Andrea S. Homier
Examination of A Young Marriage I
The sight of those kids eating each morning was what got Les out of the door every day to start his shift at 7:00 A.M., even in 10, 20, or more degrees below zero. No work, no food for the kids. And the wife’s face. Looking at you with such fearful expectation, and blaming you, always blaming you. Hell, what was a man to do, seventeen, eighteen ‘cept find a warm pussy for his pecker? And now it was all his goddamn fault. And more mouths kept opening for more. The second had come just 15 months after the first, the third just 15 months after the second and now cried through most of every night. Last night he’d slammed the door to the bedroom after screaming to get the kid out.
“How the hell am I supposed to go to work in the morning?” Jesus.
Now this morning he felt guilty about it. Coming out of the bedroom and around into the shower, he’d seen Lonnie sprawled on the couch, the little boy asleep next to her on the floor. Might as well be on the floor. No crib. After he’d gotten out of the shower and she still hadn’t woken, it passed his mind to lean over and brush her cheek with a kiss, but it passed quickly. Goddamn it. She didn’t need to know he felt guilty. He’d make it up to her this weekend, maybe with a Coke at the drive-in. She was always complainin’ that she never got outta the house.
He walked out to the Buick and prayed it would start. God, I ain’t got no time for this jalopy not startin’ today. He’d barely made it to work yesterday to clock in before the crew left for the job site and had to wait until 11:00 a.m. before the chow wagon came by. Felt like he was goin’ to pass out about 9:30 on.
The engine turned over and caught.
“I owe ya one, Big Guy.” He drove the car the 16 miles into town at 80 miles per hour until he hit the first stoplight. When he pulled into the parking lot, four or five guys were already there, chatting around the chow wagon. He parked the Buick on the dirt area reserved for the crew men, pulled his belt and hard hat out of the trunk, and strode toward the crew.
“Mornin, Joe. Mornin’, Chip. Jerry.”
“Hey, old man. See you dragged your ass outta bed this morning. Here he is – actually arriving before we’re headin’ outta the lot.”
“Fuck you, Jerry.”
They all laughed. He went up to José’s truck and asked for two burritos and a ham and egg sandwich. José wasn’t his real name. They all just called him that, ever since he started showing up in the parking lot here four years ago. His real name was Silvio, but that was too feminine for the guys in the yard. Although Les had always wondered about that. Why didn’t they call José “Sylvia” and be done with it, just as they called him “Leslie” so often. Why did Silvio get to be José and he had to be Leslie?
He unwrapped the egg and ham sandwich and bit into it, shoving half the sandwich in his mouth and taking a big gulp of the hot coffee. He could make it through this day again. He had his strong arms and legs and back. He could do it.
He opened the back screen door quietly and tread softly into the kitchen, just standing inside the door, his left hand behind his back. It didn’t take but 15 seconds before she came in carrying a laundry basked piled high with wet clothes.
She looked tired, but she still gave him a little smile, speaking softly.
“Hi, honey. I didn’t hear you come in. Sit down here and let me get you a beer.”
“I’ll let you do that, Lonnie. But, here.” He thrust the six carnations out in front of him, abandoning his prepared speech at the last minute.
“Les, honey, what’s this all about?” She set the basket on the kitchen floor and reached out to take the flowers, bringing them up to her nose.
“Aint’ about nothin’,” he said as leaned on the kitchen table and eased down onto the chair next to it. “Now, how 'bout that beer?”
She leaned over and kissed his forehead.
“Well, thanks. They’re –“
He pulled her onto his lap, and she giggled before he gave her a long kiss on the mouth.
“That’ll teach ya.”
“Teach me what?”
“That I’m you’re only man.”
She pursed her lips and shook her head, eyes twinkling. “Of course, you’re my only man, Les. You’re the father of my children, we’re married.”
“Don’t remind me. Where’s the beer?”
She got up and he hit her ass with the back of his right hand. She giggled again as she walked the two steps to the other side of the room, laid the flowers on the counter, and pulled a Budweiser out of the fridge, undoing the top with the bottle opener magnetized to the fridge door before twisting around and handing it to him.”
“Maaaaaamma.” The wail came from the living room, and he got up and stepped out there. The baby girl was sitting on the floor, couch cushions surrounding her, obviously having just woken. The little baby was strapped into the one carrier, next to her, sleeping, and his oldest boy was sitting on the couch sucking his thumb and holding a graham cracker in his other hand.
