Thursday, August 21, 2014

TRADING UP

Here's a new-old short story, one I found lingering around the files. Note that it contains strong language.


Image: hobvias sudoneighm

TRADING UP
by Vela Damon


Jane cut her eyes at her husband. “That’s not what you said last time.”

Bill growled out a sigh. “For crissakes. If I’d known you were gonna keep a transcript of every word that ever came out of my mouth, I—”

“You’d what? Never have married me in the first place? That’s getting old, William. Extremely goddamn old.” Jane flipped down her visor mirror, checked her lipstick, fluffed her hair.

“No, we’re getting old.”

Jane flipped the visor back up, resettled in her seat. “Speak for yourself. 40’s the new 30.”

“I don’t mean age. I mean us. I’m sick of this crap. If you’re so damn unhappy, file for divorce. Move out. Whatever. Just get off my damn back already.”

“So it’s wrong to want something better? A nicer house? Better cars, especially than this piece of crap?”

“This ‘piece of crap’ gets us from point A to point B while your status symbol's where? Oh. That's right. In the shop. Again. This 'piece of crap' also gets thirty-five miles to the gallon and it’s paid off. So what the hell’s the problem? It was good enough when we met.”

“That’s the problem. We met ten years ago and you’re still driving this thing. You used to have ambitions. You used to say you’d have Wesley's job in five years. It’s been twice that long and you won’t even push for the assistant director job. After you promised me.”

“I didn’t promise you anything. I said I’d talk to Wesley if the opportunity came up.”

“It never will. Not with your attitude.”

“Oh yeah? What attitude’s that? The one that takes me to work every damn day? Makes sure all the bills get paid on time? Guess you never considered that my attitude might be just fine with the job I have?”

Jane laughed. “Fine? All you ever do is bitch about money. Cut the crap already. You’re unhappy as hell and too much of a coward to do anything about it.”

“I bitch about money because you spend it faster than I can make it. We’d have a helluva lot more without all your shopping sprees and seven dollar lattes every damn day.”

“Don’t even try pinning everything on me when you know damn well I pay my own way and always have.”

“Oh yeah? How much of your money goes toward bills?”

“It pays for extras, like we agreed from the beginning.”

“It pays for your extras. You want a new car? Give up all your prima donna crap and buy one.”

“Why should I have to give up anything? The A.D. job would pay well over six figures. We’d have plenty for everything.”

“Then you get a better paying job. I told you: I’m happy where I am.”

“I can’t leave Rachelle. I love it there. And she needs me.”

“No, you need the employee discount for all your fancy shoes.”

“Whatever. This isn’t about me.”

“It’s all about you. You’re the one trying to keep up with the Joneses. I like our house just fine. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with this car.”

“Everything is wrong with this car. I can’t believe you don’t realize how horrible of an impression we’re making by driving up in this heap.” Jane slouched down as they turned into the country club’s cobblestone drive, winced when she saw one of the red-jacketed valets accepting the keys to a sleek Benz convertible. “Just self-park. He probably has a nicer car than this.”

“Who?”

“The valet. I bet his stereo’s worth more than this entire car.”

“Oh, because he’s young and urban, he has to have a big stereo?”

“Look at him. You know I’m right.”

“No, I don’t. What the hell’s wrong with you lately? Why are you acting like this?”

“Like what?”

“Elitist. And racist, apparently.”

“I’m not a racist. I’m a realist. And I’m not the one who’s changed.”

Bill parked between a shiny red Jaguar and an icy blue Lexus. Jane stepped out, adjusted the seam on her $500 dress, the straps on her $250 heels, bent to retrieve her $400 handbag from the seat.

The door shriiiiiek-ed as she wrestled it closed. “Jesus Christ…”

Bill snorted out a laugh. “Jesus liked the poor.”

Jane rolled her eyes, gave Bill's size-too-small gray suit a once-over. “I wish you’d bought a new suit. You’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. Look at how elegant he looks.” She nodded toward the man from the Benz, who’d stopped off on the terrace to have a cigarette.

“Yeah. Bet he’ll look great at his funeral once he dies of lung cancer.”

“Men aren’t supposed to be catty, William. You could look like that if you’d take the time.”

“So now my looks suck, too? Let’s see...my job’s shit, my car’s shit and I look like shit? You know what? Fuck you, fuck Mr. Fancypants over there, and fuck this snotty ass club. Do it by yourself.”

Bill turned to get back in the car.

Jane grabbed his arm. “We’re supposed to be joining as a couple. Don’t you dare mess this up for me.”

Bill jerked away. “Let your rich friends sort it out.” 

Jane started to argue, thought better of it, slipped off her wedding ring and dropped it in her glitzy handbag as she sashayed over to Benz Guy, flashed a million dollar smile. “I hate to be a bother, but would you happen to have an extra cigarette?”

Benz Guy returned the smile, extracted a slim brown cigarette from a silver filagreed case, lit it with a matching lighter once Jane touched it to her crimson lips.

She breathed in the spicy smoke, savored, sighed out the exhale. “Thank you. I forgot mine, in all the excitement. This is my first time here.”

“You’re welcome. Just joining, then?”

“Yes. Sponsored by Rachelle Drake.”

“Ah. Rachelle and Edward. Edward’s an old schoolmate of mine. I’m Jonathan, by the way.”

“Jane. So you’re a Princeton man?”

“Masters from Princeton, doctorate from Yale. And you?”

“I’m just a poor little state college girl myself. Are you a member, or visiting as a guest of Edward’s?”

“Visiting. Will your husband be joining, also?”

“No. We’re separating. Divorcing.”

“Join the club. Ha ha.”

Jane worked up the appropriate wry smile. “I’m afraid we just don’t want the same things out of life.”

“Us, either. She wanted our accountant.”

Jane laughed.

Jonathan trailed his eyes over her, put on a hopeful expression. “Maybe we could share war stories over drinks?”

“I’d like that.” Jane smiled to herself as she ground out her cigarette with the spiky heel of her $250 shoe. If she played her cards right, the next pair would cost twice that much.

She paused at the threshold, taking a final look back.

Jonathan followed her gaze to Bill’s well-worn car, Bill death-gripping the steering wheel, already pulling into traffic. “Will you be left without a ride home?”

“I’d planned to call a cab.”

“I could drive you.”

Jane suppressed another self-congratulatory smile. “Thank you. That’s nice of you to offer.”

Jonathan suppressed a smile of his own as he took her arm, escorting her into the palatial foyer.

So easy. It was always so easy. Dress the part, borrow a luxury car whose owner happened to be out of town, find an “old schoolmate” who’d be too embarrassed to admit not remembering him, invent a story of a cheating wife, flip the script and make her his beloved wife who’d been taken by cancer, a drunk driver, a plane crash.

That part of the story didn’t truly matter, so long as it conveyed the magic word: Available.

He would be available, for the night. Perhaps a bit longer, if Jane served him well.

The frou-frou types who expected to be served were usually far more entertaining.

If not…

Jonathan suppressed the thoughts along with the smile.

Soon, he wouldn’t be forced to suppress anything.

He could wait.

***

No comments:

Post a Comment