“I’ve run the numbers, Betsy. I’m telling you.” He was sitting, as usual, on the living room couch, boring an imprint into the green, brown, and yellow striped cushions. It worked for the room––the couch. Everything was a dull shade of ugly.
There’s a layer of grime covering that couch, Betsy thought to herself. We should throw it out. She was wearing a pink, terrycloth bathrobe that she’d had since high school, and its ass and elbows were wearing so thin they were see-through. No matter, though. No matter how many bathrobes Betsy was gifted, she would not let this one go. Could not. Nothing fit her just the same. “How long would you have to rent the space?” Betsy asked. “You realize this will take over your entire summer.”
“It’s three days a week. Max. And you only have stand out there for as long as it takes someone to pull up.”
Betsy didn’t bother to voice her displeasure, and neither did she shake her head in disapproval, or apply her fists to her hips like a newly-wed bride. No, she had married Tim nearly two decades ago, and this here thing at hand was just one more scheme: selling Wrigleyville parking spots to Cubs-Game-Goers. For all she knew, Tim had already rented the neighbor’s garage space.
“It’s a done deal, Betsy. I’ve already rented the spaces.” He put his hands up and leaned back into the couch, hoping his wife had not caught his use of the plural. The couch hugged his body like a nearly-deflated blowup bed. Best damn couch in the world. “Andy gave me a deal,” he said.
“How much? Seventy? Maryanne rents hers for seventy bucks.”
“Hundred and twenty,” he said. He felt his hand being held, his mother’s look of disapproval. “For two,” he confessed.
“No. Hundred and twenty each.” He hadn’t quite perfected his ability to ignore the expressions on his wife’s face, and moreover, he never predicted them correctly. “The season’s six months long. All I have to do is sell the space like four times before I break even. The rest is profit.”
“Each month. Four times each month.” Then she did the math in her head. “Six times, actually. For each spot.”
“Yeah, well… Still. It’ll work out. Easy as pie. You’ll see.” He lifted his wrists grinning, “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools after all.”
She used to think his idioms were cute.
Betsy turned out of the room, mumbling as she walked down the hallway. “Andy’s ripping you off,” she called behind her, but her attention had turned toward her feet. These floorboards squeak like a pain my ass, she thought, climbing the staircase. At the top of the landing she locked the bathroom door behind her and immediately turned on the shower facets. Though, Betsy did not get in.
“Hell’s bells, it’s raining cats and dogs,” Tim cried out along the sidewalk. Clark Street was a giant puddle, rippling in the downpour and splashing over sidewalks as cars passed, one after the other after the other after the other. Tim was soaked through.
“Chicago in springtime,” his fellow parking-sign-holder replied. She was five-foot two-inches tall, and three-foot seven-inches wide, and she wore a Chicago Bulls jersey down to her knees. A fanny-pack held the jersey secure around her waist, and a pair of purple butterfly wings were strapped around her shoulders. To top it off, a sheriff’s cap rested on the crown of her head. The sheriff’s cap was what got to Tim. Though he had to admit, it was keeping the rain off her face. Tim harrumphed, disappointed that the military bug-lady had beat him to the curb. According to Cubs Self-Park Etiquette, first come was first served, and Tim had been second.
There were always the latecomers to catch, rolling in at the last possible minute and not wanting to miss the opening pitch––Tim could usually get these middle-aged out-of-towners, reliving their fraternity days, to cough up some extra cash for a space––but there was always the possibility that no one would come. Especially in bad weather, when there was a high threat of the game being called. Tim hadn’t accounted for that.
“What’d you expect?” his loving wife, Betsy, had said. “Chicago has the worst weather in the world. Cold as hell-frozen-over in the winter, rainy as the Amazon in the spring––if there is a spring––hell, it’s either raining or snowing most of the time––it snows all the way through May sometimes–– it might as well––,” Tim got the point.
The bug-lady got a customer. She walked up to a Lexus straight-faced and directed the driver to take a right at the light. For having such a fuddy-duddy costume, this woman let humor down like a lead balloon. All work and no play. She walked quickly by without a single glance in Tim’s direction. She’d be back. She had four spaces. Tim had been paying close attention, to see how this parking thing was done.
P A R K I N G ––Tim’s sign screamed it full across the top of his poster board in dark black marker. Last week, he had written below that––EZ OUT––in slightly smaller block letters. It seemed to attract the fancier SUVs. For a man who was never in much of a hurry, Tim found it mildly entertaining to see rich people constantly in a rush. Not that he was pursuing only the rich––Tim didn’t discriminate. Tim was an equal opportunity parking attendant supplier. Though, he had run into a few sticky situations. Tim took his job seriously, so he wanted to be taken seriously too. He made his customers his top priority.