“Hey, Runt, quit your crying.” No response. Lonnie had better be following him in here, because he wasn’t going to put up with this. He slid into the recliner. As Lonnie came into the room, he said, “Hey, when you’re done with her, take off my boots for me, would ya?”
She picked up her little girl, and started rubbing her back before she replied.
“Yeah. I’ll be back out in just a minute.”
Lonnie took her baby girl into the kitchen.
“There, there, sweet Janey girl. No need for tears. Mommy’s right here.” Shifting the child onto her left hip, she unhooked the high chair table from one side and pulled it up into the air, sliding her into the seat with her left arm. She quickly snapped the tray on and then brushed the blonde hair out of the child’s eyes. Snot was running out of her nose and down into her mouth. Lonnie turned and got a small clean cotton rag from the small basket of torn-up T-shirts of Les’s on the counter. She turned back and wiped her nose.
“Lonnie. Come on,” he shouted impatiently. She opened the kitchen cupboard, grabbed the box of Cheerios, and sprinkled some on the high chair tray before giving her daughter a kiss on the cheek and headed into the living room.
"Hey, turn on the TV while you're up," Les said. She pushed the power button and stood waiting a minute before turning away. She knew he might want a different channel and stood by the TV waiting. She had watched "General Hospital" earlier in the afternoon, ABC, but Les usually like to watch Walter Cronkite on CBS for the news.
"What are you waiting for? Turn it to Channel 2." Lonnie did as she was told, and then knelt in front of her husband and started to unlace his boots.
After she'd fed him and the kids, bathed them, and woken him up in the recliner, they'd climbed the stairs. It was nine o'clock. He had seen that she'd been folding the dried clothes, so she must have finished the laundry. After undressing, they laid in bed together, his arms wrapped around her, her butt against his groin. He was beat and started to doze again right away.
"Judy Montgomery invited us out to Sugar Hill next weekend."
"Sugar Hill? Who, you?"
"No, all of us. Me and you and Billy and Janey and Hank. For a sledding party."
"Why'd she do that?"
"It was a nice thing to do. She thought it would be fun for a few couples to go up together and sled with the kids. She said she was bringing some hot cocoa, and Dan's getting a bunch of sleds together from his folks' house."
"Danny-boy ain't too busy attending to his insurance business, huh?"
"What's that mean?"
"Shit. Must be nice to have time to tumble down baby hills. We're not goin'."
"Les, why do you have to do that? You're just makin' judgments before – "
"Les, why do you have to do that," he mimicked in a falsetto. "What I'm doin' is pointing out to you that we have nothin' in common with Dan and Judy Montgomery, a fact that should be obvious to you."
They were both silent a minute, and then Lonnie said in a wobbly voice, "Judy was always nice to me in school. When we were graduating two years ago and my heel came off my Mary Janes, she let me borrow her black patent heels to wear." A tear slid out of the corner of her eye and rolled down her cheek until it reached the pillow. She sobbed quickly and said, "I don't know why you have to be so mean all the time, Les. What did these people do to you?"
"Jesus, Judy, they ain't done nothin' to me. I just don't want to spend time with them. They ain't our folks. Sure, I'll show up in my work books and with greasy hands. Danny-boy will have his Cabela snow boots and his hand-knit Irish sweater on, lookin' real pretty. Now, how do you think you'll feel then?"
Lonnie turned back over and he could hear her starting to cry harder. She grabbed a Kleenex off the chair sitting next to the bed acting as a nightstand, and held it to her chest.
Goddamn it. Goddamn it. Lonnie, shut up or get the hell out of the bed. But he didn't say it. He tried to think of something nice to say to her.
"Listen, Lonnie, I'm tired. Come on over here and let's get to sleep."
"I'm tired, too, Les. I'm tired of never goin' anywhere. I'm tired of listenin' to you all the time about how we're making you work day and night and yet you never takin' any time to have fun with us. I'm tired of never seein' you pick up Billy or Janey. I'm tired, too, Les. I'm tired of it all."
He shut his eyes tight, his jaw clenched. Did every goddamn night have to be like this? He pulled the cover back, swung his feet over the side of the bed, and stood up.
