You could see it in so many forms, like the sink piled high with dirty dishes while the dishwasher sat idle, vacant, its door yawning wide – waiting to be filled. There wasn’t much point really. Without soap for the dishwasher, what is the point of loading it.Just as well to keep the inventory of dirty dishes in the sink so a needed pot or pan can be swished out as needed.
He had not yet resorted to rolling coins from his change jar as he once did, to take to the bank, so he could take folding money to the grocery store in order to avoid embarrassment of paying for Kraft Dinners and tins of tuna fish from pockets, bulging large, made lumpy by quarters and dimes.
He remembered those days, shortly after graduating college in 1998, trying to get and keep a steady job. Anxiety lay all around, then, as it is now.
Now, things were lean again. Not early-20’s lean, but lean.
Sales were down, commissions were down and getting that monthly draw was getting tougher to negotiate all the time.
Anxiety had been running high for weeks because, like too many months before, Jack had nearly run out of cash reserve.
Eleven days before he ran out of month, he was out of cash.
He asked Patty for some cash from her mother’s estate – to tide them over for a few months until things got better.
Patty agreed to help but all that cash was tied up in Treasury Bills and Certificates of Deposit that weren’t due yet. She would call the bank manager to find out what could be done. For now, Jack would have to use the company credit card for his travel expenses on the Atlanta trip and just hold tight on every other expenditure until his advance, hopefully, would come through at the end of the month.
It wasn’t just Jack and Patty Hornby.Everyone suffers when the economy is tough and unemployment high.
Side-excursions for job interviews had become routine this year.This trip, to Atlanta, had just one side-trip for a meeting with a head-hunter in Roswell. It had been just one more mini-nightmare.
“What did Jack lack,” he asked himself.
What was it that made every interview a little more brutal, made every rejection cut a little deeper than the last one?He knew he was improving; his interviewing skills were honed, his resume kept getting better with each de-brief session graciously granted by those who did not hire him.
It was always something.If he heard, “we really like you, but we had so many really well qualified applicants it has made it a very difficult choice” just one more time he swore he was going to come out of his chair and choke the shit out of whoever said it.
Brain candy.Comic relief. He wasn’t going to strangle anyone.His bravado – like threatening to let the air out of someone’s tires – became less real each time he uttered these cranky thoughts under his breath.
He knew he would never utter them aloud.
Waiting to board his plane in Atlanta, he made two calls.The first, to check his voice mail.
“You have one voice-mail message.To retrieve your message, press 1 now, ” . . . “Jack, your loan advance is ready,” came through the phone voice-mail. It was from Alice Parkin at the controller’s office. There was an easy breezy tone to her voice.
Now, it was the 29th of the month.This was the first month in more than two years being on the-draw that Jack’s request for an advance, again, was answered that way. Rather, it had become a monthly root-canal meets Spanish inquisition – now evolved to a prospect-by-prospect discussion with sales manager Norm Jepson, it was a simpler process.
Jack was breathing easier, as would Patty, and his bank manager and a long list of creditors who had been kept waiting for far too long.
Sales have been sluggish for two years and though deliveries last month have not been much better, the order book for fall was filling up. Melden Tools, a mid-sized manufacturer and distributor in Broadview, a suburb of Chicago, was still struggling, but Jack’s territory was on the cusp of performing as it hadn’t since the mid 90’s.
What a ride it has been . . .
His second call, to Patty at her office, “Hey, hon. How are you doing?”
“Just another month-end crunch for every client with a shoe box of receipts”, she joked, “How was Atlanta?How were your calls, and how was the interview?”
“Same shit, different day!”, Jack answered . . . “I’m really tired, I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.I just had lunch and a drink here at the airport, I’m going to slip into my seat and catch some winks on the way home.My plane should be in at 3:10, so I’ll be home by 4:30. I’ll be home before you will – I’ll start making dinner”.
“Do you want me to pick you up?”, Patty enquired.“No, that’s OK, I’ll catch a cab at O’Hare.They are talking here about a possible delay in the flight because of tornado activity east of Atlanta. Like I said, same shit, different day.”
Just a few months ago, a very different story.Jack’s therapist was concerned their sessions were becoming less effective as Jack was becoming more and more distant.
They discussed referral to a psychiatrist and more aggressive drug therapies.Jack refused to acknowledge how far out on the skinny branches of being strung out he really was.He had cut back on his drinking, was trying to focus more on his relationship with Patty.
