Hardtimes
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

It was Sunday morning and Burl was headed out the door. Although he regularly went to church, today he was not dressed for church. His baggy pants, faded tee shirt, and torn up sneakers wouldn’t be welcome in polite society. He put his cap on and headed down the street. Two houses down, he walked over to the front door and rang the bell. It seemed to take forever for anyone to answer it.

“Hey, Burl! How’s it going?” George asked.

George was slender and of medium build with short hair. He had a tattoo of a dragon down his left arm. It was a hold over of his younger days as a fan of fantasy literature. He had rough hands that advertized he earned a living working with his hands. Some folks might have been put off by his appearance, but the expression on his face gave him a friendly happy look.

“Can’t complain,” Burl answered.

“What can I do for ya?”

Burl said, “I heard you were painting.”

“Yep. The old battle axe wants me to paint the nursery before she drops the kid,” George said with a wink.

“I heard that!”

“Sorry, the kindly pregnant woman wants her loving husband to fix up the nursery before the blessed event occurs,” George said.

“That’s better!”

Burl listened to the exchange before he said, “I thought I’d drop by and see if you needed a hand.”

“That’s real neighborly of you,” George said. “I was just about to get started.”

“That’s about what I figured,” Burl said.

“Come on in. I’m sure that Maggie would love to chat with you for a bit while I put on some shoes,” George said.

Burl entered the house. Maggie, a small woman, was seated on the couch. She was wearing a maternity dress that looked like someone had hidden an over inflated beach ball inside it. She struggled a little to get up and then gave up. She was nearing the end of her pregnancy and wasn’t moving in an agile manner.

“Hello, Burl,” Maggie said while waving at him.

“Hello, Maggie. You’re looking good,” Burl said.

“I hope you don’t mind me not getting up,” Maggie said.

“Stay comfortable,” Burl said. “It looks like you’re due any day now.”

“One week,” Maggie said patting her protruding belly. “I’ll be glad to rid of this extra weight.”

“Have you decided on a name for him?” Burl asked.

“George wants to name him Waldo – like that is ever gonna happen,” Maggie said.

“Waldo is a great name,” George shouted from the bedroom.

“We’re not naming the kid Waldo,” Maggie shouted.

“So what are you going to name him?”

Maggie said, “We’ll probably name him after his father and call him Junior.”

“That sounds reasonable to me,” Burl said.

“George gave me a choice. It was either that or Waldo,” Maggie said.

George came out of the bedroom and said, “I’m ready. We’ve got to get that room painted before Waldo shows up.”

“It’s almost too late,” Maggie said.

“You didn’t pick out the color for the room until yesterday,” George said.

“That’s because it took me until yesterday to convince you to paint it some color other than white,” Maggie said.

The tone of their discussion wasn’t argumentative. Everything was said in a teasing tone of voice. Burl knew from past experience the couple would tease and kid around, but when there was a real problem they both got very serious and pulled together.

“My Dad always said that walls were supposed to be white,” George said.

Burl said, “My dad always said the same thing. Mom disagreed. That’s why there’s not a single white room in my folk’s house.”

George laughed.

Maggie said, “Your father is a very wise man.”

“I think so,” Burl said.

George said, “I’ve got everything set up to start painting.”

“Let’s get to it,” Burl said.

George went over to where Maggie was resting on the couch. He leaned down so that his head was next to her belly. In a soft voice, he said, “Where’s Waldo?”

He put a hand on Maggie’s belly and said, “Ah! Here’s Waldo.”

Smiling, Maggie rolled her eyes. “Get out of here.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” George said.

The two men went into the second bedroom that was to be the nursery. The furniture had been pushed into the center of the room and covered with a drop cloth. The floor was covered with a drop cloth as well. Two cans of paint and two rollers (one for the flat wall and one for the corner) were in a pile in the corner of the room.

“She picked out a baby blue paint. We’re going to leave the trim white,” George said.

Burl looked at the walls to assess how much prep work would be required. He was surprised since it looked freshly painted.

“It looks like you painted it white recently,” Burl said.

George said, “Yep. She wanted it white six months ago. I painted it white. Now she wants it blue. I’m going to paint it blue.”

