The Job – a short story

The Job

When Daisy comes back from work that afternoon she looks flustered. She looks as though she’s had one hell of a day. I take her coat and hang it up for her. There’s chilli con carne bubbling away on the stove. I tell her to sit down in the living room, I’ll fix her a drink. Give me a big scotch, she says, the bigger the better, with plenty of ice. Coming right up, I say. The ice bucket is empty so I have to go into the kitchen to fetch some more. I turn down the chilli while I’m there. I don’t want it to dry out. While I’m tipping the ice out of the tray I can hear Daisy talking to herself. She sounds really worked up. Never known her to be so distressed. My poor Daisy!

Back in the living room I pour her a good measure of whisky and leave the bottle close to her chair. I sit down on the sofa near her and wait for her to tell me the worst. Daisy doesn’t like to be pressurized when she gets in and that’s a feeling I can relate to all right. I’m the same way when I’m working. Now that she’s the breadwinner she deserves even more respect. Not that I’ve ever failed to respect her. Daisy and I are real close, so close it’s like we’re not even married. That’s our little joke. Married people just aren’t this close, she’d say to me and I’d look at her with a big grin on my face and say, Honey, are you suggesting that what we’re living is not legal. No I’m not, she’d say, but married people are supposed to fight and shout at each other and sulk and turn their backs and have long faces and we don’t do any of those things. And then we’d laugh, both of us. It was a ritual, I suppose, a way of telling each other that this time we were going to make it, that there would be no repeats in our life. You see, both of us have been married before, we both have one disaster under our belts.

He did it again, she says after she’s taken a long hard pull on her drink. The dirty creep did it again. Immediately I feel my pulse rate go up. I know what she’s talking about. Daisy works for this haulage firm in Missoula. She’s there in the accounts office on the word-processor. It’s a responsible job looking after bills and dealing with customers’ enquiries. And it’s a job she likes because it brings her into contact with a whole lot of different people. But she has this manager who is nothing if not a pain in the butt. His name is Anderson and he’s about thirty-six and newly divorced and very careless with his hands. I’m angry, angry for her but I don’t want to rush things, let her tell me in her own time. She stares down into the bottom of her glass. Her face is flushed. I was typing out an invoice, and he comes up behind me breathing down my neck. First I feel a hand on my shoulder and then he leans forward and points to something on the screen, some detail or other he thinks I should alter. But as he takes his hand away it grazes my breast and just for a second I feel his fingers tighten around my breast. Can you believe that? His fingers on my breast—she has beautiful breasts, small and round and firm and soft-nippled and I love to curl my fingers around those breasts of hers—. And when I jerk back and say Hey, what the hell’s going on here, he removes his hand and says What do you mean what’s going on here, nothing’s going on. Jesus you women are all the same. But he knows full well. It was no accident, his fingers were there long enough to have a good pinch of flesh. He’s. . .I’m telling you that man is simply disgusting. I raise my glass to my lips and drain it in one gulp. It makes me so mad to hear of Daisy being treated that way. You did complain, I ask her, topping up her glass before pouring myself another drink. You did tell someone about this creep, someone who can put him in his place. Like who, she says. Like who? I’ve tried that, Gerry, you know I have. But nobody wants to listen. Take him to court they say. Get proof, evidence and then take him to court. It’s as though this thing is an every day occurrence and nothing they can waste their time on, she says.

Daisy is such a sweet thing, I know it’s not in her nature to raise a storm over nothing. She doesn’t want trouble, just to be allowed to get on with her work unmolested. In this day and age is that too much to ask? But now she’s upset. It kind of takes the shine off a job when you know that in the course of a day some slime-ball is going to start trying to feel you up. Anyway we eat the chilli and Daisy says it’s delicious. She always did like my cooking but more so now that I’m not employed and I have more time to concentrate on getting the seasoning just right. I’ve become, though I say so myself, something of a perfectionist, and not only with meals. I send her back into the room while I clear away the dishes and tidy up. Christ, she says, when I join her later, it sure is good to have a man like you around the house. You put your feet up honey, I say to her. Move over and put your feet up. She does as I say and I get her another drink and one for myself and then I sit down beside her. You want to watch a film, I ask. No, she says. Let’s just talk. Talking unwinds me more than television. She looks tired. I know this Anderson business is still on her mind. I slip my arm over her shoulder and give her a kiss on the cheek. I think to myself, another drink and then we’ll hit the sack. That’s what she needs, an early night.

I was real worried when I lost my driver’s permit. Wasn’t sure how Daisy would take it, you see. But she was great. These things happen, was her reaction. They happen all the time, Gerry. Of course when I lost the permit I also lost my livelihood. I was a driver for an express courier service. That was something my lawyer tried to impress on the court. I needed the permit or I’d lose my job. The judge was not at all sympathetic. Your client should have considered that before he got behind the wheel of his car in a state of intoxication, that was the judge’s comment. So they took away the permit and naturally I lost my job. That was six months back and ever since then I’ve been looking for work. But these are hard times in Montana. People don’t believe you when you tell them but these are, I would say, miserable times. All this talk of boom times, it makes me sick. What boom, I say, show me the signs, show me the evidence. What boom, for Christ’s sake?

