Most sane, rational people don't answer when someone pounds on your door at ass o'clock in the morning. Most people cower in bed or call the police or grab a weapon.
It's a persistent banging at the front door downstairs, sending little vibrations up through the windows and echoing up the stairs on the other side of our bedroom door. It's one of those frozen black mornings that distills every sound made.
I know who this is, though.
“Your mother is at the door,” I tell Warren, sitting up in bed. He stirs and rolls over and pulls the covers with him. Downstairs, the noise has stopped for a few seconds, and I picture her waiting on the other side of the front door.
“Mom,” he mumbles.
I'm getting out of bed when the pounding starts again.
“Mom, go away,” he says into his pillow.
I'm pulling on my pajama pants and grabbing his blue hoodie off of the floor. “You know she's just going to want to talk to you.”
“No,” he says, putting his pillow over his head, and I hear him yawn. I'm almost out the bedroom door, now.
“I'm getting up,” he says, and I can barely hear him.
He's not getting up. I'll be back up here in a minute to pull him out of bed.
The banging on the door actually begins to get louder as I reach the bottom of the stairs, and I can hear a small, sharp voice on the other side of the door muttering and calling Warren's name.
When I get to the door and open it up, I'm not prepared for the cold wind. There she is, Mrs. Blake. Warren's mother. There's a pie in her gloved hands, and she's wrapped in a big wool coat. It's snowing and the snow dunes in the yard are silent behind her.
She looks at me with her cold eyes. “You want me to freeze to death? I nearly froze out there waiting on you to open the door.” It's snowing behind her, and the white world is crystallized in the streetlights.
“It's 6AM, Estelle,” I tell her, stepping aside to let her in. She shoves the pie into my hands as she comes into the hall.
“Never mind what time it is. You should be up by now,” she says, and she looks up the stairs toward the lighted hallway at the top. I'm taking the pie into the kitchen now, and I can hear her calling for Warren up the stairs.
I put the it on the counter by the sink without turning the light on, and then I look out the window. I can just make out the lines of the pink wooden siding next door, and I hear Mrs. Blake come into the room.
“What took you so long to answer the door?” she wants to know, flipping the light switch. The kitchen is flooded with light. “Good god, do you live in darkness here?”
“I had to get dressed,” I tell her, turning to blink at her.
She smiles, a half-smile just like Warren, and puts her hands in her coat pockets. “You had to get dressed,” she says. I'm filling the coffee pot with water. I can hear the little sounds of Warren walking around the bedroom now, the ceiling above the hall creaking. That's the soundtrack of this conversation. “Why'd you have to get dressed?” she wants to know, finally. “You sleep naked? With my son? You're putting the water in wrong, for god sake.”
The coffee pot is back in place. I'm always doing something wrong, but it's never specific. My pants are too tight, my hair is too brown.
I stare at her. “Your son is my boyfriend,” I tell her, the coffee maker gurgling behind me.
“Well, never mind that,” she says, and she goes back out into the hall. Her voice trails off as she starts calling for Warren again.
He's my boyfriend, I think to myself, and I look at her stupid pie. It's Martha Stewart perfect as always, and it's Apple. Warren's favorite.
Mrs. Blake comes back into the kitchen and sits down at the kitchen table. “Go get him for me,” she says. “I'll wait.”
I stare at her for a minute, and then I say, “You want some coffee, Estelle?”
“No,” she says, looking out the windows by the table.
He's coming out of the bathroom in track pants when I get to the top of the stairs. He looks tired. “She comes over way too early,” he says to me.
I'm on my way to our bedroom now. I turn to look at him. “She wanted to know if we sleep naked,” I tell him.
“Of course we do,” he tells me, smiling, and then he turns to go toward the stairs.
I roll my eyes. “Get rid of her,” I tell him, and then I'm in the bedroom.
I can hear him chuckling on his way down the stairs, and then he says, “Mom, it's too early to be alive.” Then, their voices are just distant sounds.
I've got my clothes, and I'm on my way down the hall to the bathroom. I can hear Warren and his mom talking in the kitchen downstairs, but I can't make it out. She's likely asking when she's getting grandchildren out of him. She probably won't be happy until he's agreed to pump some girl full of babies. She's a real weirdo.
Every day, I see this face in the mirror, my hair wet and messy and the stem of my toothbrush sticking out of my mouth. I stare at my face and wish I was somewhere else.
I used to think about leaving, but it's started to occur to me recently that he wouldn't go with me. It would be me, alone in the car with all my things in the trunk.
The toothpaste is starting to drip from the end of the toothbrush now, so I grab it and continue brushing.
Sometimes, I think of Warren's mom's head exploding. Maybe she'd be standing there with her god damned pie when it happened. I'd be more than happy to pick her brains out of the living room carpet.