The struggles Patty had been working with for long had taken a back seat to Jack’s issues – it was just that Jack wasn’t talking to Patty. How could he?He couldn’t tell her about Clare, so how could he tell her what was going on?He wasn’t in pain; he was one part numb and two parts in lust with Clare. How could he tell Patty?How could he not? With no resolution, this continued to fester.
The affair had been brief, and then it ended.Rather, Jack ended it.It was great fun, exciting, and a little dangerous at first. Clare is Norm Jepson’s executive assistant.It began as flirting between them at the office Christmas party – banter, innuendo and soon, it innuendo-ed right into Clare’s bed.It wasn’t long before Jack knew it had no future. It was foolish.Clare was hot alright, but it was stupid, stupid, stupid – for a married guy to be fucking someone at work, worst of all the boss’s assistant.
Jack knew better. He felt guilty for what he’d done – cheating on Patty. He felt guilty for risking his employment with a hard to keep secret office tryst.Add to that, Clare turned out to be mostly empty headed. Great body, great in bed – but not too bright.
Jack saw, in his own actions, repetition of his dad’s behavior – long ago put aside, but not forgotten.“Jack, are you becoming your dad?”, Jack so often asked of himself.So far, therapy hadn’t delivered an answer other than confirming the ending of things with Clare was right-headed.
Patty’s pain was a longer story, a more painful drain on her spirit.
Pain. Didn’t touch or talk or feel ...
It hurt. Not the kind of pain you take a pill for.
Feelings, when they are hurt don’t injure the body, don’t leave a bruise or break a bone. They can be devastating to the spirit.They usually are.
Patty’s father was always around, but not very involved.Then he was gone.In one trip home from the bar that night he created a chain reaction of catastrophe. One could argue the effects on his family were already inflicted.His death in a tangled mess of metal in the intersection of 10 Mile Road West and Greenfield Road served as one more reminder to not drink and drive, one more reminder to police of its most dangerous intersection in Oak Park, and one more cut of a thousand cuts for Patty and her mother Marise.
Abandonment of the family – like at Patty’s next door neighbor’s house; Brad Freemont and his mother knew that John, father and husband, was gone.His drinking and chronic unemployment broke the home long before he hit the road, never to be heard from again.Patty knew her situation was the same. Her dad hadn’t left. He was there, every night – usually too stewed to have a conversation, to care or to spend time with . . . but he was there.The abandonment was not clear as it was for Brad next door, but just as palpable.
Jack and Patty met at summer school in July, 1994 - both re-taking 10th grade English at their school - Fenwick High. At first it was just friendship, kibitzing in class, walking home after class and soon it was classic boy-girl lust, their first hot summer romance.They dated through the rest of high school.It was more challenging in college years.
Jack took Engineering at Northwestern.Patty enrolled in the Commerce program at DePaulUniversitybut found it too difficult. She dropped out to take a junior accounting position at Rubey & Co., an accounting and tax preparation firm with a branch office in Oak Park where she has worked ever since.
Starting in his 2nd year, Jack shared an apartment close to campus.They never really broke up, and at the same time they never consummated their relationship.They dated others.Patty kept her virginity, more out of fear of intimacy than of keeping herself for Jack. Jack lost his without much caring or attention in a series of short meaningless college trysts.Each summer he returned to Oak Park, and resumed hanging out with Patty as if little time had passed since high school.
They weren’t acting like brother and sister, but in some respects it felt that way. They didn’t know why at first. In Jack’s recent work with a therapist made in clearer. They both came from very similar dysfunctional families; both had fathers who were present in the home but absent in many ways.
Those salad days were full of laughter and hard work. Jack and Patty bought Patty’s mom’s house when her mom went to the nursing home.For Jack it was a matter of whatever makes Patty happy. For Patty, it was coming home to too many mixed emotions.
Minor renovations and fixing up a nursery were high on their agenda.Losing the babies changed everything.Twins were on the way in the fall of 2006 when Patty felt sick.Tests proved her body was producing abnormal antibodies. They called it collagen vascular disease. Jack never really understood the explanations.Patty did.
They never got over it. The talked a lot about it, the first couple of years, but then resigned themselves to never having children, and to never talking about it again.
