Thursday, March 31, 2011

FFF - Cycle 24 - It's a Man's World

Submitted for Flash Fiction Friday

Prompt: PERIOD FICTION – A pulp styled story set between 1900 and 1950
Genre: Pulp Genres – See above.
Word Count: Under 1800 words

I climbed out of the taxi cab, one leg at a time and opened up my umbrella. It had been raining for six days straight and most people had just submitted to the damp and let the rain pour down their waterlogged stetsons or raincaps. Well, I was tired of it, tired of everything. I'd run out of options, which is why I found myself overtipping a cabbie in front of Number 7 Lucky Street and the door to the offices of Max Fletcher, Private Investigator.

I'd gathered a lot of information about P.I.'s in those lonesome evening hours after John went missing. None of them were interested in a case where a husband took off and left a Plain Jane like me. I finally figured out that it took a bombshell to get the kind of personal assistance I needed. So I'd given myself the full treatment: Shampoo, rinse, and style at Ros' Doll House and a new dress and undergirding undergarments from Macy's. My red hair was shaped into glowing waves that flooded my back and eddied around my face. My makeup was flawless and the red dress and spoke for herself.

John had left for a pack of cigarettes one night and had never came back. I always thought that was a euphemism for something else until it happened to me. Certainly someone would already have to have plenty of reasons to be suddenly moved to leave home forever. Going for smokes was just a way to get out of the door. But we were happy. He said he was happy. He didn't have a reason to leave. He smiled a lot, laughed, loved my cooking, bought me thoughtful gifts. Why, oh, why would he disappear?

The police did the minimum: Filed the report, posted signs, retraced his steps. Then a kindly old commissioner sat me down and filled me in on the facts of life.

"Men are animals," he said, "I know; I am one myself."

"But John was different," I pleaded.

"You may think so, honey, but in the end, a man's going to do what a man's going to do. It ain't fair, sweetheart, but there's nothing you can do to cage us."

"I never wanted to cage him..."

"Sure, sure," he said, lighting a stogie, "But what is marriage but a trap, really? And when you trap a wild one, he would sooner chew off his own foot off than stay penned down. It's not you, honey, it's his nature."

"It isn't," I said.

"Suit yourself, doll, but there's nothing else the police can do for you."

P.I. after P.I. guffed my chin and sent me on my way home with nothing more then trite sentimentalities. They wouldn't even take my money to do three day's work, just to see what they could find. They all came to the same conclusions: Ain't nothing to stick around for.

So, here I am with a new look and a new tactic. I will set my trap knowingly this time. I stepped off the curb and crossed the street in my five-inch heels and tiptoed my way through the puddles and pot holes to the brownstone office building across the street. I climbed the stairs and entered the foyer. I thought it best to shake the umbrella and leave it here. Umbrellas are about as sexy as a doily on a lawn chair. I opened my clutch and pulled out my compact mirror. I held it up and looked at myself critically. My mother always said I was beautiful, but it was only now that I could really see she was right.

I pursed my lips, shook my hair then bared my teeth to make sure none of the "Lover Red" lipstick had smudged my white teeth. Satisfied, I put my compact back in my purse and straightened the deep vee of my red dress so that there was just enough mountainside to give Mr. Fletcher a reason to cross the valley between us.

I breathed deep and considered for a moment what Lana Turner would do. Then I headed down the hallway to Mr. Fletcher's office and opened the door.

There was an empty waiting room. The walls were amber with age and nicotine. There was a brown plaid couch with a small, rough hewn coffee table. The air was filled with the scent of burnt coffee and dust. And the clock that had quit working at 11:20 some day long ago hung above the receptionist's empty desk. This told me the man was too busy to clean but not busy enough to turn me away.

I sashayed my way over to the office door and struck a pose with the dreary light behind me, casting a curvy shadow on the opaque window. Then I knocked on the door and called for him.

"Mr. Fletcher?" I called and opened the door, "I need your help."

I found myself facing a large desk with a man who was old enough to know what he was doing but young enough to appreciate what I had to offer. He was peering through a magnifying glass at black and white pictures strewn across the blotter.

"Whaddya want...can't you see I'm bu-" He started to say, but stopped when his eyes refocused on me.

"I can see that you're busy. Do you want me..." I let that float and then finished with " come back some other time?"

"Yes, I want you..." he stammered, "I mean I can see you now, just have a seat."

