Erin opened the cupboard door and looked inside. She moved aside the Green Giant green beans, the Lipton's Onion Soup Mix and a jar of olives with a faded label. How long has that jar been in there, she wondered. Then she saw the glimmer of a brown reflection way in the back, third shelf down. Her mouth started salivating as she practically threw a box of saltine crackers onto the floor. She knew there was another jar in here somewhere, she just knew it. She reached back, beyond the lone snack size box of Sunmaid raisins, around the bag of lima beans with a whole in it, past the smooth oblong can of sardines that no one would ever eat, to gently wrap her tapered fingers around the jar tucked back into the corner, perhaps hidden by her own self for just this occasion. She pulled it gently forward, eyes closed, praying the only prayer she knew today: please god, let it be peanut butter, please, please, please.
When she finally opened her eyes and found herself staring at a jar of popcorn, she willed herself to keep it together. She was an adult, she told herself sternly. She had keys, money -- a car! She could go buy herself another jar of peanut butter. It didn't matter that she just bought a brand new jar last week and it was gone already, the last bit heartily enjoyed on a piece of whole wheat toast just that morning. It didn't matter that she had become unnaturally and some would say, perversely, attached to the smell, taste and especially the texture of peanut butter. And more than anything, it didn't matter that her husband would be home in exactly 37 minutes, expecting something resembling dinner to be in its final cooking stages on the stove. She could pick up a rotisserie chicken while she was at the Safeway and easily transfer it to one of her roasting pans, likewise the mashed potatoes, green beans and cornbread she could also buy, $7.95, tax included. She better hurry, though, if she wanted a little snack of peanut butter before dinner.
When everything was safely hidden away in the oven or on top of the stove, Erin allowed herself one teeny tiny taste of Jif's Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter on a small teaspoon. She licked it slowly, savoring each bit on her tongue, then enthusiastically sucked the spoon for any last trace of peanut flavor. God, that was good, she thought. She was just getting ready to stick the spoon back in the jar for another little taste when she heard the garage door open. Drat, Jake was home. She quickly found the lid and screwed the jar closed. Throwing the spoon in the sink, she was just pushing the cupboard closed when he walked in the back door, bringing with him the smell of gasoline and chocolate.
"Hey, babe, look what I brought you," he said as he set a box on the counter. Erin recognized the box: Godiva chocolates. Used to be her favorite.
"Mmmm, thanks," she said. "Hungry?"
"Hungry for you." He wrapped his arms around her and snuggled her neck. "And you taste good."
Erin ducked her head under his arm. "Dinner's ready," she said. "Why don't you sit down and I'll bring it over?"
Jake waited to eat until Erin dished herself up and brought it over to the dining table. He looked down and grimaced. "Again?" he asked. Erin just shrugged and took a bite of mashed potatoes. "Again," she answered.
After dinner, Jake went into the living room to watch television while she cleaned up the dishes and had two sneaky spoons of peanut butter. To hide the smell of it on her breath, she opened the Godiva chocolates and took a small bite of one of the squares on her way to the living room. "Yum," she remarked loudly. "Thanks, hon. This is great. What's the occasion?"
Jake turned his head to look at her. "Well," he said in a slow drawl. "I was hoping we could have some fun with those later, if you know what I mean."
Erin stopped chewing. "When later?" she asked with her mouth full.
"Later as in bedtime, silly. I have plans for those chocolates, you sweet thing. Plans that include rubbing them all over your sexy body and licking the chocolate off."
Erin looked at the full box of chocolates. "That's a lot of licking," she said. That reminded her of the almost full jar of peanut butter in the cupboard. "I'm pretty tired, Jake. I don't know how long I can stay awake tonight."
"Well, we'll get started early, then," he said. "Why don't you go run yourself a bath and I'll get the bedroom ready."
Erin thought about this for a minute. She really didn't want to play with chocolate tonight, nor did she want to run herself a bath. What she really wanted was to go eat another spoonful of peanut butter, but she did not say this to Jake.
"Really, honey, I'm super tired. And I've got to get up early tomorrow. You know, that job interview thing. And I really should prepare for it, too." She fiddled with the chocolate box, clumsily attempting to put the lid back on. "How 'bout we save the chocolate night for another time?"
Jake stood up and walked over to her. He took the chocolate box and put it on the edge of the couch.
"Babe," he said. "What's wrong with you lately? Every time I suggest a romantic evening, you turn me down. I don't like being rejected, Erin. What's the deal?"
