artwork for Kay Sexton's short story Chamomile

Chamomile
Kay Sexton

Every morning he puts kibble in the bowl and straw in the hutch. He makes coffee, shops online, and puts the washing machine on, if necessary. Her things are indescribably skimpy, more like Christmas decorations than clothes, but they seem to cope OK with the rigours of a mixed load.

He doesn’t start work until the afternoon, and finishes late at night, but he’s still getting up every morning to put out her cereal and say good morning. It seems important, somehow.

She loathes the smell of the washing detergent; too fake floral, too environmentally damaging, but he doesn’t listen when she says she’ll pick up some eco-friendly stuff in town. His face is as long as a melting clock and even his smile is a vertical thing, also fake. He’s making an effort, she knows, but she’d rather he didn’t.

She goes to college even on the days she doesn’t have lectures—bad enough to be living at home still, without having to spend all day with him.

Once she’s out of the house, he goes back to bed until lunchtime, eats, and logs on. His major client is in Montreal, so he works until 10 p.m. UK time. Sometimes he takes a break around the time she gets home, and he suggests a walk, but she always says no. Actually, half the time she doesn’t hear because of her earbuds, but when she does hear, no is what she says.

She cooks for them both. He eats dinner at his desk.

After college she dawdles home, missing bus after bus, staring in shop windows or sitting in the library. She checks he’s at his desk, headphones on, and then makes a chamomile tea, tips the kibble back into the box and the tea outside to pour it into the straw. She can’t remember what guinea pig urine smells like, but chamomile seems to satisfy him.

He eats one-handed, hunched, pecking at computer keys. She sets up at the dining table, place setting, water glass, everything.

Sometimes he’s not sure how much longer he can go on. He has to double check his work; calculations that used to be second nature slip away from him like the steam from her disgusting herbal teas. He does Sudoku and mind gym and he doesn’t think he’s actually sliding into senility, but he’s definitely … calcifying is how he thinks of it.

Or maybe it’s way past that and he’s too far gone to notice.

Every day she wonders if this is the day—if she’ll come home to find him dead of a heart attack or ravaged by a stroke, but he’s always there, lean, anxious, moving like clockwork from task to task. He’s never known how to have fun, and he didn’t teach her, that’s what annoys her most of all. Nearly most of all; the weird domestic behaviours are definitely worse. Also the fact that he earns all the money and she pays no rent.

She would do anything, even cam-girling, to be able to move out.

He enters her room when she’s out, just to check.

She considers leaving college to become a plumber.

He wonders where the cat is.



Kay Sexton’s Comments

More adult children are living at home, or returning home, than ever before, or so we’re told, although it seems to me that children leaving home is a very modern phenomenon. It engenders a very specific kind of madness, in my experience.

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Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 60 | Fall/Winter 2022