A scene with Jane

by Joni Abilene

Today I’m posting a chapter told in Jane’s POV. She’s kicked out her husband Grant, a used car salesman, and found a job at a local optometrist shop where geriatric Mr. Findlay makes all his female clerks wear spectacles. Jane has taken Keith shopping after receiving her first paycheck as an independent woman. It’s here she runs into the man she dreams about on a daily basis: her enigma, Eric Church.

After receiving her first paycheck Jane took Keith shopping to make up for the meager birthday he’d had. He’d never quite gotten over receiving a Stephen King paperback for a present, even though he kept repeating it didn’t matter. She knew it did. Jane was beginning to think Keith hid much more than he was saying. It kept her up at night.

Saturday mid-afternoon they stepped into the local Alco. Keith ran off to look at records and Jane browsed through racks in the ladies’ clothing department. Everything was too expensive. She’d just have to keep what she already had. There was no reason to dress up anyway, at work she wore a lab coat like Maxine and Mr. Findlay. Sometimes she felt like a nun, all covered up like that.

Another thing she must endure was the wearing of glasses, even though she didn’t need them, even if they magnified her eyes—pale like river water—so much they looked freakishly huge in the store mirrors. Jane couldn’t see very well with the damn things on, but she’d been told it was a great way to push product. She wore them only a few minutes at a time, just to keep Mr. Findlay happy. Jane hoped he’d keep her past the two-week trial period. Herbert was kind and spoke with gentle words, and his lab coat always smelled of fresh soap and spray starch.

Jane grabbed a blouse and held it up to her throat. It was cut very low. The price tag was the real deciding factor. Twenty-five dollars. A salesgirl came by and asked Jane if she was buying or looking and Jane left to go stand near paperbacks and candy. The man who’d offered her a ride outside the IGA walked past. He stopped for a moment, and then backed up. “Afternoon,” he greeted with a twist of recognition.

She hadn’t seen him since the day she’d bought The Hite Report and he’d said what he’d said about it being trash. Though the way he’d said it was more of an invitation, and not so much a reprimand.

He’d managed to cram a cartful of items in his arms: a blanket, a pair of new boots, some toiletries, chocolate bars, and a carton of cigarettes. The blanket looked just like the one Jane had bought months ago—eggshell chenille. She wanted to say something about it, but didn’t. She just kept staring.

He laughed. “You always this shy?”

Her skin felt like it was tinged with cayenne.

A package of Hanes underwear fell from his stash and Jane bent down to the store’s linoleum floor to pick it up. The cayenne tinge engulfed her. She was St. Joan of Arc, right there in front of him, holding his new briefs.

When she placed it on top of his pile, right under his chin, Jane saw him cast a casual glance to her bare finger where a ring used to be. Then Keith came around the aisle with two records and a new game book he’d been jabbering about, Dungeons & Dragons. For the first time in weeks, he wasn’t miserable. He asked if they could buy it, and Jane absentmindedly said, “I don’t know.”

An awkward silence crept around them and Jane couldn’t think of anything to clear it away. She was supposed to flirt back with this man. Maybe touch his arm, say something smart. She’d never experienced the wild urges going on inside her head, and she couldn’t figure out what to do. It frightened her. This was sex—right in front of her. She wanted him. But she couldn’t find a way to tell him.

He shuffled on his feet.

“This is my son, Keith.”

“Your son?”

“Yes. That, or I’ve got a stranger following me around asking for money all the time.”

The man laughed.

“Do you need new boots?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m always wearing out my old ones too fast. Hate breaking in new ones, though.”

Jane agreed—he must wear out a lot of boots. He was a big man. Keith gave her a strange look, and she nudged him into silence.

“Well, see you around,” the man said.

Keith was impatient. “Mom, can I have the records and the book too?”

Jane looked down. She saw that he had picked out another KISS album and one from a band called Rush. “Don’t you already have KISS?” Keith said no. She looked at the book and saw it had a big devil on it. “What is this?”

“I told you, D & D. It’s not bad.”

Jane picked it up and read a few pages. It was all gibberish about wizards and elves. “All right,” she shook her head. “I shouldn’t. But I’ll go ahead and buy it for you.”

They walked to the registers.

The man paid for his items with a small wad of cash pulled out from his back pocket. His jeans were dirty, ripped, unkempt. His hair was wild and unharnessed. He kept looking at Jane, but she didn’t know what to say anymore. Before he left he turned to her with another glance of expectation. She didn’t know what he was waiting for. Finally, she said, “See you around.”

He returned with the same. “Yeah. See you around.”

Jane experienced a deep and damning frustration. She watched him leave.

“Who is that guy?” Keith asked.

“Someone I know.”

“You know him?”

“Well, not really.”

“He’s huge.”

She paid the clerk with her own tidy supply of cash, and she and Keith exchanged the cold store for a sweltering parking lot. The thick smell of exhaust stained the air. A rumble faded somewhere off to the west.

“Ma, are we ever gonna get a car?”

“Someday, I guess.”

“I wish we had one now. Don’t you?”

They passed behind Grant’s lot, quiet and heads down. The sun scalded Jane’s neck like a hot iron. A few dandelions poked through the chunks of gravel. She made sure not to step on each one. But Keith didn’t have the same concern, he crushed them with the toe of his sneakers.

They stopped at an ice cream stand to buy soda.

“What would I do with a car?”

“I don’t know, but I know what I’d do with one. Do you think Dad will ever let me have something from his lot?”

“Probably not.”

“I’d drive it everywhere. And I’d take you all over town so you didn’t have to walk.”

“I like to walk.”

Grant’s Chrysler was parked near the rear entrance. She used to follow him inside, some days, while he went about business. She’d always been quiet; always felt like a tagalong. She’d cleaned his coffee mug and swept the floor. She’d even brought plants a few times. He forgot to water them, and they died. Each one. The orchid; the African violet; the Wandering Jew; the fern; the aloe. Dead. Grant wasn’t good at keeping delicate things.

It was good to remember this.