Caroline in Philadelphia

The clock on the mantel ticked. It was the only sound as Caroline sat on the window seat at the front of the row house. She glanced at the clock. Fourteen minutes. In exactly fourteen minutes she’d see Homer come around the corner on his way home from the office for lunch. Always a sandwich and a glass of milk. Predictable, safe.

Tick, tick, tick. Caroline waited. Her first months of marriage had been relaxing. She lounged around the house, read a few books, she didn’t have a worry in the world. She was happy. Then it struck her. Idleness, boredom, the itching feeling that she needed to be doing something. She started rearranging the furniture much to the dislike of Homer. He wanted things to be the same. Always. She suggested perhaps new wallpaper or a rug, but Homer nixed those ideas as well. They were not “financially” sustainable. Homer liked routine. He did not want change. His one and only interest was making money and making more of it. Not in spending it as Caroline had hoped.

Tick, tick, tick. She missed working at Libellule. The night life was so much more exciting than being a housewife, but this is what she wanted. Wasn’t it? I had expected to have children to keep me busy, Caroline thought, but that had not been meant to be. There weren’t any big sons of Cylus that she had picked out names for as a much younger woman. She didn’t mind so much about that. It was easier not having a reminder of Cylus around. The miscarriage, however, had been hard. Perhaps she had grown accustomed to Frank more than she ever had Cylus. Her love for Cylus had been a young, tempestuous feeling. She had craved excitement and he gave her that in spades.

Her relationship with Frank had been more even keeled. When it was good, it was like the gentle lapping of the waves against the pier. Constant mutterings of flattering attentiveness, but then the tide would go out. Frank would be absent for long stretches of time. He was consumed by work, then by Bea and intermittently the tide would come back. Jack had been only a bandage, a shoulder to cry on when she was alone. He was a reluctant lover. It was her desire to hurt Frank that killed him. That was blood on her hands she would always live with. Frank’s jealousy momentarily brought him back to her just like she knew it would.

She had hoped Frank’s baby would fill in her missing pieces. She wouldn’t be alone while Frank was absent. It was a buoy that wouldn’t abandon her. Then in the end it did and the doctors said it was no use getting her hopes up that it ever would happen for her. Some corruption of her womb that had occurred a long time ago. From Cylus, she figured. It seemed like him to ruin things for her, to ruin her future. Homer turned around the street corner as she found herself wondering what Frank was up to now.

Caroline got to her feet and went to the kitchen. The bread, sliced ham and lettuce lay prepared on the counter. Separate, to keep the bread from getting soggy. She slapped it together quickly with some mustard and poured a glass of milk just as the front door clicked.

“Hello!” Homer announced. Caroline appeared in the dining room carrying his lunch.

“Hello, darling, how was the office?” she chimed. He came over and kissed her cheek before he sat down.

“Oh, it carries on as usual…” Homer digressed into some complaint about an inattentive young teller. Caroline almost immediately zoned out. She didn’t register the words coming out of his mouth. He paused to take a bite of his sandwich.

“I was thinking of volunteering!” Caroline blurted. It wasn’t even what she had been thinking about while he was speaking, but she had this overwhelming urge to find an escape.

“Volunteering?” Homer said confused. “I didn’t know that was an interest of yours.”

“I’m thinking of it as a new hobby, really,” she explained, “I have too many idle hours apart from the housework. I think I’ll look into one of those women’s committees or serving the unfortunates at the church?”

“You sound like you’re trying to atone for something, Caroline. That’s absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.” Caroline smiled bashfully. He had no idea about any of Caroline’s past, not even the three years she spent in prison. She had plenty to atone for.

“I would just like to meet some new people, darling. You forget that I’m not from around here,” she chimed.

“Ah, I see. You’re just lonely. Why don’t you call your cousin and invite him to stay? We haven’t heard from him since the wedding and we have plenty of room.” Caroline’s breath caught in her throat. She felt like bursting out laughing at the idea. Homer was perhaps the most clueless man she had ever met. She felt it wasn’t a good idea at all to contact Frank. She knew he would be much too busy.

“Perhaps, if he can spare the time,” she said instead. Caroline watched Homer finish his sandwich. The weird thought of Frank being under this roof wormed its way into her mind and took root. It was a silly idea, but she couldn’t shake it loose. Homer pushed out his chair and got to his feet.

“I best be getting back, I don’t want everyone sitting too long just because I’m out of the way,” Homer smiled. She followed him to the door and handed him his hat. He kissed her cheek again and was gone.

Tick, tick, tick. What a ridiculous idea! Frank would never come. Caroline grabbed her coat and went out the front door. She had to find something to do, she had to keep her mind and hands busy.

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