HIS GOOD WIFE • by Tina Wayland

She hears the fat thump from down the hallway and pokes her head out from the kitchen. Sighs. Then reaches to turn the turnips down and throw her oven mitts on the tabletop. The dead weight of Granny, sunk into the wall, makes Irene’s back ache. Granny, crying, sorry, is dripping tears onto her shoes. Irene wipes Granny’s face with her sleeve and heaves her up, grunting with the force of it. Adding more layers of tired to her worn-out bones. Irene pinches her thigh. Bites the inside of her cheek. Leads Granny down the hall and into bed.

Irene pulls the chairs in around the kitchen table and sets the turnips boiling again. She hears George come in with the kids and puts on the peas, the carrots, the beans and potatoes. Two kinds of meat. Cheese. Soup and sandwiches. Milk and water and juice. Four menus for six people. Butter cookies for dessert. The kitchen windows are dripping, dripping. Irene is sweating, turning, what don’t you like, George? Yes, I can make a little more steak. Yes, a bit more well done.

George’s brother is home, late, asking for dinner. Irene sets the table again. He’s a bachelor, George had said. A paycheque. And Irene — desperate, defeated — had emptied the hall closet. Set up the cot. Moved Dana into the room that wasn’t a room. Put Uncle in with Ralph, the man with the boy. Her children are tenants, stuffed into spaces.

Irene pulls the tray from the oven to find the turnip bottoms burnt. She pours milk into the glass and winces, shaken, as she bumps into the table, spilling the last few drops. She mutters sorry to Uncle, who grunts and asks for more bread. Just two slices left in the bin. Irene breaks the last one in half and hides the pieces. She saves them, with a little butter and jam, turnip bits, milk in a thermos, for the kids’ lunches.

Granny’s early bedtime leaves Ralph, the eldest, with the gift of new bathwater. Dana gets near enough to new — foggy and skimmed with the scum of a twelve-year-old’s day, but still. Cleaner than usual. Warmer than normal. Irene scrubs Ralph’s ears a little less, leaves faint mud circles under his feet. She gives Dana, the youngest, the last, the inheritor of leftovers, her best bath yet. Irene dries her up with the good towel and combs her hair — smelling faintly, for once, of olive-oil soap. Dana, sleeper of dungeons, now queen of almost clean.

Irene tucks Dana in and closes the closet door. She leaves a blinking streak of black-and-white light across the cot, an invasion from the living room. Dana turns to the wall and sighs. Irene feels a twinge in her back and reaches around, rubbing familiar flesh. She blows Dana an unseen kiss.

Across the hall, now, Irene shuts Ralph’s light and smoothes the stray strands on the sides of his head. She knows that, much later, Uncle will come in and turn the light back on. Drop his shoes, light his last cigarette of the night. Ralph will stir and cough in his sleep, reaching for his pump. And Irene will hear it roll, roll, roll under the bed. Hear his rattling lungs. Listen for the peace or, when it doesn’t come, get up to help him fight.

At midnight, Irene shuts Uncle’s light, fixes Ralph’s near-to-clean tufts again, and heads to the living room. She fetches the sheets. Unfolds the hide-away couch. Rouses George from his slumber in the corner chair and crawls in beside him.

And she cries. Tears for the family she had and the family she inherited. For the babies she bore and the grown-up children she’s burdened with. And for her good husband who’d promised everything, everything and, in the end, did his duty before keeping his word.

Irene sleeps. She doesn’t dream.

Tina Wayland is a stay-at-home mom, freelance copywriter and out-of-the-closet fiction writer. She’s got her fingers in a few pies and hopes to net herself a few publishing plums.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Wait a minute. Four different menus, including two kinds of meat, but the kids are getting turnip bits for lunch?

    This was beautifully written with a compelling rhythm, but it just makes no sense. They can’t afford bathwater (and wouldn’t sponge-baths be better than a relative’s muck) but dinner includes even a minimal dessert? It’s like writing about dead kittens because you want the readers to cry.

