“The Prairie Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld, excerpted from You Think It, I’ll Say It
The understanding is that, after Casey’s iPhone alarm goes off at 6:15 a.m., Kirsten wakes the boys, nudges them to get dressed, and herds them downstairs, all while Casey is showering. The four of them eat breakfast as a family, deal with teeth-brushing and backpacks, and Casey, who is the principal of the middle school in the same district as the elementary school Jack and Ian attend, drives the boys to drop-off. Kirsten then takes her shower in the newly quiet house before leaving for work.
The reality is that, at 6:17, as soon as Casey shuts the bathroom door, Kirsten grabs her own iPhone from her nightstand and looks at Lucy Headrick’s Twitter feed. Clearly, Kirsten is not alone: Lucy has 3.1 million followers. (She follows a mere five hundred and thirty-three accounts, many of which belong to fellow-celebrities.) Almost all of Lucy’s vast social-media empire, which of course is an extension of her life-style-brand empire (whatever the fuck a life-style brand is), drives Kirsten crazy. Its content is fake and pandering and boring and repetitive—how many times will Lucy post variations on the same recipe for buttermilk biscuits?—and Kirsten devours all of it, every day: Facebook and Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, the blog, the vlog, the TV show. Every night, Kirsten swears that she won’t devote another minute to Lucy, and every day she squanders hours. The reason that things go wrong so early in the morning, she has realized, is this: she’s pretty sure Twitter is the only place where real, actual Lucy is posting, Lucy whom Kirsten once knew. Lucy has insomnia, and, while all the other posts on all the other sites might be written by Lucy’s minions, Kirsten is certain that it was Lucy herself who, at 1:22 a.m., wrote, “Watching Splash on cable, oops I forgot to name one of my daughters Madison!” Or, at 3:14 a.m., accompanied by a photo of an organic candy bar: “Hmm could habit of eating chocolate in middle of night be part of reason I can’t sleep LOL!”
Morning, therefore, is when there’s new, genuine Lucy sustenance. So how can Kirsten resist? And then the day is Lucy-contaminated already, and there’s little incentive for Kirsten not to keep polluting it for the sixteen hours until she goes to bed with the bullshitty folksiness in Lucy’s life: the acquisition of an Alpine goat, the canning of green beans, the baby shower that Lucy is planning for her young friend Jocelyn, who lives on a neighboring farm.
As it happens, Lucy has written (or “written”? Right? There’s no way) a memoir, with recipes—“Dishin’ with the Prairie Wife”—that is being published today, so Kirsten’s latest vow is that she’ll buy the book (she tried to reserve it from the library and learned that she was three hundred and fifth in line), read it, and then be done with Lucy. Completely. Forever.
The memoir has been “embargoed”—as if Lucy is, like, Henry Kissinger—and, to promote it, Lucy travelled yesterday from her farm in Missouri to Los Angeles. (As she told Twitter, “BUMMM-PEE flyin over the mountains!!”) Today, she will appear on a hugely popular TV talk show on which she has been a guest more than once. Among last night’s tweets, posted while Kirsten was sleeping, was the following: “Omigosh you guys I’m so nervous + excited for Mariana!!! Wonder what she will ask . . .” The pseudo-nervousness, along with the “Omigosh”—never “Omigod,” or even “OMG”—galls Kirsten. Twenty years ago, Lucy swore like a normal person; but the Lucy of now, Kirsten thinks, resembles Casey, who, when their sons were younger, respectfully asked Kirsten to stop cursing in front of them. Indeed, the Lucy of now—beloved by evangelicals, homeschooler of her three daughters, wife of a man she refers to as the Stud in Overalls, who is a deacon in their church—uses such substitutes as “Jiminy Crickets!” and “Fudge Nuggets!” Once, while making a custard on-air, Lucy dropped a bit of eggshell into the mix and exclaimed, “Shnookerdookies!” Kirsten assumed that it was staged, or maybe not originally staged but definitely not edited out when it could have been. This made Kirsten feel such rage at Lucy that it was almost like lust.
Kirsten sees that, last night, Lucy, as she usually does, replied to a few dozen tweets sent to her by nobodies: Nicole in Seattle, who has thirty-one followers; Tara in Jacksonville, who’s a mom of two awesome boys. (Aren’t we all? Kirsten thinks.) Most of the fans’ tweets say some variation of “You’re so great!” or “It’s my birthday pretty please wish me a happy birthday?!” Most of Lucy’s responses say some variation of “Thank you for the kind words!” or “Happy Birthday!” Kirsten has never tweeted at Lucy; in fact, Kirsten has never tweeted. Her Twitter handle is not her name but “Minneap” plus the last three digits of her Zip Code, and, instead of uploading a photo of herself, she’s kept the generic egg avatar. She has three followers, all of whom appear to be bots.
Through the bathroom door, Kirsten can hear the shower running, and the minute that Casey turns it off—by this point, Kirsten is, as she also does daily, reading an article about how smartphones are destroying people’s ability to concentrate—she springs from bed, flicking on light switches in the master bedroom, the hall, and the boys’ rooms. When Casey appears, wet hair combed, completely dressed, and finds Ian still under the covers and Kirsten standing by his bureau, Kirsten frowns and says that both boys seem really tired this morning. Casey nods sombrely, even though it’s what Kirsten says every morning. Is Casey clueless, inordinately patient, or both?
At breakfast, Jack, who is six, asks, “Do doctors ever get sick?”
“Of course,” Casey says. “Everyone gets sick.”
While packing the boys’ lunches, Kirsten says to Ian, who is nine, “I’m giving you Oreos again today, but you need to eat your cucumber slices, and if they’re still in your lunchbox when you come home you don’t get Oreos tomorrow.”
She kisses the three of them goodbye, and as soon as the door closes, even before she climbs the stairs, Kirsten knows that she’s going to get herself off using the handheld showerhead. She doesn’t consider getting herself off using the handheld showerhead morally problematic, but it presents two logistical complications, the first of which is that, the more often she does it, the more difficult it is for Casey to bring her to orgasm on the occasions when they’re feeling ambitious enough to have sex. The second complication is that it makes her late for work. If Kirsten leaves the house at 7:45, she has a fifteen-minute drive; if she leaves at or after 7:55, the drive is twice as long. But, seriously, what else is she supposed to do with her Lucy rage?