Tim dressed decent for the job. Not like the basketball bee-lady. He tucked his tee shirt into his jeans and wore a belt, and real shoes, not those flip flops everyone was wearing these days. He had a professional appearance. Stern. Responsible. “People got to trust me with their cars,” he told Betsy, drying off his face in the medicine cabinet mirror.
She had softened somewhat. It was going on three weeks, and Tim was still at his Parking Space Money-Making Dream. Six weeks, and it would be a record. She pinched Tim’s newly-shaved cheek, “Go get ‘em Tiger.”
Before she left bathroom, Tim asked, “Are you happy?”
“Happy?” Betsy looked surprised by the question. “Sure.” She left the bathroom without returning the question, in case it was a trap.
The thing was, though, she wasn’t happy. Betsy hadn’t been happy for some time. Not happy, happy. The pinch-me-I-might-be-dreaming happy. Because she wasn’t altogether unhappy either. She had found a routine. One that suited her. A routine of her own making, and she was able to stick to it without much thought. In some long lost moment, Betsy had been that woman who stared at couples walking by on busy downtown streets, laughing, drinking cosmos and scotch, going to plays, ballets, to the park with their yapping dogs and children. But that woman had slipped away to be replaced with daily comforts, and the security of having a faithful husband. Betsy was content.
When Tim quit consulting for no good reason, the day before Betsy’s 50th birthday, Betsy had assumed Tim would find another job, and so encouraged him to take a week or two off to figure out what it was he really wanted to do with his life. When two weeks turned into two months, and Tim had yet to approach his resume, instead of arguing over it, Betsy said she thought she would go back to work. “No, no. I’ll get a job Bets. We’ll be fine. We haven’t used up our savings yet.”
“I’d like to, Tim. I think I want a job.” Betsy had been an education major in college––Loyola University––but when she met Tim, and got married, he told her not to worry about a job quite yet. They wanted a family. Betsy found Tim’s traditional tastes one of his most attractive assets. All Tim wanted was to be a dad. “Ten kids, Bets. I want ten. Let’s fill this whole goddamn house with kids.”
But it had never happened for them. Not once. Not even a false-alarm.
So Betsy found a job working the front desk at a downtown law firm, and she had worked her way up to Paralegal, and the fast-paced world of lawyers thrilled her. It took away the desperate, gaping, black feeling in her gut, and the job filled her head with paper shuffling and memo writing and coffee-pot talk and mailroom gossip and––dollar signs. And it felt good. It must have stopped feeling good at some point, but Betsy wasn’t sure when that was, or how her life had lost its luster. There hadn’t been an argument, or a disappointment, a test to the marriage, they hadn’t become unhappy, just… comfortable. For the first time in a long time, Betsy went out to lunch at Au Bon Pan, ordered something other than the warm turkey and cranberry from the heated cabinet, and sat in a window seat, and watched the rest of the world eating and walking and talking and laughing, and she thought, When did we stop living?
“Can I ask you something,” Betsy asked, snuggling in to Tim’s chest, on their old green and brown and yellow striped couch.
“Of course.” He smiled kindly down on his wife, taking his attention from the TV in order to her hear.
“Are you sad we never had children?”
“Sad? No––well… Yes. I guess, yes. It’s sad that what we planned didn’t happen. Like a lost dream. Sad like that. But I’m not miserable.”
Betsy nodded. “Me neither.” But Betsy wondered if that was the reason Tim had never found a job; he didn’t have any reason for it. Why did they need to make more money than they already did? They didn’t like to travel, they didn’t drink expensive wines, or eat out all that much; they didn’t really like the ballet. They tried it; it wasn’t their cup of tea. It felt strange to be sitting there in the dark auditorium, watching eighteen year olds with too little fat on their bones, dancing all lustfully and dramatically, and ruining their toes. “Their careers are over at 24,” Betsy said after the show, walking down Michigan Avenue as the Christmas trees lit up the snow, “what do they do then?”
“Go to college, I guess,” Tim said, shrugging.
Betsy had hugged his tall, skinny waist and told him she loved him. They never went to the ballet again.
“I’m Tim,” Tim said to the basketball bug. “I see you here almost every day, so I thought I’d introduce myself.”
“Betty,” she said, holding out her hand.
Tim took it, shaking it. “Betty? Huh. My wife’s name is Betsy.”
“Small world.” She didn’t smile.
