The Green Wallpaper Stays

by Chenery Benjamin

The Green Wallpaper Stays

I got two ugly kids and a husband who cares more about his gonads than his family.

Dougie works as a security guard at the Dollar Store. After a hard day of checking customers for stolen pens and handy wipes, he likes to comes home and drop his pants in the front hall. The thunk of keys, a flashlight and recovered merchandise hit the floor. It's Dougie's way of announcing, Honey, I'm home! as he lumbers to the kitchen table in undershorts that would make a cockroach cry.

The table is loaded with a cornucopia of goodies only a few days past the expiration date. The kids don't like my cooking other than when I open a bag of donuts. Dougie eats anything that fits into his mouth and sometimes that takes a little maneuvering.

My husband scans the table.

What's the occasion? he mumbles.

Why?

Never mind, he says as he spears a squishy tomato. After five minutes of ingesting everything at the table that does not have a heartbeat, Dougie finishes. He stands and slaps his stomach as if he were waking his digestive track from a coma. There will be seepage. I stare at him, waiting. But he grabs a cold one and is gone before his gas fumes have a chance to set off the smoke alarm. Dougie scuttles to the recliner and sinks his pee-green and guano brown butt into the red-tractor-and green-farmhouse upholstery. He greedily switches the remote to ESPN before shoving it between a cushion and himself. This frees Dougie's fingers to slip inside his underwear. Those precious, greasy balls are scratched and massaged until his hand and genitals are one slimy bulge in his shorts.

I glare at Dougie. To think I had sex with him twice makes my skin crawl. He slouches, his

pasty legs are spread apart, beckoning my repulsion. I blame this on my mother.

Ethel,she warned me, You're almost thirty and I don't see you getting anyone better. After all, Charles Manson is still in jail.

So when Dougie proposed during halftime; I accepted during the commercial. We marry in August so, unfortunately, wedding guests are still reeling from the expenses of July Fourth fireworks, so we end up with fourteen fondue forks and Daffy Duck place mats I had previously gifted to one of the attendees.

Being poor is so boring. I feel like I'm trapped inside a calculator with only a minus key. Forget about talking appliances and fancy trash compactors. My heart burns to buy curtains and put the sheets back on the beds. Heaven forbid that I ask Dougie for any more money.

I work at the Dollar Store! he bellows,' not at JC- friggin'-Macy's!

I'd like to get a job, but since I am a stay-at-home mom, I can only dream. Images of me efficiently pouring coffee behind the counter at Starbucks dance in my head.

One caramel flan latte, hold the steam! The words come tripping off my lips. It is as if I am a doctor proclaiming a patient 'has a punctured thorax in his cranial lobe' (oh, no, not that!). I would sound so knowledgeable and educated. People would beam at me with envious respect. They would even call me El, because nobody knows that I am me. Sadly, this fantasy straps on wings, flaps into the sunset and crashes on re-entry.

I think about my family, especially my younger sister, Pineapple. She is married to an award-winning insurance agent, who is revered for declining more claims than anyone else in the tri-state area. They own a 2,000 square foot house at the end of a cul de sac.

Today, I call my mother. We have not spoken in exactly a year.

Hello.

Hello.

Who's this?

Your daughter, Ethel.

I suppose you want something, she humphs. This woman is the worst mother on the face of the earth.

Well, I thought if you were going to Pineapple's, you could pick me up and take me and the kids.

There is no response. I can hear the cigarette smoke wheezing through her nostrils.

I can't. When I go to your place I have to make a left turn at a busy intersection. Anyway, Pineapple and I are busy. She's been invited to the Governor's Mansion to receive the State's Best

Looking Kids Award. I don't believe her.

It's the old witch's way of making a jab at my ugly offspring. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't love my kids; which I don't. It's just there is no connection. They don't look like anyone in my family. Maybe they resemble Dougie's. I make a mental note to inspect his kin more closely when we visit them in jail. If I hadn't seen each kid ejected directly from my private parts, I would have demanded a DNA test. Sometimes I feel sorry for them, though, so I pretend to be a doting mother when I have the time. Especially after watching one of those animal abuse commercials. They always make me cry.

My mother is still on the phone, blabbing about Pineapple. It is so obvious that old prune face favors her. Pineapple does not do anything to encourage the old woman's partiality, and, in fact, occasionally pushes me into the limelight. One afternoon, some time ago, we were planning to visit our uncle. Pineapple was dressed in a pink ensemble, matching shoes and all. I had on an old, purple bridesmaid dress my mother was going to throw out. After fifteen minutes of oohing and awing at Pineapple, my little sister nudged my mother.

Doesn't Ethel look nice!

My mother squinted and studied me for a moment, a dead cigarette stuck to her lower lip.

I suppose so, she responded, but it looked better on me at Cousin Gert's wedding. Dad steadied himself against the wall and inspected the ceiling for cracks. He was sure it was going to collapse on us any day. This is one of my favorite memories of the old man. Usually he was cowering behind the couch avoiding my mother's wrath. Get a job! Take a bath! Whose toenail clippings are

these?

I sure wish he hadn't gone out for a pack of cigarettes that Saturday. I remember spying on Ye Olde Convenience Store for months afterward, hoping to get a glimpse of him.

It's past 11 and I am doing a Sudoku at the kitchen table. Dougie has slipped into Dougie Dreamland, where gigantic testicles are being caressed by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. My kids are asleep, their ugly faces smooched into the orange, sculptured carpet. Drool travels down their lip-less, chinless faces. I hear my mother's voice: Geez, most kids usually look cute when they're sleeping.

I tip-toe into the bedroom and lift the edge of the mattress to retrieve my masterpiece. I had begun collecting twist ties sometime ago. Eventually, I braided them into a rope. It was like a snake of memories representing untied loaves of bread, garbage bags overwhelmed with banana peels and beer cans and my life. I yank, tug, fold, and pull on the 6-foot strip until I am satisfied it will support a person's weight. I bet Dougie's testes wish they had been at the receiving end of my evaluation.

As I wrap it around the fan, disappointment dampens my will. My dream had always been to be washed ashore. Now I was in my tedious bedroom, my fate dangling before me and peeling paint. I tie the loose end around my neck. I don't care if I break the ceiling fan, the darn thing makes a scary, wobbling sound. There are times I worry it will whirl off and kill me in my sleep. I spitefully step off the bed.

Maybe they'll remember my birthday next year.

The End

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