Jack’s flight was called. After the fat folks, limping old folks and those with children boarded, rows at the back were called for general boarding.He made his way to 21B, his seat, stowed his briefcase and raincoat in the overhead bin and slid into his seat.He was greeted by a teenage girl sitting in the window seat. It turned out her parents and younger brother had the three seats in row 20.She managed a meek, “hello”, which Jack responded to with a nod and a smile.
He was exhausted from three sweltering days in Atlanta, the interview, and strong desire to be home in his own bed tonight.
Jack pulled out the in-flight magazine from the pouch and began thumbing, oblivious to passengers elbowing each other in the aisle, jamming storage bins and negotiating the in-flight staff who populate that aisle like bumpers on a pin-ball machine.He noticed her perfume before he noticed her. She smelled raw, sensual and cool – like a human mint julep.
Willowy would describe her. Auburn hair with streaks of gray, curly, shoulder length and wire-rimmed glasses. Her skirt was short and tight. Tanned bare legs went from the floor to Jack’s eyeball level. She caught his attention in part because she was tall – probably 5’10”, in contrast to Patty’s 5’2” frame.This woman was more than willowy; Jack observed her carefully as she put her briefcase up, then her suit jacket – exposing her starched white shirt with buttons open in that sexy playing way to imply you can actually see inside.As she sat in 21C, Jack got all that view quite clearly. As she wrangled her seat belt, the gap in fabric opened to reveal a delicious white triangle with a twirled areola and nipple rising like a mini-volcano in the centre of the triangle.
She saw him looking, he was certain of it.She turned, and he expected a scowl – to smile, and offer words that had the effect of growing a huge erection for Jake, as she purred, “Hi, I’m Jill . . . you’d like to do more than look, wouldn’t you?”
He didn’t know what to do. Jack had been quite flirty in recent years – perhaps marriage boredom setting in a little, but it was confined to complimenting waitresses and receptionists in offices he visited, but never anything this direct or overt – and it was her, flirting with him.
He stammered out a combination of facial expression and half-laugh to say, “Hi, Jill, I’m Jack and – I don’t know what to say other than to admit I was looking, and enjoying the view.”
In the span of less than two minutes of Jill’s arrival, Jack had a raging hard-on that made him feel awkward as much for its presence as for the fact his cock was tangled in the fabric of his shorts.He needed to adjust to let the blood properly supply his stiffening member.He adjusted as unobtrusively as he could given the circumstances and cramped quarters by reaching into his left pocket for a package of gum. While in there, fumbling to find the gum, he was able to unfurl the tangle and his cock sprang free like a small tree trunk hugging his left thigh, the larger trunk.
Jill busied herself opening her book and switching from her wire-rimmed glasses to half-eyes for reading.As she stowed her purse again below her footrest her shirt gaped open again. As she returned to an upright position again, she turned toward Jack, ensuring he caught the view he had enjoyed the first time.
Jill leaned over, her full rounded lips nearing Jack’s ear, whispered, “I just wanted you to know the second time wasn’t an accident”, then adding, “so Jack, where are you from and what takes you to Chicago?”
Two hours of conversation flew, as did Jack’s fatigue. Jill informed him well – she was widowed three years ago. Her husband died of a heart attack in a New York hotel room while on a business trip and, cliché as it might sound, the hooker he was with called 911, but it was too late.Jill was born in Vancouver, raised in Whistler. She had an MBA from Stanford, a house in White Rock just south of Vancouver and a vacation home in Hawaii.Her time is split between Vancouver, Toronto and Atlanta where she works for Coca-Cola, managing their Canadian division. She was going to overnight in Chicago, see her ad-agency folks in the morning and then fly home to Vancouver. She has a 24-year old daughter Alexis who is travelling in Europe for the summer before starting an exchange year at the Sorbonne this fall.
21A girl was oblivious to everything. She had a headset on, listening to music, and her face was pressed tight to the window to observe the scenery as the storm clouds in the distance made for a great movie.If she’d only known the movie playing out beside her in seats B and C.
Jack told his stories too. Aside from the flirtation and blouse-peeking it would have appeared to anyone in earshot that two people, seat mates, were enjoying their drinks on a short flight and getting acquainted. They couldn’t see, of course, that Jill’s arm had slipped over the arm rest to make contact with Jack’s pant leg, where the tree trunks were stored.Jack had raging wood and nearly exploded into the lining of his trousers a couple of times thanks to Jill’s teasing fingertips.
