He had grown accustomed to living with her, to the domestic rhythm they had gotten into. The trapdoor that opens from romance and gives way to a fart-laden reality. His farts, not hers. She still concealed them and he respected that, insist as he might on being feminist about the bodily function, of not judging her should she be unable to control her gaseous emissions. Yet she never would “let it out,” or if she did, she was adept at keeping them silent and stinkless. He admired her for that. Almost as much as he did for the fact that she wouldn’t (not necessarily couldn’t) cook, leaving the responsibility entirely up to him. Including the menu planning, which was slightly cruel on her part as she was very particular despite insisting she was fine with “whatever” he put on the table. He knew her well enough by now to know that wasn’t the case, but he pretended to go along with her self-perception as a “laissez-faire” sort.
To aid in the process of ascertaining what she might actually eat as opposed to merely push around on her plate and feign being full, he would cajole her into accompanying him to the grocery store. Bill it as their “daily constitutional” activity together. She didn’t bother to bring his attention to how scatalogical that sounded. Because she knew he felt he was being quixotic. It was his best attempt at preserving the eighteenth century amorousness that had made the outset of their relationship feel so fated to endure in a manner saturated with chimera. But Justine was aware that chimera, by its very definition, could never be real. She just wondered if Sam was equally as cognizant. In her estimation, he didn’t seem to be, perpetually floating on a cloud of conviction that true love meant sharing all of one’s thoughts and feelings with no holds barred. Her Germanic background innately made her tend to believe otherwise. That a particular amount of tight-lippedness ought to be at play in order to maintain any modicum of idyllicness. Yet Sam couldn’t see that. Or so it seemed to Justine.
She was not heartened by his urgings for her to accompany him on his Hestian errands. Was, in contrast, quite repulsed by them. Of course, she would never say anything or protest, for she knew that he would be too sensitive to take it. Too utterly lily-livered. She supposed she’d learned long ago that all men were, in their way, despite trying to put on a “brave front” about it. They were all blubbering little boys on the inside, which often manifested on the outside. So she played along, dutifully ushering him to the Monoprix closest to their tenement-like building. It was one day early in the fall that she could no longer contain her resentment and irritation over having to go with him every single time, at last reached a boiling point. She finally snapped, seething at him with venom in her tone, “Why can’t you just fucking go by yourself? I don’t need to go with you every fucking time!” He practically backed up all the way into the corner out of fear, never having seen her lose control of her emotions in such a way. It was jarring, horrifying and saddening all at once. For he truly believed that she enjoyed this part of their day together. Their evening jaunts that seemed to be the only period either could devote to one another throughout a twenty-four hour span spent either working or sleeping. This was their one chance, he felt, to stay connected. To commune with one another without any other distractions. The grocery store was a near religious ritual for their relationship as far as he was concerned. He couldn’t have imagined it could be otherwise for Justine.
In response to her outburst, he quietly replied, “All right then. I’ll just go on my own tonight. There’s no need to yell.” Naturally, she felt instantly compunctious over having wounded him. And she knew that he did so treasure what he surmised to be this “respite” for both of them. But she swore if she had to languidly roam down another vegetable or cheese or dried good aisle just hoping he would quickly pick something so they could escape from meandering among the huddled masses, she was going to end up hacking everyone in the store with a machete. And she was too dignified for that, as far as she was concerned. So no, she couldn’t watch him leave with too much melancholy in her eyes as a joyfulness overtook her. She even got inspired to masturbate about five minutes after he had walked out the door.
It felt strange for Sam to be alone in the Monoprix. Or rather, alone amid a crowd of people peppering each of the food and drink sections. He was cast out to sea without the life preserver that was, for him, Justine. No, she never really helped him with anything, but her presence was a calming and reassuring source of inspiration for him to go about his domestic duties. The ones he had taken on without question. Without so much as a protest or a misogynistic reminder that it is the woman who “ought to be” doing such things. He didn’t see it that way at all. Somewhere between the pasta and sauce aisle, he ran into a colleague of his from the ad agency where he worked. After exchanging some requisite faux pleasantries, Sam was strangely obliged to throw in the non sequitur that he was looking for some pesto. Even though he really wasn’t, it was just something to fill the silent lull that had transpired. He always turned awkward during these kinds of encounters, never knowing if he should let the conversation linger. Yet when he did, it consistently resulted in saying the wrong or socially incorrect thing. The colleague nodded strangely at him before excusing himself to continue on his own shopping journey with his wife, who, unlike Justine, was obliged to accompany him.
As he started to curve away from the pastas and sauces, a hunchbacked man with a permanently contorted face and wearing a gray trench coat seemed to walk over to Sam without moving at all. It was more like a graceful floating–and as a matter of fact, the trench coat made it so that you couldn’t really see the man’s feet. “You lookin’ for the pesto?” he demanded, as though it was code for some sort of drug deal. Sam couldn’t find the words to respond, prompting the man to add, “Eh?”
