Was she happy? It was never really a thought that had occurred to her before. Sure she had all the things that were supposed to make her happy, a house, a car, a husband, children. But was she, as a person, actually happy? She shook her head slightly, of course she was happy. Why wouldn’t she be? She didn’t want for anything, she had no real problems to speak of. She smiled to herself, it was such a silly thing. Just an advertisement that was all. Of course she was happy. Wasn’t she?
She reached out for the magazine, then pulled her hand back half way. She gave one quick guilty look around herself, then laughed at how silly she was being. Of course she was happy. She turned from the rack and started to walk away, then she hesitated and turned. Quickly she grabbed some magazines, three or four. They were ones she enjoyed, full of pointless gossip and outrageous stories. And at the back of them all, hidden away, was the one that first caught her attention.
She carried the shopping into the house, the magazines buried at the bottom of a bag, no one else was home but she felt the need to sneak them in anyway. Like a young boy hiding a pilfered pornographic magazine. She brought them all upstairs straight away, leaving everything else sitting on the counter. The eggs and milk could wait and the ice cream wouldn’t melt too much more. She went into her room, noticing again how large it was and how empty it could feel. She took the magazine from the bottom of the bag and slid it under the bed, beneath her pull out shoe rack. No one would ever look there, why would they? And if they did, well, she could claim innocence and say the magazine must have slipped off the nightstand and slid under the bed. After all they had carpet and the magazine covers were always glossy and slippery. She gathered the rest of the magazines and put them on her bedside locker then she went downstairs. Everything needed to be packed away, the kids would be home from school soon enough, she wanted to have something ready for them when they got in. Johnny and Mellissa were always a bit peckish after school.
While she made the children their snack her thoughts kept drifting back to that magazine and that question. She had never really taken the time to examine her life. Why would she, it was a good life after all. She and Ben got on well, they had sex a few times a month, there were never any real silences to speak of. She was very fond of him and always had been. She had never felt that fluttering of love, that feeling of adoration, but that was just for fairy tales. It was just how the world worked, you found someone compatible, settled down and had children. Everyone knew that. Besides, she loved her children, in her own way. She made them snacks and dinner, hot breakfasts, took them on trips both educational and fun, listened to their stories and read to them at night. She never looked at them and felt an overwhelming feeling of pride or really, much of anything. She liked her children, they were good children, well behaved and respectful, kind and thoughtful. When they had first been born she had worried she had some kind of postpartum depression. She didn’t dislike them, she didn’t hate them at all, even when they cried and cried and cried. She just didn’t feel much of anything towards them. They were cute, like all babies, and she felt the same way she felt when she looked at any other child. A slight warmth and then a sort of kindness towards them. She had done plenty of research and even gone to the doctor. He had assured her she was well, so had her own research, she had no real symptoms of it after all. Even now after all this time she felt the same way. She was fond of them. It was a slightly deeper fondness than what she felt for her husband, but it never really crossed the line into love. At least what love was purported to be. Whenever they became ill she would worry about them, sure, but it was the same feelings of worry whenever a classmate of theirs or a friends child fell ill. Worry when she saw the child, then nothing a few minutes after they were gone. Most of her concern came from the illness spreading from one to another in the house.
She finished making the snack, two sandwiches ready to be toasted when the children arrived home. She tidied things away, as she reached to put the bread back she paused. She wasn’t a bad mother, was she? No. She couldn’t be a bad mother. Bad mothers hit their children, swore at them, neglected them. She did none of those things. She was a good mother. She was.
The next few hours passed in a blur as the children arrived home, ate their snack and started on homework. She supervised them as they worked, offering assistance and corrections when needed. When their homework was done it was time to make dinner, the children went off to play in the living room while she cooked. Usually they helped her with dinner, but tonight she wanted to be alone. Cooking was always peaceful for her, a kind of zen moment. Everything seemed to just fall together in its rightful place.
