Bad sex lingers like pepto-bismal at the base of your throat. No matter how many glasses of water you drink you just can’t seem to shake that chalky pepperminty blah taste. It makes you wonder if you should have just lived with the sour stomach and diarrhea. Hence the case for celibacy. Standing in her kitchen on the linoleum that is 80% gross and 20% desert sand tone, she’s convinced that a solid erotic novel and ample stock of double A’s is the only way to go.
“Mom!” bellows her daughter. Pouring herself another cup of black coffee, she maintains her stance that one holler is not worth a break in stride. “Mom!” a second scream will get a raised eyebrow. But she hears Bella running down the stairs and knows this isn’t even a level three.
“Why are you screaming?” she asks Bella quietly, praying that her tone will be matched.
Bella is her father’s daughter, quiet is not in her DNA. “I can’t find my green chucks. I know I put them in my room but I can’t find them.” She is exacerbated. “If one of your little thieves has been in my room again…”pause for effect, “so HELP ME GOD!”
Justine turns and decides to add sugar to her black coffee. She counts herself a parenting veteran after 5 kids and 16 years of emergency room visits, stage fright, tantrums, cats in the dryer and toddlers climbing the water sprout not much shakes her.
Justine’s lackadaisical approach to her teenager’s emergent missing shoe debacle only raises Bella’s pitch another 3 decibels. “Mom, you never take me seriously!”
“Yes, I do Bella. I take everything you say and do quite seriously.” She jumps when the pitter patter of teeny tiny claws run across her toes. Spilling coffee on her comfy Saturday grocery shopping tank, Justine restrains herself, “Who let Frodo out?”
On cue number 2 and 3 come charging into the kitchen. The kids get offended when she refers to them in birth order. “We have names Mom,” they insist. But birth order is how she keeps track of them, especially in public.
“If you boys don’t get that rat back in his cage, I’m setting him free,” Justine says.
Marcus is adamant, “But it wasn’t us.”
“This time,” Joseph adds.
“Who stole my green Chucks, devil spawn?!” Bella descends on her brothers. She grabs Joseph by his shirt collar and stabs a finger at Marcus. “My shoes better not end up on your disgusting preteen toes or I’m gonna-”
“Enough Isabella,” Justine is calm. “Get the rat boys. Bella I’m going to let slide you calling me or your dad the devil,” pause for effect.”This time.”
Justine gets up to go clean herself off.
“Mom,” Joseph speaks. “Frodo is not a rat. He’s a rare pigmy guinea pig.”
Justine turns to give him “the look.” Marcus grabs Joseph, “Getting the ‘rat.’ Getting the ‘rat’.”
While heading to her bedroom, Justine makes a mental note of the chore chart hanging on the kitchen wall. She may be arbitrary in her use of the chore chart. There are weeks she follows it to the T and then there are entire seasons where the chores never change. Today, they’ve worked a nerve, so the chore chart is in effect.
She hollers so 4 and 5 hiding in their bedroom hears the decree as well, “No one is leaving this house until all this housework is D.O.N.E. There will be no basketball, no 2nd shift at Target, no chess club, no fun at Marky’s house and NO swimming! This kitchen floor is disgusting and there’s a rat loose. Not the best way to get your mama’s morning started!”
Jaws drop but they know she’s serious. Bella’s shoe crisis takes second seat as she scrambles to complete her duties. Working at Target is her privilege and the money she saves will get her the car her mother and father have actually teamed up against her about buying. She has to do second shift, its the longest and gives her most pay back.
“Sex brings kids,” Justine huffs. “Kids give you headaches.”
She found Marjorie and Austin in the bathroom arguing over who’s responsibility it was to clean it. She considers them and for the one millionth time since Marjorie’s birth 9 years ago, she decides it was a mistake naming her after her ex-husbands completely insane great aunt. Something about that name is cursed, Justine has decided tired of all the conferences to get Marjorie certified as one thing or another. She’s just slow, her grandmother concluded three weeks ago. “Elevator can’t go all the way up to the top in every building.” Justine looks at her and decides again its that damn name. She would have been better off as a Chelsea.
“Austin you’re on floors today. Start at the top of the stairwell and work your way down to the living room.” Austin looks surprised. Sweeping his mother’s prized hardwood floors is promotion from lavatory duty. At 7 he thought he had at least 3 more years before she’d trust him with something that important. Smiling he hands the toilet brush to Marjorie and goes looking for the dust mop and broom.
“Am I gonna be cleaning toilets for the rest of my life?” Marjorie looks disappointed. Big deer in the headlights eyes stare into Justine.
“You and me both babe,” Justine answers her and Marjorie laughs. “Boys don’t usually do a very good job get into the corners. Make sure our bathroom doesn’t have that peed in smell, okay?”
