It smelled like cat piss. No matter what she did, it always smelled like cat piss. Even with cloves hanging in the air, even after Swiffering the floors three times. After spraying lavender essential oil from Whole Foods. Even after making dinner, cleaning the dishes, taking out the trash.
She handed her husband the wide, shallow dish of spaghetti. Sauce coated the inside edges; not exactly top marks for presentation. She winced as his hand brushed her arm on the way to grab the bowl in hasty hunger. She’d burned herself—a steam burn. She poured the ditalini too fast, and the old sink drained too slow, and she was right on top of it. Lucky she didn’t burn her face.
“What’s this?” He scowled at the bowl’s edge, his mustache fanning out along his frown. Always pouting.
“Oh, just a bread crumb.”
“What’s it doing on my bowl?”
“I used them to cover our sandwiches earlier. The bowls, I mean.” He wasn’t impressed. She sighed and handed him her bowl, at which he raised an eyebrow. He inspected the edges. He grunted in begrudging acceptance. She sighed and sat down next to him, tucking her feet up next to her right hip so that she sat at a slant, pressed against the left armrest of the old, dusty couch. And she wondered why her joints always ached.
“This tastes different.” It wasn’t a question, so she didn’t answer it. She scooped a too-hot bite of spaghetti into her mouth and regretted it, but she kept chewing anyway. After she swallowed, she could feel the rough patch in the middle of her tongue, like a rug burn on your ankle that you forget until you pull wool socks across it. She scowled at her bowl and decided to wait until the food cooled down a bit before she’d take another bite. Tongues regenerate quickly. She stirred and watched the steam escape.
She felt him staring at her.
“I SAID, ‘this tastes funny.’” She looked at him, with his face jutting forward, his eyes wide, eyebrows raised, his mouth a stretched line. Exasperation.
“I didn’t realize that was a question,” she said. He scoffed lightly and rolled his eyes, thumping back against the couch as he shook his head. “What? What’s your problem?”
“What’s my problem? What’s yours?”
“What do you mean?”
“I obviously wanted to know what you did differently with the food.”
“Then why didn’t you just ask? You don’t have to be a fucking asshole about it.”
“Oh, now I’m being an asshole?”
“Yeah, you kind of are,” she said. Her turn to roll her eyes.
“Just fucking TELL ME what is DIFFERENT about the FOOD.”
“Jesus fucking Christ. I ADDED CREAM. Why does everything have to be an argument? Why are you always so contentious?”
“You tell me,” he said. “This all started with you.”
“Oh, my god. No, it didn’t. This started with your fucking attitude,” she said.
“I don’t have an attitude. You are just too sensitive, and you’re the one who decided to change the fucking food when it was perfectly fine the way it was!”
He slammed his bowl onto the coffee table in front of him; ditalini and sauce sloshed up and out one side of the bowl, smearing against his PlayStation controller before settling into a gooey pile right beside it.
“Oh, fucking GREAT. What the fuck,” he said, turning to look at her, but she was already halfway up the stairs, licking the crumb off the side of her bowl.
Adrienne Marie Barrios is a disabled, neurodivergent writer and editor. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Punt Volat, mac(ro)mic, Interstellar Literary Review, Queerlings, Drunk Monkeys, and superfroot. She is editor-in-chief for Reservoir Road Literary Review and edits award-winning novels. Find her on Twitter @AdrienneMarie_.