A Tale in Several Parts
Lola faced her enemies, all lined up in a neat row. Nine, she thought, why must there always be an odd number? She sighed mentally and her stomach gave a slight twitch.
Seconds later, her capable hands had taken care of the task before her. Four pairs of white socks were rolled together neatly and sat in the laundry basket, while the lone wolf of the group went to the closet to be used for a cleaning rag. As her stomach jumped again, she looked at the clock on the living room wall. “All right, Clare. You are quite correct; it’s time to eat,” she said to her belly. Almost seven months into her pregnancy, Lola made an attempt to eat a snack at least every 2 hours. “Cucumbers…that’s what we shall have.”
While his wife was busy feeding their unborn child and folding laundry, Colum found himself surrounded by nemeses of his own. He had been sent by one of his least favorite contacts to dispense with a large clutch of Vahzilok in Boomtown. A sneaking suspicion was born in his mind that his contact, the twisted jerk Bill, simply sent him out to get puked on. Well, Colum would show Bill. Not a drop of puke this time.
Ten minutes later, the hero was walking away from the bodies of a dozen Vahzilok. “Sons of bitches puked on me”, Colum muttered in disgust, stripping off his shirt in a flash. For all of two seconds, he debated if he should buy some new clothes and pitch the vomitous duds in the nearest Dumpster or wear them home. Dumpster it was. Lola might be upset that his clothes got ruined and he spent money they could ill afford on new ones, but it was a damn sight better than coming home and asking her to wash the stains out. He started making his weary way back to Bill. While he walked, he called Lola from a cell phone that looked ridiculously small in his large hand. “Hey, baby…Yeah, everything’s okay…I’ve got to stop and get some new clothes, so I might be a little late coming home…Lasagna sounds great…see you soon. I love you…bye.” At least she hadn’t said anything about buying new clothes, plus she was making his favorite supper. Yeah, life is sweet, he thought while he checked his wallet to see how much money he could spend.
“Goodbye, Frank.” Lola hung up the phone and looked around the apartment. “So easy to please, your daddy is, my sweet Clare,” she said. “Lasagna for supper and he’s happy.” Always a prepared person, Lola had made 3 pans of lasagna early in the morning and put them in one of their 2 refrigerators while she cleaned. “It’s beyond me why tanks don’t get a stipend for clothing and food. Pretty expensive finding pants and T-shirts for a 7 foot 8 colossus. And when was the last time a blaster spent as much as I on groceries? We’ve 2 fridges, as well as a big deep freeze, which holds enough food for maybe 2 weeks.” Friends that came to visit often commented on the rather large size of their apartment, but it was a necessary evil considering Frank and Lola’s bedroom was equal in size 2 normal sized rooms. After the movers had delivered Frank’s specially made bed, Lola just gaped at it for at least 10 minutes. How exactly did one go about putting sheets on a bed that looked to be an entire acre in size? Very slowly, she found out. “Thank your grandmamma for teaching me to sew, or we’d be sleeping on a bare mattress. What colors would you like in the quilt I am making for you? Pink and yellow? Pink and yellow it is.” On her way to the laundry room, she picked up another brightly colored laundry bags that belonged to her friend Zulia, who lived in the apartment just down the street. “Best get started on more laundry, baby. Zulia is probably running out of clean clothes by now”.
Changed into navy cargo pants and matching long-sleeved shirt, he was no longer Colum, but simply Frank on his way home from a hard day’s work of getting puked on. Before he went to purchase new clothes, he had met back up with Bill, who, in an uncharacteristic burst of civility, had given Colum the card of a tailor who had helped Bill out in the past. It worked out well, since he had been able to get a good deal on his XXXL clothes. As was Frank’s wont, he tried to collect his thoughts while he walked back to his King’s Row apartment. To his great relief, he passed no innocent civilians in need of rescue, a welcome respite. He had read in the newspaper that this particular area of King’s Row, including his apartment neighborhood, averaged 10 muggings a day, and half that number of assaults. Nice place to have a family, he thought ruefully. When he unlocked his apartment door with its 3 deadbolts, he thought he could smell lasagna in the oven.
Ducking his head to avoid a nasty bump from the door jamb, his suspicions were confirmed. There was lasagna in the oven, and almost done, judging by the aroma wafting through the air. Another odor reached his nose: clean laundry. It was Tuesday, not Lola’s usual day for washing clothes. He turned to secure his front door against intruders, resting his fist on the top of the frame. Taking in laundry. Taking in sewing. What more will she do? He pulled the small amount of change left from the visit to the tailor out of his pants pocket. “Hi, honey, I’m home!” he called, walking into the kitchen to place the money in a Mason jar on the shelf. The label on the jar read simply, “House Money”. He propped the card that Bill had given him up against the jar. Who knows when I’ll need cheap clothes again?
“Frank!” Lola shrieked with delight and pushed herself up off the second-hand couch to greet her husband. “How was your day? Oh, I like the outfit you got; it really looks nice on you. Supper is almost ready, just another few minutes,” she chattered on while Frank pulled off his shoes. “I wasn’t able to go to the store today, I’ve been awful busy-“
“I noticed,” Frank cut her off. “You’ve been awful busy doing laundry. How many bags of clothes did Zulia drop off? Two? Three? And I’ll bet you didn’t even have time to rest today.” Blowing out a sigh, he grasped Lola’s shoulders and held her at arm’s length. “Sweetheart, I know you want to help. But even though we don’t have a house, or lots of nice things, we are doing better than most people in the Row. I can take care of us; you need to take care of Clare,” he said, perhaps a trifle more sternly than he wanted. Lola’s eyes quickly filled with tears. Definitely too harsh, you dumb tank, he thought. Wrapping his arms around his wife, he held her against his chest. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. But-“
“You aren’t supposed to say ‘but’ after an apology,” Lola sniffled.
Frank smiled. “Okay, okay. So how about we compromise? You take in Zulia’s laundry, no one else’s. The only sewing you do is for us, and you take a nap every afternoon.”
“That doesn’t sound like a compromise; that sounds like a set of orders.”
“Well, I’ll cut back on going to the bar with my friends, and if there happens to be something you need that won’t fit into the budget, I’ll take a couple extra hours at work,” Frank said, knowing that it was doubtful Lola would agree to more hours at work. She worried about him enough the way it was, and the last thing he needed to do was make her more anxious. “Remember what the doctor said about you getting your rest. She told you that your blood sugar was too low, and your iron count was pretty low as well.”
Lola pulled away from him and crossed to the couch. Sinking down upon it, she said, “Frank, I don’t want you working more hours; there is no discussion about that. And the only thing I want that isn’t in the budget is a house. That’s why my laundry and sewing money goes into the jar. It’s just been hard for me to adjust to staying at home as opposed to being a secretary. If you stay home more often instead of going out drinking, you won’t hear an argument- Oh,dear, the lasagna!” She rushed to the kitchen and pulled their supper out of the oven. “I think it’s still edible,” she said, her voice beginning to waver.
“It looks fine, baby”, Frank soothed her as he walked into the kitchen. “Now if I remember right, you have to let that lasagna sit for a bit before you cut into it.” He tugged at her hand while urging her towards him. “So hows about you and I get in a nice hot shower before supper? I’ll let you scrub my back…” he joked. Lola smiled at him in response and followed him to the allure of a hot shower and a back massage before supper.
While the pair left the room, the design of a spider on the card of the tailor started to glow red.
TO PART 2>
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