A Marriage in Seven Scenes

“All life long, the same questions, the same answers.”
–Samuel Beckett

Scene 1. A Sunday, 1977.

Dad parks the Buick as close as he can to the church. The bell rings, summoning the congregation inside. Dong! Dong! Dong! I am seven, old enough to know being late isn’t good. Dad doesn’t notice. He says, “Sandy, put some lipstick on.” And we wait the extra minutes while Mom gets pretty.

Scene 2. A Weeknight, 1983.

Dad is coming up our half-mile driveway in his pickup. Crap.

My sister and I scurry to pick up messes. Mom puts meat into the microwave to defrost.

I hear the creak of the screen door and the plop of the mail. Dad’s t-shirt is dirty from prepping the combine. He says,  “Food.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mom says. She puts a frying pan on the stove.

Dad can see Mom is annoyed. “What’s so hard about making food?”

“What’s so hard about coming home at a regular time?”

Scene 3. A Friday night, 1978.

A babysitter must be on her way. I know because my sister and I get to eat TV dinners and the bathroom is full of steam from our parents’ showers. Dad says to Mom, “Style your hair up high like you used to.”

“Women don’t wear beehives anymore, Dave.” Yet she uses a curling iron to make a row of curls and creates a little bit of the height Dad likes with a pick.

Scene 4. A Weeknight, 1995.

Mom and I watch soap operas recorded on the VCR. The phone rings. Mom doesn’t move.

When I answer, Dad says, “Food.” He has a ravenous metabolism but no sense of time. He thinks steak and potatoes can be prepared while he makes his ten-minute commute from our other farm.

I’m twenty-five, visiting for a few days. I give Mom the message. She uses the remote to fast-forward through commercials and watch the last ten minutes of Young and the Restless.

Scene 5. A Friday night, 1981.

A babysitter must be on her way. I know because my sister and I get to eat fish sticks and tator tots–and I get to put them in the oven all by myself. Mom stands in the bathroom in her skirt and bra, curling her eyelashes before applying mascara. She has a pouch for a belly and stretch marks from my little sister. She has skinny legs and fit arms from work around our farm.

Dad walks in to shower. I hear him say, “When are you going to lose some weight?”

Mom says, “When I get damned good and ready.”

Scene 6. A Weekend, 1985. 

We need milk and eggs. Dad, my sister, and I will wait in the car while Mom runs into the store. Dad parks by the entrance. “Sandy, put some lipstick on,” he says. She rolls her eyes. She finds the tube in her purse, opens the mirror in the sun visor, applies the color to her lips.

Scene 7. A Saturday night, 1987.

Under the yellow lights of a parking ramp, I walk near Mom and Dad. It is a warm summer night. We are going with our neighbors to a movie. Dad has a cigarette in one hand and with his other he wraps his finger in Mom’s belt loop. He yanks her back. She resists, moving to keep up with the rest of us. He yanks again. “Come here,” he says.

“What do you want?” She tries to sound annoyed.

This is their affection. He pulls her close so he can whisper in her ear. Probably “You look like a real woman tonight” or “That steak you made for supper was top notch.”


Dave and Sandy will celebrate their 48th anniversary this fall.



Writing with the other writers on the Yeah Write challenge grid.


33 thoughts on “A Marriage in Seven Scenes

  1. So very, very well done. I took such comfort that I too would remember fish sticks and TV dinners — and so much of what you mentioned. Though I must be a good deal older than you.


  2. What a pretentious word, but I can’t really help what my brain supplies when I read things. It supplied the word “authentic” and I think I can agree though I would have just used “real.” I loved your post.


  3. Pingback: yeah write #155 weekly writing challenge winners: crowd favorite + top row three + comment bob | yeah writeyeah write

  4. Yes, you do need to write a book. Been saying that for 20 years! Dad and mom are awesome people that fit together so well and there are a lot more stories like this. I’m so proud of my sister!


  5. Very well written. As children it is hard to understand our parents relationships, but then we see a look they share or a touch here and there and see the love the share.

    I would read your book.
    And tell Dave and Sandy congratulations!


  6. This was wonderful to read. I could picture and remember the both of them so easily and clearly due to your words. I love their unique way of loving one another. A great reminder that we each have our own ways of loving and being loved. They are good at it from what I can tell. And you are great at perceiving and expressing. Thank you for sharing!


  7. I too loved this and had so many different feelings on reading it, and then still more complex feelings after reading all the comments and your replies. Like cynkingfeeling I too appreciated that you didn’t put them all in chronological order–something it’s hard for me to do because I have such a linear mind. For me it had the effect of showing how certain patterns of behavior recurred throughout, but with a difference. Sometimes, depending on your age, that difference may partly have been a result of your changing perceptions?
    You asked someone else to elaborate on “different feelings.” Well, first of all I was so impressed by its non-judgmental honesty. It wasn’t about you and how you felt about their relationship (except for the “crap” as your father’s car came up the driveway). And I was impressed that you gave it to them to read and that they got a kick out of it.
    At first I found myself reacting against your father and seeing it as a dysfunctional marriage, but by that touching final scene, I started to see the way he showed his affection, and then, of course, when you say that they just celebrated their 48th anniversary, I started to think of it as perhaps a typical long-running marriage. There is so much that is private, understood. Each member of the couple finds ways to compensate for the other’s little idiosyncracies. We have to be more tolerant of what makes a marriage tick–there is no one way. Throwing one’s lot in with another human being for the long haul, making babies and a home together, putting up with their habits, loving them anyway–it’s not an easy task. And there are many, many ways to express love. At the same time, a long-running marriage can’t help but get a little co-dependent; complementarity is a good thing, but taken too far it can get unhealthy.
    Not a judgement, just some of those different thoughts I mentioned–sparked of course by my own experience of marrage–in particular my parents’ and my own.
    I agree with everybody else–do write a book! Short stories, a novella. . .


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