Sept. 12, 1994


Josh Becker


       A look of cold, hard violence filled Esther's eyes as she spied the dirty spoon sitting in the sink.  The spoon was in the stainless steel sink all alone, not another dish or piece of silverware in the vicinity, thus making it all the more visible.  There was also not a spot or a crumb in the entire kitchen.  Esther's anger had her nearly immobilized until her twenty-one-year-old son, Aaron, sauntered into the kitchen. 
       "'Morning, Mom," said Aaron, yawning. 
       "Goddamnit anyway, Aaron!  What the hell is this?!!"  Esther held up the incriminating evidence for her son to identify. 
       "A spoon?" ventured Aaron. 
       "You're Goddamn right it's a spoon!  What the hell is it doing in the sink?  It's left there for me, right?  You expect me to do your dishes.  Well you're a little too old for me to be cleaning up after you, I can tell you that!  All this shows me . . . " she waved the spoon in his face, ". . . is disrespect.  If you intend to continue living in this house, you'll show respect to me and your father, and you'll do it by cleaning up after yourself, got it?"  Aaron looked at her with a weary, bored expression.  He sighed deeply.  "You think you might be making a bit more out of this than it deserves?" 
       Esther plummeted into the abyss of uncontrollable fury.  "Goddamn you, you little shit!  Don't you ever talk to me that way!  You only live here because your father and I allow it!  You don't like the atmosphere, move out! But you won't talk to me that way!  You can't even imagine what I put up with day in and day out, and the last thing on Earth I'm going to do is clean up after you! " 
       "I thought we had a housekeeper for that." 
       "It's not her job to wash your dishes, got it?"
       "I got it, I got it." 
       "Oh, don't give me that 'poor oppressed little me' routine.  You've got it pretty good here, don't you?  You don't pay rent, the cupboard is full of food, and all you have to do is take it.  Nobody asks very much of you, just clean up after yourself.  I will not live in a pig sty because of you!  I cannot tolerate this chaos!" 
       Aaron had suddenly had enough.  "A spoon in the sink does not make the house a pig sty, nor does it qualify as 'chaos.'  You are completely overreacting, and I'm sick of listening to it.  If I'm such a huge burden on you here, then I'll leave.  I've told you before that I can't stand being yelled at first thing in the morning, and no matter what I do you always yell at me first thing in the morning.  Well, I'm sick of it!  You've lost all perspective.  A spoon in the sink is not a slight to you; it has nothing to do with you.  It's just a spoon in the sink.  And if you want to know the cold hard truth, I didn't even leave it there!  And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go take two aspirins and get the hell out of this nuthouse.  Goodbye."  Aaron turned around and walked out of the kitchen. 
       Esther just stood there, her face bright red, her breathing labored, holding the tell-tale spoon.  Marvin, Esther's husband, had the great misfortune of being the next person to enter the kitchen.  Esther held the spoon out to him at arm's length. 
       "What the hell is this?" 
       Marvin sighed deeply and shook his head.  "Don't start with me, Esther.  I've got a big meeting in a couple of minutes, and I don't need to fight with you right now." 
       Esther handled this comment adroitly by bursting into hysterical tears.  "Goddamn you and Aaron and everyone!  Everyone treats me like shit, and I'm just supposed to take it, is that it?  Just shit all over Esther, that's all she's good for.  Just fill the sink with dishes; Esther'll wash 'em.  Just track mud across the floor; Esther'll clean it up.  That's all I'm good for, cleaning up after everyone, right?" 
       Marvin shook his head again as he walked out of the kitchen.  "Oh, Esther, for God's sake anyway.  Get a hold of yourself.  You don't have to clean up after anyone; we have Lena for that.  She's here four times a week strictly for that purpose." 
       Esther followed Marvin into the hall.  "You think Lena can straighten this whole house up in just four days? Well, you're wrong.  I do a lot of cleaning, and I will not clean up after you, you here me?" 
       Marvin put on his sport coat, picked up his briefcase, and beelined for the back door.  "Then who will you clean up after?" 
       This stopped Esther.  "What?" 
       "Since you feel compelled to clean, even though you could hire Lena seven days a week if you wanted to, who do you think you're cleaning up after?  There's only Aaron and me left.  The girls are both gone." 
       "I said, I won't clean up after you." 
       Marvin's eyes grew cold and angry.  "Then don't!  Don't clean up another thing, ever!  But shut your fucking mouth because you're driving me crazy!"  Marvin opened the door and stepped out into the garage.  His brand-new Mercedes sat beside Esther's brand-new Jaguar, which sat beside Aaron's Datsun 280Z.  Esther followed him. 
       "Don't you ever talk to me that way!  Do you hear me?  You have no right to speak to me that way!" 
       Marvin opened the door to his car and turned to his wife.  "You have no right to speak to me the way you fucking well do.  You think you get no respect?  Well, I'll let you in on a little secret, dear--everybody gets exactly as much respect as they deserve in this world."  Marvin got into his car and slammed the door. 
       Esther glared down at him through the closed window.  "Just what in hell is that supposed to mean?"  Marvin started the Mercedes, pushed the garage door opener, and hastily departed.
       Esther stood in the garage, her eyes bulging in fury.  She didn't know whether to shit or go blind.  She still gripped the spoon tightly in her hand.  She looked like she was going to throw it out the garage door after her husband.  She couldn't.  This was expensive silverware.
       Esther dropped the spoon into the empty dishwasher.  She added soap and started the machine.
       "Nobody understands what I'm going through."
       Esther went upstairs and started to get dressed so she wouldn't be late for her nail appointment.

