Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

Women's Work

About the author

Dan McClenaghan is a jazz journalist and hospital cook who has published short stories – mostly involving Ruth and Ellis and friends – in various small press magazines. He is currently at work on a novel about cryogenics, resurrection and xenotransplantation.

The local newspaper, The Loma Alta Tribune, eliminated the bike-riding paperboys and combined the small-area routes into geographically-sprawling "Zones of Responsibility". These vast expanses of the city and its hinterlands were to be serviced by resourceful, scrappy adults in their moribund cars, folks who were learning how to adapt to an economy that was being eaten alive by the Darwinian service sector.

Which was fine with Jeffrey; he'd had a hell of a time, at nineteen, breaking into the job market without any marketable skills or significant high tech training (other than the six week, three-thousand dollar computer course taught in the strip mall out on Santa Fe Drive, between Rojerio's Taco Shop and the dog grooming parlor, on antiquated computers with software that was a half a decade obsolete). So when the opportunity to get his old boyhood paper route, times four, came along, he jumped at it, loaded up his passenger seat and the back of his dented old wobbly-wheeled Toyota truck, smoked some crystal meth, and drove off in the pre-dawn darkness, to deliver ...

     ~ ~ ~

Ellis Leahy, dressed for work in his cook's whites, checked the front lawn and the driveway, and cursed the absence of his morning paper. He liked to take it to work with him, read it over coffee on his morning break. He trudged back into the house, grumbling, and headed for the bedroom to get his apron. His wife, Ruth, delayed him, stepping out of the bathroom into the hallway in her nightgown, blocking his path, her face pinched into a lemon-sucking scowl. Husband and wife bumped. Ruth shoved Ellis back the way he'd come and shook an empty cardboard toilet paper roll at him. He ignored her, tried to sidle by again. She grabbed him and pushed anew, harder this time, then stabbed the roll at him as if it were a knife. He balled up his fists and returned her glare, and she growled, "Think you could remember to replace the roll with a fresh one when you use up all the toilet paper, sweetheart?"

The term of endearment hung there between them, dripping bitter juices.

Ellis, a bit hungover from last night's beer, and peeved about not finding the expected newspaper, slapped the roll from her hand and said, "Bullshit, that's women's work."

     ~ ~ ~

Jeffrey careened around the corner off of Fig Street onto Tangelo Drive, five more deliveries to make, as dawn pinkened the eastern sky. He braked his truck down to a crawl as he approached Ruth and Ellis Leahy's house. He remembered them well from his previous stint of newspaper delivery. Cheapskates, non-tippers, hide behind the curtains at collection time customers. He was about to throw their paper into the trickle of lawn sprinkler run-off in the gutter when their screen door exploded from the doorway, sailed roof high then flip-flopped back down to earth, as the fat-assed man of the house sprinted down the porch steps and dashed onto the front lawn, with his barrel-shaped wife in hot pursuit, three feet of unfurled toilet paper from the roll she held in her fist fluttering out behind her like a kite's tail. She tackled her quarry on the grass. They wrestled, rolled toward the street, down the ice plant-covered embankment and into the gutter. The woman ended up on top, and from that superior position she was able to accomplish the desired task: cramming three-quarters of the roll of toilet paper into her husband's mouth.

Mission accomplished, Ruth stood up, did a little victory dance, then stalked back toward the house. That's when Jeffrey let the paper — rolled tight and hard — fly. End over end it flew in a low arc, then bull's-eye! It bounced off Ruth's head, dropping her; but she was up in an eyeblink, churning into a headlong rhinoceroses charge in the direction of Jeffrey's truck. Jeffrey's mouth puckered out of its satisfied grin into a sphincterish little bud as his eyelids peeled back. He stomped the accelerator. The tailpipe coughed out a large cloud of black smoke as it picked up (just) enough speed to make an escape, Ruth running full blast out into the street after him after him, bellowing profane threats through the exhaust fumes.

And back on the lawn, Ellis stood and brushed the dried leaves and gravel bits off his clothes, picked up his dose of daily news and headed for his car, his chuckles at his wife's predicament muffled as they huffed out of the cylindrical void running down the middle of the cardboard roll that was surrounded by the mass of soft white paper, and his mouth.

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