The streetlight on Grace Street turned green and Betty, the basketball bug, walked three feet into the street, holding out her sign––which now contained the words EZ OUT in a black Sharpie bubble over a rainbowed P A R K I N G. A navy blue Lexus paused beside her and asked how the whole parking thing worked. Betty pointed around the corner; it was her fourth catch of the day.
“See you Thursday,” Tim said.
Betty ignored him, per the norm, nut when Tim saw her come back around the corner, an orange parking cone in her hand, she hopped up the opposite curb and Tim could have sworn she was smiling.
A car honked. “How much?” a kid yelled from the passenger seat. They were driving in a beat up, baby blue Taurus, circa 1998. Tim pointed to his sign, which clearly illustrated the parking price was set at $20.
“Any room to negotiate?” the kid said.
“Nope.” There was plenty of time to catch another car, and for once, the sun was out. It was the perfect day for a game.
The kid waved him over to the car window, ignoring the line of waiting cars behind them. “Come here, man!” he pressed.
Tim waved him along.
“Just. Come. Here,” the kid said. “I’m not gonna bite.”
“It’s twenty bucks,” Tim said at the car window. “I’m not coming down.”
“How about a pair of tickets?” the driver asked. “Fair trade?”
“It’s the perfect day for a game, man,” a kid in the backseat said. “What’d you say? They’re good tickets.”
“Nah, I don’t do trades,” Tim said. The cars behind them were honking, and the driver waved an arm out his window to let them pass.
It was a beautiful day.
“How do I know they’re real?” Tim asked.
“The tickets. How do I know they’ll work?”
The kid looked at the tickets, flashed them back and forth, and held them back out for Tim. “Don’t they look real? I mean, they’re real man.”
“We’ll walk you to the gate,” the kid in the backseat said. “If they don’t work, we’ll get you the twenty bucks.”
“Deal,” Tim said. He pointed toward the sidewalk. “Just pull around the corner and I’ll direct you.”
The thing about Wrigley Field is that it’s consistently packed with fans. Cubs fans. Go to United Cellular, and the feeling’s totally different. Those are baseball fans. It’s different. Tim guessed a good quarter of the population inside Wrigley Stadium never stopped to watch the action. They were too busy eating nachos, shelling peanuts, and calling for the beer man.
“Old Style! Give me two!” Tim’s neighbor called down the row. A man with a blue cooler hanging from his neck paused, cranking open two tallboys. He exchanged the beer with the man at the end of the row as a twenty dollar bill made its way from hand to hand to hand, until it the beer man looked up and asked how much change was wanted. Tim’s neighbor held up a piece sign.
“Here,” he said to Tim. “You need a drink.”
“Oh, thanks. But I can get my own.”
The guy swept a hand through the air, finding his knees with his elbows and settling in. “I’m Chuck,” he said staring straight ahead.
Chuck jumped to his feet and started screaming with both hands in the air. “Fuck yeah! Cubs! Cubs! Cubs! Fuck yeah!” He turned toward Tim, “This is gonna be a great game, man.” He screamed to the field, “We’re gonna kick some Cincinnati ass!” He sat back down, mumbling something about Cincin-nasty. “Cheers, dude.”
Tim touched his plastic cup to Chuck’s.
The thing about Cubs fans, isn’t that most of them don’t bother to watch the game. It’s those ten-to-twelve guys in the stadium, one or two to each section, who live and breathe Cubs baseball. They’ll die on a sword for the team. No matter who’s pitching, who’s being traded, who’s taken over who’s spot, no matter how shitty the season. And those same die-hard fans will be the same guys who end each game sputtering and screaming about so-and-so and how he lost the game for them. What was the coach thinking? You take out SOANDSO––I mean, he deserved it, couldn’t catch a fly ball if it was attached to his dick––but to put in SOANDSO? Are you fucking mad? These were the same guys who insisted on riding the El home, screaming and drooling and making friends with every other person in their train car who even ventured a glance in his direction. This yer girlfriend, man? No? Just met? Hell yeah, man! High five! Way to go man.
Chuck kept buying beers, and Tim kept drinking them.
Betsy’s law firm was sponsoring the Nike One Hit Wonder race, and three of the secretaries on her floor were going to run in it. They wanted her to run too. “Come on, Betsy, you never go out with us. This will be fun!”
“I haven’t run three miles in years. Not on purpose.”
“We can walk it then,” one of the fat ones said. “It’s only three miles. It’s nothing.”
“I didn’t bring any clothes,” Betsy protested.
“There’s a team shirt. You can wear that,” the uber-skinny, athletic one said.
“I’m wearing heels,” Betsy added.
