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Sample Story - "Cheryl"

Nobody was surprised when Cheryl and Fred separated, then divorced. The surprise was that they had ever married in the first place. That surprise was followed by the sixteen-year surprise of them living together, having two children, and not killing cach other at any point in the process.

Those who met him called Fred "charming" and 'friendly," they predicted he'd go a long way and commented on how well he had already done. Those who met Cheryl said she was "spunky" and "hard-working," and privately thought she had the disposition of a snake. Some called her Mighty Mouth, some made jokes about the Fastest Tongue in the West, some said nothing but prayed to God they would never again get on her wrong side or expose themselves to the razor-sharp, two-edged verbal machete she swung at the merest hint of an insult or argument.

Together, Cheryl and Fred added up to more than the sum of their parts. Individually, each had holes in their personality through which could be driven at least one Euclid truck. Together, they filled those holes and sparked each other to higher efforts. Even their families agreed he was more pleasant, she was much smarter.

Cheryl didn't dislike people, she just couldn't stand fools. Fred didn't care how foolish people were if they were useful. When these two met and got married, neither had much of anything. Sixteen years later they had two children and one house in Bright's Crossing, paid for and rented out to tenants, and they had moved to a small wart of a town on the northem tip of the island, where they lived in a badly insulated "carpenter's special owned by the trucking company for which they both worked. The trucking company owner had suggested several times that Cheryl and Fred buy the house and fix it up, thereby convincing the townspeople they intended to stay.

"l don't intend to stay here," Cheryl said baldly.

"I'd buy it back from you," the owner bargained.

"Why bother?"

"Why do you refuse a good deal?"

“Because I don't trust the motives of people who offer me good deals when I haven't even inquired."
The boss lived in Vancouver and flew into the wart of a town when the mood struck him. He showed up unannounced and unweIcome, poked his nose in every crack, cranny, and comer, aIways found something to bitch about, then flew back out again after causing a tempest in the small-town teapot. Fred always grinned, nodded, smiled, and agreed with the boss, Cheryl went about her work as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.

Fred was the manager of the trucking company and Cheryl was the office manager. That meant, theoretically at least, Fred was Cheryl's boss. Most of the time this fine distinction didn't matter to anybody; Cheryl looked after the books, answered the phone, took messages, scheduled the drivers, and handled most of the complaints. Fred gave estimates, organized the work orders and mechanics, and made contacts which might result in new business.

Cheryl also got up in the morning, put on the coffee, made breakfast, and organized the kids. While they were getting fed and ready for school, she took a cup of coffee to Fred, then, while he was drinking it and waking up, she showered and dressed for work. She and the kids left the house at the same time. She unlocked the Office, put on the coffee pot, and answered the phone if it was already ringing. She organized her day, and was working when Fred came in an hour later. He went to his office, she took him a cup of coffee, and by the time she got back to her desk, the red light on the phone was shining steadily: Fred had started working.

He was busy in his office for an hour, then went down to talk to the drivers and mechanics. If parts were needed, Cheryl phoned the city and arranged for them to be sent up on the daily plane. Fred got in his company car and drove off to check on the backhoe driver, the bulldozer driver, and the truck drivers, and to look for new business. His company car had a mickey-mouse installed so he could keep in touch with the office, where Cheryl was answering the phone, making appointments for Fred to go out and give estimates, arguing with suppliers in the city, or soothing the hurt feelings of a mechanic who had been insulted by the owner on his last trip in to check on things. Cheryl never asked Fred what in hell it was he was doing when he was out making contacts, and Fred never asked Cheryl who in hell she thought she was telling the mechanic the owner was an ignorant asshole who knew nothing about the kind of work the mechanic did so couldn't be expected to be appreciative, polite, or anything but an asshole.

And then the backhoe driver brought his machine in because something was wrong with the bucket. lt would lift, but it wouldn't tilt. The mechanic went over, stared at it for a long time, fiddled with this, fiddled with that, then diagnosed it.

Cheryl was upstairs at her desk, just finishing the waybills and freight records when she heard a godawful thump, a roar of pain and surprise, and the ohmigawdjesusdamn of the mechanic. She was out from behind her desk, through the door and down the stairs before the echo of the awful thump had stilled. The backhoe driver was standing where he ought to be sitting, leaning forward, his hand stuck in the middle of the mess of pneumatic tubes and gizmos in the shaft of the arm that regulated the bucket. His face was dead white, his lips blue, and his eyes threatened to bug right out of his head. The mechanic, breathing curses, was busy with his tools. All he said to Cheryl was, "Get Fred back here with the car."