"Where are you going?" She had quit crying, but her nose was both stuffed and runny.
"Gettin' a beer. Leave me alone."
"Les, I didn't mean anything," she sniffled. I know you're tired because you work so hard. I know you work hard for us. I really do. I just need some fun."
"Leave me alone tonight, Lonnie," he said quietly and left the room.
The next morning, Lonnie woke him up on the couch, gently. After he got out of the shower, she had a stack of pancakes waiting for him, along with a few slices of bacon. He looked at her hard. "Since when do we have money for bacon?"
She turned her head and gave a small smile. "I was savin' it for somethin' special."
"Oh, yeah? And, what's so special today?"
"Today's special because it's us. Us together. This morning."
"You're a nut, Lonnie." He dug into the pancakes.
Headed out the door, he stopped to kiss her. He looked away. "Okay. Sugar Hill this Sunday. With pretty boy Danny."
She hugged him tight. "Thank you, Les! Thank you! I love you so much."
He held her arms and put her away from him. "I gotta go, Lonnie." He walked out the door.
Sugar Hill wasn't much. Just the soft edge of the mountains in the national forest just out of town. There was a wide area bare of trees that was nicely covered with snow each winter, usually even before Thanksgiving arrived, and the Forest Service had carved out a parking area at the bottom of it. When Les was 13 or 14 and running around with his buddies, they used to hitch a ride up here with cardboard boxes they'd lifted from the back of Thriftway. Some of the boxes were even waxed. They'd split 'em open and the three of them would pile on and fly down the hill. Who cared if they didn't have The Flyer?
After he cashed his paycheck last night and before he'd brought most of it to Lonnie, he'd stopped by the liquor store and picked up a pint of Black Velvet, throwing it in the glove compartment, knowing he would need it today. As he pulled the car into the cut-out, he reminded himself it was there. Damn. What the fuck was he doing?
"Here, Daddy. Snow!" Billy shouted. "Stop! Stop!"
"I'm stoppin', Billy. We're gonna go down that hill. Me and you, buddy."
He stepped out of the car and saw Danny Montgomery headed his way. Shit. He was actually going to have to talk to the guy. Les went to the back door and opened it up, telling Billy to hop on out. Billy's arms came up and reached for him. Les had a cigarette in his left hand and took another quick puff before he leaned down and put his arm around Billy and pulled him to him so he could avoid talking to Danny for a little bit longer. He felt Billy's bare hand slide around his neck, startling him. Lonnie was right. He hadn't held his son or daughter in months, and he'd probably only held the baby once or twice in the hospital. So what? His dad never held him.
"Billy, where the hell are your mittens?" Les shouted three inches from the boy's face.
Billy's face crumpled, his lips protruding, and he pulled his head and shoulders deeper into his jacket and away from his father. Lonnie looked over at them both from the back of the car where she had Janey sitting on the trunk and Hank as well in the carrier.
"Just a minute, Les. Wait a minute. I'll be right there," Lonnie said.
Danny walked the last few feet toward the car, his hand already extended.
"Les! Lonnie! God, it's good to see you guys! We haven't seen you guys in ages. Finally got you outta the house on the weekend. It's so great that you're here."
Les took Danny's extended gloved hand in his own bare hand and shook it. He hadn't seen pretty boy Danny in over a year. "Good to see you, Danny."
Danny gave a small laugh. "Hey, things have changed, Les. I go by Dan now – the business you know – but, hey, you can call me whatever you want," he said with another small laugh and gently slapping Les on the back. He took a big step away and toward Lonnie.
"Here, Lonnie, let me help you! It is so great to see you! You look so pretty. Being a mom really suits you 'cause you're getting prettier all the time."
Les reached into the car, leaned over to the glove compartment, and stuffed the pint into his inside jacket pocket and then grabbed Billy's now-mittened hand. "Come on, Billy. Let's get to the top of that hill." He started to walk with the boy next to him, grew impatient, and then swung him up again. Billy laid his hand on his dad's arm, but did not snuggle up next to him. Les approached the rest of the party. There was Judy Montgomery with two other girls and a guy he vaguely recognized.
"Hey, Les! Hi, there, Billy!" Judy bubbled. "We're going to have so much fun, today. Have you ever been in the snow before, Billy? Daddy's going to take you sledding! My goodness, you've gotten to be such a big boy! Come here and let's see if Judy can even hold you, big boy!"