He pointed me to a chair and I took my time over there, hovering over the seat and then finally resting and crossing my legs. I noticed he enjoyed the show. I opened my clutch and found my silver cigarette case. I opened it, selected a long smoke and held it between two fingers.

I looked into his eyes and held his gaze for a moment. He had hazel eyes behind long thick eyelashes, the kind that are wasted on a boy. His face was rugged and dark, with thoughtful lines around his eyes and brows. His hair was longer than it should have been and fell in brown-gold locks on his forehead, despite his efforts to tame it with quick, smart fingers. His mouth opened slightly and we both sat there sizzling.

"Got anything to light me up?" I asked.

His pupils dilated as he considered the possibilities. I wiggled my cigarette to bring him back to earth. He recovered. He stood up and bent over the desk to give me a light.

"What can I do for you, Miss...?" he asked.

"Missus," I corrected and watched his face fall slightly.

"Missus...?" he prompted.

"Mrs. Smith, if you must know and, yes, that's my real name."

"How can I help you Mrs. Smith?" he asked, regaining a bit of his professional polish.

"I need to find my husband," I said and explained the story to him, but this time I added some embellishments. Not lies, just facts with some sparkle added to draw him into my trap.

"I really need to know where he is," I explained, "I know it's not a case of marital disharmony; he was completely satisfied."

"Who wouldn't be?" Mr. Fletcher muttered under his breath.

"At any rate," I replied, "I've never worked and I can't claim my sizable inheritance without some closure here, do you see what I mean, Mr. Fletcher?"

"I do see," he said.

"And while I do have some savings, enough to pay you for sure, I know it won't last forever. I want him to come home, but failing that, I at least need to be able to survive. You understand, right, Mr. Fletcher? Yes, you do. I can see it."

I watched him again and saw his eyes swim with lust. I knew he was dreaming of screwing me on my pile of money someday. He reached for a contract and started filling it in with the facts I had given him. I never had to repeat myself like I had in the past. Good doggie, I thought.

I sat and confirmed the facts as he wrote them down and considered how different this experience was from the twenty other people I consulted. How did I never realize this before? That a turn of the head, a direct gaze, some strategically placed red and holding myself in a state of neediness and not neediness would get me exactly what I wanted.

I want John back and I'm going to get him. And I'm never again going to stand by and accept only what I've been offered, be happy with what other people want me to have. If John is an animal, so be it. I will track him with my faithful doggie and trap him so good, he won't even know that he can never escape.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aunt Frances Chimes In: Honey, You're Going to Need to Tone it Down a Little

I know you're excited. But we don't need to let the neighbors down the street hear you. We all know what a bright little penny you are and that everyone thinks the sun rises and sets on your pretty little head. You don't have to broadcast it on the six o'clock news.

Frankly, though, I think you might be ready for a modesty check, myself. Back when I was a girl, we never tooted our own horn like girls these days do. It was good enough to know on the inside that we did a good job on our own. We didn't have to bask in other people's approval. What good is that, anyway? That and a quarter won't get you much anymore.

But you go ahead and throw your little celebration. I'll make the punch; I told you I would. Still, I think you might not want to hang your dreams on this, young lady. There will come a day when the weather changes and your friends will get distracted by some other new shiny object and drift away. Do you have the energy to continue to try to astonish everyone around you? You might think you do now, but wait 'til you have a husband and some younguns. Plus that high-powered job you're chasing. We'll see how much ta-dah you've got left in your girdle then.

Well, of course I love you, dear, I'm just tryin' to prepare you for captial-L Life. I want you to have your moment and you will. Just remember to bottle up the pride and joy you're feelin' and save it for the day when your dragging your tired self to work after a night of babies throwing up and husbands snoring, with the back of your skirt tucked into your panties and your slip hanging out. Just remember to carry the knowledge around that you are special and no amount of puke on your sleeve will change that.

Now come on and let's put the casserole on and let me brush out your hair 'til it shines.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Top 40 Countdown: Losin' It

As of the counter at the right, I will be 40 in 7 weeks time. It's time to get serious. I've restarted my fitness regime again. I want to lose one to two pounds a week as a birthday present to myself. If I meet my goal, I will likely be one clothing size smaller.

So far, I've been working out by alternating fitness DVD's. At present, my favorite one is Bob Harper's Strength Training. It's 66 minutes long and there's a progress bar at the bottom so you know exactly how much longer you have to go until you're done. After having this, it's hard to tolerate the other work out DVD's and trust the trainer. I've mixed in a couple of Jillian Michaels DVD's too...the Six Week Six Pack is featuring heavily in the rotation. And there's a bonus: Neither one of these trainers feels the need to say "Don't forget to breath!" which is nice.

