Astorica is a flash-fiction, set in a version of Astoria that may exist in a parallel universe, just one or two shadows away from our own frequently odd universe. It was originally posted here in July of 2016. Enjoy!
Chance Jensen approached The Duck Walk Inn, aiming for the front door. It was classier than most of Astorica’s cocktail lounges, and was the third place she’d looked that afternoon. She entered, peering around to see if Jack was there.
He was, and ignoring the worried glances from the few men who were present in the otherwise empty bar, she walked toward him.
Stella, the bartender, chatted with Chuck Moore, Astorica’s lone hooker. Chuck’s clientele was comprised mostly of lonely, blue-collar laborers, women who worked in the shipyard. Stella nodded at Chance, as she lit Chuck’s cigarette.
Chuck exhaled a cloud of smoke, and glared at Chance. “You’ve been neglecting him, Chance Jensen. Don’t take your husband for granted. You’re a lucky woman to have a man like Jack. He shouldn’t be sitting in a place like this.”
“I know. I’ll do better, I promise.” She did have to smile, getting advice on her marriage from the local whore. But, she supposed, Chuck had seen plenty of marriages fail.
“Good. I don’t want to have this conversation again.” With a flounce, Chuck turned back to Stella.
The nervous-looking men at the corner table had moved their handbags to hide their cocktails, obviously regretting their decision to be so daring as to go into a cocktail lounge unaccompanied.
Jack looked out of place at the bar, dressed in his usual proper, suburban, house-husband style. He glanced up from his iced-tea. “What do you want? I’m not going back unless you’ve changed your mind.”
“Jack, we had a quarrel. I’m sorry I shouted. But, you can’t file for a divorce, as you don’t have grounds. I don’t beat you or cheat on you. You’re just angry because I can’t afford to buy you a bicycle like Loris did her husband.”
Jack straightened his sweater and crossed his trouser-clad legs. “You’re right, I am unhappy about that. I might not be able to get a divorce, but I don’t need one. I’m not interested in dating, so I have no desire to be single. But no law says I have to share your roof. If I got a job as a waiter or a housekeeper, I could support myself and buy my own bicycle. One with a good-sized basket for carrying things.”
Chance attempted to reason with him. “Jack, if you took a job outside our home what would people think? They’d think I can’t manage on my salary. I’m just starting out with this company. I don’t need that kind of image dogging me, holding me back, or I’ll never be promoted. They’re assigning me better routes now, so things will improve. I promise.”
He burst out, “I have needs too, you know. I want to go places, and do things. I’m tired of being cooped up, with nothing to do but slave away, making sure that when you come home, you find a clean house and a hot meal. Where’s the joy in that?” Jack wiped a tear, a sure sign he was really worked up. His voice, however, was calm. “It’s just, if we had a child, I would feel needed. I don’t have a purpose, Chance.” He met her eyes. “Give me a purpose, and I’ll stay.”
Chance sighed. It always came back to that. “I’d like a child too. I don’t know why we haven’t been blessed. We’re both healthy. There’s no reason we haven’t conceived.”
Jack looked around the room. “See? They’re the same as me. We’re bored stiff. Playing bridge on Tuesdays and going to Tupperware parties just doesn’t fill the void. It’s not just us. Fewer and fewer babies—something’s wrong with this world, and no one will admit it.” He stared down at his handbag. “It’s more than that. It’s everything. I get up at five to cook breakfast and fix your lunch. The darkest corners in our house are so clean they glow in the dark! I do laundry. I wash windows. Every day, the same things.”
Chance started to agree, but Jack cut her off.
“At ten I get all dressed up and take the bus to the market, then I haul the groceries home and put them away. Once that’s done, I change and go out to work in the flower beds, because God forbid the neighbors should see an untidy yard! Once every bloody just-sprouting weed has been yanked, I prepare your dinner, and fifteen minutes before you get home I get all dolled up, just to look good while I serve you dinner. Then I have to clean the kitchen. The next day it starts all over again. My life revolves around cooking, cleaning, and what the damned neighbors might think of us.”
Hoping to calm him, Chance said,“I know it’s difficult for you, depending on public transportation. But I’m a truck driver. You knew that when you married me. Maybe I’m not as romantic or rich as the wives in your soap operas, but I do try. Don’t I give you a large enough allowance? I never ask how you spend it. I don’t care if you have lunch out with the boys, or have your hair done twice a week. I love you! I married you for keeps, and I respect the vows we took.”
“You could tell me you love me more often.” Jack sat hunched in on himself.
“I know. I’m not good at saying how I feel.” Chance put her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll try to do better.”
Jack burst out, “I could learn to drive, but men aren’t allowed to. I could vote and help pass laws that would improve society, but no, men aren’t allowed to. We’re too emotional, too high strung to be allowed the same privileges as women.”
Desperate to head off the men’s emancipation argument, Chance said, “I know you’d be great at all those things, better than some women if I’m truthful. But it’s the way things are, and we have to live with it. And guess what—I got a raise, today.”
Jack’s eyes it up. “Really? That’s wonderful.”
Pressing her advantage, Chance said, “You know what that means? We can save up for your bicycle. If we’re careful, next month you can buy it.”
Picking up his handbag, Jack stood up. “Let’s go home. I’ll make a pie to celebrate your raise.”
Relief flooded Chance. Taking his elbow, she opened the door for Jack and guided him across the parking lot, reminding herself that men were the fairer sex, and required gentle handling. Chuck was right–she had been neglecting Jack’s emotional needs. She resolved to be more attentive.
She loved Jack , but he confused her. He had an overabundance of paternal instincts. It occurred to her that a puppy might take Jack’s mind off things. And, it just so happened Chance’s new boss, Carol, was trying to find homes for six dachshund puppies.
That was a brilliant idea. She’d gain favor with the boss and surprise Jack with a puppy, solving both problems in one swoop. Smiling, Chance opened the car door for her husband, helping him into the sedan.
“Astorica” © 2016-2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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