Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
Jets and Jobs
©1995 Green's Educational Pub. (Canada)
Ceiling shadows reminded Fred of a childhood game of flexing fingers and fanning them to resemble a bird. "But this isn't childhood," he said aloud.
Joy moved her arm out across the cotton sheets. "You okay?"
"Sure. Go back to sleep."
A shallow sigh escaped. Joy pulled at her short nightgown making it fan out and in to form a breeze. Sarcastically she said, "It really is easy to sleep in Miami's heat and humidity." She rolled and faced away from Fred.
"Think of the positive," Fred whispered. "We probably won't be here much longer." He shifted his weight to position himself on a part of sheet that wasn't hot and damp from his body's sweat.
"'Night," Joy responded, not wanting to prolong the conversation which, she knew, would not lead to anything except a fight from frustration.
Fred raised his arms and clasped his hands. The streetlight wasn't coming in at a necessary angle for a 'bird' to form.
"What are you doing?" Joy turned around. Her hair was matted from the humidity and her clinging nightgown twisted as she tried to face Fred.
"Didn't know you had eyes in the back of your head for anyone except the kids." Fred tried to sound cheerful.
"Stop playing and go to sleep!" She ordered in the tone of voice reserved, generally, for the children.
He wanted to reply 'yes, mommy' but knew that would infuriate his wife. He lowered one arm, patted her on the head, then raised it again. "Bird. Wings of Man. Eastern's flown away."
"What are you babbling now?" Joy pushed herself into a semi-seated position. "Do you want to talk?"
"Talk about what?" Fred lowered both of his arms, then pushed his pillow to form a back rest and sat up. His chest was bare yet beads of moisture dotted his skin. The hair on his shoulders drooped from the perspiration.
A car honked in the apartment complex parking lot. Then an alarm went off in the distance.
"Good thing the kids sleep through anything. There'll be a siren next." Joy got out of bed and stood at the window. Her purple satin nightgown clung to her damp skin. She liked Miami. The temperature during the summer was the only part of this area that upset her, and if they'd the money, air-conditioning could control much of that. For her daily life, Miami was comfortable: she knew where to shop, where the library was, had friends, liked the tropical climate, and it had become familiar after eight years. She was anxious about the uncertain future. "Did you know my parents flew Eastern New York to Miami on their 1956 honeymoon?"
"Guess not. It isn't something you make conversation about. Hi. We're your in-laws and, gee, we flew Eastern on our honeymoon so you're going to love us." Fred's flippant tone bothered Joy.
Joy pushed her straight hair back as if her fingers were a comb. "Don't you ever stop joking?" She knew he felt frightened about a future suddenly non-existent, and knew he thought he was letting his family down as a provider. She now worried about health insurance; and about grocery, rent, and utilities bills; and growing kids always needing shoes and clothing. Shouldn't they be sharing their fears? Why wasn't there a required school course in marriage and communication?
"Listen, kiddo," Fred got up and went to the window. An impression from the elastic waistband of his underwear itched; he brushed the back of his hand against the area. "Everyone wants a person trained in air commerce!" His glib sentence continued. "No problem getting another job."
"No problem," Joy strained to hold back her annoyance. "No problem. We have problems and need to talk about them."
"You want me to come back to bed? Let's turn on the lamp and make funny objects on the ceiling. Maybe even airplanes." Fred leaned his palms against the window glass, then pushed the tip of his nose onto it but the glass was neither cool nor able to make lasting impressions of his body's prints.
Joy went into the bathroom but left it dark. She splashed her face with water, and drizzled some on her hair. To the silence she said, "Unspoken. Why do we always keep real fears and sensations silent? Why do we pretend when we should be making eachother feel safe? Why can't I scream about a major airline going bankrupt and the unfairness of it all? Why can't I whisper to Fred, 'I'm scared. I'm really scared.'"
"You okay?" Fred called in a restrained tone.
"I'm okay. You're okay. Was that a song or a poem or something?" Joy came back into the room and sat near her pillow.
"It was something." Fred moved from the window, sat on the mattress, then used his arm and circled her waist. "Want to fool around?" Maybe, he thought, we could forget for just a few minutes what a frightening situation we're in and how insecure our lives really are. Maybe our closeness will make troubles disappear...for a little while.
As Joy grinned over the idea, air escaped from her nose.
"You sound like Jennifer imitating a horse. What does the horse say, Jennifer? Neigh. Then she blows air out of her nose." Fred spoke about their year old daughter. Oh, how will I provide for that child and her brother? What if she wants dancing lessons, or... His mental process was stopped by the sound of Joy's voice.