I've been working out daily for the past week and I'm just now starting to notice some changes. My biceps have definition, which is new. Now, if only the rest of my body would follow suit and fast. Maybe next week...

I need to do this for my health, but more importantly, I'd like to look good on TV when I get famous. So, wish me luck and let me know any secrets you have on sticking with it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Perfect Storm

"You've got your social security card, right?" I asked Doc. It was around nine o'clock on Monday, the night before our Bankruptcy hearing. We were required to bring our drivers license, our social security cards, and to be on time. I was a bit worried about my social security card; it still lists my maiden name. But I wasn't worried about Doc's. He's the kind of guy who knows where his social security card is.

"It should be in my old wallet," he said.

His old wallet used to be on the shelves next to his side of the bed at our old house. We could have dashed in there and got it, no sweat, had we not changed sides of the bed (my side was closer to the bathroom and easier for him to get in and out of after he broke his femur), packed up those shelves and moved to a new house.

We spent the next couple of unhappy hours going through the remaining unpacked boxes, looking for that old wallet. What we found was all the other flotsam that surrounded his social security card in the past, like a miniature laminated copy of his high school diploma, a tattered list of old phone numbers, and some defunct credit cards, but no social security card. I did find his old wallet, but it was emptier than a banker's heart.

It was at this point that things might have gotten ugly. We've known for weeks that we've need our drivers licenses and social security cards for this hearing, that was scheduled back in January. I could have harrangued him about why he didn't start looking for this months ago. I was kicking myself for not bringing it up two weeks ago when it crossed my mind. He could have yelled at me for not being a careful packer or reacted to my harranguing by throwing some past misdeed in my face.

Resigned to the fact that we may have to forfeit our hearing and refile for bankruptcy, all for want of a tiny blue slip of paper, we made our way to the computer to find out what we might be able to do before 10:30 a.m. the next day. I found the toll free number for SSA and called it. Of course no one was there to monitor the phones at 12:00 a.m., but they promised to be there at 7 a.m. the next day.

We formed a plan. I'll call SSA and see what we can do. If we can work something out, fine. If we can't, I'd call the lawyer and see what our options were. We went to bed and spent our time tossing and turning in wave after wave of anxiety.

The next morning, the alarm went off at 7 a.m. I grabbed my phone and redialed the SSA. After dragging myself through a morass of phone tree options, I finally spoke to a person who told me that we could go to the SSA office and apply for a new card. Then they could give us a receipt that should do for the courts. I also discovered that the SSA office and the courthouse were in very close proximity. Things were looking up.

We got dressed in our finest clothes and dropped the kids off at school. We made our way downtown to find the SSA office and Courthouse, which proved to be tricky since they were located off on McKinley Avenue Southwest and not McKinley Avenue Northwest. But after a call to my Mom, we found our way there and were delighted to find the courhouse and the SSA office in the same building.

We parked the jeep and headed in. The snow was gone but the wind cut through us as we hiked to the new courthouse. We entered into a glassed in grayscale atrium. We had almost an hour until we had to meet the lawyer. Should be plenty of time, we thought. We entered the SSA office and found ourselves in a packed house. It was new and clean, but everything was gray.

We weren't sure what to do and looked around. I found a little touchscreen kiosk whose screen read: Touch here to sign in. So I did. It took a moment but I found the reason we were there and hit it. The little machine spit out a receipt with a number on it. Now this wasn't any ordinary number. It was in fact A116. At the front of the room there was a flat screen TV that was displaying the "Now Serving" numbers across the bottom. We saw such numbers as A113, H56, I23, K321 and L23. So, we could be three people away from Now Served or we could be 3.14 x 10 to the third power away from next served. Who knew.

Above the Now Serving display, they were playing endless ads for how easy SSA stuff is to do online. These ads featured an older Patty Duke portraying both Patty and Cathy from the Patty Duke show. Also, the guy who played Richard (her boyfriend) and her Dad showed up. The sound was turned down and the closed captioning was on. All we could hear was the space-age musak and read {Patty Duke Show Theme Song Plays} on the closed-captioning.

Doc and I took a seat in the front row and watched the Now Serving numbers not move. I sat and watched the digital clock readout on the flatscreen TV and willed it to slow down. Each time the next number was going to be called, the current number glowed red for a moment. We noticed the A113 glow and change...and then SKIP TO A117. It blew right past us. Horrified, we got up and approached the security guard.