She went back up the stairs two at a time, grabbed the mickey-mouse, pushed the button and shouted, "Shop calling Fred, Shop calling Fred. Accident. Accident in the shop. Come in Fred." When there was no answer and she had tried so many times she was getting frightened, she changed her call to "If anybody sees Fred tell him to get his ass back here right away."

A voice she knew she ought to recognize answered her. "l think I know where he is, I'll go find him." Cheryl dropped the whole rig and raced back down the stairs.

The driver's fingers were still jammed in whatever it was had jammed, and the mechanic was cursing frantically. Cheryl climbed onto the step, then into the cab, got behind the driver, bent her legs under him, and lifted and pushed him forward, taking the pull from his arm and hand.

"Got'er," the mechanic gasped. The driver's fingers came free, the glove leather startlingly white, all dirt, water, and grease squeezed out of the two leather digits. He sighed deeply and sagged. Cheryl hauled him back into the cab of the machine, got him on the seat, loosened the buttons on his shirt, and wiped the oily sweat off his cold face.

No Fred. No company car. No calm person to drive them to the infirmary. The mechanic's licence was under suspension for impaired driving, so it was Cheryl got behind the wheel of the gravel truck and somehow, nobody ever knew how or believed it was possible, she got the man to the hospital.

They weren’t sure they could save the fingers. The operator was half frantic, and the nurse was totally occupied with the damaged hand, so it was Cheryl who had to calm the operator, soothe his fears and even make him smile.

"Will he be able to play the guitar?" she asked anxiously.

"Oh, yes, of course," the nurse soothed.

"Good," Cheryl cracked, "he never could before this happened."

The young operator grinned, shook his head and managed to say "Corny groaner."

Two minutes later, Fred came in. The doctor and nurse took over. Cheryl backed out of the room and moved wordlessly to the waiting room where the ashtray beckoned. She lit a cigarette and puffed nervously until her hands stopped shaking.

Fred was at the desk talking to the receptionist, and Cheryl watched him as if she had never seen him before in her life. When the forms were filled in and the operator was on his way to the small surgery, a driver arrived to take the gravel truck back down to the shop, and Fred told Cheryl he’d drive her back to work.

"Take me home," she said coldly.

"Home?"

"Just take me home. I feel sick."

“But... You can do it," she flared angrily. "You're the goddamn expert, you're the know-it-all, you're the boss! You do something for a change."

“What in hell is the matter with you?"

"Where were you?"

“What do you mean?"

"Where in hell were you? You're either supposed to be in the office or let me know where you are in case you're needed. Or be in the goddamn company car with the effin radio receiver turned on, Fred."

"I was busy!"

“You're supposed to let me know where you are and when you leave and where you go next."

He asked her who in hell she thought she was to talk to him like that, after all he was the boss, and she said the boss was supposed to be a responsible person and tell the office where he was at all times and he said she was just trying to be a typical wife keeping tabs on her husband and she said bullshit and he yelled he was busy, for God's sake.

"Busy my ass!" Mighty Mouth yelled. "I just bet you were effin’ busy!" and it was the red rising from his collar to his forehead gave it all away.

“You bastard," she said quietly. 'You were effin’, weren’t you? You were busy, all right, busy ... you shit."

He dropped her off in front of the carpenter's special, neither of them speaking to the other, and he went back to the shop to unsnarl the mess. The mechanic had phoned the owner in the city, and the owner was on his way up by charter plane to find out how in hell come the manager had been unavailable and the office manager hadn’t been told where he was or what he was doing. Fred could just about see the balloon going up, and knew he was going to have to work overtime just to keep his job.

The owner arrived and the yelling started. Fred sat in his big black leather office chair and nodded a lot. He heard the last plane leave and knew the owner was going to be stuck overnight in the little wart of a town, and Fred wondered how in hell he was going to calm Cheryl down enough to convince her she should save his job by cooking up a first-rate supper and making up the spare bed so the owner didn’t have to spend any money on a hotel room or a lousy meal. The owner screamed and screeched and let Fred know that he already knew exactly where Fred had been, with whom, doing what, during work hours. Let him know the whole goddamn town at this point knew what Fred was doing while Cheryl was holding the whole goddamn show together and driving a badly injured man to hospital in a goddamn gravel truck while the company car had been parked beside the wrong house. And, he let Fred know, the husband who had been on dayshift at the sawmill was at this very minute screaming his version of everything and the owner wouldn't be surprised, by God, if Fred wound up with two black eyes.

But when Fred got home there was no problem about what he would say to Cheryl to persuade her to cook supper and be pleasant. She was gone. So were the kids. And their clothes. And the cat. And the turtle.