“Just a second, honey. Let’s go through the grocery list one more time.” Gabbie Pentland growled under her breath as her husband said this. They had checked that list a dozen times already before leaving for the store. Now he wanted a re-check in the parking lot? He had already noted that the packets of oatmeal they were going to get had to be exactly 500g and have a cooking time of 3 minutes. He had already changed the number of milk cartons from two to one because apparently, they each used one cup in their morning cereal and at that rate they would finish the milk in exactly one week. Could he be more painfully detailed?
“That looks perfect,” he said after re-reading the list. “But honey, is there anything you want changed? Because I’m totally willing to compromise if you’re not happy with how it is.” That was a blatant lie. She knew that the last thing he wanted her to do was to change anything on that list.
She wouldn’t be surprised if the mere suggestion of a change set his head on fire. Just the previous week he nearly lost his mind when she shifted the microwave two centimeters off to fetch a lost earring. And of course, right after sprinting over with a panic-stricken face and shifting it back, he gave her that saccharine, “Honey, I just think it looks so much better over here, but if you would like to rearrange anything in the house, we can talk about it. We’re married now so it’s teamwork from here on.” They had only been married for three weeks but for Gabbie, it felt like three long, long years.
“No, honey. The list is perfect,” she replied, stretching her lips to a smile that was about as genuine as what she’d just said. Then she reached towards the backseat to fetch her purse and quickly remembered it wasn’t there. “Would be safer in the boot,” he’d said, “in case we get into an accident.” Right.
In the store, they stood in the bread section for about 15 minutes, him memorizing every word on the labels and her counting to ten and back down to one just to stay calm. “Hey, I think I saw those circular coasters you wanted over there,” she said when she felt she couldn’t bear another second next to him. “I’ll go check quickly.”
“Oh really? I didn’t think they sold them–”
“Yeah, yeah. I saw them. Be right back.” And she sprinted to the opposite end of the store.
As soon as she was out of his sight, she stopped, grabbed the edge of the shelf closest to her, and took a deep breath. She wondered if it was not possible to teleport to a place far, far away from him or to at least to travel back in time to the days when she was still single and searching.
Looking about her, she realized she was in the electronics aisle. Her eyes caught on to a toy-sized ukulele on a shelf three steps away. She walked up to it and let her fingers caress the strings. Her mind wandered back to the guitar player she had for a Tinder date just three months ago.
He had a way of making her laugh without even trying. On their date, she had laughed so hard that she dropped her wine glass on the table. Then with a serious face, he said, “Did you know that if you run anything through a white tablecloth it becomes purified? So, this wine right here is completely pure.” She had to use all her strength to not burst into laughter again.
Later, after their waitress had moved them to another table, he offered to play a song for the restaurant to make up for the trouble they’d caused. And at the stage, it was as if the music transformed him into a different person altogether. Nothing else seemed to exist except for him, his guitar, and the mesmerizing tunes that came out of his mouth. The words he sang told a moving story about two beautiful birds that had grown old together, changed their songs and their colors and forgot the reason they loved each other in the first place. At the end of it, not a single person in the restaurant remained seated, as they clapped and dabbed at their eyes with their napkins.
“Andrew that was beautiful!” She said when he joined her back.
He replied with “Oh” then he glanced back at the stage, thought for a second, and added, “Thanks.”
Then he placed his guitar on an empty chair nearby, took off his jacket and draped it around the guitar. The look she gave him asked, “What the hell are you doing?”
He responded saying, “Oh, I think it’s cold. I could see some goosebumps on it when I was walking back here.” And again, she was a fit of laughter. She would have never been bored with him. Her life was so much more fun back then…
“What are you doing?” her husband’s voice startled her, snapping her out of her stupor. He had found her in the aisle she was hiding.
She realized she had taken the ukulele off the shelf and was pretending to play it. She reluctantly put it back, and said, “Nothing. I didn’t find your coasters.”
“That’s okay. We’ll look for them at the other store,” he replied, “They only have the 20-leaf packets of tea here, and we can’t get two of those because that will be too much. So we have to go to the other store to get a 30-leaf packet that will last us until our next grocery trip on Monday.” And Gabbie silently prayed that a natural disaster would strike that horrid Monday. She couldn’t even begin to imagine going through another one of these trips.
Back at home, he went upstairs immediately to add the new pack of white socks he’d bought to the collection he already had. A single file on the left-hand side of the third drawer from the top. That’s how they had to be arranged. Folded once only, and always in pairs.
She stayed downstairs staring at the bags of groceries she was supposed to unpack. No part of her wanted to touch them. She just kept wondering how her life had cartwheeled so quickly. Just two months ago, on a night like this, she would have been trying different outfits in her room preparing for yet another Tinder date. She would have gone out to meet yet another crazy guy, had another crazy date, and returned to text all her girlfriends about it. Then she would have spent the rest of the night drinking even more wine, eating buttered popcorn and watching Netflix.
She had told herself all through those days of reckless single living that all she was doing was looking for the right husband. When she found him, she would stop, settle down, and get on with being a wife. She told herself all the monkey bar dating was just temporary, all part of the hunt for the right man. If it happened to be fun, that was just a bonus.
Then one of the guys asked her for a second date. And on the second date, he proposed. She was shocked. It was what she told herself she wanted all through those years, for one of them to drop on one knee, but when it finally happened, it felt surreal in a terrifying way. She couldn’t immediately think of a reason to say no. So, she said yes. Two weeks later, she walked down the aisle. And the nightmare began.
She was still thinking about the terror her life had become when her husband came running back down the stairs. “Do you know how to make Quinoa Tabbouleh?” he asked when he was halfway down. “If you don’t, I can show you, but you have to listen carefully because the measurements are very–”
“Let’s get pizza,” she interrupted.
“Pizza? Honey, you know we can’t do that” he said incredulously.
“Well for starters, it’s really unhealthy. And you can’t be sure if they used the right amount of cheese in–”
“Screw off with that!” she screamed before he could finish, hurling the bag that was in her hand across the room. “Why do you need to be so damn painful with everything for God’s sake?!”
“Gabbie!” his voice trailed off in shock.
“Why do you have to freak out about every single minor detail all the time? Who in the world writes a Ph.D. thesis for a grocery list?! Who spends 30 minutes just picking a freaking loaf of bread?” Then she yanked a nearby chair, slumped into it, and dug her fingers into her hair.
He was silent for a few seconds. Then he walked over to the counter, picked up the bread, held it in his hands for a while, and replied, “Clearly you don’t and that’s why you look the way you look.” He looked her up and down, letting his eyes linger over her rather wide hips.
There was a loud gasp. And a couple more seconds of silence.
“I want a divorce,” she said. Then she stood up, grabbed her purse, and stormed upstairs to the guest bedroom.
Two months later, Gabbie Pentland was once again trying to wing her eyeliner on a Friday night. She had a date with the Uber driver that had dented his car as he drove her home from the previous night’s date. This time, she wasn’t secretly hoping he would be the one to drop on one knee. This time, all she wanted was to have some fun and leave the date with another story to tell.