"Yeah," he said sympathetically, "That happens sometimes. People get more than one number, then they get called up and the clerk has to clear out both numbers. It makes the numbers jump ahead."

We groaned.

"I really hate that board," he said, "It causes more problems..."

We sat back down, discouraged, but slightly comforted. And then the numbers righted themselves and we were set to staring down A113 again.

As it approached 10:10, I began to feel the crush of inevitibility. We had blown it. I just couldn't believe it. We had worked so hard and waited so long for this day, for this new door to a fresh start. And now we'd probably have to refile and pay the lawyer more money. I wanted to just weep. But I didn't.

I breathed in and went back to the numbers. I thought to myself, I'll have to leave in 10 minutes to meet the lawyer and face the music. But, God, if you're there, you've got me. I'm here on my knees, helpless. I need help and there is nothing I can do to save myself. It's in your hands.

I waited until 10:22 and left Doc in the office. He needed to stay there no matter what. I went back to the lobby and then through security to enter the courthouse. We were supposed to meet the lawyer in the meeting rooms, which were just inside the entrance. I went into a waiting area with chairs in rows and a desk to the side. There were two meeting rooms off of the waiting room, which were occupied. I sat down and fretted.

Five minutes later, I saw our lawyer approach. He made his way in and walked into one of the meeting rooms. He came out shortly thereafter and looked around, saying our names.

I stood up and he came over to me.

"Is he here?" he asked.

"He's in the SSA office," I started. Then told him the whole story in 25 words or less.

"Relax," he said, "All he needs is verification of his social security number; it takes 2 minutes, tops."

I did relax a bit. I asked him if I could go over and tell Doc what he needed and he said that was fine and he'd arrange things with our trustee.

I made the quick walk back to Doc, who was still waiting for A116, which was "next." I explained what we needed and headed back.

Our lawyer was sitting at the desk like he owned the place and was flipping through our files. He assured me that everything was fine and we'll get through this with no problem. A few minutes later, Doc strode in with a piece of paper in his hand, verifying that his social security number was indeed his.

We were then called into the trustee's meeting room and enjoyed some brief, joyless chit chat about how the people who come to the social security office have no idea that they should use the SSA parking only spots and there's never any place to park when you come to the courthouse. Our trustee lady said to hell with it, she just started parking in the SSA spots since they were all in hers.

Then she started the tape player up, swore us in, and ran us through 800 questions in seven minutes. And we were done. I was a bit wobbly but stood up and Doc and I left with our lawyer. We made our way out into the Atrium and he assured us everything was in order and that in four to six weeks we should be done.

Doc and I thanked him and shook his hand. We left the building, all buttoned up and walked back to the Jeep. We climbed in and I called my Mom, who fussed over us as we made plans to join her for lunch...after I let Doc drive me to Statcare. Oh, did I mention this? All of this happened while I was in the throws of a serious sore throat and swollen glands episode.

We spent a less painful two hours at Statcare, got my perscriptions and met up with Mom at Samantha's Sunny Corner for a little Fat Tuesday comfort food.

Later in the evening, Doc and I reflected over the events of the day. We vowed to make good use of the big teacher's desk we couldn't fit in our old house. We're going to get our papers in order and store them properly. We were grateful for the wiggle room, slight though it was, that we were granted so that our trip out of the whole wasn't lengthened by one tiny piece of paper.

We also took a moment to appreciate our ability to work together and not freak out. We would have come undone completely, had one or both of us succombed to blame or name-calling. We also were very grateful for such a smooth lawyer. Say what you want about them, but I felt like I had a big brother who was going to let me face the music, but was going to stand behind me and make sure it all went down fair and square.

As far as bankruptcy goes, it's not as bad as it's cracked up to be. But it's also not an easy process. I'm thankful that I was allowed to go through it, but I really don't care to repeat it again. Ever.

While Doc and I seem to have a good chance to successfully wind this up, we have to be very careful for the future. We both had to take a 2 hour course on budgeting and financing. I'm actually taking it now as I write this. Most of the pages only take 45 seconds to read, but you're required to sit and wait at least 120 seconds before you can move along, guaranteeing that you spend 2 hours of your life learning about money.

The course has given us some new ideas, but it's not easy. It's not fast. But I'll be damned if I ever lock myself up in a prison of debt ever again.

Lesson learned. The hard usual.