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Keeping The Peace. (Short Story).

March 16, 2019

cropped-12301412301.jpg“Tit’s and ass, Mark, tit’s and ass, that’s what life is really all about…and pussy as well; we can’t forget that part. Life is just that and not much else.” Joel Anderson was talking as he always did and that generally was with the attitude he was correct about most things. “…I’ve tried to be married for over twenty odd years…” The hint of anger came and slowly left, “It’s a lot of crockshit to bother to try too hard to make it work when I am the only one actually trying to be married….” He watched as a young girl walked by where they sat in the food court of the Maplewood Mall. Pointing at the girl in the short cut-off jeans and dark blue tank top a little too small for her frame, “That’s reality right there, Mark….It may be March here in Minnesota but they still dress like that…” He watched her walk down the bathroom hallway, “Probably in her early twenties, probably not married yet, it will be a shame when she does…” Looking at her still with that look, “Jill looked a lot like her, long legs, blonde hair, pretty, carried herself as if she knew full well she was being watched….” He returned to Mark. “Jill use to look that good at nineteen.”

All Mark could notice of the girl were the furry boots; well, Spring was around the corner and it seemed a rite of passage that when Spring was coming girls in shorts and furry boots began to make their appearance known. It was a pleasant sight; Steph looked good in her own jeans and same boots. He hoped she was having a good day.

For the moment they where on lunch break from their different jobs. The Maplewood Mall Food Court was not very busy at the moment.

Mark finally interrupted, “I don’t see life that way I guess….” Mark had this subject before with the guy from the downstairs men’s suit store. “Been married almost ten years and Steph and I are still very married and no plans on changing that status…” He could see the question formulating in the man’s black eyes, so Mark answered it before it was asked, “It hasn’t always been a bed of roses of course, what marriage doesn’t have it’s thorns, but we’ve worked through a lot of it…”

The expression disagreed, “Wives submit to your husbands, that’s in the Bible you know…”

A couple of young kids walked by chattering away in Hmong; well, to Mark it sounded like that particular language.

“…The Bible says for the wife to obey their husband. Be silent….”

Mark had heard some of this before, “I think you’re quoting that stuff out of context, Joel. A wife is not property…” He sounded ridiculous saying it but the guy really did like saying these things; Joel could be a broken record sometimes.

The bony finger jabbed in Mark’s direction, “Look, Mark,” The tone was of course challenging, “She’s my wife and there are rules to being married to me. Says so in the Bible. I’d show you book, chapter, verse, if I had a Bible with me…”

“Well, there is Barnes-Noble, they have Bibles.” Mark worked in the sports store across from the bookstore, “We could always go over there and you can show me these rather strange and archaic rules.”

The finger pointed again, “Mark, as I said before, life is tit’s and ass. Not much else to it.”

Mark tried to ignore the obvious, “So, you go to church still? Do you like it?”

“It’s just church, Mark.”

Mark had to ask, “What church do you go to?”

Disliking the question, “It’s just a church, Mark, their pretty much all the same.”

He wanted to think the guy was making a joke but he knew better, “Don’t think their all the same, Joel. The Catholic faith is really nothing like going to a Baptist church I am pretty sure.”

“Do you go to church?”

“No, never been really all that interested in church.”

Grunting annoyed, “Well, I am married to a woman who does.”

“Was she going before you married her?”

“Well, yes, but she stopped, and then again she started up again. She started again because her friend, Lydia I think her name is, invited her….”

“Why?”

“She thought it would do her good because we were going through a rough time in our marriage….so she invited her to go to her church.”

“A troubles in a marriage seems normal.”

Joel grunted, “Roughs times seems to be the only marriage I’ve had, Mark. It started out okay, me and Jill met at church when younger of course, in our Sunday school class.”

Mark nodded as if understanding any of it when it came to Joel’s life and comments.

“Jill’s been attending for a couple of months now at Lydia’s church.”

“Did you ever go to church before Jill?”

The uncomfortable look returned to Joel’s expression, “My family started going to church. Not sure when or why really, we just did is all I know. I was of course still at their home so I went as there was nothing I could do about it. They went, I had to go. The church had a young adult Sunday school class, so I went to that class with my older sister…”

Sounded disjointed thought Mark with no comment.

“My sister, Ingrid, loved it of course. She made friends easy.”

He wanted to ask about his sister’s name, Ingrid?

“…I sat in the back row nearest the door to escape if I had to. I simply wasn’t that interested in being there except I had no real choice to be even at the church. But I sat there, Ingrid next to me with her Bible open and taking notes as the teacher droned on and on about some Bible story or other subject. Ingrid loved all that crap, but she would as she actually believed it.”

“And you didn’t? Why?” He asked as the young couple holding hands went by; the food court was it’s usual busy self he thought.

Shrugging his shoulders, “I just never did. I went to church because the family went and as long as I lived under my dad’s roof I was going to church.”

“Your sister liked it?”

“My sister, Ingrid, always liked church because she got along with everyone. My parent’s went because they liked it and they were involved. I went because I had no choice….”

