The day I left, I took the pickle jar with me.
It seemed ridiculous at the time, but I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to find out and be angry when I was too far away to care. I imagined him searching in the backs of the kitchen cupboards, slamming the doors and cursing me under his breath, finding nothing but expired cans of corned beef and black-eyed peas. I knew how much he loved those pickles; how the particular brand he coveted could only be obtained from that one store on the other side of the city. No other brands would ever do. Lord knows I had tried over the years.
I’d tried substituting other brands into his empty jar while he was out at work, hiding the evidence under a stack of dirty diapers in the trash, but he would always work it out. He would crack open a beer, flop back in his chair and ask for his pickles with his special fork, the one he brought from his mother’s house when we got our first place together. Other men might bring furniture or books or a dodgy record collection into a relationship. He brought a pickle fork and a stack of porn magazines. I should have seen the warning signs back then I guess. But I made my bed and was blind to what lay under it.
So I would make myself busy in the kitchen, washing the dishes and rearranging the contents of the refrigerator, hoping that this time he wouldn’t notice, telling myself there was no way he’d be able to tell any different, that they looked exactly the same. He would eat them one by one, chewing thoughtfully with a look as sour as pickling liquor on his face and I knew it was just a matter of time before he would blow. I was fed up with sweeping up broken glass, mopping up the stinking vinegar puddles and picking up the slug-like pickles in my fingers from the corners of rooms where they had skittered away from his wrath. And I was fed up with him: his moods, his demands, his eyes that drilled into my back while I pretended to get on with whatever I was doing, pretended that I was happy. How had we ended up in this place? I didn’t know if anything would ever change unless he died or I died or we won the state lottery or something.
Don’t get me wrong. Nobody can say I didn’t try. Sometimes I did get the right pickles. Then he would smile and say, ‘Thanks honey, you’re too good to me!’ For a moment I would catch a glimpse of the man I fell in love with. But then he would add, ‘Listen. Make sure you always get this kind. I don’t like the others.’ Like I didn’t know that already. If I told him how hard it was to get them, he just frowned at me like I was speaking a foreign language and spoke in tones of increasing volume about him working hard to keep a roof over our heads and did I think he was asking for the earth? Did I think it was easy working the hours he did? Was I not able to manage a simple task like getting in the groceries while I only had one child to look after? I knew better than to get into an argument about it. The issue was non-negotiable, like so many others.
Getting to the store in his old neighbourhood involved a three-and-a-half-hour round trip; two buses each way with Haley Junior in his stroller or on my lap, whining and grizzling because he couldn’t sleep and his pacifier had rolled down the aisle and been trapped underfoot by a woman with legs like an elephant and a face like fury, or because he had a fever and I’d run out of his medicine, or his diaper was aggravating his skin or for the million other reasons that babies cry.
I would pray all the way there that they would have them in stock, and if they did I would load six large jars into my cart, as many as I could carry on my back, knowing they would buy me only a couple of weeks’ grace before I’d have to make the same lousy trip all over again.
That day in Brianna’s car on the way back from the mall I got the idea in my head. It was one of those unbearable days when it felt as if the air itself was oppressing me. Running into her in the drugstore had been a real piece of good fortune. I think she offered me a lift home out of pity, and on account of us being friends once before, but I had no pride left at that stage so was happy to take her up on it. Haley Junior fell straight to sleep in the back and I settled down to stare at nothing through the window. Brianna knew better than to probe about my home life. She smiled and put on the radio.
When the car rolled to a stop on the highway intersection, I saw the pickles. The half-empty jar sat on the concrete barrier in the centre of the junction, like maybe a construction worker had left them there after his lunch break, or they’d just been spirited there by a pickle-loving fairy. They weren’t his brand, but the incongruous setting of those miniature cucumbers got me thinking. I got to thinking that the pickles were a symbol of our whole crummy relationship, and how I was just trapped in it, surrounded on all sides by traffic passing me by but with nowhere to go.
When Brianna dropped me off I asked if she could give me and Haley a lift the following Monday over the state line to my sister’s. I said I could give her some money for gas. He always gave me money for shopping on Mondays. She looked a little awkward but then said yes. So that was it; decision made. I told her I was going for a visit. That wasn’t a lie, I just wasn’t planning on coming back. He could find someone else to buy his damn pickles.
REBECCA FIELD lives in Derbyshire and rarely eats pickles. She has been published online at Literally Stories, 101 Words, Flash Fiction Magazine and Spelk. She can be found on Twitter at @RebeccaFwrites
Image: Jenő Szabó via Pixabay