By Nicole Sharp
The coffeepot sputtered and coughed in annoyance. Janie Holms sighed, waiting for that first drip of brown liquid to trickle into the twelve cup coffee pot. When it did, she gave another heavy sigh and righted herself, turning her attention to the house next door.
Her kitchen window looked directly into the Robinson’s dining room window. From where she stood, the view was ideal. The Robinson’s couldn’t see her unless they were standing next to their giant bay window, peering through, yet all Janie had to do was stand next to her kitchen counter, and she could see them from her cheap seats she joked dryly to herself.
She had never been formally introduced to the Robinson’s, just received some of their mail by accident. They were the kind of neighbors you waved to when you were both outside, but nothing more.
Mr. Robinson stood in the middle of the dining room, his attention on the hallway, on Mrs. Robinson who was hidden from Janie’s view. He was yelling, trying to tie his tie as he waved his hands about, punctuating what he was saying with is hand movements.
His briefcase was sitting on the table. Janie looked at the clock on her yellow kitchen wall, ten after eight. He would be leaving for work in five minutes and Mrs. Robinson would follow him fifteen minutes after that.
Mrs. Robinson didn’t work, that was a well-known neighborhood fact. Still, she stayed away for seven hours a day, always returning exactly forty-five minutes before her husband’s return. What she was doing, Janie hadn’t the faintest idea.
“Morning.” The voice came from behind her, in the hallway.
Janie knew what she would find when she turned around. Her husband, Brad Holms, dressed in a nice suit, hair matted to his head, the strong odor of old spice lingering around him. A tiny jagged piece of toilet paper would be a polka dot on his chin where he nicked himself with a razor, and his briefcase would be tucked awkwardly under his arm.
He would smile shyly at her, walk past the kitchen table, place the briefcase on top as he made his way to Janie. She would give him the same smile he gave and turn her cheek so he could deposit his usual kiss. His obligatory kiss, maybe. There was no passion in it, no motive behind it, no teasing, just the slight sensation of lips on skin.
As he walked away from her, she would wonder why he did it. For the briefest of moments, she would wonder if the kiss was part of her wedding vows that she had missed.
The kiss completed, she would parrot his “Morning” call and thus began the same ritual they played every weekday morning for the last two years.
The final burp and purge of coffee splattering against the side of the glass pot announced the anxiously awaited completion of the morning coffee.
Janie brought the pot to the table and set it on a ceramic tile. She sat across from Brad and watched as he buttered his toast she had set out.
“Thanks Janie, a good breakfast is always a great way to start the day.” He said as he poured his coffee, looked over the newspaper she had set next to his plate and aimed the buttered toast at his mouth.
So he didn’t notice that she said the words with him, mouthed them softly, slowly. It was the same comment he made every morning. Again, she wondered when this had happened, when had they become this predictable?
Maybe they’d never been un-predictable.
Her parents used to greet each other every morning in just the same manner, her mother happily setting out breakfast for the family, toast and fruit. Her father smiled and kissed her mother on the cheek. But there had been something else, something in her parent’s eyes that wasn’t in her eyes. Brad’s eyes were void of it as well.
She smoothed out the plastic tablecloth her attention on the bright fruit that played tick-tack-toe in a yellow gingham pattern. Oranges, cherries, apples and bananas fought for three in a row, no one won. She held her cup with both hands and used the warmth of the mug to confirm that she was feeling something.
Two years ago she had stood on an alter in an overflowing church and promised to love, cherish and honor Brad Holms. He had taken her shaky hands into his large hands, sticky with nervousness and vowed the same thing. They laughed and held hands at the reception, both blushing when a clatter of silverware striking water glasses demanded a publicly shared kiss. With well wishes and congratulations, they had driven off in a white garnished car for the first night of their honeymoon.
Brad was the boy next door who had done everything right. Janie was the girl next door. The clever one who had been Brad’s shoulder to lean on and a playmate as a child. Folks thought they might go away to college, take an adventure and find themselves in wondrous places. Instead, Brad and Janie surprised them all by announcing their engagement.
She had been nineteen, Brad twenty-one. They had told everyone they were in love, but at times, Janie wondered if, perhaps, they both were just too lazy to look beyond the hedges that separated their yards. She had been a lovesick puppy from the moment Brad joined the basketball team and she developed hormones enough to notice the young strapping boy next door. The boy she had eaten dirt with as a child and who had mercilessly teased her when she dressed up as a banana for Halloween.
They started to spend time talking under the tree that divided their yards. Brad would talk endlessly about sports and the girls he was dating, Janie listened. Then, one day, when she was eighteen years old, it was Janie’s turn to bemoan her own dating problems. Brad saw something in Janie then that he had never seen before; a young woman who was beautiful and clever and the kind of girl a man marries.
They began dating after that. Holding hands, walking to the ice cream parlor together and cuddling at drive-in movies.
Brad had gone to the local college for two years, but didn’t like it. He applied to a collage back east, so had Janie, but when they both received their acceptance letters, they met at their tree and together burned the letters. Then Brad proposed.
Six months later, they pulled their honeymoon car into the parking lot of the orange roofed Howard Johnson. Janie had carefully gathered her wedding gown around her, and smiled as Brad held out his hand to help her out. It didn’t sink in that they were married, it still hadn’t sunk in to Janie that she was dating Brad Holms, boy next door. She hadn’t decided if it was an elaborate prank or if love was meant to be as bland as it was with Brad.
In their room, they stood on opposite sides of the king sized bed, licking their lips, looking everywhere but at each other. Finally, Brad put them into motion.
He said he was going to freshen up, and that perhaps Janie would want to get out of her cumbersome dress. It was the cumbersomeness of her dress that made her want to stay in it. It was a barrier between her and what was to inevitably come next. She had heard her friends snicker and giggle over the details of sex, but the idea didn’t appeal to her. She was uncertain about everything, and the few brief conversations she and Brad had about the topic, ended with his confession that he didn’t know much about it either and an abrupt subject change.
Eventually, with the lights turned off and nothing but the darkness between them, they consummated their wedding vows. Janie biting her lower lip, Brad apologizing throughout the entire process.
Now, thinking back on that night, on the nights they had silently tried to perfect the motions, she pulled at the collar of her tattered pink terry cloth robe and closed it tightly at her throat.
Brad shifted in his chair, and she knew it was time for him to leave. Time for her to spend most of her day wondering what to make for dinner. Daring herself to stay, to be home when he arrived back from work. Daring herself to leave. And that was the dilemma, she knew she wouldn’t leave.
She glanced over to the window and watched as Mr. Robinson gave a knowing smile to his wife before he kissed her full on the mouth, his lips lingering above hers, longer than Brad’s lips ever lingered over Jamie’s.
“I’ll see you around five.” Brad interrupted, the statement sounding more like a question than a comment he believed to be true.
Janie nodded her head and forced a smile. She walked over to where he stood with his briefcase in his hand. She straightened his tie and licked her lips.
“I love you.” She said, looking into his eyes, searching, the way she did every morning. She never knew what it was she was looking for, but she thought she would know it when she saw it.
“I love you, too.” Brad replied softly, he lowered his lips, offered the quick peck, turned and left the house.
Janie sat down heavily in the chair Brad had abandoned. How many times would they have to repeat the words before they convinced themselves they truly did love each other, she wondered.
She looked at the clock, eight forty-five. She looked out the window and saw the Robinson’s maid enter the house. In ten more minutes, Mr. Robinson would return home for something he forgot and spend entirely too much time at home before he left the house straightening his clothes. The maid would then leave at ten thirty.
Janie sipped her coffee and wondered where Mrs. Robinson went every day.