Loving that she’s a part of some awesome boy-proofing conspiracy, Marjorie smiles and nods. Justine considers if she’ll ever feel comfortable enough about Marjorie’s survival skills to let her live on her own. A crash from the kitchen makes her consider if any of the ‘spawn’ as Bella puts it will ever become productive self sufficient adults.
“We got it!” Marcus yells up. Justine enters her ‘sanctuary.’
The last man she brought home, was a guy who got promoted out of her district. He was arrogant and ordered dinner for her. Some carp crap, he thought was a delicacy. Justine shakes her head at the thought. She couldn’t even remember why she agreed to go out with him. It probably had something to do with Gabraiel (her best friend since 5th grade) trying to convince her to not be the weirdest person she knows. Justine was so disappointed by the whole encounter, it’s taken 8 months for her to even consider trying again.
At the time she was fresh out of divorce court and more than a little gun shy. She hadn’t had sex with anyone other than Marcus the first – her kids father – in almost 2 decades. She was sure she didn’t know the protocol for sex with strangers. But Gabby insisted it would make her feel better. Remind her she was still a woman. Justine hadn’t realized she’d forgotten but went on the date to confirm whatever the hell it was that needed confirmation. 3 seconds into the groping she knew she’d made a mistake.
The women from her divorcee group were appalled that she’d even considered pre-martial sex. Justine called them on their hypocrisy and that’s when 6 out of the 8 them not even including Justine admitted they’d all had sex post divorce. Only 2 said they enjoyed the encounters but Marsha and Tiffany said they enjoyed everything. They were enablers. Justine was sure if she peed on their legs they’d merely ask her what she’d drank that made the piss so warm and cozy. So she’s sure they too were victims of bad sex.
Pulling off her coffee stained tank, Justine considers the ‘sanctuary.’ Its not very sexy or even utilitarian. Its actually a hot mess. She has the ugliest blinds in creation. The golden roman shade was never her style. She’s not sure who convinced whom that it would work in the space, Marcus or the sales women at Sears. At any rate the roman shades were hideous and the warm chocolate brown walls resembled the first stool after birth. How they thought the mission style furnishings stained mahogany were stylish was beyond her. The only thing she’d changed in the 2 years post Marcus moving out was the rug. She’d tossed the beige 8×12 that had been stained every color of the rainbow with a decent plush throw the color of sunrise. It was the only thing in the room that didn’t make her puke.
Justine finds another tank and decides to make the beeline out the house to the grocery store before the kids notice she’s left the building. It’s a pipe dream but she felt it was worth a try.
They catch her in the driveway as she’s getting in the van.
“I’m coming too,” Marjorie hollers, holding one shoe and hoping on her left foot.
“Me too,” says Austin, who’s fully dressed but still holding the dust broom.
“Are all your chores done?”
“Are they done to MY standards?” Justine admonishes them.
They stare at each other. Justine nods,”I didn’t think so. Go back and get it right. I won’t be 30 minutes.”
“MOM!” Bella screams. “Where are you going! I have to be to work in 1 hour!”
Justine slams the car door and yells out her rolled down window,”I’ll be back in 30 minutes. If that house isn’t clean No. 1, you’re calling in sick. Understand?”Justine backs out the driveway sending the ‘death stare’ Bella’s way.
Her phone rings and she answers.
“I want to introduce you to someone,” Gabby starts.
Justine regrets answering the phone.
“Are you there?” Gabby sounds urgent. “Are you there?”
“Yes,” Justine huffs. “Who is it?”
“This guy who works with Carl at the shop. He’s nice and single but he has 3 kids,” Gabby pauses for effect. “They’re all little too. Like under 5.”
“No.” Justine is decisive.
“Tina it’s time you get back on the horse.”
“No horses. No riding. I’m good.” Justine is so close to hanging up the phone.
“No, Gabby,” Justine knows she’s about to go into whine but who the hell cares. “No fix up’s. Not this week. Hell, not this month. Try me in August.”
“Don’t you at least wanna get you some?” Gabby doesn’t give up easily.
Justine answers her,”Right now my running my fantasy involves a team of toned shirtless men descending on my house to shape my hedges, trim my lawn and replace shingles on the back porch while dancing to ‘It’s Raining Men.’ The best part of the fantasy is that in the end one of the washes my car and bring me a tall Long Island Iced Tea.”
“Come on Tina!”
“Gabby, stop looking for dates for me. Find me a handy man, who actually does chores. Not the stripper kind.”
Justine feels her friend backing down. “I just don’t want you to be alone.” Gabraiel sounds defeated.
“Babe, I got 5 kids. I’m never alone.” Justine laughs. “And I have you. Carl is more alone than I am.”
Gabraiel laughs along with Justine. Justine pulls into the Kroger parking lot and they get off the phone. Bella texts Justine to remind her not to forget the popsicles. Justine checks her list and adds popsicles right below the double A batteries.