“I’ve got extra shoes.”
“What are you going to wear?”
“That’s the meaning of extra, Betsy.” The medium-sized, tom-boy one looked down at her feet. Betsy realized then, that she wore tennis shoes every single day of the week. “Size eight, right? I remember from the last time we went to Nordstrom Rack.”
In the end, Betsy assented. She tried calling Tim to let him know she wouldn’t be home for dinner, but was forced to leave a message. It was unlike Tim, but it didn’t worry Betsy. Tim seldom did much of anything. Besides, this was living. She was going to be a part of something. She was going to run three miles, and the whole law firm would be there to watch her. Oh, for Jesus…
“Tim!” she called, coming in the door. “You home?” Betsy slid off a pair of soaking wet tennis shoes, and then pulled off her socks too. The sky had opened up just as Betsy reached the last turn and saw the finish line open up in front of her. It hadn’t bothered her. She spread her arms open like wings and turned her face toward the rain, catching the wet in her open mouth. “Half a mile more, Betsy!” the skinny one called from the sidewalk. She was walking back toward the law firm’s tent, a beer already in hand. Betsy fist-pumped the air. “Honey? You home?”
“In the kitchen,” Tim called. Betsy walked in to find a guest seated at her table, waiting on a greasy piece of meat which Tim had sputtering and splattering in grease on top the stove. “Want a burger? We were just about to grill when the sky just opened up and let it roll.”
“Hi,” Betsy said to the stranger. There was a six-pack worth of beers spread out across the table in front of him, all in different definitions of half-full.
“This is Chuck. Cubs fan,” Tim said, turning his back to Betsy to flip the burgers.
Chuck fake coughed into his elbow. “Ah, man, Timmy. I gotta run. Told the Mrs. I’d be on kids duty tonight.” He looked over at Betsy, “Bath night, ya know.”
“We don’t have kids,” Tim practically screamed. He thumbed Betsy, “Couldn’t have ‘em.”
Chuck stared at Betsy as though seeing a barren alien for the first time in his life.
“Allllright,” Tim flipped the meat onto two plates and brought them to the table. “Eat first, kids later. No buns. Sorry bout that, dude. Want some ketchup?”
“Dude?” Betsy asked.
Chuck scraped back his chair, standing up. The scraping got under Betsy’s skin; the way he just scraped back, scraped the wooden floors, like he didn’t even care, like he wasn’t a guest in her house. Do you have no decency?
“Sorry, man,” Chuck said. “Gotta run. It’s been fun. See you at another game sometime.” He brushed Betsy’s shoulder on the way out. It was on accident. It was on account of his lack of balance. “You don’t have a smoke for the road, do ya?” he asked from the living room.
Tim followed him to the door and brought a pack of Malborough Reds from his jean’s pocket. “Absolutely. No worries. Great game, man. Great game. Be safe getting home.”
“Ah, I’m taking the El. No problem.”
“Nice. See ya then.”
He waved, lighting his cigarette on their front porch and nearly tripping down the stairs.
“You’re smoking again?” Betsy asked when Tim finally turned around. He hadn’t smoked in thirteen years. “I think he’ll be fine, hon.” Tim checked the street one more time.
“Yeah, he’s just a little drunk,” Tim said.
“A little? Who is that guy?”
“Ah, man. What’s with the attitude, Bets?” Then, seeing her for the first time that evening, he asked, “Why are you all wet?”
“I ran in a race.”
Betsy’s balled knuckles found her hips. There was an anger boiling up inside her, and the anger had been lying dormant for nearly two decades. It wanted to fly. It was a giant, fire-breathing dragon of anger, and the cave it had been buried in for way too long had finally opened up. The dragon got to her feet, huffed through her nose, huffed, feeling the steam flowing out of her nostrils, and then she bent for take off––
“You want to know if I’m happy?” Betsy began. “I’m not happy. No, Tim, I’m not happy––I’m numb. That’s what I am.” She didn’t know when she had planned it, maybe at lunch that day, at Au Bon Pan, when she ate the bland turkey sandwich and the pickle that tasted like onions, maybe it was that day, because her whole script had been written out already. Betsy had a speech prepared, and it was about to be delivered.
Tim remembered the stove, “Shoot!”
Betsy followed him to the kitchen.
“Do you want Chuck’s burger? It’d be a waste not to eat it. Man,” he belched, “I’m not even that hungry. Had two hot dogs and a whole tray of nachos. Chuck bought. Man, he bought everything! I should have insisted––
“Who fucking cares about Chuck!”
Tim raised his eyebrows. Started swaying slightly. “You ok?”
