She knows what it feels like to be quartered. She’s been pulled in four different directions for so long, she wouldn’t know how to function otherwise. Exhausted still after a day of ‘helping’ and getting four kids where they need to be in order to have one night of ‘me’ time, what she really wants is a long hot bath and quality time with her ‘just right for me’ mattress set. Instead she’s standing in the wine aisle at Kroger trying to decide what goes best with pork chops.

“What the hell am I thinking?” she murmurs reaching for the moscato. She hasn’t dated since…never. Tonight’s dinner at her house with this dude who sort of liked her in college is starting to look like the worst laid plan ever. After putting the wine in her cart she heads for the produce aisle. A glimpse of her reflection in the freezer windows is shocking and she really wants to cry. New growth makes the once red head a confirmed brunette, her face looks haggard and she knows no amount of makeup will cover up the fact that 4 hours of sleep is a pipe dream that has alluded her since 1992. Standing in the produce aisle, she calculates quickly that chinese take out is a more efficient that a home cooked meal. Wine in hand she heads for check out. Chung’s Emporium is on speed dial.

“Good Evening Mrs. Kim. Usual?”

Relieved that she doesn’t even have to think in order to make this step happen, she tells Chung’s daughter Stephanie that yes she will in fact have ‘the usual.’ Pork fried rice is a solid concession for pork chops and goes well with Shrimp Egg Foo Yum (which is what her youngest calls it). Soup and spring rolls round out the meal and she is assured that moscato was a better than average choice. “10 minutes.” Stephanie asserts but Kim knows it will be ready to go in 5. Timely take out from the Emporium is the one thing she can count on, without fail.

On the way home from the Emporium she realizes her ‘usual’ feeds 5 not 2. “I guess I think money grows on trees,” she huffs gunning the engine. In her mind she starts with a check list of to do’s when she gets in the house. Clean the kitchen, set the table, shower and change into something less work and grocery shopping and more…hell just more. Entering her living room her list expands as she surveys her home.

There is a huge hand printed jelly stain on the wall next to the kid’s table. Why a rocking horse no one can ride is center the room is beyond Kim’s comprehension. There are toys and crayons on every hard surface from the entertainment center to the end table to the bookshelf. The carpet hasn’t been vacuumed since she can’t remember when and the dining room is no better. “What the hell was I thinking?” she admonishes.

Placing the carryout on the dining room table, Kim gets to work to rearrange her home so that it looks a ‘little more single; a little less mommy.’ The toys go into the basket she keeps by the entertainment center. She places the rocking horse near the basement stairs and grabs the vacuum from the closet. Still not clear on how to work the receivers and whatnot on the entertainment unit she inherited from the divorce, she presses her ‘go to’ button and ‘thank you Jesus’ jazz saturates the room. Running the vacuum her mind rummages through her day.

Chelsea was a hot mess that morning. How she assumed her mother would allow her to leave the house in a hacksawed mini dress made from her school uniform is too much to consider. Kim often wonders if she’s going all wrong with Chelsea. She had wanted Chelsea to be able to spend more time with him, knowing that she needed her father especially now. But he’s a fool and Chelsea is extra and that never really works out. Tonight Chelsea is at her grandmother’s along with her sister and two brothers. The fool never really ‘got’ the whole custody plan thing down so ‘you know I’ll see them when I can.’ Kim feels her pressure rising just thinking about it. They need him and he’s too stupid to even phone it in. “Dumb ass,” Kim huffs turning off the vacuum.

She turns to the jelly stain. “This is baby girls handy work.” Its hard for Kim to really get mad at Jessie. She was born 2 months too soon and as the other three attest, she gets away with everything as a result. Mark even yelled one time, “I wish I had been a preemie!” Kim just can’t help it, every time she looks at Jessie she sees tubes and that damn incubator. Never mind Jessie is 5 year and healthy as a horse now. 409 is a miracle worker, especially with this eraser sponge. No sign of the jelly hand now. Kim considers the room. “It’ll do,” she decides and turns her attention to the dining room.

