“Good morning, useless,” he said from behind the curtain of the morning paper.
She had long since accepted him calling her useless. He saw it as a term of endearment, so why shouldn’t she? There was no sense in making a stink over something that was nothing. She simply smiled back in return.
“Where is my hug?” he asked threateningly. Without haste, she scampered over to ensure he wasn’t kept waiting. He never looked up from his reading as she wrapped her tiny arms around him from behind.
He took a long swig of coffee while poring over the local section of the paper. Setting down the mug, he barked, “So what is your plan for the day?”
He asked the same question every morning, and she responded with the same rote answer. She recited her list of errands in chronological order. At nine o’clock, drop off the laundry at the cleaners. At nine-thirty, pick up the bread from the bakery. And so she continued, until she ended with four o’clock in the evening, with her return home to cook dinner for him.
As she finished rattling off her chores, rather than acknowledging her with his usual “well, that sounds nice” or “aren’t you going to…,” he threw down his paper in anger.
“Damn thieving farm boys!” he burst out, “What is this world coming to?”
She backed away from him silently and busied herself with preparing for the morning’s errands as he snatched up the morning crossword puzzle and got to work.
Making her way through the day’s activities one-by-one, she found herself with spare time. In actuality, every day she sped through her errands to make a little time for herself, to go where she shouldn’t be: where the iron trees grow.
The forbidden forest of iron trees lay along the road between town and their cottage. She enjoyed sitting beneath the tall beams – rusting with age – while listening to the buzz of electricity coursing through the wires tangled in webs overhead. She closed her eyes, imagining the static waves connecting voices from faraway lands to each other through the thin strands of metal – voices who greeted each other with niceties or professed their long-lost love.
Each day, she hated leaving this wondrous place. Standing underneath the towering network of beams and wires reminded her that the world was larger than her life and held infinite possibilities.
As she returned home, the humming lingered in her ears like a power surge to the heart. The buzz kept her moving as she put away the dried goods in the cupboards and lit the stove, putting the water on to boil.
“Welcome home, useless,” he greeted from his usual place on the sofa, the evening paper shielding him from view. It was as if he was rooted in place, bound by the furniture’s fibers.
She didn’t bother responding. She let the coursing pulse drive her and refused to let his sentiments get her down. She listened to the water heating up the pan – the sound reminding her of the rattling wires in the iron trees.
He barked something else, but she was in her own head, distracted. She began to hum along with the voices in her head as she chopped the potatoes. As she turned to place them in the boiling water, she found him barring her way, standing over her with his arms crossed and a stern look on his face. She froze as the buzzing stopped and the energy drained from her body. It was a wonder she didn’t drop the potatoes.
“I said, when will dinner be on?” he yelled, inches from her face.
She dropped her head, eyes to the floor and whispered, “I’m sorry. Dinner will be ready in a half an hour.”
She managed to hold in her tears as she returned to her cooking. As he lumbered back over to the couch, she bent over the boiling water rattling the pan and the potatoes, trying to recall the feeling of standing amongst the iron trees and knowing she was not alone.