Louise couldn’t explain why, but she felt dissatisfied with her life. She had a decent job (though her working environment bordered on hostile, thanks to the dysfunctional family that owned the business), her marriage was good, her family was happy. Yet, when she assessed it all, the only conclusion she could come to was: “Is this all? Is this all my life will be?”
She parked her car, finally home after the 38-minute commute from work, and walked inside the apartment, kicking off her shoes at the front door. The apartment was empty – her husband would work until 10 p.m., most likely – and it smelled vaguely of microwaved pasta, no doubt Erik’s lunch. His dishes lay on the counter, red sauce congealed and drying on the white ceramic plate.
Louise sighed, pulled off her purse to drop it on the floor and carried the detritus of Erik’s meal to the sink. She turned on the faucet. The sound of rushing water was soothing, and she held a hand under the stream until water pooled on the precariously piled dishes.
She twisted off the tap, shook the drips of water off her hand, wiped it on a nearby dishtowel. Then she peeled off her work clothes, all of which were dirtied by the lingering smell of second-hand smoke, and shrugged into flannel pants.
With Erik gone and the apartment to herself, Louise settled in her habitual corner of the couch, her laptop open and waiting for exploration. With the evening stretching before her, she grabbed a bag of M&Ms and clicked open her browser.
What would happen, what would Erik say if she bought one-way plane tickets to Europe? He was a dual citizen with Germany, and she was close to dual citizenship, thanks to their marriage. They could sell everything – the cars, the hand-me-down furniture, the piles and piles of books lining the walls – and just leave. Find work abroad. Leave behind their small Midwest town with its rampant racism, single movie theater, blocks and blocks of cheap buffets and Taco Bells. They could escape the banality of day-to-day life in a place with a population of 75,000, run to the better-fitting cities of millions.
Louise sat back, immersed in her daydream. It would be glorious. Plus, with universal health care in Europe, they could finally start their family and not feel weighed down by bills, bills, bills.
A knock on the door shook her out of the reverie.
She scooched the laptop to the cushion next to her, unfolded her legs to unlock and open the door.
Erik walked through, dumped his briefcase and toed off his shoes. He grabbed Lousie, wrapped her in his customary warm embrace, kissed her cheek with a smack.
“Hey, what are you doing home?”
“Brought work with me,” Erik replied, gesturing to the briefcase lying flat on the non-descript, beige carpet of the rental.
“I thought it’d just be me tonight.”
“Nope. What are you working on?”
Erik walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator to pilfer its contents. He withdrew a half-empty plastic box of strawberries, then plucked them out, one-by-one, by the stem.
“I’m just looking at plane tickets,” Lousie said casually, watching for Erik’s response.
“Plane tickets for what?”
“Plane tickets to leave. To go to Germany.”
Erik sent her a look, one clearly magnifying his skepticism, reluctance.
“Why do you want to leave here? We’ve got jobs, cars. We’re going to move to a bigger city, we just need some experience first.”
Louise felt her optimism drain. The walls began closing in, her vision wavered and her hands shook.
“I can’t…I can’t keep doing this.”
“This! I’m not happy here!”
“No one is happy,” Erik said, strawberries muffling the words.
“Please, Erik. I’m serious. I need to get out of here. We can sell everything, have a fresh start. Have babies, maybe.”
Erik put the strawberries down, walked over to his wife. Hugged her, rubbed her back.
“We’ll go. Give it another six months.”
“That’s what you said six months ago!”
“I know, but we need the experience on our resumes. You can make it another six months.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Lousie said, her eyes welling up painfully as despair coursed through her.
“Yes, you can. I promise. Did you eat dinner yet?”
Louise settled back onto the couch, lifted the computer to her lap. Changed her search from Germany to the Virgin Islands. Changed the search from two tickets to one. Clicked “Reserve.”
She’d leave at the end of the week.