Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Life had settled into a comfortable pattern for Jerry. When the weather had turned cold, he had purchased an electric heater that kept the living room warm enough to be comfortable. He was driving the Camaro to work, to the therapist, and on errands.
Mondays were spent working on his truck and the bodywork was nearly finished. The only real major work to be finished was to paint it and to replace the bed of the truck. It was beginning to get a little too cold to work on it, but he felt confident that he would finish it before the really cold weather arrived.
Tuesday nights were spent late at the store taking care of paperwork as Abe worked late stocking the store. The young man had really become a hard worker and very thrifty with his money. He made the payments on the scooter on time and took a great deal of pleasure out of ownership of it. Jerry had feared that Abe would spend his money on showy items, but he hadn’t counted on the boy’s mother. Sharon rode herd on the boy, watching him for the least sign that he was screwing up.
Wednesdays were spent at the store taking care of personnel related issues. Mike had learned his responsibilities as Assistant Manager and was now taking charge of scheduling people to work. Every Wednesday, Mike hung the new schedule up on the wall and worked with him to submit the corporate paperwork. Jerry found that Karen was managing the inventory better than it had been managed previously. He took those nights as opportunities to eat a great meal out.
Thursday’s lunches were spent at the Crimson Rose chatting with Jenny. She had set aside a special table for him with man size plates, glasses, and silverware. After the lunch crowd disappeared, the two of them would chat for an hour. He was sure that she wanted him to ask her out, but he just didn’t feel right about it. The nights were spent in therapy. To his great surprise, therapy was not as horrible as he had imagined, and he had identified a lot of the triggers that caused his rage to emerge.
Fridays were spent at the store. He worked the whole day trading off the time at the counter with Mike and Martin. At night, he usually fixed a simple meal at home spending the time after dinner in the company of Henry Buckman. He and the large black man had many things in common besides being big. Henry was a wonder at working with wood while Jerry was talented with metal. Together, they were building a couple of indoor water fountains that could be mounted on walls.
Saturdays were spent at the store dealing primarily with walk-in customers. Taking some advice from Karen, he had installed a coffee maker in the display area of the store. Customers were invited to take free cups of coffee while shopping and waiting for service. Usually Martin and Jerry worked the counter together. The experience of fixing a car had given Martin the ability to help give advice to customers about their repair work. As a result of those minor changes, Saturday business had picked up.
The day of the week that he really looked forward to was Sunday. His son would come over Sunday and they would work on the truck together while Martin worked on his car. The day always flew by so fast that it was over before they felt like it had even begun.
School had changed in a subtle way for his son. He now had three friends with whom he spent a great deal of time, avoiding the unpleasantness of his home life. The simple act of thanking Woody and Sandy for their support had opened a great friendship among all three. Larry had joined the group a little later, thankful to have three friends in a new school. Woody and Sandy were both good students and the four of them often got together to work on group projects where possible.
It was Thursday and Jerry was waiting for Mike and Karen to return from lunch so that he could go to the Crimson Rose for lunch. His schedule for this day was packed. After lunch, he had to go to court about some of the conditions of separation, since his wife was not happy that she had to cut back on her excessive lifestyle. Then he had his evening session with the therapist to address his rage.
The phone rang and he answered it. After jotting down the order, he held it up. Martin pulled the order out of his hand and headed to the back to pull the parts. Looking over at all of the packages of parts, Jerry could see that business had improved. Howard was making more runs a day then ever before. Even with the increased number of runs, there were more boxes waiting to be delivered on the counter.
Howard came into the store and looked at all of the packages waiting on the counter. The number of deliveries was unusually high. Carrying another box of parts, Martin came out from the back and said, “Hey, surfer delivery dude.”
“Hey, preacher man,” replied Howard with a grin.
This was a friendship that Jerry would never have imagined. The two of them often took their lunch breaks together and traded quips with rapid-fire speed. Mike often commented that unleashing those two on the public was more dangerous than letting loose a fox in a chicken coop.
Martin asked, “Lunch?”
“It’ll take an hour to deliver all of this stuff,” replied Howard. He bent over like an old man and put an arm on his back as he quipped, “Youse workin’ me to death massa.”
“Life’s a bitch when youse workin’ for the man!”
“Lazy man at that!”
“I’ll wait for you to finish this run,” replied Martin with a laugh.
“Deal, now help me get this junk to the car,” requested Howard.
Jerry was laughing as the pair went out the door carrying several boxes of parts each. The last thing he heard as the door close was Martin quip, “Junk? This here’s Grade A prime Made in America parts.”
Still laughing at the pair, Jerry saw Mike and Karen enter the store. Chuckling as he walked, Mike said, “That was a good one. If people like you are making those Grade A Made in America parts, I’d go for those grade C made in La-La Land parts.”
Karen said, “Those two are a riot together.”
Jerry said, “I’ve never heard either one of them talk like that without the other one there. Martin is usually a pretty serious kid.”
Mike replied, “I didn’t even know that Howard smiled.”
Looking at the clock, Jerry said, “I’ve got to go. I won’t be back today. I’ve got court after lunch.”
“I’ll close up and make sure that everything is ready for tomorrow.”
“Great,” replied Jerry as he headed towards the back door. He stopped in the bathroom to straighten his clothes and double check his appearance in the mirror. It wasn’t that he was vain about his appearance, only that he wanted to look presentable for Jenny.
The short drive down the street barely taxed the huge engine of the Camaro. He didn’t really like breaking in the engine with city driving since the stop and go traffic put a significant strain on the new parts. He pulled into a parking space between a high-end BMW and a silver Jaguar. Standing next to his car, he gave voice to his low opinion of the woman that frequented the Crimson Rose Bistro. “They had better be outstanding f•©ks to deserve cars like this.”
Jenny greeted him with a smile and led him to his table. Leaning down, she said, “I’ve got the makings for a good Caesar Salad with slices of steak. Does that sound good to you?”
“Sure does,” replied Jerry. Even though months had gone by with him coming to her place, he was still amazed at how much care she put into making sure that a good meal was available for him. It had taken some serious negotiations, but he paid for his meals at price that was fair for both of them.
After she went to tell the chef to cook his meal, Jerry took the opportunity to look around the room at the women. His scheduled appearance in court had given him a very sour attitude towards women that lived off their husband’s hard work. It was hard to keep his disdain for them off his face.
Listening to the conversations around him, he was particularly interested in a table where the women were discussing their sex lives. He listened in shock at the coarseness of their descriptions of, and the obvious disdain for, their husband’s needs. Two of the four women had lovers on the side and were describing with great enthusiasm the kinds of things their lovers did for them. As they talked, he realized they were doing things for their lovers that they weren’t doing for their husbands.
When Jenny returned with his salad and iced tea, he smiled up at her appreciating her hardworking ethic and independence. She could see the approval on his face and smiled in return. The lunch crowd was finishing their lunches. This kept her busy delivering deserts and taking care of bills. Between dealing with customers, she cleared tables knowing that her customers didn’t appreciate having to look at a messy table.
Jerry watched her work the room as he ate his salad. He watched as one of the women had difficulty paying her portion of the bill. She didn’t have cash to pay for the meal and two of her credit cards had been rejected. Jenny was forced to accept a check after suffering from a blistering dressing down by the woman. Jerry could tell that Jenny was convinced that the check would bounce and had to accept that she would end up eating the cost of the meal.
Jerry watched the interplay wondering if the woman had just been dumped by her husband and was only now waking up to the need for fiscal responsibility. He finished his salad as the last customers left. It wasn’t until then that he actually relaxed.
Jenny joined him at the table with a sad shake of her head. She said, “Stiffed on another bill.”
“I noticed you taking a check for the meal,” replied Jerry.
“Yeah. It’ll bounce. They always do when I have to take a check after two credit cards get rejected.” She shook her head and added, “It amazes me at how righteous they are when it happens. They act like I’m supposed to be happy about buying them lunch.”
“Do you get many of them like that?”
“I get about nine of those a month and costs me over two hundred a month. It would cost more if I had a liquor permit. A lot of them drink their lunches when they don’t eat here.”
Surprise by the vehemence in her voice, Jerry said, “It sounds like you don’t like them.”
Shrugging, Jenny replied, “In a way, I think of a lot of them as though they are high priced hookers. I wonder what they do for their husbands that makes them worthy of the money they spend.”
Speaking from personal experience, there was bitterness in his voice, as Jerry answered, “Nothing, they do nothing.”
The tone of voice in which he had made his pronouncement reminded Jenny of the situation with his wife. She wondered if he was telling her the truth about being separated. If he was, then why hadn’t he asked her out? Months had passed and he still hadn’t made any attempt to change the relationship between them.
She asked, “Are you really separated from your wife?”
The question took him by surprise. Looking up at her, he replied, “Yes.”
“Then how come you haven’t asked me out?” In a way, she was hurt by his apparent lack of interest in pursuing a relationship with her.
The question stunned Jerry. He didn’t know how to answer that he had no experience dating. For a full minute, he stuttered as he started with one answer and then changed it before he even got out the first few syllables of his answer.
Finally, he sat back and, in a voice that conveyed resignation, said, “I would like to ask you out, but I don’t know how.”
Incredulous, Jenny stared at the huge man in front of her. It made her wonder how someone that big could be so tentative and fearful. She asked, “Where would you like to take me, if you were to ask me out?”
“That’s part of my problem. I have no clue where I would take you. A bar doesn’t sound right. A restaurant doesn’t really make sense since you own one. That would be rather like a busman’s holiday. I haven’t even been to a movie since I was a teenager,” answered Jerry as he stared at his iced tea. After a minute, he said, “I couldn’t even invite you to my place. You’d take one look around the neighborhood and run for the hills.”
