“The Rat Race” (Nifty Fiction)

“On the City” – Marc Chagall

[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. I am not Delia, and TC is not Nathan. Nathan seems okay, but TC is much cooler. Here goes…]

The Rat Race

Maybe we should hire someone to clean the apartment.

This is an idea Delia has while she stands at the bus stop, the only one in the city where you can gaze out over the gray water to where the gray mountains meet the gray sky, shrouded in even grayer clouds. It’s a good idea, maybe. There are two of them working full time–they can certainly afford it. And the thought of the uncleaned bathroom waiting at home makes Delia feel as though she is failing at life. So maybe they can use their money to pay someone to clean (not everything, just pop over for an hour a week and clean the bathroom and maybe vacuum). It’s a good idea. Maybe.

By the time Delia boards the bus she is angry. There are two of them working full time. They both pitch in as far as household chores and errands are concerned. They shouldn’t have to spend their hard-earned money paying someone to clean. How is it that their dirty bathroom is allowed to make her feel like a failure? How is it that the world expects them not only to work full time to keep themselves alive, but to spend their leisure time cleaning and running piddly errands? Where’s the “leisure” in that?

As the bus launches along Cordova Street Delia leans her temple against the window, convinced that the world’s chief desire is to chew her up, suck the life out of her, and spit her out again.

By the time the bus turns onto her street, Delia has decided that she needs to quit her job. To hell with money–money has no use if she doesn’t feel alive. Besides, she isn’t making that much money anyways, at least not enough to buy a house or support a family. So what’s the point of sitting in an office shunting paper around all day long?

By the time Delia reaches her building she is feeling so reckless she takes the elevator even though she normally just takes the stairs. To hell with saving energy and the planet–the planet owes her for giving her this shitty gray day and a bathroom that despite her best intentions, still remains unclean.

Delia is careful not to slam the door when she enters the apartment but Nathan seems to sense the black dog on her shoulder and his conversation is light and inquisitive while they make dinner and Delia responds even though all she wants to do is lock herself in that goddamned dirty bathroom and have a cry. Once everything is on to simmer she leans forward and presses her forehead against the kitchen counter.

“Is there something I can do?” Nathan says.

“No, you’re perfect,” says Delia, “I just want to quit my job is all.”

“Oh.”

“Work is fine and everything. It’s just wearing me down. I’m supposed to be working so I can enjoy my life, except that I spend the rest of my life running errands or whatever, which is essentially work, except I don’t get paid for it. I work all day so that I can spend my time working. It’s stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore.” Delia says all this with her forehead still pressed to the counter, eyes searching the kitchen tile for her next moody thought.

“I think people work so that they can spend the rest of their time doing things that make them happy,” says Nathan (too optimistically, Delia thinks).

“Except they aren’t!” Delia cries and looks up at him, “We’re all running around doing stupid things just to take care of our homes and look like we’re having a good time but no one actually IS! I was supposed to clean the bathroom today except I spent all goddamn afternoon looking for a goddamn taupe sheet set and then the escalators at the Bay were broken so I got to tromp up and down three flights for no goddamn reason!”

“Did you find a taupe sheet set?”

“No I did not!” Delia sighs and puts her head back on the counter, squeezing her eyes shut. “Until this year I never quite understood the term ‘rat race’ and now I get it. Why do we do this? Is this all there is? I mean, it can’t be. If someone told you now that you would spend the rest of your life working all day so you could spend all of your spare time running around grocery shopping and scrubbing your toilet and taking your car to the mechanic only to retire and find out that the CPP had gone bust and inflation had eaten your savings and you were going to be busy and poor until you died, you’d kill yourself, wouldn’t you? I would. I mean, if that’s all there is.”

Nathan takes a breath.

“Do you want me to clean the bathroom for you?”

“No, it’s my turn. God, I just hate the city sometimes.” Delia looks up at Nathan again, into his bemused helpful face. “Do you think I would be a good farmer?”

“Um… I don’t know. Do you think you would be a good farmer?”

“I don’t know anything about farming.”

“Well then,” says Nathan, “probably not.”

“I just don’t want to live in the city forever.” says Delia.

“I know.” says Nathan, and then he washes the cutting board he’d been using.

In the middle of the night, Delia is woken by the terrifying realization that of course she will never be a farmer, that farming is not an easy life, and she will probably have to work at a desk FOREVER, especially if she has children, and they will bring her no end of errands and headaches.

An hour later, Delia wakes again and remembers that it could be much worse. She is also struck by a sudden comforting thought: the future children can clean the bathroom. Once they’re old enough. They can sweep floors once they can hold a broom, and probably do dishes too. It’s a good idea.

Nathan is warm and comforting beside her as Delia drifts back to sleep, content in her certainty that ten years old is plenty old enough to wield a toilet brush and some Comet. The universe provides.

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