long ago rose from the dead today. He taught good stuff. He went through a great deal of trouble. Julie decided to follow this man’s dictum. You gotta give to receive. Allow unselfish love to flow.
Julie cooked some chicken malai and crab cakes and drove over to his one-room tenement. She knocked at the door. Andy lifted himself from bed and opened the latch of the door.
Lighting a candle, she put out two plates and brought him to the table. They ate in silence.It was delicious. The buttery avocado melted in his mouth.
“Okay, honey, you’re coming home.”
Andy looked like the handsome guy, Julie had fallen in love with for the first time. His early morning alcohol breath didn’t matter.
Julie reached for his scarred hands, and kissed them with a newness. She was going to take charge of this fallen human.
It was a choice she made for her family. Nobody was going to take it away.
“I’m going to wash your feet, my darling.”