“You didn’t like it all? No friends?”

He sipped his coffee, “I had a few friends I guess. Once I left I left all that behind. Church at the time didn’t interest me; still doesn’t really….”

There was a disjointed way he was talking that made Mark wonder the truth of it all. Joel Anderson didn’t talk much about his family and when he did it was guarded as if he didn’t like talking about them or admitting he had a family that went to church in the first place. “So, you met Jill at this church?”

For a brief moment the eyes looked pleased but it vanished, “I was sitting in my usual place, Ingrid talking to someone a few chairs down our isle. Knowing her it was Mrs. Coleman…” Sipping his coffee again, “Mrs. Nancy Coleman was married to the teacher of the class, Marty Coleman was a jovial guy with a over eager need to shake my hand every time he saw me. He was a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with him really, I just didn’t get into the subject like he did….” As if it mattered, “He had a pretty wife, I think they met in high school, I don’t remember really but I think they met there.”

“And Jill?”

“Nancy was a long legged brunette so I can understand why they had eventually five kids…they had three already when I first met them. Two girls and a boy; the girls looked very much like her.”

Mark ignored the comment best he could.

“….She was all legs, so wonder Marty was so jovial.”

“And Jill?”

He seemed too preoccupied with Nancy Coleman, “She taught at the St. Paul Ballet. I can see that as she was certainly built for dancing. I think she even taught her three daughters as well….”

He seemed lost in thought about the brunette he wasn’t married to Mark wanted to suggest but didn’t.

“I don’t remember what Marty did for a living. I think he taught math in high school I don’t remember….”

“And Jill?”

He seemed to finally get the hint but it was reluctantly away from his memories of Nancy Coleman, “We were having one of our group potlucks. Ingrid of course made something; she was good in the kitchen. It was probably one of her mac-cheese combo things; she loved her mac-cheese.” He watched a bunch of teen age girls walk by chatting, laughing, and pretty much acting like the young girls they were. He had an opinion of them of course, “I don’t like Asian girls, never understood the appeal of them. Nothing special about them. All have the same body parts-tit’s, ass, mouth, legs and so forth. Don’t like Vietnamese…”

Mark spoke up of course, “I think they were Korean actually, Joel.” He had to say something as he as a military kid had spent two years in Japan and got quite use to them and pleasantly so. “And what’s wrong with them?” He was beginning to suspect that Joel was actually avoiding the Jill question. “Well, I spent two years min Japan, so I kind of have a liking for them…” He also knew they were Korean by the fact one of them had a jacket with the Korean flag on the back.

He made a face, changed subject, “Jill walked into the room. I do remember that day fairly well. One of the few more pleasant moments and memories was that first meeting, Mark. I haven’t forgotten everything about her…and it was thick blonde hair, beautiful blonde hair…”

Mark said nothing but smiled in agreement.

“She was very much looking like the Swedish girl she was, Mark. Long straight blonde hair down to her butt in a long braided pony tail….”

There was actual affection in his voice as he spoke thought Mark so he didn’t interrupt.

“….Very blue eyes. Good grief were they ever blue. She was very pretty, I wont deny that fact. Jill Anne Johansson was stunning at nineteen, Mark….” His tone abruptly changed as if he realized he said more than he wanted or wanted to deal with or maybe it was admit to? “But that was then, Mark, but people change. And not always for the better.”

The food court was getting busier noticed Mark. Kids, adults, couples walked through the food court; some stopped at particular places. He also noticed that Joel’s story seemed to have some discrepancies in the telling to his way of thinking.

Joel was still talking, “….We hit it off that first meeting, we were dating a few months later.”

“So, you got married when?”

The tone was hard, “Better question is why we got married actually, Mark…” He picked up his empty coffee cup, looked at it with a moody look, put it back down and answered the question slowly, “She got herself pregnant was the real reason we got married.”

Mark had to say it, “She got herself pregnant?”

He of course ignored his remark, “We had to get married in that particular church because we had to avoid a scandal. So me and Jill got married and eight months later she had the twins….twins! I wasn’t ready for one let alone two little balls of personality….” Adding, “Though I must admit Jill took to motherhood and seemed to enjoy it.”

“Okay, their names?” Mark wanted to ask an obvious question but decided to not.

“Emma and Emily.”

“Pretty names.”

“Yes, they’ve grown up to be pretty girls…”

Why didn’t he look happy with that thought Mark wanted to ask but again kept his questions to himself; Mark and Steph were having their own issues on that particular front as Steph kept having miscarriages. They had of late thought and had been talking about adopting a kid or two. Steph wasn’t against the idea of adoption; she loved kids and simply just wanted to be a mother. She was at the moment at lunch with a friend of her’s from St. John’s Hospital. It was good for her to get out and be around a friend.

Joel was still talking, “…Emma, Emily their almost twenty now. Will be twenty in October. Thank God they’re not identical twins, but they certainly act like they shared a space for nine months. They get along very well.”

