The jackhammers started five minutes before Joan’s alarm. Stuffing her head beneath her pillow, she lay face down, and waited for the automated bleating. On cue, the clock sounded her wake up call, and she slammed her hand onto the snooze button.
Through the feathers and stitching, the pipes whistled as Mike finished his shower. The faucet then gushed, as he flipped on the tap and scrubbed his teeth.
Tossing off the blankets with a groan, Joan rolled over, and placed a hand on her belly. Her stomach swirled as if she had tumbled down a hillside. Staring at the ceiling, she waited for the world to cease spinning, and the beating between her temples to ebb. Only then did she plant her feet on the floor, and cradle her head in her hands.
Pounding at the construction site outside thudded in tempo with Mike’s toothbrush thumping against the sink. Both joined forces, dispersing Joan’s mental perusal of her closet in search of something to wear, and heightened the percussion bashing against her skull.
Then, from the living room, Mike’s phone rang out with a piercing ding.
He spat. “I got it.” Hustling out of the bathroom in slacks and unbuttoned shirt, he dashed toward the phone with elephant strides.
Joan grimaced as he answered with a rolling laugh.
“No, no it’s not too early,” he said.
“Maybe not for some of us,” said Joan.
Heaving to her feet, she steadied against the bed’s headrest, before lumbering into their walk-in closet. She flicked through the hangers, and draped a suitable combination of muted ivory blouse and steel-gray skirt over her arm. Harvesting other accoutrements from the dresser, she made her way to the bathroom, entering the domain of a whining heat-lamp and spurting faucet. With a cringe, she hung the clothes on a steam-coated towel rod and turned off the sink. After undressing, she started the shower, complete with another piercing whistle as the hot water stormed to the spout, and then stepped into the tub. Pressurized water hammered her shoulders, soaking her with an unceasing rhythm. Leaning against the tiles, Joan splashed in the growing pool at her feet until the slosh began tempting her stomach.
The door’s hinges creaked as Mike entered. “Are you free Friday?”
“Dinner with the Reddings.” Mike started his electric razor with a hive-rivaling buzz.
Scrubbing through her hair, Joan waited for him to plop the razor into its stand where the blades were cleaned with a determined gurgle.
“I’ve got a production meeting that afternoon,” said Joan. “I might be late.”
“I already told them eight.”
Cutting the shower, she snatched her towel, and scowled through a gap in the curtain. “You already said yes?”
Mike glanced at her in the foggy mirror as he cinched his tie. “I figured you wouldn’t mind. You like dinners with them.”
“I also like it when you ask as opposed to filling my social calendar for me.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump the gun.”
She sighed, stepped out of the tub and began drying her hair. The rubbing, combined with her bent head, gave her nervous system mixed messages. With a whimper, she propped herself against the toilet.
“Fine,” said Joan.
“Want me to get you something?”
Mike’s phone rang again, somehow louder within the confines of tile and steam. He dashed out, answering with another bellow.
“That’ll be for Saturday night,” said Joan.
She dried herself before cautiously winding the towel around her hair, and mounting the turban on her throbbing head. Avoiding eavesdropping on Mike’s conversation, and therefore adding another stream of noise into her thoughts, she wiped a clear spot on the mirror and did her best with her makeup and clothes, covering up the fatigue in her eyes and nausea in her gut. After brushing her hair, she opened prescription bottles, poured her morning dosages into her hand, and filled the waiting cup from the faucet. Gulping down one pill after the other, she sipped the remaining water, and braced herself on the counter. The bathroom steadied with the anticipation of soothing medication entering her bloodstream.
Mike knocked on the door, and then stuck his head inside. “How’s Saturday for you? Six with Mark and Janet?”
“I don’t know,” she said to the countertop. “How is it?”
“I’m not sure, that’s why I’m asking.”
She waved her hand at him. “Just tell them whatever.”
“But you just….” Shaking his head, Mike withdrew. “Sounds fine,” he said, his voice dwindling with his distance from the bathroom.
Joan met her gaze in the mirror. “You’re being an emotional basket case.” Her reflection nodded with agreement, the turmoil in her stomach bubbling with a similar sentiment. Exhaling, she guided herself out of the bathroom with a hand on the wall, and then avoided the mounted picture frames as she made her way along the hallway to the front door.
Mike slammed the refrigerator shut, and guzzled a mouthful of orange juice from a full cup. “Breakfast?”
“Not unless you want to see it twice.”
Joan plucked her keys from the pegged hook, and slipped into her cushioned flats. Mike appeared at her shoulder, offering her purse and a granola bar. Snatching both, she slung the straps onto her shoulder.
“You sure I can’t do anything?”
“Just get out of my face okay?”
Mike raised both his hands in orange-juice-sloshing surrender.
The door thudded behind her as Joan stormed outside, where a bulldozer began collecting the jackhammer’s debris. The ping of her car’s lock unfastening echoed like a gong. With a cringe, she slipped into the driver’s seat, and gripped the wheel. Closing the door, she laid her head onto the curved leather, and drank in the relative quiet provided by the vehicle’s insulation. Silence seeped into her like a salve, calming her rollicking stomach, and rounding the frayed edges of her nerves.
With a wince at her reflection in her odometer’s glass, she retrieved her phone from her purse. Pressing the touch screen in an all too familiar sequence, she brought the device to her ear.
“Hey,” said Mike. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Have a good day, all right?”
She sensed the smile in his snort. “You too.”
Hanging up, Joan stowed her phone, and gripped the wheel, before turning the ignition and adding another grinding rumble to her day.