The Oaf, the Loaf and a Hope
It was the same thing every day: he trampled her; ran right over and never thought to look back. Her heart was heavy: he beat it to a pulpy lump whose only purpose was to heave and swell like a pebble in the ocean beneath her breast. Some days, her chest was a cave; brittle and cold on the outside from lack of a man’s embrace, his kiss or his hand caressing down her arm. The inside was tender and sore; it felt like a bad bruise. But today, she was soggy. Her eyes squished with salty wetness that ran down her puffy cheeks, made more puffy and slick with every tear. Her nose swelled with the sticky dewiness of the emotion that no hanky could hold.
“Jeeze Mahge, go fix yahself. Ya’ look like all Hell and I can’t stand to look at ya’ like that.”
Poor Marjorie Marks, dismissed once again by the disgruntled man in a stained blue jumpsuit. Chuck. He had a way with words. He was gruff like a stray junkyard dog and everything out of his mouth had a bite. Chuck kicked his beat-up work boots off—boots that only “real working men wear”—and lumbered over to his recliner that was comparably as dirty as him.
“You won’t believe what tha’ boys were sayun’ down the assembly line, Mahge,” he thundered out while she washed her face in the sink.
“ ’parently this whole town’s gone nutty an some city-woman’s fixin’ to come here and start some ‘political women activist’ group,” he placed a hoity accent on the phrase “political women activist” and raised two fat, greasy fingers on each hand signifying quotation marks.
“ Yep, holdin’ a meetin’ in the library like she thinks people wanna hear what she’s gotta say. Dunno what she’s thinkin’ er what good gone come from some city-woman’s ‘political’ group. Nutty. Nutty like all you women, anyhow.”
Marge stepped out of the bathroom patting her flushed face and reddened eyes. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to: Chuck didn’t want her opinion. He started the conversations, he heard himself speak and he came to their conclusions and resolves. Marge was just the audience for the big important CEO meeting, the award acceptance speech or the presidential address that he’d never have but liked to practice anyway; he figured he was fooling her at least.
“Dinner’s on its way” she muttered, and crept into the dark kitchen. She reached up for the cord suspended from the exposed light bulb and pulled. Click-Click but no light. “Damnit,” she whispered. She knew she’d ask him to come in and change out the bulbs. She knew he would give her hell for “bothering him” and though most of her life with Chuck was rather dark, she couldn’t possibly start dinner without seeing what she was doing. “It’s always something.” she whispered.
“Chuck,” it came out as a squeak the first time. “Chuck,” a little louder but making painstakingly sure there was no assertiveness.
“What’dya want?” He was surely annoyed.
“Chuck, please, the light bulb’s dead. I can’t see. Could ya please come change it out?”
“Aw, Hell Mahge. It’s always somethin’.” She heard the recliner groan as he stood up and clunked over to the kitchen. She waited next to the stove, out of his way while he dug through one of the drawers. He pulled out a fresh bulb and mercilessly hurled the dead one into the trash. After screwing the fresh one in he glanced in her direction and grunted:
“There, it’s in.” and stormed out without even turning it on, leaving Marge alone in the dark by a cold stove. For a moment she just stood there thinking about how different things looked in the dark. She couldn’t see the grease marks or the dirty signs of wear-and-tear around the kitchen. The wallpaper looked almost attractive in the dark; not faded or discolored as usual. It reminded her of those Sears catalogs that featured bright and colorful room displays. She used to have a whole stack of those catalogs and every year around June 2nd (her birthday) she would thumb through them pretending she had all of the money in the world, imagining what she would buy. But Chuck tossed them. He said they got in his “foot-space” when he accidentally kicked the stack over once. “Besides,” he had said, “playin-pretend’s for kids and yuppies. We ain’t either.”
Marge shook herself out of the memory and looked at the clock. There wasn’t much time. He would shout from his recliner soon, telling her how hungry he was for a dinner he didn’t really want to eat anyway.
“Jus’ pas tha beans wouldja’ already?”
Eyes cast downward and lip slightly trembling; she thrust her arm defiantly outwards shaking a yellowed plastic bowl of brown beans in his face.
“Jeeze Mahge, ya don’t hafta be so hos-tile.”