Ben arrived shortly after dinner was ready, together they chatted as she moved the food to the table. After dinner it was time for the children to bathe, then go to bed. When all that was finally done, she was left in the sitting room with Ben, a glass of wine in hand. They were watching TV, some crime show that she always drifted in and out of. Ben yawned, stretched, then stood, “I’m sorry honey, it was a long day, I’m going to head to bed.”
“Ok, I’ll be up shortly.”
“Take your time.”
He kissed her on the lips, then left the room. Her hand went to her lips. Kissing Ben was never something she really enjoyed, she always assumed that it was just something she wasn’t very good at, or that not everyone enjoyed it. She didn’t like the way he pressed his lips against hers, the way his tongue would dance against her lip, seeking access that never came when she parted them. She heard water splashing in the bathroom sink and put her wine glass down on the table. She snuck up the stairs, careful not to make noise, her heart hammering in her chest. She went in to the bedroom and quickly grabbed all of the magazines and crept back to the sitting room. A few seconds after she sat down the tap was turned off. She released a slow breath. It was ok. Ben wouldn’t have heard her. She took a calming sip of wine then waited. As she waited she tried to watch the TV show but she couldn’t keep her attention on it. After hearing the bedroom door close she opened a magazine and left it sitting beside her on the couch, just in case. Then she looked at the one that had caught her attention earlier.
She read the headline again, Are You Happy? She mouthed the words, feeling the shapes of them. Then, quietly to her self she whispered, “am I?”
She had done everything right, she had found a good man, she had married him, filled her life with things that were supposed to give her meaning. Husband, children, looking after all those little things. She had put all this work in, surely she should be happy? She deserved to be happy, didn’t she? Didn’t everyone? She put the magazine down and sighed, what did it matter? She couldn’t do anything about it anyway. She was here now, this was her life and she would make the best of it. If she couldn’t be happy then why not make sure that those around her were happy instead. Ben was happy, she knew that, so were the children. That was enough, wasn’t it?
No. It wasn’t.
She took another drink of her wine. There was nothing she could do to solve it. She could change things here and there but what would that achieve? She would be marginally happier, but she would never be truly happy. She put her wine glass down. What if she could be happy though? Start over and try it all again. Somewhere new, where no one really knew her. Would that even be possible? Just leave? It was Bens turn to take care of the children tomorrow morning as she had some early appointments. He was a deep sleeper, he’d never know that she hadn’t actually gone to bed. But what about clothes? Hell, she could probably pack a bag without waking him or the children.
She crept up the stairs again, going into their room. If Ben was awake she’d just slide into bed beside him. It would be a sign, a sign that she was to stay and do her duty. Already he was faintly snoring. She slid open the wardrobe and carefully began to remove clothes. Not too many, not to make him suspicious in the morning, but enough for her to get by with. She stuffed them into a bag, not bothering to fold them. With her bag packed she carefully and gently messed up her side of the bed. She had forgotten to make it this morning, which was a plus. There. It looked like she had slept there. He wouldn’t know when he got up. She picked up the bag and left the room, closing the door behind her.
It was chilly outside, she was glad she had brought her jacket. She put her bag into the car then sat into it herself. She eased off the hand break and let the car roll down the driveway. Once it was out on the road she started it and began to drive away. A brief thought struck her, what about the children? What would they do when they got home from school tomorrow and the house was empty? She’d ring Anita in the morning, ask her to look after them, say she had an appointment. They’d be ok with her for the day and Ben could ask her to come back over the next few days so he wouldn’t even have to miss any work. She looked around, wild eyed, she was doing it, really doing it. She had everything she needed, clothes, her ATM card and a purse with some cash in it. Ben had always insisted they had their own accounts, though he rarely allowed for her to pay for anything herself. She had a nice little nest egg going. Tomorrow she’d send him a message, around the time when he got off work so he wouldn’t worry. Wouldn’t come looking for her.
Samantha turned on the radio, she couldn’t stop smiling. It was the start of a new life, finally, she could be happy.