Chapter One: Hoover
Cynthia lit a cigarette and looked down at her manicured hand resting on the brown handle of the hoover. Chuck had bought that vacuum for her for Christmas. It wasn't his fault, really. All those radio ads telling dutiful husbands that is what their dutiful wife really wanted. "Make things easier on her," the man's voice on the radio commanded, as if he had a clue what in her life needed ease.
Jean had told her she thought it would be easier, that life would be easier, without them entirely, without the men in their lives. Jean had said it and laughed sharply, quickly. They were on the back deck, sipping lemonade and Jean was leaning back in her chair, closing her eyes against the sun. She had been telling Cynthia about pressing the laundry, standing in her living room with a basket beside her, picking up shirt after shirt and pressing the hot iron across the fabric and hanging up each one, before moving on to the slacks. She said she had been daydreaming about stopping. "Stopping what?" Cynthia asked, leaning forward in her chair.
Jean sighed, looked at Cynthia. "I don’t know. Stopping everything? Setting down the shirt, walking away from the ironing and sitting in the kitchen. Leaving the slacks rumpled and clean in the hamper in the middle of the living room floor." Jean cut herself off, swallowed. "I don't know, I just -" Cynthia interrupted her, "I think I'd just be worried I wouldn't get it all done. If I stopped, I mean." "Yeah," Jean said. "Yeah."
Cynthia shook the thought from her head, noticed a chip in her nail polish. She raised her hand to her mouth to bite that nail but stopped herself. She wanted a drink. The hoover was still running, it's gentle roar having scared the dog, a little terrier named Hank who was trying to stuff himself between the wall and the back of the couch. She reached down and turned off the vacuum. Good enough, she thought, wrapping the cord around the pegs on the handle. Hank looked at her and put a tentative paw out. She laughed and he withdrew it, preferring the safety of his little domestic cave behind the couch. She hadn't really understood what Jean had been getting at that day, but now she felt it all the time, the weight of her domestic responsibilities, all the noticing she had to do all day, all the little lists. The baseboards! she suddenly remembered as she walked into the kitchen. Today she was going to scrub the damn baseboards.
Chuck had been staying late at work the last couple of weeks, telling Cynthia they were dealing with a crisis in the sales department but coming home smelling of whiskey and wrapping his arms around her waist, singing into her neck and hair. Some women might have suspected an affair, but Cynthia really didn't think so, Chuck just wasn't the type.
Cynthia sat at the kitchen table, lit another cigarette and set the kettle to boil. Too early for a drink, she thought. The clock on the stove read 1:00pm. A couple of hours before she had to pick up the children. She turned on the radio. They were talking about the Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent, and his intentions to build the trans-Canada pipeline. People were up in arms about it, how he had invoked cloture to end the debate and the fact that oil would, whether they liked it or not, flow from the prairies into Ontario and Quebec. The kettle whistled and she turned off the element, moved the kettle to one of the cold ones. She debated her coffee mug, which sat with a tea bag in it, dry.
She slid the mug to the side, opened the cupboard. Just one drink. Just one. Then she would do the baseboards, maybe put on a record. A drink in the afternoon is fine. Chuck's been coming home soused, why should she exercise such restraint. The only damn decision she had to make all day was whether she would scrub the baseboards now or in a half hour from now. She clunked two ice cubes into the highball glass and grabbed the gin she kept in the pantry. Chuck had no reason to look in that pantry.
Cynthia opened the gin bottle and poured some out, watching the gin cover the ice cubes, stopping when the glass was half full. She clicked the radio on again. Now they were talking about the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. She didn’t understand most of what the scientists were saying, but it sounded as though these men had discovered something that would be of import to medical science. Cynthia swirled the gin in her glass and looked up at the clock again. 1:07p.m. She drank her gin.
The doorbell rings.
a.) Jehovah's witnesses
b.) two uniformed police officers
c.) no one is there, but a thick manila envelope is sitting on the welcome mat
d.) Cynthia's friend Jean