"Another rough day at work, dear?"
She didn't know the half of it, he thought. Absolutely punishing. It had seemed like such a good idea to switch from freelance to corporate, break free of his father's hand-to-mouth style, have a regular job. And the corporation seemed reasonable: test the new equipment, report back. He was lean and hungry then, ready to make an impression. And she was so supportive, working the swing shift until he got off the ground. World ahead of them. Years ago. And today was just another day of trying his damnedest and coming close and failing. It's like the world is rigged against him. Like it always has been.
He remembers, she remembers, when they started. My father was a trickster, he'd told her, a con man. Curled together in their cozy den, planning the future in his voice that came from a class above hers, telling her how he was a genius, and he'd use his smarts and cunning to feed the family they would have, instead of to pull the wool over the eyes of sheeple. It seemed like a good plan. But then every evening's dinner was presided over by another long howl about how hard he tried, how he wanted nothing more than to provide for his family, how he just couldn't catch a break. His eyes wild in the way that only a trapped animal's can be. In the beginning she agonized for him, she literally cried for him; it's not fair what is happening to you, she said. It's not fair. You're doing everything right, by the book.
And now years later and nothing has changed. They'd starve if not for her. He's out failing to catch the skinniest bird for the umpteenth year and she's getting plump chickens from the henhouse, lambs from the fields. She's a sleek and lovely hunter, biting their necks before they can even cackle or bleat out a warning, sliding their blood-slick still warm bodies onto the dinner plate that he complains over, how he was passed over for another promotion, another dynamite plan gone wrong. Hmmm, she says, and looks at him thoughtfully. He still calls himself the breadwinner, as if they ever ate or wanted bread.
When did her empathy turn to pity, when did the pity turn to disgust? At what moment did she understand that he was so deep in the habit of failure that he wouldn't know what to do with success if it caught him. Does it matter? Here they are now; her exhaustion, his endless loop of defeat. Beep beep.