Paige should have known to be much quieter in the early morning. Her feet slipping across the bedroom floor, the cracks and squeaks slightly stirred Hank's sleeping body. The closet opened all the way, doorknob hitting the wall. Pulling out her blue blouse and a black skirt, Hank muttered, "Quiet," and rolled on his right side. Paige slipped the blouse on, buttoning it up, pretending not to notice. She may have been pretending, or she might have missed Hank's groggy demand. Paige peeled her underwear to the floor stepping out and into her skirt. Her black skirt hung just above her knees. Shutting the closest door her feet squeaked and cracked back across the room to the dresser where her silver necklace lay. The necklace was the only thing Hank had ever given her, that was over a year ago.
"Damnit woman, just cause you gotta be up, doesn't mean I do. Shut up."
Paige put on the necklace, followed by a ring from a past relationship. She walked over to the bed, bent down and kissed Hank's forehead. His hand slapped her hard across the face, as he protested her nose was too cold.
Paige sung Van Morrison songs filing arrest reports away. She loved to sing and often times found herself struggling to remember the lyrics to a song she wanted to sing. Paige had wanted to be a police officer, but settled for working in a Police Station as a Civilian Clerk. Her job was by no means exciting, but it kept her constantly busy. When there was nothing left to file, Paige would answer telephones or at times collect the personal belongings of the prisoners. This in itself was a type of filing: watches, money, belts, cigarettes, and shoelaces were the usual objects that would be placed into a manila envelope and filed away until bail was posted. There were times when Paige placed half-eaten candy bars in the envelopes, which always made her smile. She liked seeing what people kept in their pockets, but Paige's favorite part of working at the city Police Station was seeing the people first enter the station, hands behind their backs. Some cried, others cursed, and a few smiled. Their faces were always different, some rough and sleepy looking, some were pure and sweet. Her third week on the job about five years ago Jim, an officer in his late twenties brought in a younger man with light brown hair and dark green eyes. Paige was filing reports in the room behind the front counter when she noticed the man. Tears were visibly running down his face, yet he was hollering out as if he were the toughest man around, demanding to be let go. His face looked as if he were still just a boy, yet he had the impressive body of a man. Paige stopped filing and came out of the small room filled with stained silver cabinets, she thought she knew this man. He looked like a boy she used to baby-sit several years back. The sight of the man amused her, the contrast of tears and his shouts reminded her of the boy she'd babysat for, Jacob Duggins. She had seen by those tears, accompanied by his protest, that it wasn't time for bed. When they took the man to his cell Paige awaited Jim's return so she could find out if that was Jacob. Jim returned and answered her question with a pleasant no. Paige was disappointed and decided to pretend that Jacob Duggins was just locked up.
After slapping Paige, Hank slept until noon. Climbing out of bed, he put on his jeans and walked through the moderate sized living room into the kitchen. The sun shone through the window bringing slight warmth, but it wasn't warm enough to be shirtless. Pouring a cup of coffee he took a sip, spitting it on the wallpapered flowers, disgusted by its coldness. The wallpaper had a dark green background that was almost completely covered up by the purple and pink flowers. The paper was old and around the sink and counter there were many stains on it. The paper was peeling in many places, and in a few spots the white wall was visible. Hank had dribbled some coffee on his chest and wiped it away with a dishtowel he discarded on the floor. Hank was thirty-six, four years older than Paige. His physique was impressive, he had worked construction most of his life. His chest was solid and defined, his arms were big, but not massive. He looked much like a modern cowboy, the Marlboro man perhaps without the get up. Frying an egg, Hank tossed it on a bagel and squeezed a thin strip of ketchup on top. Eating his sandwich he watched TV and would continue to do so until he left to go visit his buddies at his old job.
Paige walked in the door holding two plastic bags in her left hand. Calling Hank's name once she set the bags on the counter. She unloaded spaghetti noodles into the cupboard, sauce went next to them. A half-pound of roast beef and Swiss into the fridge, followed by a jar of relish, a jar of sauerkraut, ketchup and tartar sauce. Paige left the bottle of red wine on the counter, pulled the opener from the drawer and uncorked the bottle. Sitting down at the kitchen table, which wasn't even a kitchen table, but a card table, she sipped her wine while staring at the flowers on the wall. Paige had moved into the apartment two years ago, almost a year before Hank, and her favorite part of the apartment was the wallpapered flowers. She liked it when the apartment was silent and she could sit just gazing at the wallpaper. The flowers were not particularly pretty, in fact the wallpaper was ugly, but Paige didn't see the tears in the paper, she didn't notice the trickle stains left from coffee and whatever else. Paige had grown up with flowers. Geraniums, roses, lilies, flowers of different contours and colors covered her yard and fled inside into vases her father collected. Her father was loving and kind, but he was a soft man. He was a good father, but he was boring, too evenly tempered almost-not anything like Hank. The pink and purple flowers reminded her of her father and how loving he was, they also made her think of how dull a man he was, and how simple and average her parents' life together had been. For the first time in years Paige wondered if that wasn't such a bad thing.