Tonight she tried to make this one special. Tonight they had a table cloth; well, it wasn’t a real tablecloth but their old blue mattress top sheet looked just as decent, ignoring a few lopsided ends that hung over the edge. She knew all of Chuck’s favorites and meatloaf was one. They were having it despite her disdain for it. He picked up the wooden ladle—the same one they used to spoon up the poor imitation of “meat loaf”—by its splintering handle and dipped a generous portion of the stinking brown mess onto his plate. As she watched him, Marge felt her empty stomach growl.
“Do you think you might save a little more for me?” she timidly asked.
She wasn’t going to eat any of the meatloaf and planned on making beans the most of her supper. Chuck nearly emptied the bean bowl. His head shot up as he glared at her through frustrated, angry eyes. Slinging the bowl across the kitchen he yelled
“Damnit Mahge, I’m tired of yer yackin. That’s all I ever get from you these days since dinner ain’t even something to look forward to anymore.”
She bit her lip and diverted her eyes away from his. She glanced over to where the bean bowl had crashed; spilling what was left of its stash onto the peeled linoleum floor; right in front of the fridge.
“Your beans are right over there,” he smirked with a mouthful, nodding his head towards the floor.
Inside, she felt the floodgates open. It was a feeling she knew so well she could almost time it. T-minus 10 seconds to eruption: 8-eyes moistening, 6-nose filling and sinuses clouding over, 5-face hot and flushed, 4-throat tightening and 3-breath caught in its tourniquet, 2-bottem lip slightly shaking, 1-a cascade of tears running down like an overfilled bathtub; the shocking sound of its splashing on tile. She stared at her empty plate and cried. She watched her tears fall in big heavy drops streaking the make-shift table cloth. She stared at the meatloaf that he barely even touched. Did he do it to spite her? Was that it? Is that how it’s been the whole time? For 16 years? “What gives him the right?” The question hit Marge like a punch in the face. Its bluntness was painful but at the same time, knocked something around inside of her. She could feel something in her chest. It was winding up like a clock, or a time-bomb. It wound itself tighter and tighter up through her shoulders where the muscle began to ball up. It pulled through the base of her neck, tightening the skin. It clamped itself around her vocal cords and in an instant, without her consent or usual painstaking precaution:
“WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?”
She blinked her eyes, shocked at what came out of her mouth but with a warm—perhaps self-satisfied?—feeling in her stomach, noticing the startled look on Chuck’s face. He had stopped chewing and only stared. His eyes challenged her for more.
After a minute of silent staring, Chuck swallowed slowly and growled “Lower your voice.” Each word was short and sharp. Poignantly knife-like. Threatening her.
“I said, WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?”
Marge stood up this time, knocking her chair backwards behind her, planting her hands firmly on the table and leaning over to eye-level. She trembled; she felt like a cat clawing its way across a tight-rope atop the Empire state building. It was nerve-wracking but she never took her eyes off Chuck’s. She searched them for his next move, trying to plan her own. She didn’t know where this kitchen confrontation was going, or how it might end; she had always been the one along for the ride but this time, she started the engine. She was the one who put fire to the coals.
“And I said, LOWER YOUR VOICE,” Chuck barked and slammed his fork down on the table.
He was standing now too, with fists clenched. He looked as though he might boil over.
“I won’t have it Chuck.” Marge said. She wasn’t even sure what she meant by her clear statement but for some reason, in its clarity she sounded so self-assured.
“Woman, I’m tellin’ you right now. Yer fixin’ for trouble. I gotta heavy hand when I need it. Don’t make me,” Chuck bellowed from across the dinner table; all that separated her from his rage was a pan of the cold, untouched meatloaf.
He stopped short of his threat as Marge, acting upon sheer instinct and self-righteousness, seized the squishy meatloaf from its dish and primly planted it right in Chuck’s face.
Marge walked out of the kitchen and headed towards the front door. Her body tingled; it was an electric feeling. Freedom? Strength? Insanity? She didn’t know. All she had in mind was catching the first bus downtown to the library. She had a meeting to attend. She only looked back once at Chuck as she stepped out of the house; glancing over her shoulder at a dirty, dumbfounded man covered in cold meatloaf she yelled: