By: Mary Marca
“Ha, ha, ha! Whoooeee! That’s really funny!” The sound of Dick’s laughter reached to all corners of the bar as his eyes darted about, checking the reactions of his co-workers. He reached for the beer pitcher and filled the company president’s glass. “John, you must have had a great time on that fishing trip!”
Sally sat at the other end of the long table and sipped her ginger ale waiting for the evening to end. She hated the noise, the smoke and trying to make endless conversation with strangers. Dick bullied her into coming every Friday night. She closed her eyes and pictured his face as he had hectored her.
“Sally, you gotta come. You gotta drive me home. Besides, Mona needs another woman to talk to, and you can keep her off my back. She thinks just because she’s Vice President she can hang all over me. She doesn’t when you’re there—she thinks we’re a cute couple.” He gulped down his whiskey.
Sally squinted at him suspiciously, “You sure you haven’t given her any encouragement?”
“Hey, no more than I’d give anyone who could influence my career. Hell, I’m just nice to her. Everyone avoids her; she’s such a nag. I just tell her she looks good, ask her how she’s feeling, you know, stuff like that.”
Sally stared at Dick thoughtfully, watching his thinning curls bounce up and down as he pulled off his high heeled cowboy boots. He liked to think he could charm any woman. She remembered how he had charmed her when they met ten years ago. He had been in his mid-thirties then, with thicker hair, and he still had a flat stomach. His hypnotic voice would take on a smooth velvety tone, not the harsh nagging one he used now.
“I expect you to be there by 5:30—no later, you hear?”
Sally sighed as Dick sat down, and she slid his dinner in front of him. She was tired of arguing. “OK, Dick, 5:30. Where is it this week? The Ramada Inn or the Butcher Shoppe?”
“I don’t know. I’ll call you tomorrow when they decide.”
Sally sat opposite him. “How was work today?”
“Terrible!” Dick scowled. “The only funny thing was Mona showing up for work in leggings and a long knit sweater. She looked like a sixty-year old pixie!” He laughed with a snort, then scowled as Sally failed to respond. “The old bag gave me a hard time about ordering too much again. You’d think it was her money the way she goes on. Drives me crazy!”
Sally ate silently as she listened to Dick’s tirade, moving from co-worker to co-worker. As he talked, he gulped his dinner, washing it down with multiple beers. As she stood up to clear the dishes she decided to approach Dick one more time. “When do you think you’ll be secure enough in the company so we can plan a baby?”
“How many time do I have to tell you, when John makes me General Manager we can consider it.”
“But Dick, I’m going to be thirty-six soon. We can’t wait much longer.”
“Shut up, Sally!” Dick slammed his fist on the table as he stood up. He rounded the table quickly and grabbed a handful of her long curly hair. Pulling her head back he waved a fist in her face. “I don’t want any more of your whining—you hear?” As he shouted his glassy eyes flashed and he tugged sharply at her hair.
Sally winced as the color drained from her face and she stared, frightened, at Dick’s fist. He paused and took a deep breath. “Ooh, come on now, Sally,” he spoke soothingly, “I’m not gonna hurt you.” He let go of her hair and stroked it gently. Then he put his arms about her. “Look, you just do your job. Butter her up, keep her out of my way and maybe we’ll be able to have that baby sooner than you think!”
Reluctantly at first, Sally leaned into him and felt her fear slipping away. “Oh Dick,” she whispered “just don’t make us wait too long. OK?”
Sally sighed and turned her attention back to the Vice-President seated beside her. “. . . and Dick’s the only one who understands . . .” Mona took a sip of her Margarita “. . . the absolute necessity for keeping inventory down!”
Sally watched Mona beam at Dick and felt a quick jolt of jealousy. Then, looking at the fifty-nine year old divorcee, she brushed the feeling aside. Mona was just a lonely woman, and Dick liked them younger than Mona. He had laughed that if you were just a little nice to her—compliment her dress or ask how her weekend went—she would tell you all kinds of things. Dick was very talented at drawing people out.
“Yes,” Sally answered, “Dick has told me many times how much he admires your ability to monitor the company checkbook.” Sally shifted uncomfortably as she spoke, hearing Dick’s words, ‘Stupid Old Bat! She doesn’t understand the most basic concept of investment. You’ve gotta spend money to make money. She acts like it’s her personal checkbook!’
Mona smiled along the table at Dick as he chatted with John. “Oh look, they’ve run out of beer.” She took a bill out of her purse and teetered and swayed on her high heels as she crossed the room to the bar, returning to the men with a full pitcher.
“Buy you a drink, Sailor!” Mona giggled as she stood over Dick filling his glass. He snickered as he looked up at her.
“Thanks, Mona! That’s just what I needed!” Then, turning to John, he took the pitcher, “Here, let me refill your glass.” As he poured, Sally noticed his hair was stuck in tight curls across his damp forehead and his large thick glasses had slipped down his nose. He was in the happy zone. He had about another half-hour of safe drinking. After that he was dangerous. He turned back to Mona and gave her a big smile, “Mona, you’re a real doll!” He spoke loudly and glanced at John, checking his reaction.
Mona squeezed into the bench between the two men. She leaned close to Dick and cooed, “I was jus’ tellin’ Sally what an unnerstanding guy you are. It’s a good thing you two are married or I’d make a play for you!”
“Thanks, Mona.” Dick sounded really flattered, then behind Mona’s back he raised his eyebrows in amusement to John. “Say, Sally,” he called to the other end of the table, “come on over here and keep us company.”
Sally picked up her glass and strolled over. This was her cue to free up Dick for some more time with John. She stood next to them chatting for a couple of minutes then leaned to whisper,
“Want to come with me to the ladies room, Mona?”
“Yes! OK you guys, behave yourselves while we’re gone!”
Mona giggled loudly and leaned on Sally’s arm as they squeezed through the crowd. It worked every time. Dick had told Sally that women of that generation had a reflex reaction to going to the ladies room in pairs.
Sally could hear Mona struggling with the buttons and belt on her jumpsuit. She thought of Dick’s comments, “She wears the most ridiculous clothes! She must think she’s a teenager.” As she washed her hands, Sally gazed at herself in the cracked mirror. Thirty-five. The lines were beginning to deepen around her eyes, and lately she had noticed her mouth taking on a hard downward curve when she caught sight of herself unawares. She dried her hands and fluffed up her blonde hair.
“Your hair is so pretty!” Mona came up behind her. “I wish I could wear mine long and curly like that, but at my age it would look ridiculous!” The trip to the toilet seemed to have sobered her somewhat.
“But short hair suits you really well. I’m wondering if I should get mine shortened a bit. It’s beginning to drag my face down.”
Mona stood back, appraised Sally, then shook her head, “Oh, you’ve got a couple of years yet before you have to start worrying about that. Maybe when you have kids you’ll want to cut it for convenience.”
Sally laughed shortly, “If we have kids!” She began to trace her mouth with lipstick as Mona washed her hands. She heard the water flowing and glanced over at Mona who was hanging her hands under the tap and staring at herself in the mirror.
“This crack distorts your face.” Mona spoke quietly, “It doesn’t look like me, but it is me. I never noticed how old I’ve grown lately.”
“Nonsense…” Sally began but Mona hushed her.
“Yes, old. Tomorrow I’ll be sixty.” She turned off the water, pulled out a paper towel and faced Sally. “Do you know what that means? No, how can you.” She paused as she concentrated on the damp paper in her hands. “Many, many doors have closed for me. I’ve been divorced for twelve years. I had two good years of marriage and stayed on for twenty-three miserable ones. So I’m glad I left, but I doubt I’ll find another man now.” She chuckled wryly as she tossed the paper towel in the trash, “But I had some fun looking around!”
Her smile faded as she continued, “The only security I have is my job and the small pension I’ll pick up. I’m supposed to retire in five years!” She lowered her voice, “But every month I see us spending more money than we’re taking in. I’m scared the company’s going to go broke. Who’d hire me then? I’m too old.” Tears filled her eyes and she turned to the mirror and awkwardly flicked the ends of her bangs.
Sally tried to find the right words to reply. Impulsively, she walked over and putting her arm across Mona’s shoulder angled her head toward the older woman. “It’s this darn mirror,” she said as their eyes met in the reflection, “it makes you see things all distorted!” She gave Mona a quick hug then dropped her arm.
Mona laughed and squared her shoulders. “Of course! That’s it. After all, I’ve got my health, and my two darling kitty cats! Let’s get back and make sure the men are ok.”
She grabbed Sally’s arm and ushered her through the door. The smoke and the noise seemed even more stifling after the quiet, cool restroom, and they had to push their way single-file through the crowd. Sally ached to leave. They found Dick rocking back and forth on the high heels of his cowboy boots, glued to John’s side at the bar. His eyes were glassy as he stared up at John, and he was talking even louder than usual.
“I think the smart move would be to give me responsibility for all the new products.” Sally knew he was moving in for the kill and turned to head Mona off, but she was too late. Mona stepped around her,
“Now, now boys. No business here, this is your time to relax!”
Sally saw Dick’s face grow crimson with frustration at the same time as she recognized the relief on John’s face at being rescued from Dick.
“I agree!” said John, “and I’m getting hungry. Anyone ready for some Mexican food?”
“Mona, we missed you!” Dick smiled at the older woman then glared past her at Sally.
“I’m ready to go home.”
“Not yet, honey.” Dick smiled congenially at her as John and Mona watched. “We’re just headed out to get some Mexican food.” He slipped an arm over her shoulder and squeezed hard. Sally winced, quietly shrugged him off, and said,
“Dick, I’ve had enough.” She smiled sweetly and called “Good night, Everyone!” then dangled their car keys at Dick. “I’m leaving. Come or stay, the choice is yours.”
She turned and walked towards the door.