She hated the mornings the most.
Her muscles ached from lifting the kids, from carrying the laundry basket up and down, up and down, from sitting on the floor for hours after school, playing, pretending.
All she wanted to do in the mornings was light a cigarette and get to work just like that, in her ragged t-shirt and shorts, her eyes still crusty from sleep.
But no. The children woke as soon as they heard her stir and were on top of her, their long limbs around her waist, hands in her hair, sticky, wet kisses on her mouth and cheek. She struggled to get out from under their wiggly weight, away from their giggles and sweet morning breath. She had things to do.
“Come on, come on! Teeth! Face! Clothes! We’re going to be late!”
She emptied the dishwasher first—she was sure it would take an act of Congress for her husband to do it just once. She felt the hatred rise in her center every morning; she swallowed it all down with her coffee.
She lined up the three lunchboxes on the counter in the same order every day with tiny cuts of fruit and cheese and those squishy packets of yogurt and cereal bars thrown in haphazardly. She toasted bagels and poured cold orange juice and wiped noses and tied shoes, slathered sunscreen, hunted for sun hats, wrestled small bodies into car seats.
By 9 a.m. the day was hers again, so she did light that cigarette. She took a moment to watch the storeowner across the street roll up the security gates and splash a bucket of water on the sidewalk. Soon, he’ll bring out an old broom and swish-swish away for a few minutes, sometimes peering up at her on the balcony. She listened for her neighbor who always yelled at her husband as he left for work. “At least I don’t yell,” she thought and licked her lips, still tasting his shaving cream from their mandatory morning kiss.
She opened her laptop and tap-tapped away without noticing the morning turn into afternoon. “This is your true art,” her husband told her every day, and that was the only thing she believed coming from his mouth.
She did not feel that initial jealousy anymore when she looked at him. But she did feel giddy every time she thought of his face when he’d read her novel for the first time—when it dawned on him that she knew all along about the business trips and late nights, that she had noticed another woman’s scent on his fingers.
The check from her publisher arrived just the day before. It was crisp and cool as she smoothed her fingers over the blue lines and numbers. She tucked it under the stack of passports in her desk drawer.
She looked at her watch. She still had time to pack the children’s bags.
This story was shortlisted in the MashStories flash fiction contest.