Eleanor Marks drove home from her job as a mid-level secretary in a mid-level accounting firm. Her ten year old car was a sedan, as plain as she was. Once home she made grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans for supper. It was the same thing they had every Wednesday night. Her husband, Arnold, arrived home promptly at six and wanted dinner on the table by six-fifteen.
“Good supper, El.” He wiped his mouth on his napkin and went into the living room to watch the seven o’clock game show.
El. Eleanor sighed and began clearing the table. Her family called her El, too. All of the people in college and now at work called her El. Why couldn’t she be Ellie? Ellie was bright, happy, and popular. El was plain, ugly even. She hated her short name. Once, in high school she’d tried to get people to call her Ellie. It was a waste of time. No one noticed the plain girl nor cared enough to follow her request. She stopped trying years ago.
After she did the dishes she came into the living room. Arnold was turning the channel to catch his favorite eight o’clock TV show. She picked up her embroidery hoop and began where she left off last night. Tonight’s program was another shoot ’em up cop show. She wondered why her husband liked them. No one on the series was happy. It was depressing.
At a commercial break she turned to Albert. “I think there’s a leak in the roof. There’s a water spot on the upstairs bathroom ceiling.
“Always something.” Albert got up and went to the kitchen. He came back, beer in hand, just in time for the show to restart.
Eleanor took a deep breath. She’d remind him on Friday and he would take care of it over the weekend. The show droned on and she occupied herself with the tiny stitches. The thread colors pleased her, reds and oranges, violets and blues, greens of grass and moss and new shoots. She loved them all.
At nine o’clock Albert turned off the TV and began his nightly routine of checking that the doors and windows were all locked. Eleanor followed along behind him, turning off lights. She wondered how this routine began. They never even spoke. They just started the house rounds, every night the same.
He readied for bed and vacated the bathroom. After her hand washing and face creaming, she stood in the adjoining bathroom door and looked at her husband, already asleep in their queen sized bed. She rubbed the lotion into her hands.
She’d never dated in high school. No boy wanted to date such a plain girl. So it was in college that she dated. Not the cool popular boys. College was just high school on steroids. But George worked in the student cafeteria when he wasn’t in class studying programming. Certainly not handsome, they had begun talking as he bussed nearby tables. One date, then two, and before she knew it they were going together. He graduated the year before her and at their quiet graduation ceremony, just the two of them at the local pizza place, he proposed.
Eleanor wondered at her immediate acceptance. Did she think there were no other men out there who would be interested in her? She drew a deep breath, a lump forming in her throat. That must have been it. She was so pleased to be asked that she just took the first offer. Finished rubbing in the hand lotion she went back into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She studied her face in the mirror. There was nothing to see. Eyes were gray, not blue, her hair was graying, and she didn’t have the energy to even consider dying it. What was the point? It was a mousey brown to start with, hardly worth trying to keep. Wrinkles were forming at the corners of her eyes and mouth, as were jowls at her jaw line. The lump in her throat grew and she sat down on the toilet lid.
How did she get here to a boring marriage in a boring life in a boring house? Perhaps children would have made the difference but Albert wasn’t able. She considered how children might have changed their lives. PTA meetings, taking the children to sporting events and talking with the other parents as the kids played on the fields or courts. They might have become more social. Instead they became insulated. Neither of them made friends at work so there were no get-togethers for drinks or dinner after work. It was just the two of them, moving silently though a quiet house every evening and weekend.
Tears flowed down her face and she unrolled three squares of toilet paper to wipe her eyes. She was only forty-five. She was smart. She liked good food and music and plays. Eleanor felt trapped by a life she’d built one small decision at a time. Crying herself out, she blew her nose and rewashed her face. In the mirror she could see that her eyes were red and puffy. It didn’t matter. Albert was sound asleep. He’d never know that she had been crying.
She turned out the light and crawled into bed. Eleanor stared at the ceiling. He never knew that she cried every night.
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