“Uh. No. I don’t think I need any,” Sam stammered, unsure of what they were actually talking about. And as he tried to step away, the man grabbed him with urgency by the sleeve of his shirt. Sam was frozen in shock.
“I think you’re gonna want this pesto,” the man declared, pulling it out of his inner trench coat pocket with a flourish. It was in a jar that had once housed jam, Sam could tell, lending it an all too eerie “homemade” feel. One that begged the question: what was actually in this pesto? Not wanting to aggravate the man further, Sam compliantly inquired, “Okay, um, how much are you charging?”
“It’s free for you, Sam. Just make sure your girl tries some.” And with that, he ostensibly floated backward, vanishing into the shadowy recesses of the nearby diaper aisle. Leaving Sam to wonder, What the fuck was that?
He returned home, eager to tell Justine of his strange encounter, hoping it would make her understand that going to the grocery store without her was a waking nightmare. When he burst into the entry hallway, the smell of simmering spices wafted toward him from the kitchen. But that couldn’t possibly be right. Justine never cooked. Had she been body snatched in the brief period he had been absent? With caution, he made his way toward the kitchen, where a pan with asparagus marinating in garlic flakes, oregano and coriander was becoming decidedly charred. Nervously, he called out, “Justine!”
She didn’t reply, but he instinctively knew that she would be in the bedroom, for he could feel a magnetic pull toward it overtaking him. Approaching it with something nearing a racing heart, he swung the door open to find that she had fallen asleep nude, her dildo in hand. He had known all along that she possessed one, but it was unsettling to at last see her with it. And in such a tranquil stupor of a sleep. It was in that instant the man’s adamancy about the pesto came flooding back to him, and he rushed to the kitchen to retrieve it, along with a spoon from the first drawer near the refrigerator.
Creeping back to the bedroom, he tiptoed toward her, hovering above her partially open mouth. He opened the jar, dipped the spoon in and then funneled it into her. She awoke in a rage, biting down on the metal and then spitting out the pesto. Sam was bracing for her most volcanic reaction yet, but then, all at once, her flicker of ferocity turned to unbridled erotic passion. She pulled him onto the bed, mounted him and proceeded to have her way. It was a bizarre sort of flipside to her former selfishness. Whereas previously, her demands were all related to material and domestic labor, they had now turned entirely to sex. And most days, after enough time since the pesto injection, Sam could not meet these demands. At least with the other variety, he had been able to. Justine had no cause for complaint. Yet now, he was incessantly berated for his inadequacy in every way, with most particular regard to the bedroom.
Sam couldn’t survive much longer like this, and he wondered each day what that man had hoped to achieve in giving him this pesto potion. Did he believe it would help rather than hurt? Unable to bear the castigation from Justine any further, Sam returned to the Monoprix to find him. He stood by the diaper aisle for what felt like hours, hoping somehow to catch a glimpse. At last, and miraculously, the man materialized.
“Back for more?”
“Hardly,” Sam barked back. “I need to reverse whatever the hell that pesto you gave me did.”
“So you’re still lookin’ for the pesto, eh?”
“Yeah. Sure. I’m still ‘lookin’ for the pesto.’ The kind that brings my wife back to normal instead of an angry nymphomaniac.”
“I thought you wanted a girl that loved you. Passionately.”
“I guess not like this.”
“Very well then,” the man replied sagely, producing a red pesto from his trench coat this time and handing it delicately to Sam. “Make sure you know what your heart really wants before you use this.” In a flash, the man was gone again, before Sam could even get the opportunity to balk at his ominous warning.
Back at the apartment, Justine was spread eagle on the couch, her crotchless panties giving him a window into her lack of soul. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting.”
“Just doing a bit of shopping. Why don’t I make us something before we…get into all of that?” he asked, eyeballing her vag in dread.
“Ugh, you’re such a fucking pussy,” she bemoaned as she closed her legs and got up off the couch. “I’ll be masturbating in our room while you play chef, okay?”
Thank god, he thought, as he went about his preparations for dousing some penne in the pesto. When it was ready, twenty minutes later, she claimed not to be hungry. But he was insistent, promising her he would do ungodly things to her afterward if she just ate the damned dinner. So she did. And with that bite, he saw the glimmer of seduction dim from her eyes with that first contact her tongue made with the sauce.
From that night onward, Justine never wanted to touch him or be touched by him again. And Sam could never unearth the mysterious pesto dealer at the Monoprix to try reversing her demeanor once more. He yearned to bring back that girl who would, at the very least, docilely come with him to the store. But now, it seemed he had lost even the best worst versions of her to pesto permutations.