"Let's go to sleep. Okay?" Joy slipped into bed with Fred's arm still circling her.
"Seems like we keep saying 'okay'. Is that the same as 'you know' that we always hate to hear?" Fred moved with her not allowing his grip to waved, then held her tighter.
"I'm scared." Joy lay almost rigid. She was breaking an unwritten agreement. "Fred? You listening? I'm scared. You're specialized. You're an L-10-11 expert. Who'se even got the airbusses anymore what with the fuel costs? DC-9's still running, and 737's, and I guess you could learn those airplane manuals and work with them, but others already know how to fix those things and they're out of work, too. Do you want to be a househusband and I'll go back to work?"
Tears stung Fred's eyes. He was glad the darkness protected him from view. What Joy needed was his strength not his anxiety.
"Mommy. Water." Three year old Michael called from his bedroom.
Joy got up and pushed her feet into backless slippers. She went to the kitchen and filled a plastic cup with water.
"Saved by my son," Fred spoke to the walls. "Oh, what can I do to keep them safe, secure, stable! Air commerce. I love it but what do I do with it now? I can't break down yet. Joy needs my courage."
"He's sleeping again," Joy spoke as she removed her slippers. "Glad he doesn't know worry yet."
"I promised your family I'd take care of you," Fred began, "and I will."
"We're supposed to take care of eachother. It's not one-sided. We're a partnership. So we've division of labor."
Fred quipped, "Yeah, you went through labor and I divided up the cigars."
"Please, Fred. Stop!" Joy's body was shaking from the strain of pretense and fears she needed to be soothed away.
He raised himself on one elbow and bent over her. "Joy. I love you and the kids. Help me to be strong. I don't want to collect unemployment and watch TV soaps. I don't want to have to be a househusband; if I choose to be, that's a different case. I feel like a failure."
Joy began to cry. "You're not responsible for what's happened to us. How could you forsee it? That airline was as old as any that ever existed! We can only prepare for what we think may truly have a chance of happening, and this wasn't Peoples Express or Altair." Joy's sobbing was relief rather than regret. "We'll manage. Somehow, we'll manage. We'll use our savings-towards-a-house and just start up that fund again once you've another job." Not able to distinguish what was Miami's humid air and perspiration, and what might be human tears, Joy felt Fred's face without feedback.
"Thanks." Fred's throat felt tight from trying to hold back his own need to cry. "I may work as an auto mechanic, or even shelve groceries in the supermarket, but I need to feel I'm macho man or Tarzan even though I know you're not walking two steps behind me or are Jane. Okay?" He knew that minimum wage and menial jobs might be the only offers.
"It's going to be hard to uproot and start again. I just don't know how people do it and pretend it's easy."
"They pretend, honey." Fred brushed his lips across Joy's cheek.
"Let's not pretend so much. Let's be real from this point on. All we have is eachother. My mother told me that was vital to a marriage. It's us...you...me." Joy's mouth found Fred's and she kissed him with tenderness then passion.
"Just stand by me." Fred returned the excitement and leaned at an angle so he could stroke her hair.
"Always." Joy felt that a bonding had developed that was different from anything they'd previously shared. "And be there for me, too."
Joy reached around Fred's shoulder and pulled him to her, then heard, "Mommy. Water."
Both laughed. "Michael always had a sense of timing, didn't he?" Joy lifted herself and pushed her feet into her slippers.
Leaning her elbows on the windowsill, Cindy Miller stared out into the street. Snow piles pushed to the curb showed slivers of sidewalk as some snow had drifted back to the concrete. " . It sure took a long time coming."
Her sister, Susan, passed by and commented "You look like the cover of The Saturday Evening Post."
Cindy turned, grinned. "That girl was staring into a floor mirror."
Correcting, Susan stated, "That girl was staring at herself or her reflection, really, while peering into a cheval mirror."
"Oh, Geez," Cindy rolled her eyes. "Bad enough mom fixes grammar all the time, but not you, too."
"Why so glum?" Susan entered the room, then squat on the floor beside her sister's legs.
"I don't know where to write my resolutions."
"Try the walls."
"Oh, silly," Cindy was getting annoyed, "I'm serious."
"Got a lot?" Susan straightened her legs, placed her hands on her knees, then wiggled her feet.
"I don't know. When I start printing them out, then I'll know. Besides, what's 'a lot': ten, a hundred!" Cindy resumed her former position.