An hour, maybe two passed, Paige was towards the bottom of her second glass of wine when Hank clomped in. He wasn't drunk, because he said so. He smiled at her sitting at the table, kissed her on the lips shortly. "Dinner ready?" He walked to the fridge, and grabbed a beer. She told him not much longer, she had put a casserole in the oven half an hour ago. Hank used to amuse Paige, even if he wasn't being funny. As she grabbed two plates she was trying to think of the last time Hank made her laugh. For a while she had been telling herself things were different because Hank had been out of work. Now she wasn't sure. They had only been together a little over a year, but it seemed like much longer. Routines were now set. Hank drank and yelled occasionally, Paige would respond sarcastically, and the two would go into the bedroom. She loved his body, and although she never loved his mind, the novelty of a strong aggressive man was seemingly wearing off. Paige almost tossed the plates on the table, each spun around for a few seconds until coming to a stop. Hank glared at her in disapproval of the noise. Paige flashed him a condescending smile.
Paige liked to cook. Her pleasure came not so much from making a meal for her man, but from the fact that Hank couldn't cook much more than an egg. Paige was not only supporting this man, she was feeding him with the groceries she bought. As she opened the oven to check on the casserole she smiled slightly wondering why she was still with this man.
The dinner conversation was typical. The two talked about what was happening in the world, Hank said dinner tasted good and Paige said thank you. Hank liked being with her the sex was frequent and good and she didn't hound him to be different than he was like many other women. She hadn't even pressed him to find a new job. As they chewed Paige asked Hank how his day went.
Hank's day was fine. He had hung around the appliance store where he had worked at until two months ago. He went in at least three days a week, talking with a few of his former co-workers. Hank went out and grabbed a few beers while he waited for the guys so they could head out to the horse races. Hank had cashed his unemployment check a few days ago, and had enough left over for a few races. He could've risked more, but tried his best to only bum cash from Paige once a week. Hank didn't mind so much having Paige support him, but he was a man and felt a need to set limits for himself to feel comfortable. The few times he had asked Paige for more money hadn't made him feel to bad, he was handy and frequently fixed things around the apartment. Hank knew if he wasn't around to fix things some maintenance man would come around to do it. However, he didn't really let himself think about that. Instead he justified his cash bumming with the minimal amount of work he did around the apartment.
Hank wasn't a stupid man, but he wasn't real bright either. He was used to women being attracted to him for his physical abilities. Most of the women Hank had been with were great at the start of things. It was after the first few months when they wanted him to be more sensitive, or dress nicer. Hank was surprised that Paige had not started in on him about those things and even though he would never let it be known, he felt lucky to be with Paige.
After dinner Paige and Hank's routine started all over. Their routine dinner had been eaten, conversation had been spoken. Now they were watching Hank's favorite Wednesday night programs. Paige sat in silence, looking at the TV but not seeing it. She was thinking about her work, thinking how she was appreciated and how often others said thanks to her. She liked her job and liked most of the people she worked with. She was glad to go to work in fact work was probably her favorite part of the day. Seeing Hank at the end of her workday had become like an errand, you needed to get it done, but it wasn't particularly fun. She sat thinking about the morning earlier, about Hank's hand slapping her. He had never hit her before. Sure he had yelled and even occasionally thrown things, but that interested Paige, it added excitement. She used to find Hank's infrequent tirades amusing and sometimes interesting. It was similar to the people being brought into jail; their faces and reactions intrigued her. Nothing about Hank intrigued her any longer. Paige walked into the kitchen and poured herself a bit more wine. She sat down at the table and opened a magazine; she thumbed through the pages as she glanced at the wallpapered flowers. The wallpaper was a bit tacky she thought, but at least it gave the place some color.
In the bedroom Paige lay alone. Thinking about the man outside the door her thoughts didn't stray. Hank used to take her to the races. He used to tell her what to look for in a horse, used to have things to tell her. Hank at one time had places to take her. Paige had thought about telling Hank to leave for the past few weeks but hadn't. She had gotten used to him being around, she liked wrapping her arm around his solid body as he slept in the morning. But the past morning she had been struck by Hank, as she drifted off she thought about what it would mean to stay with a man who had slapped her.
In the morning Paige awoke to Hank's heavy arm on top of her. She twisted to her side and rolled it off. He did not awake, just groaned briefly. She climbed out of bed and went through her morning routine. Hank went through his, a few grumbling words, shifting and moaning around in her bed and back to sleep. Paige did not kiss his forehead; Hank did not slap her, not this morning.
At work Paige did not sing. Her mind was occupied with other thoughts beyond lyrics. She pushed her sandy brown shoulder length hair out of her face behind her ear, eventually pulling it back in a ponytail. Paige filed while not singing, thinking about the flowers she had grown up so close to. Paige loved the colors and shapes of the various flowers. She felt her life had been long without color, even with the kitchen wallpaper.
In the late afternoon, just shortly before Paige punched out, Jim brought in a drunk and disorderly patron. Paige peeked out from where she was filing arrest reports and saw Hank, his arms behind his back. He was not crying or smiling. Not even hollering for a change. Paige didn't blink, just gazed at Hank's helpless, expressionless look; she started to sing as a smile creased her face.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
graduated from Eastern Michigan University with his MA in creative writing. He is an associate editor of BathHouse Magazine
, a journal of hybrid work. He has been published in a small magazine, The Pond
, based out of Carnegie Mellon University. His thesis, Incidents
is a collection of short fiction. Wallpaper Flowers is from this collection.