The flowers she bought herself on Sunday still look good. She freshens the water in the vase and decides to change the table cloth. Pulling a fresh purple on from the linen closet she decides that ironing it would be a good idea but it’s 6:30 and he’ll be here in 30 minutes. If he’s anything like he was in college, he’ll probably be early. Kim decides a few wrinkles in a table cloth won’t break any deals. She sets the table with the last clean dishes in the house.

The kitchen is a mess from the floor to the sink to the stove. It will take at least an hour to get it straight. “What the hell was I thinking?” Kim closes the kitchen door and goes to find serving plates for the take out. “Mama always tells me how you present is as important as what you serve. Let’s see if that advice works tonight.”

She doesn’t have fine china that got broke up years ago. When you marry a fool these things happen. Kim shrugs and grabs a decent enough serving bowl and platter. Her 10 year old usually likes to steal these things and fill them with cereal or bugs or Mrs. Beckwith’s cat. One time she caught him actually trying to dissect the cat (never mind she was still alive) on her serving platter. Rodney high on curiosity low on common sense. Kim shakes her head at the thought and places her takeout in the dishes.

Flowers, soup bowls, plates, forks, spoons, napkins. Napkins? She has no idea where the cloth napkins are, images of Nathan using them as bandanas cross her mind. “Paper napkins work,” she concides. The door bell rings. It’s 6:45. “I guess that means no shower.” Kim throws her head back and sighs. She’s still in her scrubs. “What the hell was I thinking?”

She goes to the door.

“Michael.” He looks like she remembers him, only…more. He fills out her doorway from top to bottom. She tries a smile and welcomes him in.

“Good evening, Kim. I brought wine.” He hands her a bottle of moscato, it’s sister bottle sits on the table. Kim laughs, “Thank you.”

Walking past her, he smells like Ivory soap. Kim inhales.

“Thank you for inviting me over. I appreciate the offer. Not often I get a home cooked meal.” He smiles at her. Yep, same guy, Kim thinks.

She admits, “I’ll have to give you a raincheck on the home cooked. Tonight the only thing I made was over the Chung’s Emporium for the usual. I hope you like pork fried rice.”

He frowns, “I thought you knew, I don’t eat pork.”

Kim is devastated, but replies, “Then I’m truly glad I didn’t buy the pork chops.” They laugh.

“There’s also soup, shrimp egg foo young and spring rolls.”

Turning toward the dining room, Michael notices the other bottle. “An plenty of wine,” He adds.

Thelonius Monk’s Straight No Chaser plays on the radio. Kim invites Michael to sit down. He’s impressed by the table setting and flowers. He would have brought flowers but the grocery store was out. He’s glad someone gave her the pink roses. Without thinking, Kim waves it off. “Oh I bought those,” she tells him.

Looking at her, he’s surprised. They talk about college and reminisce on days long gone by. “What have you been doing these last 20 years, Kim? That’s what I really want to know.”

Her head hurts. The weight of the day usually falls down on her shoulders at about this time. She can feel it in her shoulders and instinctively rises to go get a couple of Excedrin. She’s not thinking when she opens the kitchen door and her household madness is revealed. Michael looks at her. She is still voluptuous, not even the scrubs can hide the figure he remembers. The pregnancies rounded out her hips and brought a fullness to her breast she works diligently at hiding usually unsuccessfully.

Calling over her shoulders, she informs him, “I got married. I had four kids, Chelsea, Rodney, Nathan and Jessica but we call her Jessie. I got divorced. I finished my RN and now I work at Children’s. Would you like some water?”

She’s already running the tap. He tells her no and he’s standing in her kitchen doorway. Embarrassed, she tries to shoo him out of the kitchen. “Please don’t look,” she pleads. “I really didn’t want you to see this.”