Erin lifted her head to give him a kiss. She didn't mean for it to be more than a little peck, but Jake soon had his arms around her, gripping her tightly against him and making passionate moaning noises. This would never do. She gently ended the kiss and reached for the chocolate box.
"I'll just go put these away," she said, not looking at Jake.
"Honey," he said. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm just nervous about this interview is all. Can you help me prepare? Then maybe I'll feel better."
Jake sighed as he followed her into the kitchen. When she tried to pass him on her way back to the living room, he stopped her.
"This is not just pre-interview jitters," he said. "What's really bothering you?"
Erin looked up at him and smiled. "I'm just tired, Jake. Really. It's been a long day. I promise tomorrow night, okay?"
"Really. With candles and everything."
Erin actually had no intention of going to a job interview. The next day or any day. Of course this would eventually cause a problem, but she didn't want to think about it. Frankly, it was all she could do to get through each day without having a nervous breakdown. Thank god for the peanut butter, she thought. It was the only thing that kept her going. She thought about her peanut butter breakfast while she took a shower in the morning. After breakfast she started planning her peanut butter lunch. As she watched To Sir with Love, the 2 o'clock afternoon movie on WKHD, she planned her peanut butter snack. Today it was going to be "ants on a log," something she had always hated before, but it appealed to her now. Maybe that's because before, in her previously happy life, things went according to The Plan. The Plan, which she would rather not think about right now, was to marry Jake, have babies and then have a life filled with Little League games and Cinderella birthday parties and Disneyland vacations. She tried to concentrate on Sidney Poitier, but thinking about "the plan," which she did not want to think about, made her think about the having babies part of the plan. She especially didn't want to think about babies, but the more she tried not to think about babies, the more she did couldn't help it. When a commercial for Pampers Pull-Up Diapers came on, she turned off the television and sat at the kitchen table with the peanut butter jar. She decided to forgo the "ants on a log" idea. She was out of celery and who really liked raisins anyway? Dried-up grapes were disgusting.
She pulled the spoon out of the jar, took a small lick and created a credible job interview story to tell Jake when he got home. She needed the story to go badly so she wouldn't be expected to keep her promise tonight, because tonight of all nights she really couldn't handle sex. She just couldn't. Let's see, it was a job for a small office, a dentist, because no one wants to work for a dentist. And the job would be to help him do things with teeth, disgusting things. Wait, only dental assistants could do that; she would have to do paperwork or answer phones or something like that for this to be believable. Bill collecting, that was it! The nasty dentist wanted to her send out nasty bills to get his money and then when people didn't pay, she had call them up and be nasty herself until they paid their bill. But she couldn't do that kind of work, even Jake knew that, so it would be a good thing that she didn't get that job. She would have to be all upset, though, because she knew they needed the money. But then Jake would hold her and tell her they would be fine, don't worry about the money, the important thing is to take one day at a time.
Erin took another lick of peanut butter. One day at a time. What a crock that was. The counselor repeated that at each weekly session, until Erin decided she was perfectly capable of telling that to her own self every day and could save a bunch of money. She made it through each day, didn't she? It wasn't like she was lying in bed all the time, crying and carrying on, forcing Jake to make his own dinner. Well, it was true she did that at first, but now she took care of the house, cleaned it every day and did the laundry, even ironing his shirts once a week. She did take each day one at a time, she got through it, even if she was a little attached to the peanut butter right now. She got up and looked for those Godiva chocolates. Maybe they would taste better if she smeared a little peanut butter on them. The clothes dryer buzzed and she washed her hands before folding the clothes, stacking them in neat piles on the counter. She glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was almost four. She had absolutely no appetite but maybe she could throw together some soup from the leftover rotisserie chicken. Jake liked chicken soup, especially if there were carrots and celery and big curly noodles in it. Too bad she wasn't hungry. Jake didn't like it when she didn't eat; it made him worried. He was the one who had insisted on the counselor.
Jake came home before the soup was done. Even worse, the table wasn't set and she hadn't had time to straighten things up. Erin was just about ready to add the chunks of chicken to the simmering pot when he walked in. Somehow she missed hearing the garage door open. That was really odd, she thought, since she always listened for that. Oops, the jar of peanut butter was still on the table, next to the chocolates. She scurried over to the jar of peanut butter on the table, next to the chocolates, and nonchalantly threw a placement over both of them.
"Hi, honey. How was your day?" she said in what she hoped was a lighthearted voice.
"Hi," Jake said. He came over to give her a kiss. "How'd the job interview go?"
