Tighten the Noose
Laundry day was the worst day of all for Janet. It was a task which never had a chance to be really complete, unless she walked around naked, because the clothes she was wearing, were already dirty by definition. So try as she might, she could never get completely caught up. At least with the dishes, she could polish the counters routinely. With laundry, she could get caught up, more or less, once a week, but that was good as it got. Doing a pile of laundry was one of those adjustments that came with living with someone.
Therefore, Janet was in a particularly foul mood one Wednesday, the designated laundry day in her house, just at the thought of her upcoming day. She’d gotten all of the laundry gathered up, and was sorting it out, when her cell-phone blared out the opening of Ke$ha’s “Hungover.” “Yes!” and “Oh, crap!” ran through her mind simultaneously, as she glanced at the unfamiliar number on her screen, and blurted out, “Hello! How are you? Who are you?” and the person on the other end of the line said, “Hi, there. This is the dry cleaners, letting you know that your clothes are ready.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Thank you. I’ll swing by later and pick them up.” That’s right, Allen had taken a few of his things, and Janet had asked if he could include a dinner jacket of hers, so the least she could do was to go pick up the clothes. It was not exactly the harbinger of phone calls. Why couldn’t it have been a call, informing her that her diamond earrings were ready to be picked up from the jewelers? Oh yeah, she forgot. She’d never owned a pair of diamond earrings.
Allen and she had been sharing this place for a year now, after seeing each other steadily for more than a year, before they combined households. It was the first time either had actually taken such a drastic step even though both had been in relationships in the past. For Janet it meant setting aside certain values that had been drilled into her head since she was a child, like waiting for marriage, and the way it was back in the day. It was all well and good, until the reality of today’s economic constraints, meant that if you could combine forces, you could actually make it; left divided, there was no way.
How was she supposed to put such a black and white issue, in terms of shades of gray? Or maybe that was something that Grandma would actually get. It was a depression perspective. Surviving. So was the perspective that marriages were formed in an era when you did not throw things away, but worked to repair them, so that they lasted the lifetime of the product. So there was no such thing as divorce. What difference did it make if they started to live together a year before the marriage?
Ha ha. So it’s already been a year, and there were still no plans for a wedding, or even an official engagement. That didn’t mean anything. They were happy, right? I mean, what’s happy, right?
“We still do it more than the average American couple, and we will be getting married someday, won’t we?” she’d say to her close friend, the one who kept on being a mosquito in her ear, asking her when? When? When? She said she hadn’t thought about it, but she knew in the back of her mind, that she had thought about it. Just because she didn’t obsess about it, does not mean that she didn’t think about it. She just didn’t mention it to Allen, because she knew how guys were.
He felt the noose tighten if you so much as mentioned that the two of you might consider registering at your favorite department store, just in case some old auntie, might like to start making payments on something outrageously classy and expensive, to be delivered as soon as the wedding. Yeah sure, and they would have it delivered in the new BMW. She was pretty good at daydreams.
She should just quit worrying about a timeline. How can true love exist on a stupid timeline? Wait a minute; true love did exist on a timeline. There was the first date, the first kiss (possibly the same) the first whoopie time, the engagement, the wedding, the first child...all on a timeline. Hell, you even put births and deaths in a bible. Why was she pursuing this line of reasoning? This was not like her at all. She needed to let it go. Everything would come to her who waited.
But Allen has seemed so amped the past week or so, almost as though he were nervous. He’d had to work late twice this week, and that was unusual. He’d seemed preoccupied, when she had asked him if he was feeling OK. I wonder what’s up with his work? Speaking of him, she may as well go and pick up the dry-cleaning. She could run past the Health Food Store, and get some fixings for the salad for dinner.
The gal in the dry cleaners told her she’d be right back, and disappeared for a minute, before bouncing back with the clothes and a piece of paper that she handed over to Janet, saying, “This was in the pocket of one of the pairs of pants. It probably means something to you,” and she smiled knowingly. “Mine came from Jordan’s too.” She went on with processing the order, and collecting the designated amount.
Janet let the comment flow over her, without even registering. She didn’t have a clue as to what the paper was, and she didn’t recognize the name Jordan’s as a jeweler’s until she was on her way home, and then she almost ran some poor joker into the ditch, when she swung over two lanes to make an early exit from the freeway, so that she could dig that paper out of her purse and check it out.
Her brain had grasped the significance of the receipt, but her heart was still lurching. A receipt from Jordan’s could mean anything. It could mean a ring; but it could also be a necklace for his mom; a set of earrings for his sister; or an explanation for working late, an excuse for being nervous. What was Allen up to? It was so unlike him, it made chills go up and down her spine.
Had she not been paying enough attention to him? Had he been trying to tell her something that she was not hearing? All of the sudden, Janet was flooded with apprehension, as she took in the magnitude of what she was thinking. What had she done, or not done? Why was this coming down in such a forceful way? One minute she had been in cruise control, and the next she is in an emotional ditch, sitting on the side of the road, unfolding a receipt that turned out to be inconclusive, because it was simply an ROA, indicating that money had been received on an account, but not specifying what it was that was being purchased.
Janet needed to regroup, to get a lasso over her stampeding imagination. OK, there was something going on, but why assume the worst? Why assume that Allen was doing something behind her back? Why? She asked herself again and again. Because it’s just my luck, she thought. I never get the guy, some bimbo down at the health club will get him, or the hostess at the restaurant, he frequents at lunch. Someone was going to benefit, but she knew it wouldn’t be her. It never was.
By the time Allen came through the front door, late that afternoon, Janet was wound pretty tight, both metaphorically, and literally. She’d gotten into the vodka and was beyond feeling no pain. She was trashed, an unusual state of affairs, for a person who normally stuck to white wine. The vodka was left over from the party which had featured White Russians.
Janet was having trouble focusing, so she saw the bottle of champaign and the bouquet of roses, but they didn’t add up to anything that made sense, when you contemplate her fragmented state of mind. Neither did the little gift-wrapped box that he took from his coat pocket, that was wrapped in a delicate red ribbon. The box was really too small for a bow. Wordlessly he handed the box to her, and she took it.
Silently, she handed him the receipt that was a wadded up ball of pulp, and rushed past him into the bathroom. A moment later, Allen followed her in, to get her a glass of water, and a cool damp washcloth. Having to be available to help your mate out, when she’s tied one on, was one of those adjustments that came with living with someone.