* * * * *

       Forty-eight biweekly nail appointments later Esther was a completely different person.  Marvin and Esther had divorced after thirty-five years of marriage.  Marvin very quickly found a younger woman and remarried.  Aaron moved to California to become a musician.  Now all three of Esther's children lived out of state.
       Esther came out of the divorce just fine; she'd never have to work another day in her life (not that she'd had to work a day in the last twenty years, anyway).  She spent the next year shopping, going to lunch with her girlfriends, and having bad dates with silly, white-haired men in their sixties and early seventies.  They all would never shut up about their former wives.  "She had class, she had style, she was a good mother and an immaculate housekeeper." 
       "Then why'd you get divorced?"
       "She didn't understand me."
       Soon Esther couldn't care less about any of these things.  She still did them: lunch, shopping, dates; but they meant nothing.  Each night as she lay in bed by herself she couldn't help but wonder: 
       "How did this happen to me?"
       Esther got a job at the perfume counter at J.L. Hudson's department store.  She didn't need the money; it was just something to do.  Besides, she'd always had good taste in scents and knew instinctively which scent would interest which lady.  Men, too.  She had a knack for it.
       At first customers would make her crazy, but soon she grew to enjoy most everyone's quirkiness.  It was fun meeting new people all day long.  The perfume had a tendency to stay in her nose, but she always smelled good.

       She met Howard through the personal ads in The Jewish News.  He was neither as handsome nor as wealthy as Marvin, but he was fun to be around and could make her laugh like a little kid.  Maybe Howard was even partially after her money, but so what?  They'd spend it together and laugh while they were doing it.
       Esther and her son, Aaron, began talking weekly on the phone.  Good, long talks, too.  Life was suddenly on a more even keel than it had been in a long time.

* * * * *

       7:30 A.M. The alarm clock rang--time to get up.  Esther opened her eyes and blinked.  She didn't have to be at work until 9:00, but she needed the time to wake up and get ready.  She couldn't kid herself; getting her face on was a delicate operation that wasn't getting any easier.  It was really too damn bad it had to be done first thing in the morning, when she was at her shakiest.  If she could apply her makeup at, say, noon, she'd undoubtedly do a much better job.
       Nevertheless . . . you get up and you go; because that's all there is.  The getting up and the going.  She had a date with Howard that night; they were going to an outdoor jazz festival--a silly thing to do, but probably fun. Esther couldn't remember the last jazz concert she had been to.  Did Frank Sinatra count?  And when was that?  In the late sixties or early seventies, no doubt.
       Dressed in high heels and a reasonably tight skirt, Esther still looked pretty good.  She stumbled through the kitchen putting on her jewelry.  In her hurried frenzy of motion, putting on earrings and pushing on bracelets, she grabbed a container of plain yogurt from the fridge.  Gulping down four big spoonfuls to have something in her stomach, she took some vitamins and pills with a glass of orange juice, then hurriedly left the kitchen. 
       She reappeared a moment later and tossed the spoon into the sink.