“No. I am not ok.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Yes, you idiot. Yes. I want to talk about it. But you’re fucking drunk now. And you’re pissing me off.”
“Lemme have it,” he sputtered. “Just let it go, babe.”
“It’s not my fault. None of this is my fault.” She looked wildly around the kitchen. “It was you. It was you! IT WAS YOU TIM!”
“I’m not following.”
“Your sperm. That was the reason we didn’t have any kids.”
He chuckled. “Nothing wrong with me.” He slapped his stomach. “Healthy as a bull.” He silent-belched, blowing out a reek of processed meat.
“I got tested. There was nothing wrong with me. I’m fertile as the Virgin Mother.”
“You got tested? When?”
“Long time ago. Thirty-two. I was thirty-two. You blame all this on me. You sloth around like an idiot. You act so helpless, so–– I can’t stand you anymore. It’s disgusting.”
“What do you mean you got tested? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you––this whole time you knew it was me and you didn’t tell me? We’ve been living like––You’ve been––Why didn’t you tell me? Jesus, Betsy. Fuck.” Tim sat down hard on the green and brown and yellow striped couch and it sucked him into its cushions. He struggled to sit up. “Fucking–– Fuck!” He slapped the couch pillows and jumped up, kicking the thing. “I hate this fucking couch. I hate. Fuck!” He kicked the couch and heard the armrest crack. He kicked it again. And again. He kicked it harder, and the piece of upholstered plywood that held up the armrest snapped in half.
Betsy and Tim stared at the armrest. Betsy started to cry.
“You’re crying?” Tim said, appalled.
“Yes, I’m crying. Screw you, Tim.”
“Now? You’re crying now? You hated that couch. You said so all the time. You bitch and bitch and bitch about everything in this goddamn house, and then you leave and go to work. You never give anything back. You just bitch. Go get ‘em Tiger, what the fuck is that?”
“An encouragement, Tim. Because Lord knows it will be a miracle the day you stick with a job for longer than a month.”
“I’ve got the parking thing.”
“What do you mean, exactly? I haven’t quit.”
“Six weeks,” Betsy said. “Then it will be a record.”
“I didn’t care at the beginning, because I blamed myself. I thought, it’s my fault he doesn’t want a job, because he doesn’t have any purpose. Because he wanted babies and I didn’t give him any. But now? Get over it.”
“I love how you’ve never said any of this until now. Brilliant, Betsy. Good Wife Betsy, suffering in silence.”
“I wasn’t suffering.”
“Sacrificing. Whatever you want to call it. You could have told me.”
“I wasn’t––I was fine. We were fine. I didn’t need to say anything,” Betsy said. “You never said anything either.”
“What was there to say?”
“Something,” Betsy said. “We should have said something. We just kept on going, never saying anything.”
Tim kicked the sofa. “Shit.”
On Thursday, Tim got to the curb before the basketball bug lady. “Hey, Betty. Late morning?”
She eyed him questioningly.
Tim realized Betty had gotten new, neon green tennis shoes. “Nice kickers,” he said.
Betty kept her eyes focused on Tim’s mouth.
The day was overcast, and rain was threatening its break from the sky at any moment, but if it held out? It would be a great day for a game. Tim wondered where Chuck would be sitting, and who he would have sitting next to him. Maybe, today, he had brought one of his sons. Tim assumed Chuck had a few kids, at least two––maybe three––boys.
A red Honda honked, and Tim directed the driver around the corner. Once he had parked his last car, Tim found the hat on his head and pulled it off. It was a Cubs hat. He had bought it at the park, with Chuck, and he thought it was a good investment for his parking gig. He put a hand through his thinning hair, scratched his scalp, and then replaced his hat. He walked up Clark and passed Betty, walking out in the middle of traffic, trying her best to find a car to take one of her four parking spots. When the light on Grace turned red, she walked right out into the lane and nearly rubbed her parking poster against the windshield of the waiting car. It was a taxi, and he was obviously not in need of a parking space. Tim felt a raindrop hit his neck. It felt nice. Cool. “See you tomorrow, Betty,” Tim waved. It was Chicago is Summer, and Tim was really, truly, happy.
Megan Fink holds an MFA from the University of Alabama, where she served as an assistant fiction editor of Black Warrior Review. She currently teaches at the College of DuPage, is the co-founder of Flying House: An Artist-Writer Collaboration Project (ourflyinghouse.com), has published short stories in literary journals such as Red Lightbulbs, Camera Obscura and 5923 Quarterly, and recently completed her first novel. Much of her work focuses on the exploration of text and image relationships.