Excerpt and Story Notes: A Woman’s Work by R. J. Joseph
Jamarcus was on that crazy tip before he hit the door. I could smell it on him, underneath the sweat that drenched his dingy wife beater tee.
He clumped into the kitchen, sucking his teeth. “Hamburger again?” He slammed a plastic grocery bag of empty, stinking food containers into the sink, ignoring the clean dishes already there, waiting to be rinsed.
Ten years of marriage had taught me that the conversation could go badly, whether I answered or not. I remained silent.
I waited a couple of beats while my own anger leaped inside my chest. My neck prickled from the fire bubbling inside my skin.
“The whole block hears you.” I turned from the sink and faced him. He needed to back off. He didn’t always. Jamarcus was a handsome man, with chocolate colored skin that stretched over tight muscles and gleaned from his long day at work. I had loved him dearly once, warts and all. But I was getting tired of his shit.
He stared at me a moment and threw himself into a chair like a petulant child. “I work hard, you know. I’m sick of eating the same old thing every night.”
“It’s the best I can do, Jamarcus, when you spend money we don’t have on that bike of yours.” I placed a plate with the hamburger meat and macaroni in front of him.
“Oh, I’m gonna get my bike tricked out. And you nagging won’t stop me from going to Bike Week next month, either.”
“Do I ever nag you, Jamarcus? You do whatever you want all the time and I don’t say a word.” He wouldn’t meet my eyes and mumbled under his breath instead.
I held myself in check long enough to gently set a glass of ice on the table next to him, along with a pitcher of fruit punch. A roach scurried underneath my feet as I walked down the hall towards the children’s room.
The furious tears I’d held at bay slipped down my face as I ran my hand along our oldest son’s cheek. He’d been running a fever earlier, and I was thankful he felt cooler. I didn’t know where the money would have come from if I’d have had to take him to the urgent care clinic. Jamarcus would have told me the boy was alright, and to not baby them so much. But I knew when they were really sick, and Jr. was fighting some kind of kid cooties.
“A Woman’s Work” appears in the anthology Transitions and Awakenings and has a pretty dark history. Borrowed heavily from a kernel of an idea, I wanted to play around with the idea that feminine agency often looks monstrous in our society. What evolved from that was the story of a harried housewife who struggles with fitting into the boxes society would have defined her existence.