Michael laughs, “What didn’t you want me to see, Kim?” He looks her in the eye and shrugs, “That you’re really not superwoman?”

“I’m not superwoman by any means. Not superwoman at all.” she mumbles. ¬†Heading back into the dining room, Kim prays this evening will end without her looking completely incompetent. Michael does not follow her. When she turns to look he’s rolling up his sleeves and stacking dishes on the counter.

“Please Michael,” Kim begs. “Don’t do that. I’ll get to them. Just come eat your dinner.”

Michael ignores her and starts making dish water. Kim’s mouth opens to protest but nothing comes out. He’s washing her dishes.

He’s washing my dishes, she thinks. She can’t remember when anyone has done anything for her with her nagging and reminding and yelling at them to do it. She can’t remember when anyone has voluntarily gone out of their way to take something off her plate. Her phone rings. Thinking its one of the kids, Kim answers it.

“Kim can you come in tonight?” It’s Peg, her supervisor.

“Not tonight Peg.”

“It’ll be overtime.”

Kim calculates. Overtime tonight will cover another month of piano lessons for Chelsea. Overtime tonight would mean she could get that stupid leak fixed. Overtime tonight would equal a down payment on Rodney’s braces. Overtime, Kim ponders.

“Do you have a brillo pad?” Michael asks her.

“There’s a man washing my dishes,” Kim blurts out.

Peg laughs, “Hell honey, what are you doing answering the phone? I’ll call Shanice.” Peg disconnects.

Kim stares at the phone. “Do you have a brillo pad?” Michael repeats.

“Under the sink,” Kim says but its a whisper.

He’s standing in the doorway. All 6’2″ of him is standing in her doorway. Filling it out and she notices that there is a scar above his eyebrow. The Michael from college didn’t have a scar. She starts to wonder what else is different about this Michael. Holding up sudsy hands, he asks,”Do you have a brillo pad?”

“Under the sink,” she manages.

He goes back into the kitchen. Slowly Kim picks up the serving dishes and walks in behind him.

“I’ll clear the table, Kim. Just sit down and have another glass of wine. I got this.” He smiles at her. Setting the dishes on the counter, she starts to feel like she’s moving under water. Her kitchen floor is sinking, she’s sure of it. She’s not sure what to do with herself.

Michael looks at her. She is frowning and starring through him. He shakes the suds off his fingers and gently guides her back to the dining room table. After settling her into a chair, he pours Kim a glass of wine and picks up the remaining dishes.

Kim takes a sip of wine. In her mind, she repeats, “There’s a man washing my dishes.” It is a mental mantra. She repeats it like a foreigner learning to say hello. Her back aches from lifting patients. Her head hurts from the million little details she’s sure she missed. She hasn’t slept a solid’s night sleep in 13 years. Everything rides on her. The mortgage, the extras, even her boss depends on her to cover when no one else will. He never washed dishes. He never lifted a finger to do anything other than ask her to do it for him.

Kim starts to cry.

Michael begins sweeping the floor. He can’t find the dustpan. He goes to ask Kim where she keeps it when he see her slumped over in her chair crying. He is by her side, questioning, “Are you okay?”

Kim looks at him. It takes his breath away. Her eyes soft now, sad but longing. Before he can even think about it, he’s kissing her.

Kim thinks her heart is going to explode. At any moment she’ll be dead from all this. She’ll be dead and who will take care of her kids. Michael’s hands are on her shoulders. His right thumb traces a line between her earlobe and collarbone. He is kissing her and her heart is racing. She cries.

Pulling back, Michael is unsure, “I’m sorry. Kissing was not on the list.” He laughs, “Well kissing you has been on my list for the last 22 years but I didn’t think tonight would be the night to do it.”

“If you kiss me again I may have a heart attack.” Kim informs him. She wipes her face and looks at him.

“I’m a paramedic,” He reminds her. His lips millimeters from her ears, he whispers, “I can resuscitate you.”

Closing her eyes, Kim leans in.

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