"Oh, that job interview was a horrible mess. You would not believe what he wanted me to&"
"Hey, what's this?" Jake asked.
Erin looked up. Jake was holding a small pile of folded clothes in his hand. Oh, damn. She forgot to put the clothes away. Damn, damn, damn.
"I thought we talked about this." Jake said.
Erin couldn't think of anything to say, so she concerned herself with the soup-making. "Ah, yes, we did," she said. "Would you like bread or rolls with your soup?"
"Forget the soup," Jake said, "This is important. What are you doing with these clothes?"
"I, uh, just wanted them to smell nice."
"I thought we agreed that you were going to leave the baby clothes in the nursery and not keep washing them over and over. We talked about this, Erin."
"I know, but they smelled funny being stuck in that dresser all this time. I just wanted--"
"Erin. You know what the counselor said. We need to just go on with our lives, not dwell in the past. We can try again and have another baby. Don't you want to try again, honey?"
Erin walked over to the stove and turned the heat down. She gave the contents a stir before putting the lid on the pot.
"Don't you want to hear about the job interview?" she asked. "It was horrible and you wouldn't believe who I'd have to work for a dentist! Isn't that awful?"
Jake gathered up all the folded baby clothes. He paused at the kitchen doorway and held up the clothes. "This has got to stop, Erin. And I want you to go back to the counselor. This is not helpful or healthy."
Erin put down the spoon she was holding and followed Jake down the hallway. She watched him go into the nursery and put the clothes away in the dresser, which she had painted yellow with little teddy bears along the front. She noticed there was a crease in the crib sheet and she went over to straighten it out. Jake caught hold of her arm and held it tight. He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed it, looking at her carefully.
"I know you want a baby," he said softly. "We'll just have to try again, okay?"
She could tell he was waiting for her to respond, that he wouldn't let her fix the crib sheet until she responded, so she forced herself to meet his eyes and nod. Trying again meant candles and warm baths and Godiva chocolates and tender caresses. Trying again meant doctor visits and peeing into bottles and worrying about slipping on the ice. Trying again meant blood in the toilet and tears and more counseling to numb the pain. She looked at the Little Po Beep mobile above the crib and flipped the switch to make it play music. Then she let Jake hold her while they watched the lambs chase each other in an endless circle of music. When it finally stopped, Erin reached over to straighten the crib sheet.
"That soup is probably ready," she said. "Wanna help me set the table?"
"Sure. So tell me how that interview went."
"Oh," she said. "It was at a nasty dentist's office. He actually wanted someone to collect his bills, can you believe that? He only asked me about two questions and then said thank you very much for coming. I felt kinda bad about it, though."
Jake got the bowls out of the cupboard. "Why feel bad? It sounds like a terrible job. And you'd be awful at it, calling people up and demanding money."
"Yeah, I know. But we need the money so much and I just can't sit around here all day."
Jake put the bowls down and grinned. "Don't worry, babe. We'll have some fun with those chocolates tonight and then you'll get pregnant again. You'll have plenty to do with a new baby, soon enough."
Erin paused. "Chocolates, right." She took the lid from the pot of soup. "I'm kinda tired again, hon. That interview really took a lot out of me. I know I promised and everything, but it'll be much more fun if we wait for me to have the energy, right? So it will be special enough to make a baby? What do you think?"
"Sure, Erin. I understand," he said in a small voice. "Maybe tomorrow night." He lifted the placemat off the peanut butter and Godiva chocolates and raised his eyebrows at Erin. "What's this," he asked. "Having fun without me?"
"No, silly," she said. "I just had a craving for chocolate and thought it would be good with peanut butter."
"You hate peanut butter."
"No, actually, I've discovered I have a taste for it. Now let's eat."
Later that night, after they watched three episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit on the TNT network, Erin waited for Jake to fall asleep. It didn't take long; she only had to recite the lyrics to "76 Trombones" from The Music Man about five times in her head before she heard him snoring. She was lucky since Jake didn't snore every night. She got up, careful not to let the bedsprings squeak, and tiptoed from the bedroom, closing the door quietly behind her. She went to the kitchen and found the peanut butter exactly where she had left it in the cupboard, next to the box of stale saltines. Sitting down at the kitchen table, she opened the lid and looked into the jar. About halfway gone. Without thinking about anything, anything at all, she inserted her right hand into the jar as far as it would go, covering her fingers with peanut butter. Not caring how much of a mess she made, she licked each finger clean, top to bottom, even running her tongue under each fingernail to get every last bit.