Susan stopped watching the motions of her feet, folded them alongside her, and reached an arm out to her sister. "Sorry. I like to tease. Wrong timing, I guess."
Cindy nodded her head but didn't turn around. "It's different now that daddy's dead. I don't know. I don't know."
Tears stung Susan's eyes, but she blotted them with the back of her index finger. "Do what I always did as a kid. Write your resolutions on toilet paper. Mom and Dad always loved unrolling it and reading my promises."
"But we don't have a dad," Cindy whispered. "And Mom spends her alone-time talking to his photo. It's creepy. Have you heard it?"
Susan had heard her mother asking a picture of a dead man how she was going to manage, how to pay the mortgage and bills, how to figure out future college funds. Stupid. How could a picture answer, and what was there to figure out. All you do is get a bill and write out a check, Susan remembered learning that in arithmetic. She put her hands on her ears as if to blot out her mother's voice echoing 'honey, oh honey, I miss you, I love you, I need you.' Pulling herself up, she uncupped her hands, embraced Cindy from behind and flippantly said, "Get the toilet paper."
"Ink is runny, Susan. What'd you do to stop it? A blotter?"
"Crayon. The big, black china-marking crayon. I'll get it." Susan had severed the seriousness of this day which ends familiar numbers after monthly dates, but she thought about it. She'd write in her diary; that's the private place to put inner feelings. Right now, she'd have to help Cindy.
In a wooden kitchen drawer which held marking crayons, electrical tape, assorted pins, scissors, glue, pencils with broken points, nail buffing felts, bottle openers, and such, Susan spotted a tortoise-shell hair comb. She lifted her hair, stuck the comb in place, patted it to assure herself it was secure, then grabbed the crayon. Climbing the stairs two at a time, she returned to Cindy's room.
Cindy had a wrapped roll. It said 'Facial Quality, Double-Ply, Bathroom Tissue.' "Why doesn't this just say toilet paper."
Susan giggled. What was the term she learned in school that meant prettying-up? "Euphemism," she said aloud.
"Euphemism. It's substitution of a word that other people might not like for a word that they will. Like 'death' gets changed to 'passed on', or 'garbage man' to 'sanitation engineer'. Toilet bothers a lot of people otherwise public ones would be called toilet. Haven't you heard one of Mom's friends say she's going to the 'little girls' room' when she means she has to use the toilet."
"Oh, the fish restaurant that had 'whalers' on a door and I didn't know that meant the men's toilet?" Cindy took short breaths and giggled as she continued to recite other instances. "Silhouettes painted on doors, or the rooster for men and the chicken for women but when you have to go you don't look for the poultry difference."
"If you announce you're going to write your new year's resolutions on facial-quality bathroom tissue, it sounds chic," Susan tore off the wrapper as she spoke, "but say you've planned next year's promises on toilet paper and it conjures up yuks."
"Do I unroll and start at the top, Susan, or do I write on the first sheet and work my way up?"
"If you unroll it first, then Mom will have to unroll to start reading and roll up the paper as she goes along. It's more dramatic. Daddy used to go nuts watching the whole thing flop down until the cardboard roll appeared. Then he'd have to read and roll at the same time."
"But what if I run out of resolutions before the paper is done?" Cindy looked puzzled.
"Just tear off what's left. Like when you tear some off to wipe." Susan was so matter-of-fact she didn't realize that the question really confused Cindy.
"Oh. Yeah." Cindy's voice pitched higher, then lowered. "Oops, I mean yes."
"I'll leave you alone, okay. Don't press hard or you'll tear the toilet paper. I mean," Susan then emphasized, "facial-quality bathroom tissue. But if it rips, scotch-tape it together. It'll still be a thing like knights unrolled to read off edicts in the Middle Ages."
"Thanks. Really, thanks."
Susan left the room but stood just out of eyesight. She heard Cindy whisper, 'I promise this new year I'll make my bed every day....'
At the far end of the hallway, the master bedroom door was half open. Straining to hear, and tip-toeing to get closer without being detected, Susan heard her mother's voice whimpering 'honey, oh honey, I miss you, the girls miss you, sometimes I'm so frightened alone and feel so alone.'
Susan shook her head with sudden awareness that her mother, who had daughters and responsibilities that kept her constantly occupied, was 'alone'. This time, the tears that exited from Susan's eyes were not blotted by the back of her fingers but tumbled down her cheeks. Mouthing to the bedroom, she formed the phrase "I love you."