NOT SOME FEMINIST FANTASY
Copyright © 2001 All Rights
I shouldn’t be thinking of this. I have to keep focused and not get distracted by the Internet bill. We only get 40 hours a month before they start jamming us with a $1-a-minute charge. The bend-over-and-cram-me charge. And Richard’s been on the damn thing all week like a mechanical bull that he can’t seem to master. He has to get back on the Internet again and again to prove his manhood on Half-Life—or whatever game it is this week.
I hope he mistakes the unintelligible sounds that spill out of my mouth—I’m not starring in my own movie; I’m thinking of the chafing. If this were actually a movie, it would diassappoint the perverts out in droves—drive them out of the theaters like cockroaches exposed to the light. Keep it going, back to the task at hand. That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, you like it, uh huh, uh huh. Oh shit. He’s looking at me.
“What?” Richard said, his face crumpling.
“What, what?” I said. We were still.
“You were about to laugh,” he said, sounding wounded, his words trailing off into a whine. I loathed this whine. It was a six-year-old whine, a sorrowful lament that the neighbor boy had taken his Tonka truck.
“No—” I said. “I was just smiling. You know—smiling?” I waggled my hips. The ruse wasn’t working. I saw it come on like the mother sees the ice cream plop in slow motion to the sidewalk. Her baby’s face goes through four stages in a matter of seconds: shock, disbelief, grief, acceptance. Here he was hovering between the “f” in disbelief and “g” in grief. I saw it all and I felt the old anger burble up and break through the dam of what had been brilliant self-control.
“You weren’t smiling,” Richard said and rolled off. I felt the yank and the familiar cool feeling of freedom—of exit and no return for at least a few more days.
“Oh for God’s sake,” I said and rolled away myself. “Go sulk cause you can’t tell the difference between a smile and a laugh.” I got up and left my boyfriend to snivel into the pillows cause he hadn’t gotten off. I closed the door to our bedroom. Now I was out twenty bucks.
Very few people criticize me to my face; I think they mostly do it behind my back. But Richard said it right to my face one time, calling me heartless. At the time I thought it had kind of a cool ring to it, thus, pissing him off even more that I’d taken his criticism as a compliment. Now, I feel awful. Days I feel awful, wondering what am I doing to him? What am I doing to myself?
We started off askew. He wasn’t my type. He had a job, a life and no drug habits, not my type; so I started dating him. Within three months, we were living together. Within three and a half, I was going out of my mind. Richard is smart, outwardly confident, and financially successful. He never once assumed I’d do his laundry. But inwardly, he was a tangle of messy emotions, insecurities, petty jealousies and vice-like expectations that I’d marry him. He liked love songs that harped on the theme “I’d be nothing without you.”
I waitressed at a glorified diner and Richard thought it was only natural to marry me and take me away from all that. I had a college degree, but I chose waitressing because I liked people and I could wear orthopedic sneakers. Even though he made triple my income, I wouldn’t let him pay all of the rent. I began rethinking that prideful decision come February when the heating bill came. We were sitting on the couch one night, watching Jeopardy, when I sighed and declared to no one, “I need to make some friggin’ cash.”
Richard suddenly slipped his arm around my shoulder, his fingers wiggling the top of my breasts. “I’ll help you make some cash.”
“You gonna pay me to sleep with you?” I said as a joke.
“Yes,” he said seriously and pulled a twenty from his wallet.
I clarified. “You’re going to pay me. Your girlfriend. To sleep with you.”
He held the twenty in front of me and waved it.
I snatched it. “All right, go—” I said.
Perhaps, this was a new hot bedroom game for Richard, who was painfully aware of the lack of control he had over me. He could pay me to be his mistress and that somehow got him rocking, but to me, I saw no game. I saw it as tax-free, under-the-table income.
In Econ 101, the simple theory of commerce revolves around supply and demand. Men historically have had the money and the power, but what they wanted most—easy access to sex, was beyond their control. Unless they forcefully took what they wanted, i.e. rape, they had to earn, cajole, finagle or buy sex. Women have historically had very little money and economic power. They had the sexual goods, of course, but what good are sexual goods if one has that in endless supply but no money?
Was I really so different from a girl who allowed a man to wine and dine her before she allowed him to sleep with her? What about men who brought home cash gifts, diamonds, furs, and trips to Maui and the women who gleefully repaid their men with some lovin’? Rich or poor, the supply and demand of cash for sex would always remain consistent. I rationalized that I was no prostitute: at least I lived with the guy—and helped him pay the rent. ***
Every year my brothers and sisters and I got velvet red stockings for Christmas. They hung on the mantle, where every white suburban family hangs them. Oh they were jammed with wonderful bulges, blocky bulges not the oranges and apples other kids got in the bottom of their stockings—but little presents and gifties, each individually wrapped. I loved opening each one. Let’s see:
A bottle of Chanel No.5—the good stuff.
The lavender soap—I hope I get that again this year.
A couple of Matchbox cars. Funny. We all got them every year, even when we were twenty-one. Dad’s thing, the family tradition. Mom makes breakfast; we all slam the shit out of our Matchbox cars on the floor.
Deodorant. Which reminds me. I’m out of Secret and I need to ask Richard to pick me up some tomorrow when he gets out of work. Last time he picked up Secret (pat on the back he got the first part right) he got the scented kind, Powder Fresh, the kind that smells like a maxipad. I should tell him right now, the Unscented kind. Get the Unscented kind. Maybe I can beam it into his brain. Hon-ey. Get the Unscented kind.