“Surely your home isn’t that bad,” replied Jenny.
Smiling, Jerry said, “I live eight blocks from here. Just head for ugly and drive for six blocks. Make another turn towards uglier and drive two more blocks.”
Jenny laughed at his directions, but understood exactly what he meant. She drove several miles out of her way, just to avoid that area of the city. If his directions were anywhere near accurate, the only way she’d go there is with a bodyguard. She asked, “Are you kidding?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Aren’t you afraid of living there?”
“Not really. In fact, I rather enjoy it. You’ve met Abe and Martin at the store. They’re my neighbors. I have a friend, Henry, who is almost as big as I am and lives two blocks away. Half of the neighborhood hangs out in my front yard on Sundays when Martin, my son, and I work on the cars.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
Jerry was silent for a moment before he answered, “Well, one of the local drug users and, sometimes pusher, was shot the other night. A kid by the name of Kenny.”
It was a shame about Kenny, but the kid was headed towards trouble. He had kept his distance after Jerry had caught him trying to steal his tools, but Henry had kept him informed of what kinds of things the kid was doing. Henry had done his best to keep Kenny out of trouble, but that wasn’t sufficient. Now he was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a gunshot wound.
“It was a couple of blocks away,” answered Jerry even as he wondered how he could be so accepting about something that happened that close to home. Maybe he was changing to fit into the neighborhood more than he had realized.
Nodding, she said, “I guess I can understand why you wouldn’t invite me to your home.”
“So anyway, that’s why I don’t ask you out. I don’t know where to take you and I don’t know how to ask.”
“Well, I like movies and I don’t mind eating out on occasion.”
“Okay, so I’ll ask you to dinner and a movie as soon as I figure out how to ask you,” replied Jerry.
Amazed at the direction of the conversation, Jenny stared at the large man as he sat across the table from her rubbing the calluses on his hands. It was a gesture that she had come to recognize as nervousness. It was all but decided that he would take her to dinner and movie, it was just a matter of him saying it to her.
Jerry sat at the table trying to work up his nerve to ask her on a date. She had been helpful enough to let him know what kind of date she would enjoy. He reached, with a hand that trembled, for his iced tea glass, needing a sip of tea to relieve his dry-mouth. After taking the edge off his sudden thirst, he took care to set down the glass. The last thing he wanted to do was spill the rest of his tea. Gathering his courage, he asked, “Would you go out with me?”
“Sure,” replied Jenny with a smile. It was amazing at how difficult that had been for Jerry despite the fact that she had basically made it as easy as possible for the man. Now the trick would be to get a day and time for the date. She asked, “Did you have any specific day in mind?”
Jerry considered when he would be available. Tomorrow he was meeting with Henry to work on a fountain. The first chance would be on Saturday. He asked, “How about Saturday evening?”
It took her ten minutes to get all of the details about the date from Jerry. The process had been almost humorous and she really had to restrain herself from laughing at him. Each question that she had asked was answered only after a minute of careful consideration. It was easy to tell that he wasn’t a married man seeking an affair. No man seeking an affair would be so awkward when asking a woman out on a date.
Jerry left a little late, but made good time in getting to the courthouse. His lawyer had briefed him on what he could expect to happen. In particular, the judge would want to see their financial records to determine what their real financial needs were. He handed his books over to the lawyer having documented his expenditures with great care.
The proceedings were a disaster for one of the participants, namely his wife. She lost control over her hatred and disdain for men while the judge was reviewing her financial records to see what her real economic requirements were. The judge had examined her records with great care, pronouncing that two thousand dollars a month for eating at restaurants was a little excessive. Because he had questioned her expenses, she had told the judge that he had no right to dictate how she spent the money owed her by the lazy gorilla that had been her husband.
After calling the judge a typical male chauvinist pig, he had warned her to that he was going to find her in contempt. Her rant then turned to focus on Jerry. As she unleashed a vulgar stream of nasty comments in his direction, the judge couldn’t believe what he was hearing. In his opinion it was spousal abuse. Jerry had stared at the ceiling, remembering what his therapist had told him about insults, “They tell more about the person saying them than the target.”
By the time the hearing had finished, the judge had ruled in Jerry’s favor and awarded him more money a month by reducing his payments to his wife. It wasn’t much more money, but it helped. His wife had been found in contempt when she protested the decision in very crude terms. He had left with his lawyer while her lawyer was arranging bail.
Dinner had been a short stop at a burger joint where he ate at a booth next to a window. He watched as dark, boiling clouds gathered overhead shutting out the sunlight an hour before sunset. The light turned an eerie green color that brought a shudder down his back. Throughout the meal, the clouds got thicker and darker moving closer to the ground.