    Irene needs to throw that cigarette-smoking uncle out of asthmatic Ralph’s room. There’s just no excuse for being beaten down and defeated when your kids need you to show a bit of fight for them.

    Another story I can’t give a star rating to, because the premise is lousy but the writing was great.

  • Randy whittaker

    I completely agree with the first comments. Great style to the writing and found it a very easy read. However, kinda tired of the “woe is me” story when it comes to women taking care of every little thing in a house. But again, I thoroughly enjoyed your writing style.

  • Joanne

    Agree completely with Sarah and Randy.

    Also, I may be missing the reference to the time period—I’m picturing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Angela’s Ashes, but the butter cookies and what I assume is Ralph’s inhaler tell me otherwise.

  • Tyrean

    Like the first two commenters, I had a tough time with the premise. I know women have been stuck in situations like this, and it’s hard to get out of them even in today’s society . . .but I would never let my kids get the leftovers like that. Never. It actually made me feel a lot less sympathy for the main character because I wondered if she really cared that much about her children.

  • JenM

    I quite loved this story.

  • Rob

    Well written, but ‘bleeding heart’. (Then again– the sad truth is, some people make the most horrible choices in their daily lives. Others don’t have the guts to insist upon the simplest of rules in their home. However, this MC seems to be just a complete melding of dysfunction. That shifts her from someone ‘bravely pushing on through adversity’ to a ‘walking dishrag’ and loses her the reader’s respect.)

    I look forward to seeing more of this author’s work but perhaps on another subject.

  • Paul Friesen

    I have to agree with the first four comments. Also could of used more of Arc or growth in the character. To me, it was more like – this is bad, this is bad, and this is also bad, but it lead nowhere.

  • Duncan McGregor

    I think this is a beautifully written depiction of life in a rut. To say that you can’t accept the premise or that you wouldn’t treat your children this way, is like saying that nobody lives (or has lived) like this. I would disagree. As for it leading nowhere – that is the nature of a rut.


    I have to agree with Duncan. This was a good depiction, he says, “of life in a rut.” I didn’t think this was an extremely powerful story or had one of those “aha” moments that you expect from Flash, but it was a nice slice-of-life portrait of a harried-and hopeless woman. Lastly, in terms of the food menus, I had no problem with those either as a woman in this clearly out-of-control predicament is probably going to be running a “restaurant” as opposed to a well ordered kitchen.

  • SarahT

    This story touched me on a personal level. 8 of us are all moving into a house together next week. 3 grandparents (2 with dementia, 1 with physical problems), my husband (about to be deployed) and I, and our 3 children (12, 9, 6). The 6 year old has severe ADHD.

    I’m a little nervous… to say the least!

    I actually can see how Irene has gotten into this rut. My MIL is the real-life embodiment of Irene. My MIL was brought up in a way that the men of the household get 100%, everyone else gets the leftovers. She would make dinner 4 times if someone asked her to. The smoking/asthma thing is horrible, but true. Trust me.

    1 year of caring for the dementia patients in her life has dragged her so low that she has been hospitalized several times, etc. That’s why we all need to move together, so I can take over much of the work.

    How often can a person say they can help someone in a story? This is a first for me!

  • vondrakker

    The last paragraph completes the picture.
    It gives the reason……WHY.
    He did his DUTY…..I’m thinking….
    MILITARY SERVICE….what are you thinking ?
    To the naysayers…commenting.
    My gr parents lived with us when I was a kid.
    This is actually a pretty REAL scenario…IMO.

    Thank you Tina
    Five bright stars *****

  • Tina Wayland

    Thank you all for reading my wee story and taking the time to write out your thoughts. It’s is greatly appreciated and you’ve given me much to think about. I’m especially reminded that real life doesn’t always translate into believable details in fiction.

    SarahT, you are a good woman! This story is a watered-down version of a day in my grandmother’s life (they were actually 9 living in a 3-bedroom apartment). Like your MIL, my grandmother was raised to serve and obey–even in her own home. She didn’t end up hospitalized, but the doctor finally forced her to stop by putting her in a body cast and making her stay in bed. She was well loved, but taken for granted, too. So were most women back then. I wanted to see though her eyes just for a moment. My hat’s off to you!