Needless to say, disembarking at O’Hare time arrived, business cards were swapped, a commitment to email or call was made. Jack wanted to hug her but wasn’t sure what he ought to do.The thought raging through his mind, as they walked from the bridge to the luggage collection area was, “what if someone he knows – or that Patty knows – were to see him?”.
Jill suggested Jack join her for the evening, “come to my hotel, I’m staying at the Ambassador downtown in The-Loop; at least come join me for a drink, or for dinner.”
Jack stammered, though he was severely tempted, but declined, “no, thanks, I’d love to – really, I would.I’d be nervous, but thrilled! But I have to get home,” pointing to the ring on his finger and smiling.“Besides, I’m in Oak Park, which is a long way from downtown. I’d better say good-bye now and be getting my bag and hunting down a cab queue.”
Moving closer to Jack, as they stood alongside the baggage carousel that had begun moving though not a bag had yet made an appearance, Jill took Jack’s arm as a lever to bring them close. As she turned to face him, she took his right hand with her left, raising it between their bodies, sliding it inside her partially open shirt to give him a feel of her flesh – hot against his palm.Jack froze, then slowly pulled his hand out, allowing his trailing fingers to trace over her nipple.Jill reached up to kiss Jack full on his shocked and gaping mouth. He felt her wetness, felt her tongue reach up under his lip.
And then she stepped back. “Well Jack Hornby, your really know how to sweep a girl off her feet.I won’t say I’m not intrigued and excited – but I realize you are married. I don’t want to be a home wrecker, but I do want to be in touch, if you do, and soon.”
Jack gulped, managing to reply only with, “Sure, good, let’s do that.”At that moment Jill saw her bag coming, took it off the carousel and, after a moment fumbling to pull out the pull-handle, she smiled, blew another kiss and walked away.
It took nearly ten minutes more before Jack’s bag appeared on the carousel. By then his blood supply had restored its natural balance and normal skin tone had returned to his face.
The cab ride uneventful, Jack cat-napped until the driver announced their impending arrival with, “is this the house sir?”
It was, and in two minutes Jack had entered the big empty house and begun opening drapes, blinds and windows that had been drawn and closed all day.
It was a hot summer afternoon. Not stifling, but the kind where the wind brings fine grit through screens to coat everything in its path like very fine sandpaper.
Heat was welcome, as sunshine was too – it had been a wet spring in the Chicagoland area and, short of wearing swim-fins in protest, everyone in the community was fed up with it and ready for a change.
He came through the door dragging his wheeled travel case behind him, but, thanks to an exhilarating plane ride, he wasn’t dragging his manhood and ego.
While the Atlanta trip had drained his spirit, his wallet and his confidence in so many ways, clearly the flight home was the highlight of the trip.
Jack made dinner.Nothing fancy.Pork chops, sautéed onions and mushrooms, some rice and apple sauce on the side. He had it ready when Patty’s car pulled into the driveway.
Over dinner he told Patty about the advance being approved. He would pick it up at the office tomorrow morning.With that in the bank, they could make payments on most of the outstanding bills, stock up on groceries and maybe they could go out for a nice dinner – nothing fancy – but a night out, this weekend.“What do you say honey, I think that would be a good idea.”
“Sure Jack, that would be nice – that’s a really nice idea, but don’t you think we should stay home and save the money?”
Jack spoke no more of it. After clearing the supper dishes, he sat down at the kitchen table to look through the mail and several days of piled up newspapers.
Later, in bed, Jack’s roaming hands found all of Patty’s hot spots.Her response was not to be predicted – they’d not made love in quite a while.
“Jack,” she said, “I’m really tired, and it’s hot.I appreciate your efforts. I wish I could match your enthusiasm for making love tonight.How about if I take a rain-check?Maybe you are right, we should get out this weekend. How about it?Dinner, and you can bring me back here to this bed for dessert, OK?”
Patty was soon sound asleep, but Jack’s brain was on over-load, buzzing with so many thoughts.
He went downstairs to the den, turned on the computer to open his email account.
He opened his mail folder to find 137 unread messages. As he scrolled up and down, there were ten from Clare.There was one at the top.It was from J. Eastlund.
Jack reached for Jill’s card in his pocket – Jill Eastlund.That was her.
He opened her e-mail.
“Dear sweet Jack, what a wonderful flight I had today. I’m here, alone in my room at the Ambassador Hotel, wishing you were here.”
Jack got up from his chair, strode to the front door. He took the car keys off the hook.He went down the walk.
To be continued . . .
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