Les handed the boy over to her with a "Hi, Judy," and a small smile.
"Les, do you know Stephanie Somono? And, of course this is Steve and Joanna Carson. You guys have met, right? Of course Steve and Joanna are the elders here," she tinkled, "being a couple of years ahead of us in school, but who doesn't know Steve Carson, All American and on to Marquette?"
Yeah. Les knew of Steve and Joanna Carson. Although they'd never met. Three of the largest cups in the awards case at the high school were due to the All-American Steve Carson. Joanna had been a cheerleader, and the two of them had been an item ever since Les started his freshman year -- hell, probably before then. They weren't just a school item; they were a known town item.
"Hey," Steve nodded. Joanna smiled coolly and nodded her little head at Les. "Where's your wife?" she said, and then turning, "Oh, yes, there are three of the brats, aren't there? Hadn't you better go help her?"
"I think Dan's got that covered." Stephanie extended her hand. "Hi. I'm Stephanie Somono. My husband Frank is up there with our two-year old, Brian. He's looking forward to another strong set of arms to pull the kids to the top and will be glad to see you. But, would you like some cocoa, first?" She smiled broadly, her face open to his response and taking him in appreciatively at the same time.
Les gave Stephanie a grin in return. "Nah, I'm okay. Thanks. Why don't I go up and play draft horse with your husband? Come on, Billy!" He pulled his son up from Judy's arms and headed closer toward the base of the hill, stopping quickly at a tree cluster, where he slipped the flask out of his jacket pocket and took a swig while pretending to adjust Billy's hat and scarf. Swinging him up again, he started up the hill through the snow, each step sinking in to the top of his boots. Frank waved at him.
Les and Frank took Billy and Brian, Janey, and Dan and Judy's daughter Monica, who they called Monie, up and down the hill 15 or 16 times before they called "time out." Frank fell backward into the snow, arms and legs extended, and moaned. Les sat down on a log next to him and lit a smoke.
Dan walked over with a couple of cups of hot cocoa. "Okay, I owe you guys one. Monie has had the thrill of her life!" He and Steve had been sitting on Dan's station-wagon hood talking. Joanna had been sitting on the other side of Steve. Les could only guess what they had been talking about. Football All-Stars. Marquette. Insurance. Les and Lonnie's breeding habits.
"That was somethin'! I thought you guys weren't going to stop. I just don't get the physical workouts like you both do every day. I'd obviously lose any kind of contest there!" He mocked a sheepish mopey face.
Les flicked away his ash in irritation, and then drawled, "How's the insurance business, Dan?"
"Couldn't be better. Couldn't be better. Things are going so well that Dad thinks I should go ahead and go for my B.A. at State. You know, I wanted to get started right away, but he made me do the A.A. in accounting at Community. Now he's pushing the business admin program. I told him I just want to work and grow the business, but he said I've done so much already that we should capitalize on the success and have me get my degree. Heck, pretty soon he'll be insisting that I head to Wharton," he guffawed.
Les stared at him.
"That's great, Dan," Frank said, sitting up and smiling at him.
Les got up and kicked the snow off his boots against a tree stump. "Listen, guys. This has been fun, but Lonnie and I gotta get goin'." He turned and walked toward the cars.
Dan turned and looked at Frank. What? What did I say? Frank just shook his head and waved his hand to the side. Forget it. Dan frowned and then held out a hand to help Frank up.
The drive home was cold and icy. Janey was sniffling and whining and the baby was crying even though Lonnie had him on her knees, juggling him up and down while trying to fix a bottle at the same time. "Les, thanks. Thanks for taking us. The kids really loved it."
"Lonnie, the kids don't give a fuck. They'd be just as happy at home."
"Les, don't swear in front of the kids, and you're just wrong anyway." She turned around to the back seat with a smile. "Didn't you, Billy? Did you have fun? Tell Daddy."
"I have fun, Daddy," Billy said, his eyes wide, looking at the back of his father's head.
"Well, at least you've put in your little social appearance."
When they got home, Les sat in the car listening to the radio and drank the rest of his whiskey. It kept the cold out.