    Thank you all again! I’m so happy and honoured to have my writing appear with so many of your wonderful stories.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I thnk it legitimate–looking at fiction and at real life–to question whether behavior shows heroism or cowardice–loyalty or the enabling of someone else’s wretched behavior.

    Throughout history, men have used the excuse of their super-important jobs to dump the responsibility for EVERYTHING on their women. And enormous pressure is put on military spouses to shut up, deal with it–or risk endangering their serving partner’s career or standing. That’s the most evil sort of blackmail.

    Saying something is true-to-life doesn’t change the fact that it’s WRONG. I’ve seen people smoking right next to their asthmatic children, and that’s WRONG. In most cultures, the woman takes care of her family, and often HIS family–even while holding down employment outside the house, and that’s WRONG.

    The real-life counterpart to Irene was WRONG to allow her children to suffer because of her husband’s choices.

    Sometimes men choose careers that keep them away from home more often then they are home, because they don’t want to choose. They want marriage and kids, and they don’t want to be tied down to them.

    I know the world is full of beaten-down living doormats, and I think that’s WRONG.

    I think it’s GOOD that a story like this gives an opportunity to discuss it.

  • Tina Wayland

    Thanks for your input, Sarah!

    I must admit, though, I’m rather confused about where this is going.

    First, this was the reality of many families in the 1940s. Go back in time and it just gets worse. I don’t mean to defend my story here. I mean only that, whether we like it or not, this stuff happened. People write about it. A lot.

    Second, I don’t understand what’s wrong with writing about things that are “wrong.” The main character in The Confederacy of Dunces is simply despicable, but the book won a Pulitzer.

    I don’t mean to be dismissive. I just don’t think any of this is relative to writing.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    It’s unwise to argue with the author in a comments forum.

    But Tina @14: Last sentence of your response–relative to writing:

    The title of this story is “His Good Wife,” and in the final line of the story, the MC refers to her “good husband.”

    If this was meant ironically, I didn’t feel the story conveyed that.

    If it was intended to express the loyalty and devotion of the MC and her husband to family–I felt that those characters failed. If Irene failed to protect her children, she was neither good nor loving, regardless of her motives or intentions.

    Throughout history, individuals have gone against the prevailing customs of their time and place to stand up–usually at great cost–for what they knew was right. The MC’s apparent perception of her duty, and what love is, were faulty, and I saw her as a failed character not deserving of pity nor compassion, because she chose not to protect those even more vulnerable than herself.

  • SarahT

    Oh man, opened a can of worms, sorry! Just to set the record straight.. no one smokes in my family now.

    Back, not so long ago, smoking wasn’t perceived as harmful. It’s possible Irene didn’t really know the smoking and asthma were related, especially if doctors hadn’t correlated the two yet.

    I believe Irene cared for her family the best she knew how. Underneath, though, she was starting to feel ill-used and betrayed…but any bit of energy she may have found to change her circumstances would have been quickly squashed in her day-to-day existence.

    This piece of fiction may not be all lollipops and rainbows, but it is very real-to-life, and is a good way to show how “the other side” lives. I’m grateful to have read it.

  • Kim

    I won’t argue about what the protagonist could or should have done. People have and do live in terrible conditions, and sometimes they make choices we don’t understand. To me, such conditions and choices don’t make a story less believable. However, this piece would have worked better for me as a story, had there been some movement or change in plot or character. I kept waiting for something to happen. It felt more like a vignette, or perhaps a well-written beginning to a longer piece, rather than a fully realized story in itself.

  • Lance

    Very well written, I agreed with the first bunch of comments until reading the second half, and my opinion changed a bit, BUT, i think the story could use a bit more of an arc, as one commenter said. Very well written, and the rut is painfully felt. Just, it begs to go one step beyond “this is my burden” to something more, I think.

  • Excellent writing. Sad but believable story. Well done.

  • An intriguing read that left me lots to think about.

  • Love that last line. “She doesn’t dream.” Says it all.

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