Beverly took in a deep breath and looked around at her newly cleaned surroundings. It had indeed been years since her house had felt and looked so sanitary. She ran her hand along the top of the white wooden ledge where she hung her badge, keys and purses. An image of her smiling face and clear brown eyes stared back at her, reminding her that in a few hours she’d have to get back to the other side of her reality.
There was a 12 hour shift approaching at the local Gwinnett Medical where she worked as an RN.
She traced her hands along the cream banister, now devoid of finger prints and liquid stains, and climbed the stairs. How had she allowed her surroundings to become so unsanitary in the first place? She stood on the top of the landing and inhaled again. The faint scent of lilacs flooded her nostrils. She closed her eyes and relished in it.
“Are they gone yet?”
Beverly’s eyes flew open before answering. Craig was standing at the bedroom door with a beer in his hand. She eyed it gloomily and checked the tone of her voice before answering. She didn’t want to have a fight today.
“Yes, they just left,” she replied softly.
“Speak up!” Craig roared. “I can’t hear you when you talk like that. You’re not in the hospital!”
“Sorry”, she muttered.
Beverly had always had a hard time separating her professional life with her personal one. She WAS a nurse. She lived and breathed her job. It was all she ever wanted to be. Now that she had moved from Chicago to Atlanta, her dreams had become a reality and she was enjoying the full manifestation of years of prayer and hard work. Somehow, she never imagined that part of that manifestation would include a depressed husband and an asthmatic child. She worked in medicine, but she couldn’t cure either of them. She sighed and maneuvered her hefty body around her intoxicated husband.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to take a shower and get ready for work.”
“You don’t have to work for another three hours,” Craig pointed out.
“Yes, but I have some errands I wanted to run before I had to go in,” Beverly replied. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it to the grocery store before it closes.”
Beverly pulled on a pair of scrubs and carefully unwrapped her hair. In the mirror she could see Craig staring at her. The look on his face was full of contempt, his eyes icy with disgust. He had never forgiven her for moving the family down to the South. In Chicago he had made a decent living as a security guard at his cousin’s beauty supply shop. It was enough money to put gas in his car and buy nice things for his closet. They had lived in a small apartment and rent wasn’t that bad. Beverly paid most of the bills anyway. Life was good. Suddenly she got it into her head that she wanted to move to Atlanta and get this house. He still remembered the day she gave him the ultimatum.
“You can stay if you want to, but I’m taking Omicron and leaving.”
Craig couldn’t imagine his life without his son. Deep down inside he knew he was a bum, but Omicron was the only thing he felt like he’d done right. No judge in the world would ever give a barely employed Black man with a high school education full custody of a lab rat, let alone an infant. He felt like he’d been bullied into this new life. He hadn’t been able to find a job in Atlanta in months. He wasn’t qualified to do anything, at least not for the pay he expected. He felt worthless.
He leaned against the door frame and glanced at the hallway which was now devoid of pet hair and fur.
“I see they got all your nasty dogs’ hair up off the ground,” he snorted, taking a swig of warm beer.
Beverly ignored him and continued to get dressed.
“You really are a nasty whore,” he spat. “You can’t keep a house clean for nothin’.”
When his insults went responded to, he dug in further.
“In fact, you can’t do nothin’ right. You’re fat and you’re stupid. The only thing you ever did right was lay on your back and carry my baby.”
Beverly spun around and started to say something. She drew in a sharp breath and stopped herself. She couldn’t risk a physical fight before going into work. She and Craig had gotten into it so many times before, but this last time had been the worst. She had nearly killed him with the choke hold she’d put him in. It didn’t matter what kind of names he called her, she still loved him. She was sure they could get back to that teen aged love they’d shared so many years ago. He used to make her feel like she could fly. She had grown up so much…but why hadn’t he? His failure as a man had made him so mean. She was sure moving to Atlanta would be good for him –to stop relying on his family, force him to stand on his own two feet and support his wife and child. Instead it had just made him introverted and mean.
“Can you please pick up Omicron from daycare by 6:30 tonight?” she asked, her expression stoic.
Craig flopped onto the bed and turned on the TV. She rolled her eyes and poured dog food into a bowl for her precious pups. Beverly knew better than to ask Craig to walk or feed the animals. He’d sooner run them over with his truck. The spare room was the only safe place for them while she was gone. When she unlocked the door and stepped over the threshold the dogs came running wildly at her, barking and nipping at her ankles. She welcomed the assault. Her dogs were the only being in this house that seemed to hold her in any regard.
“Here babies,” she cooed. “Here’s your food. Momma will be back in the morning, okay?”
“Shut that damned door!” Craig roared. “Them animals stink!”
Of course he was right. Pet hair and animal feces was now imbedded into the carpet. But what could she do? She didn’t have time to clean and Craig wouldn’t help her. Beverly set the bowels of water and food down and picked up the soiled newspaper that sat was now the same brown color as her carpet. She knew better than to have the cleaning ladies walk into this part of the house. The rest of it was bad enough, but this room might have made them walk out on the job altogether.
“Momma will be back later,” she whispered again, backing out of the door and locking it.
The air no longer held that pleasant floral scent, but now rather carried the familiar stench of failure, neglect, decay and broken dreams. In time she would ask the cleaning ladies to come back. They had given her a glimmer of hope…a sensation that had become far too foreign to her.