Fiction from Jennifer Lai

Blue toothpaste on the head of a toothbrush

Photo: William Warby

Portrait of a Normal Nuclear Family

As with last Sunday, and the Sunday before that, and the Sunday before that, the husband and wife are shopping for toothpaste.

It’s one of the few activities where they are civil to each other. If there’s anything that annoys the husband more than the wife nagging him to put away the damp boxers she finds under their duvet (after she’s begged him not leave them for the kids to find when they sometimes rush into their bed after a nightmare), or to put away his dishes (after they’ve sat in the sink so long the scraps have turned as dark as the hair on the naked women in the videos he furtively streams on his phone during their pastor’s sermons on repentance) it is making a scene—especially when the leggy brunette is working, the one with the impossibly large breasts. The one he thinks his wife doesn’t know about.

It also makes them look like a normal, nuclear family.

The daughter chooses a watermelon flavor, the son, a tube with smiling dogs. Travel size, the mother reminds them because they’ll be back next week. The children never question why they come to the store so often. They know better than to ruin the good thing they have going—a trip to the ice cream shop next door where, if they behave, their mother allows them anything they desire (even waffle cones the size of their heads), compliments of the owner, who does anything the mother desires.

Sometimes, the wife wishes her husband was more perceptive. Sometimes, she thanks Jesus he’s not.

After dinner, the mother squeezes out toothpaste for her children. Tells them the blob is called a nurdle. Smiles when the word makes them giggle. Then she brushes along with them. She brushes and brushes and brushes until all she tastes is mint.

Jennifer Lai grew up in Hawaii and now lives in Washington state, where she’s currently in search of the perfect coffee shop. She has work in or upcoming from Star 82 Review, The Sunlight Press, and MoonPark Review.

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