Sometimes, I see her getting flattened by a bus, or a piano falling on her. Cartoonish stuff.
It's better than the reality of her being downstairs, telling Warren I'm not a valid partner and demanding grandkids.
I spit into the sink, and there's blood.
I'm downstairs with my cereal, now. Mrs. Blake is gone, and Warren is across the table from me with his cereal.
“We had the grandchildren talk as always,” he says to me.
I sigh and sit back in the chair. I look directly at him. “We need better jobs,” I tell him.
“I like my job,” he says.
“Our jobs don't pay enough,” I tell him, and I look out the window at the road, the faintest hints of morning creeping across the cars along the sidewalk.
“Our jobs are fine,” he says, taking a sip of coffee.
In the distance, I can hear sirens. I stare at him for a while, and then I sigh and look down at my cereal. “I don't like that she's over here all the time.”
“She's nice enough to help us pay the house payment,” he says with his eyebrows up, like he's explaining to me why the Earth orbits the sun.
I slam my hand down on the table and say, “That's the problem, isn't it?”
I get up and walk over to the sink with my bowl.
“You need to chill out,” he tells me.
I come back over to the table and get my coffee cup, then I take it to the coffee maker.
“She's not as bad as you think. She's just old fashioned and kind of dense,” he tells me from the table.
“She hates me,” I tell him.
“She does not.”
I fill my cup and put the coffee pot back. “We need better jobs,” I tell him again, filling the sink with water to do dishes. “I don't want her owning half the house.”
“She doesn't own half the house. You're being a little dramatic.”
“Maybe I could put in some applications,” I say to myself, trying not to throw the bowl I'm washing.
He sighs. “Damn it, Aaron. Just stop. We don't have time for this conversation right now.”
I turn and throw the bowl at the wall, and it shatters, and Warren stares at me from the table, his eyes huge.
I pick up a glass from the strainer and throw it, too, and then I'm screaming, and Warren is up from the table, coming toward me.
“Aaron,” he's saying, and then his hands are stopping me from reaching into the strainer for another glass. “Aaron,” he's saying to me, his voice soft, and then his arms are around me, and I'm all tears and sobbing.
I hate driving in the winter. I avoid it if I can. I'm on the bus, heading for work, because the roads are a mess.
The roads and my life, they're both messes.
The front porches and Volvo wagons passing behind the heads of the other people on the bus are being devoured by mounds of snow, and I think of my car sitting in the driveway, disguised as a snow pile.
I'm thinking of Warren, likely getting off of another bus across town at the Dollar General where he works, snow melting in his hair.
“You got a dollar?”
I look over at the guy across the aisle. He's staring at me with his good eye.
“Do I look like I have a dollar?” I ask him.
“You need to give me a dollar so I can get me a coffee,” he says.
“I'm wearing a Burger King uniform,” I tell him.
People are amazing.
I'm going to start carrying a stick to beat them with.
I get to work and I see that someone has already tried to put a car through the drive thru sign. There's a tow truck hauling it away, and the sign is leaning to the right.
Martha is at the counter filling out the manager book when I come in. She doesn't look up. “Someone drove through the sign,” she says to me.
“I see that,” I tell her.
“We're dead,” she says, looking up at me finally. She shakes her head and says, “Labor's high.”
“Fuck labor,” I tell her on my way back to the office. She follows me with the manager book, and I resist the urge to grab it out of her hands and knock her over with it. My crew employees are cleaning, because I'm in the store. They don't clean when I'm not here.
She sighs. “Labor,” she says again.
We get into the office, and I sit down at the desk. “Martha,” I say. “Get rid of that book.”
She just stands there.
“Should I get rid of people?” She asks.
I grab the book from her and toss it onto the desk, and she stares at me with her big silly eyes.
“Martha, I'm going to do the dishes that no one wants to do. Focus on drive thru.”
She stares at the manager book. “The book isn't done,” she says.
I stand and start to push her out of the office so I can shut the door behind us. “You can make out with the manager book later,” I tell her, and I lock the door.
After about two hours of no business, I hear Martha's voice crackling into my ear through the headset. “We got one,” she says.
I'm still doing the piles of dishes, and now I've got to dry my hands and put gloves on so I don't die because someone wants a Whopper.
Doing dishes means I collect for drive thru at the back window. Weather like this turns the back window collector into a popsicle.
The drive thru beeps in my ear, and I hear Martha's little grunts as she wipes the tables in the dining room. This continues for a few seconds, and then I yell up through the kitchen. “Martha, for the love of god, take the order!”
Then she remembers she has a headset on and does the little greeting we're supposed to do.
While she's taking the order, I go to the window and put on the gloves.
“Whopper meal, Whopper cheese, Junior Whopper no pickle,” says a loud booming male voice into my ear. “Chicken fries and a Big Mac.”