Daisy’s great. She understands the problem. You take your time, she said to me. Something will turn up and it may be better than a driving job. We can manage for the time being, so don’t you go rushing into something that’s not going to make you happy. I don’t want to have to deal with a mopey face around the house. I want you to be contented. That’s love for you. Real love. A lesser woman would have thrown me out on my ear. Like my ex- for example. She’d have kissed me goodbye and changed the house locks. Correction, forget the kiss. She’d have locked me out plain and simple. She was a hard woman and sometimes when I think of her—which is not often, thank God—I really cannot recall one single thing I liked about her. I’m telling you, when I do make mistakes, I make them good. Daisy’s different. She appreciates me. This place is looking fantastic, she said to me one day when she got in from work. Not a speck of dust anywhere and you’ve polished all the silver and the wood is sparkling and it’s. . .it’s so fantastic. I stood there listening to her praise and I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, Gerry Swain, you’ve finally done it, you’ve finally found yourself a woman who’s not afraid to express her feelings. It gave me a real boost. This, she added, is your vocation. You have a talent for housework that is truly rare. I must have been standing there like a proud little boy because she then walked over to me and put her arms around my neck and gave me a big wet kiss. Other men might not have coped in my situation. They might have felt that housework was beneath them, that Daisy’s attitude was really a big put-down in disguise. Well let them. I felt special. . .she made me feel special, like nobody ever made me feel before. After all I’d worked hard all day to get the place into shape and make it just that little bit more comfortable for Daisy and I had achieved my aim. Her delight was my reward. Fair enough?

Next morning I sensed that Daisy was a little nervous before she left for work. Come here, honey, I said to her. You look gorgeous. I put my arms around her and gave her a big hug. You look the most beautiful thing in God’s creation. She looked up at me and smiled. She was wearing a black woollen skirt with grey patterned tights and a bright yellow jacket over a crimson blouse. All of them good strong colours. And she had on her heels, the black heels I’d bought her for her birthday. Sensational! I bet no one else in that office can hold a candle to you, honey, I said to her. Really you are one of God’s rare gifts. When he created you, he had style in mind. This seemed to relax her a bit and she laughed. I hugged her again and gave her a long kiss on the forehead—not wanting to smudge her immaculate lip-gloss. Neither of us mentioned Anderson, the creep, and that seemed best. But as soon as she was out the door, I thought of nothing else. You see, that’s the down side of being out of work. There’s so much time, and you get to thinking and sometimes you just can’t help yourself and you go through an entire day worrying an idea until in the end you think you’ll go mad. Keep busy, that’s the answer, if there is an answer, which there probably is not. But busy helps.

Around ten that morning, after I’ve changed the bed-linen and vacuumed all over, I give Daisy a call. I love to call her at work anyway. Just the thought of that tall, slim body of hers on the other end of the line is always enough, is always enough to send shivers right down my spine. I visualize her, as though I’m face to face, staring into those deep green eyes, those bright pools of light. But this time I’m calling not just for the thrill of her voice, the purr of her warm breath, but to check in to see that she’s all right. She sounds pretty up-beat and I’m pleased. I was thinking of doing us a roast tonight, honey. What would you say to a roast, a good cut of red meat? I’d say a roast would be just fine, she says. With broccoli and carrots, I add, and a thick wine sauce with mushrooms. Sounds wonderful, she says. And then her tone changes. Look, sweetheart, I can’t talk too long, she says, we’re really snowed under here, but I’ll ring you back later if I get the time. Fine, I say. But don’t forget, I’m out this morning. Down to the mall, pick up a few bits and pieces, your suit from the cleaner’s for example. That’s right, she says, sounding now as though her mind is on other things. That’s right. You are an angel. I love to hear her call me that. Okay, she says, if I try you and you’re not there I’ll know where you are. And then she blows me a little kiss down the line which I return, of course, and then she’s gone.

