By Sue Miller
Toast. It was all she could think about. With strawberry jam. Jocasta put two pieces of rye in the toaster and depressed the plunger.
When you were waiting for something, when you really, really wanted it, it was like waiting for toast to pop. It was the same when you were dreading something. She sat down at the kitchen table and pushed aside the mug of tea. It was cold anyway. She preferred coffee, but hadn’t said anything when Marcus asked her if she wanted tea. Coffee’s so much trouble for a tea drinker. She couldn’t see putting him through that, not when she was about to dump him.
Marcus shoved off from the green Formica table and wandered out onto the deck, clueless. He stood there in his briefs and t-shirt, glowing gold in the early sun. Jocasta watched him as he lit his first cigarette of the morning. Mrs. McGarry next door went inside when he smiled at her and waved good morning. Sometimes he was so thick, Jocasta thought. Just standing out there, hanging in the breeze, not caring that he wasn’t decent. It had bugged her long enough. This morning she was going to do it.
She jumped as the toast popped, and knocked the Smuckers onto the floor.
“What’s that, Honey?” he called through the slider. “You drop something?”
“Yeah, the jam, Hon.”
Damn it, why did he have to do that? Be so nice? That was the thing about Marcus: he was too nice. He was her salvation, after too many meatheads who were heavy on the hand. Marcus never hit her. He brought her flowers. He told her he loved her, and she had told him the same. Now she wasn’t so sure that what she felt wasn’t pity, of a sort. That and comfort. It was too easy to stay. Marcus was a goofball, a lopsided goofball, but it was this strange awkwardness that had attracted her at first. And she had stayed because hewas good to her, and that was new.
Two years had gone by. Two years of her life, living easy and feeling safe, and one day she had woken up and realized that she was bored. Poor Marcus. The axe was going to fall.
Jocasta looked at the splattered sharp glass and quivering red in a clump at her feet. Cleaning it up wasn’t going to be so bad. It was a full jar, so the jelly had taken most of the impact and there wasn’t too much glass on the floor. Still, when she went to pick up a larger piece, she managed to slice her finger open. She wailed and he was through the door, grabbing at paper towels and knocking the butter knife to the floor. It spun out and hit another piece into her toe, piercing it.
“Damn it, Marcus! What the hell!”
He backed away and she rocked, her two wounds sopping in the paper towels he pressed on her.
“Why don’t you sit and stop the bleeding, Hon. I’ll get this,” and he was already grabbing the broom and dust pan and scooping the globs of jam off the floor and into the trash.
She hated when he did that. When he jumped in and fixed things for her.
She stifled a cry as she bore down with the makeshift bandage and found there was a shard of glass in her hand. Then, she sobbed. He dropped what he was doing, took her hand and kissed it. Somehow he already had the tweezers and was taking out the splinter and pasting on a Winnie-the-Pooh band-aid, making it all right. Damn it.
Jocasta looked at the butter knife, spinning on the floor, a glob of jam glistening red on the blade. It was like a clock ticking. And then, it slowed to a stop.
Sue Miller lives in Connecticut.
Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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