“Whatever it takes to keep the peace,” Burl said.

He knew that pregnant women often changed their minds and arguing wasn’t the best policy if you wanted peace. He knew George was smart enough to know that.

George held up a roll of tape and asked, “Do you want to tape the trim?”

Knowing George was giving him the easy job, Burl answered, “Sounds good to me.”

“I’ll start painting the ceiling,” George said.

The two men went to work without any additional talk. Burl taped the trim around the bedroom door frame and the closet door frame. When he got around to the first window, he noticed that they were new. He had known George had done a lot of work around the house, but had somehow missed seeing him change the windows.

“I see you got new windows,” Burl said.

“Yep. We don’t want Junior to grow up in a drafty room,” George said.

He hadn’t realized how much money it cost to have a baby. He had thought the biggest expense would be the hospital bill. No one had told him about the other things they would have to do to provide a good home for the baby.

Fixing the house up had cost a fortune. They had gone through the house and childproofed everything. Every drawer and cabinet had been fitted with devices that prevented them from being opened. There were minor and major repairs to make it a healthier place to live. Carpets had been replaced because the old ones were too dirty.

There had been some new furniture purchases, including a crib, that had eaten into their budget. Fortunately, their friends and family had given them a lot of stuff. In fact, Burl had brought over a very nice changing table that looked like it cost a fortune. Maggie had been so overwhelmed that she had cried upon seeing it.

Burl said, “That sounds reasonable to me. I mean, you have to take care to keep the baby healthy.”

“The damned things cost five hundred each after getting them installed,” George said. “It would have cost more, but the guy dropped the price for cash payment.”

“Cash is king,” Burl said.

“You can say that again. The eff-ing government makes it damned near impossible to do business,” George said.

Burl asked, “Speaking of business, how is the car repair business?”

“Better than ever. People are fixing cars rather than buying new ones. We’ve got more customers than we can handle,” George answered.

They would have hired more people to work there, but the owner had no clue what the new laws would mean in terms of keeping anyone he hired. The owner was afraid Congress was going to increase his taxes. The insurance company had already increased it’s rates. Everyone was working overtime. George wasn’t going to complain since he could use the extra money.

“That’s good,” Burl said. “It’s not that good at the mall.”

The mall had lost a number of stores over the past two years. There had always been a turnover of stores in the past, but even some of the stores that had been there for ages had closed. There were a number of empty stores waiting for someone to rent them.

A number of chain companies had taken to opening temporary stores – stores that were open only for the holiday season. There was a costume company that rented a spot for the two months before Halloween and then switched over to Christmas decorations after Halloween. Two toy companies had each rented a spot for the two months before Christmas. Considering that a lot of retail stores made the majority of their money between Thanksgiving and Christmas, only being open during that time period made a lot of sense. It did mean that a lot of people didn’t have jobs during the rest of the year.

George said, “It keeps me busy. At least I’m working.”

“There is that,” Burl said.

“I noticed you had Kat and Herbie over last night,” George said.

He had been cooking some burgers out in the backyard when he noticed Burl hosting a barbecue of his own. His wife had commented Kat could do worse than to hook up with Burl. Of course, she had immediately followed that comment with another one about how Burl would have to lose some weight before Kat would be interested in him. After all, Jimmy had been a hunk.

Burl said, “Yeah, she’s having a rough time. You know ... money problems. I thought having them over for a little barbecue would help cheer her up.”

“That’s nice of you,” George said.

“She really misses Jimmy,” Burl said.

“They were still basically newlyweds when he was killed,” George said.

“They had been married for three years,” Burl said.

George grinned. “Like I said, they were still newlyweds. Maggie and I have been married two years. I still feel about her like I did the day I married her.”

Burl said, “You’re lucky.”

“You aren’t saying anything I don’t already know. I’ve got a great wife and I can’t wait for Waldo to get born,” George said.

“We’re not naming him Waldo!”

“She’s got good ears,” Burl remarked.

“She learned that at Battle Axe school,” George said talking in a stage whisper that was sure to carry to the next room.

“I heard that!”

“See,” George said.

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