Coming out of the butcher’s in the mall, I meet Tony Dunn. Haven’t seen Tony in over a month. How are you, I ask him. Jesus Christ, he says with a broad smile on his face, I haven’t felt better in years. Tony used to work as a tool maker until his company went bust. No job, I ask. He shakes his head, but he doesn’t look too upset. Nope, he says, but Dorothy’s still working. They promoted her last week. She’s chief sales manager now. Can you credit that, Dorothy head of sales? That’s marvellous, I say. And I really am delighted. Dorothy and Tony are a great couple. So what’ve you been up to, I ask. This and that, he says, a little golf in the afternoon. Matter of fact I’ve a big game on tomorrow, perhaps you might like to come out? I shake my head. No can do, I say. No car. That’s right, he says. Tell you what, if you’re on, I’ll pick you up. How’s that sound. Great, I tell him. I’ll be there. By the way, Tony says, lowering his voice. You hear about Andy and Muriel? I haven’t heard. All over, he says. Walked out on him. I don’t believe you, I say, not those two. Those two were welded together, you’d need an oxyacetylene to prize those two apart. Not any more, Tony says. She’s moved in with a Texan, a Texan engineer up here prospecting for oil. Jesus Christ, I say, poor Andy, he must be devastated. That’s the word, Tony says, you should see him. A shadow of his former self. I don’t think he’s eating or anything. I’ve never seen anything like it. Poor Andy, that’s just too bad. Tony raises his hand and makes the gesture which signifies Time for a shot of malt? I’d love to, Tony, I really would, but I have to get my hair done and then I want to get back early to get the roast in the oven. Maybe tomorrow, after the game. Great, he says, I understand. Call you later.

They have one of those new unisex parlours in the mall, all black leather seats and marble fittings. I want to give Daisy a surprise, so I ask Angela if she can do something about the grey hairs that are beginning to overrun my temples. Sure, she says, no problem. We can handle that. Angela is a superb hairdresser. And what about the moustache, she asks. Made your mind up yet? I’m still not sure. What do you think, I ask her. You don’t think it might be too drastic? Not at all, she says. It’ll take years off you. Daisy’ll love it. Okay, I say, you’ve convinced me. Off it comes. Angela knows a thing or two. She’s about twenty-five and stunning and still playing the field. While she’s putting on the colour, I remember about Andy and so I tell her. My God, she says with a gasp, not those two. I thought those two were lifers. We both laugh at that. Well, I always say, you can never tell, you never can. It’s a funny old world. Christ almighty, she says, it surely is that. When the job’s done I stare into the mirror and I’m impressed. Impressed and grateful. After all man has to make the most of what he’s got. Poor Andy, I think. You see Andy recently, I ask Angela. Not for about two months, she says, and honestly, now I think about it, he didn’t look too bright then. Poor Andy!

Back home I put the joint in the oven and let it sizzle for a while before turning the heat down. Then I set to preparing the sauce. A good beef stock, plenty of salt and garlic, a dash of pepper and a large glass of red wine. The mushrooms go in later. I’m just peeling the potatoes when the phone goes. He did it again, Gerry, she says. This man is driving me insane. You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to do something or I’ll murder the bastard. Okay, okay, I tell her, you calm down. I hear her blow her nose. You’ve no idea, Gerry, no idea how it feels, she says. Tell me about it, I say. She’s quiet for a while, I hear her trying to catch her breath. Was it the breast again, I ask. No, she says. No it wasn’t. I was standing by the filing cabinet, the drawer was open. I just didn’t hear him come up. Next thing his hand glides across my butt. I turn around and slap him. I slap him good and hard across the face. And he just laughs. The creep just laughs and walks off, laughing. Right, I tell her, you leave him to me. I’ll sort him out. He won’t laugh again by the time I’ve finished with him. And you, you just take it easy, you hear? Oh and get his address. I’m going to need that. Sure, honey, she says. No problem. Love you, she whispers. Me too, honey, I tell her.

I’ve always kept a gun —an old service .45 and a few rounds— on the grounds that you never know when you might need one. I fetch it from the drawer in the bedroom and take it down to the kitchen where I strip it down and give it a good clean and oil. From time to time I get up to baste the meat and potatoes. Around five I peel the carrots and wash the broccoli. They’ll go on the moment Daisy steps in the door. The gun is ready now. I load it and place it in the pocket of my coat which is hanging in the hallway. Then I set the table. Candles and the best dinner service including the crystal glasses. I trim the stems of the flowers I bought on the way home from the mall and stick them into a tall vase. By the time I’ve finished the table looks magnificent. The meal’s going to be a real knock-out. I look at my watch. There’s just time to freshen up and change before Daisy gets back.

While I’m under the shower the phone rings and I wonder is it Tony or is it Daisy. Nothing I can do. The phone stops. Then I get to thinking of Andy, poor Andy. His life in pieces. Jesus, life can be so cruel, sometimes. I put on my best tan trousers and beige shirt and go down to the living room where I pour myself a whisky and sit in the chair, waiting for Daisy. The air is heavy with the smell of roasting meat. On the floor beside the chair, the newspaper lies open at the job ads page. I glance at it for a moment. And then I see something amusing and I can’t help smiling, just a smile to begin with until I can no longer hold in the laughter. I raise my glass and say: Well, here’s to you, Anderson, you miserable son of a bitch!

© John Lyons, 2020

This story was written in 1991, and no, I’ve never been to Missoula!

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