The guys gave him shit all week. Jerry had had to go rent another back hoe on Monday from Smitty's. Frank Somono was behind the counter and asked whether Jerry didn't work with Les Fiskar. Jerry looked like he had crapped his pants and was lovin' it when he came back to the yards with the back hoe and the story that Les had been snow-bunnyin' with Frank and Stephanie Somono, the Montgomerys, and Steve and Joanna Carson. "Whooo – heee, look who's movin' up in the world. Don't know if he can stay much longer here, boys. Let's see if he can still pick up the shovel today. Come on, watch now. Les, did you forget? Did you forget how to dig a ditch? Or should I call you Mr. Fiskar? What is it now?" It went on and on and on. Les dug harder and harder, and they wouldn't quit. After three days, the foreman had had enough. "Shut your goddamn mouths up and get to work."
When Friday end of shift finally came, Les headed straight across the parking lot striding toward the Buick. But Chip Davis hollered at him to hold up and asked Les if he was going to meet the crew at the Red Mill on Saturday afternoon for a few beers and a couple of games of pool.
"Now why and the hell would I do that, since you guys been rubbin' my ass raw all week, huh, Chip?"
"Oh, come on, Les, you know Jerry, he's a real jerk sometimes, but he don't mean no harm. Nobody cares where you been. Time out with your kids is good."
"What do you know about it, Chip? Got some kids somewhere we don't know about? Married on the sly? Huh?"
"Les, I'm just sayin' I'd like to shoot a little pool with you on Saturday, buddy."
Les knew Chip was trying to make things up to him – for everybody, smooth things over. Chip was a good guy, a straight arrow. He'd laugh with the guys, get drunk, horse-play and all, but he'd pretty much always do the right thing. He had been a friend to Les before, and Les knew he was trying to be a friend now.
"You see, Chip, I got things to take care of tomorrow. The oil and sparks need to be changed in the Buick, Lonnie needs a ride to the grocery store, and my ma needs a few things fixed over at her house. That and a million other reasons, like Lonnie sayin' I never spend any time with my kids."
"Why don't I come over and we can take the kids to the park while Lonnie goes to the grocery store?"
Les stopped walking and turned to look at Chip, just staring at him for a few seconds before continuing to walk to his car. He reached the driver's door, opened it, threw his lunch bucket in, and then slammed the door shut and leaned on it. "Listen, Chip, your dad ever take you to the park?"
"Yeah, he and my mom. We used to go on Sunday afternoons sometime. You know, over by the fairgrounds. In the winter like this, you can't stay too long, but they have that little duck pond over there and for some reason, some of the ducks don't make it out. We can take some bread and feed 'em."
"My dad never took me anywhere."
"What about fishin? Fishin? Campin? In fact, my old man and me are going out Sunday to the lake and doin' some ice-fishing."
"No fishing. Closest he came to that was throwin' a tackle box across the room. Sinkers and hooks and bobbles everywhere, flyin' everywhere." He sighed and looked at Chip. "But, hell, what does it matter now? I'm here, I'm alive, I got work. I'm feedin' my kids, right?"
While Les waited for Chip's response, he saw that he had made him uneasy. Well, what of it?
Turning around and opening the car door again, Les waved and said, "See ya next week, Chip. Take 'er easy." He dropped onto the seat, started the car, then reached under the seat, pulling out the fifth of Black Velvet, taking a long swig before putting the cap back on and dropping the bottle next to him on the seat. Putting the car in reverse, he raised a cloud of dirt as he moved toward the payment and then squealed out of the parking lot.
Les feels a pounding in his head that won't quit. He tries to move his hands up to his eyes to block out the sunlight, but his arms are too stiff. He shuts his mouth and tries to move his tongue around his dry mouth. He can barely swallow because his throat his so dry. Les forces his eyes open. Oh, God. He's in the car, clearly having passed out last night. At the moment, he can't bear sitting up to face where he has landed. His eyelids close again. He was dreaming. His father. Yes, he is afraid. Very afraid. He feels Billy's hand on his neck, a sensation he has felt again and again in the past week. He trembles. His chest shakes and his eyelids squeeze shut. A cry escapes his throat before he stiffens, grabs hold of himself, and sits up. He is in his own yard. He half-faints with gratitude, falling onto the steering wheel. He can not stifle the sobs now, though they are dry. Dry. Afraid.
Causes Andrea Homier Supports
Amnesty International, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, PEN America, Catholic Relief Services