Halt. Get focused. Here he comes. I looked at the window as he bucked over me and groaned “Unnnnnnnnnnnnnn.” Were the neighborhood kids looking at us? Did I just see two little heads in the window?
“What are you doing?” he whispered, out of breath.
I padded over to the window, naked. Looked around and saw nothing. “Oh.” I spun around.
“What? What is it?”
“Thought I saw a couple of kids at the window.” Shrugged. “Guess not.”
He pat the bed and attached a look to his spent little features I could only think to call melty. “Come here—” Richard said. Pat pat. “Come on.”
I found my underwear, still melded with my pants. “Whoops, look at the time,” I said in the near dark of our bedroom. He couldn’t really see that I was looking at my wrist. I think the watch had been tossed somewhere across the room.
“Oh come on, that’s not fair,” he said. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up because his tone bordered on puling.
“Hey,” I said. “What do you want sweetie? I have to be at work in 30 minutes.”
“No, that’s not the agreement. A whole hour, you said.”
“Forty minutes right there for the foreplay!” I pointed out.
“Yeah,” he said angrily.” “Cause you NEED the kissing. You have to have it that long. I could’ve been done with all that in five minutes.”
I put my shirt on over my head, trying to mask the burr in my voice. “No kidding.”
“Honey—just come over here,” he pleaded, “just lie with me a few minutes.”
I breathed slowly and made my way back over to the bed where he encircled me in his arms and bit my shoulder softly. “I don’t have to pay for this part, do I?”***
Every girl at The Grind had college degrees; only Joan didn’t; she was a career waitress with young kids. The girls I worked with were fun as hell; not one day would go by that I wouldn’t laugh at The Grind. I really loved it there. It looked like the inside of a Denny’s, but with real flowers on the tables to affect some friggin’ class. Turnover was the key. If my five booths turned over three times in one shift, I’d make a hundred bucks.
One afternoon, close to closing, a pack of boys ambled in and stuffed themselves down into one of my booths. They were college boys with baseball hats, oversized sweatshirts, and pants hanging off their butts with the ubiquitous boxers peeking out. They sniggered when I came to their table and pretended to put on polite airs.
“Yeah uh, we want to get breakfast, can we still do that?”
“Hmm,” I said, looking at the kitchen. “It is 4 pm. I’m going to have to check with the kitchen.”
“You do that,” one of the boys said, staring at me. He wasn’t smiling and I’d gotten the creepy sensation that because I hadn’t prostrated myself with a curtsy and a giggle, I hadn’t satisfied him with the correct answer.
The cooks gave me crap, but in the end, made up the five plates of eggs and corned beef hash, bacon, sausage, and toast for the boys. While walking back to their booth to collect the check, I heard them arguing in low whispers.
“Dude, that’s so wrong.”
“What? Screw you. I’m not giving her any more than that.”
“Oh that’s really cool. Big spender.”
“Shut up. She’s lucky to have a job.”
I came up to the booth to see a pile of loose change and crumpled bills. Normally, I pick up the check and money, give a cheery “thanks” and walk away to count it, but this time, I stood at their table, my weight shifting onto one leg and flattened the bills neatly. None of them spoke. One sipped noisily through his soda straw.
“Thirty one, thirty two,” I said, “and with the change, thirty four dollars covers the bill and look what’s left over.” I snapped the dollar bill between my fingers. “One buck. You know boys, this tells me a lot about you. It goes beyond being cheap; it pretty much borders on misogyny.”
The one who stared at me earlier seemed almost pleased. “Sorry.”
“No, that’s okay.” I pushed the dollar bill back toward him. “I wouldn’t take this from you even if it were a fifty dollar bill. If your world is that small and that angry to deny paying someone to do her job, then I’d rather you kept it. That way I can keep my pride and know I’ve done a good thing today. I’ve helped a bunch of little boys realize that there are people out there who work hard for a living, but won’t accept lousy treatment, no matter how little they are paid.”
I walked away. When I’d come back from the kitchen to clean up their table, I saw the dollar bill was still there, under a glass. But it wasn’t a dollar bill. I picked it up; it was a fifty-dollar bill. I walked out of the restaurant to the parking lot, where an SUV pulled out of a parking space and cruised up to me. A window rolled down and I saw the contrite, expectant faces of one of those boys. I wadded up the fifty and threw it in their window. I walked back into the restaurant. ***
I always wanted to work on a farm saving animals from systematic cruelty and abuse. There was one in northeast New York I’d heard about, which needed interns for the summer. Mucking out pens, farm maintenance—it all went to the mission of helping neglected and abused farm animals. I thought of Boxer from Animal Farm. This image of freeing Boxer from the endless toil and labor solidified it for me; I submitted my application. The pay wasn’t great, but housing was free of charge and everyone shared in on the grocery bill.
I’d get $100 bucks a week, which was $400 a month and . . . I really found it hard to do math under these circumstances, but I tried anyway.
$400 bucks, let’s see, three months, so that’s $1,200 total. And from that, I could probably deduce that community groceries (if everybody was vegan—which, I’m sure was going to be the case) would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.
“Hon—” Richard said, above me. Everything snapped back. “Where are you,” he said, hurt in his voice, once again.
I took a breath and focused. “I’m right here—”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
lives in Maine and ekes out a miserable living as a waitress and a writer. Her last novel, Backwoods East Jesus--a story of twisted Christian values in a cornbelt town--was published online by Mighty Words last year. She is currently working on a new novel about a lobsterman and his retarded girlfriend. Kaley Noonan’s “Happy Corn Belt” and “The Someday Cafe” are in our fiction archive.