I love my job.
“A Big Mac,” Martha says into the headset. “We don't have Big Macs,” she tells him.
There is a very long, dramatic silence, followed by a loud sigh. “Well, what do you have then?”
I'm in the office later, and Martha comes in without knocking. She does that.
“That guy's here,” she says. Then she just stands there.
I turn to look at her and say, “What guy?”
“The guy who comes to see you every day,” She says.
Warren, she means. He's here for lunch. One day, she'll learn his name.
We always eat in the same booth, the same one I do all the interviews in. It has a nice view of humanity via the drive thru lane.
“I might get a second job,” I say to him over my iced coffee.
He's wiping his hands on one of the napkins in front of him, and he stops and looks at me. “Why?”
I sit back in the booth, and I look out the window. “We talked about this already; I'm just letting you know.”
Warren sighs. “Why don't we just see what happens? We're making money, we just need to settle down and stop spending it.”
I have nothing to say to that.
Just shut me down, Warren.
“I suppose you're right,” I say, finally.
Maybe I'll kill her. Then she'll go away.
A poison pie, or an exploding toilet seat installed in the downstairs bathroom.
It brings a smile to my face.
I look over, and Martha's filling out the manager book. She can't be kept from it for long.
“Martha, are you alright if I leave a little early?”
“Yeah I think so,” she says.
I might pick up some arsenic on the way home. Maybe a bear trap.
Warren is already home when I get there. His car is a mound of snow behind mine. I've walked two blocks from where the bus dropped me, and the sun is starting to go down.
When I walk inside, I see Warren in the kitchen with the fridge open. He's still in his uniform, and I take my coat off and hang it in the closet. The TV is on, the microwave is going.
“It's movie night,” he says to me from the kitchen.
“I'm dead. I can't watch a movie,” I tell him.
After a minute or two, he comes into the hall with a plastic cup. I can hear the soda fizzing in it as he hands it to me.
“I ordered pizza,” he says, smiling at me.
God damn it. “Don't we need to save money?” I ask him.
He scoffs on his way back into the kitchen. “We're fine,” he says.
Two slices of pizza into the movie, Warren's phone rings.
“Warren, I swear to god.” I reach for his phone on the coffee table. MOM, it says. I look up at him and sigh. “Every night, Warren. She calls every night.”
He shrugs and tries to grab his phone from me.
“She senses that we're having a nice time and she calls to screw it up,” I tell him, and then I hand him the phone. “Tell her you'll call her back.”
“Stop being dramatic,” he says.
We're getting ready for bed when he says, from the bathroom, “You gonna go see your family?”
I've got my uniform shirt up over my head when he asks. I throw it on the chair by the dresser. “Maybe. I don't know.”
My family is far away. Hours, maybe. And it's awful outside. I don't want to drive in this shit.
I'm leaving the bedroom and going down the hall, and I hear him running the water in the sink. When I get to the bathroom, he's in his underwear. He looks at me and smiles. “Get naked. We have to go to sleep.”
“I'm too dead to be naked.”
I'm picturing Mrs. Blake face down in the snow outside, dead.
Maybe I'll lure her up here next time she visits and push her down the stairs.
“What are we taking to Mom's for Christmas dinner?” He wants to know, combing his hair.
A bomb, I want to tell him. Ninja stars.
“I don't know.”
He pulls his waistband out and lets it snap back, then he smiles at me.
“Shut up,” I tell him.
“What about Dad's?” he wants to know.
“I don't know. Let's talk about it tomorrow.”
“Mom's is two days away. I'll make something for Dad's if you do Mom's.”
I roll my eyes and laugh a little. “I'll make both; I don't want the house to burn down.”
He messes my hair up on his way out into the hall.
“Aaron,” he says to me when I'm almost asleep. I open my eyes and I can see that the world outside the window is a sparkling street-lit void.
“Let's run away,” I say to him, and he laughs.
“Aaron, I'm sorry my mom is mean to you.”
I sigh, and I turn to face him, the bed creaking under us. His eyes are shining and dark, and our hands mingle under the blankets, and I smile at him. “She's a bitch,” I tell him finally.
He laughs. “I know. I'm sorry.”
“My hands are cold,” I tell him, and then I jam them down the front of his underwear.
He jerks away, laughing.
I wake up in the middle of the night, and he's got his arms around me, his breathing warm on the back of my neck.
This must be what it's like to be married, I tell myself.
I look out the window, but it's not possible to see past the tree branches, covered in snow.
“Is it still snowing?” Warren wants to know, and I sigh.
“Yeah, it's still snowing.”
Then he's quiet. I close my eyes, so there's just the sound of the wind outside.
We're married. This is our house.
“I suppose I'll make some kind of cake,” I tell him, but he's already asleep.