“Me and my wife Stephanie are trying to have kids…” He could see the guy was almost listening, paying more attention to the girl’s walking by, and his thoughts on that subject was obvious, “We are even looking into adoption…”

He looked at him with a grunt, “Adoption? Don’t get me wrong, Mark, about me or my kids. I love my kids, but they are a job and a half to deal with….”

The face said much thought Mark with some annoyance. “Steph’s had two miscarriages, they were devastating to her, it was like losing a child twice….” The last time was a few months ago. And lately she was just feeling run down and tired of trying. It had and was a rough week for her.

“Twice?”

“As Steph stated it was like giving birth and then realizing your baby died after birth…” The guy’s features never seemed to quit understand where Mark was coming from, “So, lately we are thinking of adopting a daughter….”

“Daughter’s can be a handful, Mark. Don’t get me wrong, I love them very much, they’re doing well at Century Collage, but they are not easy to be around after a certain age.”

“A certain age?”

“Once they hit puberty, Mark, the relationship has to change for the obvious reasons…”

“Doesn’t mean you stop being their dad, Joel. They still need a dad.”

“Now you sound like Jill.” The tone was annoyed of course, “She complains that I simply stopped being affectionate to Emma, Emily once they reached thirteen or somewhere around that time….” Defensive, “Hey, Mark, biology was taking over by that point. I did the correct thing. They were teenagers by then, what good was I for them at that point…”

“You were still their dad, Joel. Girl’s still need a father in their lives even as teenagers.” He folded his arms across his chest, thought about getting another hamburger at the Hmong run burger cafe, “Girl’s don’t simply shut off their need for a dad, Joel. My dad never once thought that because my sister reached thirteen that she no longer needed him…”

“Didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Two actually.” Adding with an amused smiled, “And a surprise little brother when our parent’s were in their late thirties.”

“Ah, yes, those little surprised and unplanned kids…”

Mark didn’t like the comment, “Well, Matthew is the baby of the family. Heidi is the oldest, Maddie is behind me by a year and some months. I come from parent’s who liked kids….”

“I said nothing bad about my kids, my kids are fine, doing well, staying out of trouble, all I said was at a certain time I had to stop being as affectionate as I use to be. Their fine, Mark, despite what Jill keeps saying even when they are almost in their twenties….”

“You and Jill having marriage problems, not thinking of divorce are you?” Adding, “What happened to cause all this unhappiness?”

The expression changed somewhat, it clouded over, “Jill changed since she started attending that church of her friend, Lydia, for a while now. They work at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood. We had eventually stopped going to that other church after about five years of going there. We simply agreed it was a waste of time to go there when we really didn’t like it too much. Jill felt uncomfortable there, I simply just didn’t want to be there. Nothing against religious people, but I simply didn’t see the need for religion in my life, Mark. We agreed to simply stop going….”

“You two simply decided to stop going to church? And Emma, Emily? Didn’t they have friends there at the church?”

Sharply as if of course it wasn’t that easy for them or Jill to simply walk away, “They were fine, Mark. They made new friends rather quickly at their school. They were fine, they survived.”

“Jill?”

“What about her? She survived as well. Me and her discussed this and we decided it was a waste of time and we could be doing something else on Sunday….” He again took notice of a girl walking by, “Jill and the girl’s survived just fine. I told them maybe one day we’d find another church and try it again….they were fine. They found new friends. Life went on as I knew it would.”

It was so obvious he was very uncomfortable and simply didn’t want to be truthful about something.

“Did Emma, Emily make new friends?” Adding, “And was Jill really okay with this drastic lifestyle change? I don’t go to church, never been to one really, but it seems a drastic change of your families life to simply stop going because you got bored…”

“It wasn’t just me, Mark. We both got bored with it. It wasn’t just me making rules and making demands that we needed to leave. Jill agreed it was time to leave….”

“Steph has been attending a church in Maplewood, she had a friend invite her a few months ago….” He felt he should say it, “She seems to like it, made a few friends…”

“That’s how they suck you in, by being your friend.” The expression of annoyance said it all as well, “They act like your friend for a bit and then entrap you…”

Ignoring the comment. Besides, going to church was helping Steph get over the last miscarriage. If it was helping her then he wasn’t going to stop her. “I take it then you don’t like the fact that Jill has returned to church?”

“We left that other church for a reason, Mark. Jill followed my lead because I was and still am the head of the house. The Bible even says that. It wasn’t up to debate when we left the first time. I don’t like church, I never felt comfortable there and I still don’t. But Jill went back because her friend, Lydia, invited her. It’s a waste of a Sunday; I could be watching golf if it is on or even watch the Vikings lose again. Bu Jill felt it was time to go back, even the girls have gone back….”

“And you? You stay home?”

An older couple walked by; several feet separated the couple from each other. They weren’t talking but just walking as if the other wasn’t there thought Mark. It depressed him to think that his marriage would ever get to that point. Or even Joel’s point of a marriage.

He looked unhappy at the question, “Oh, I go. Jill badgered me enough so I go now to keep the peace and so far she has stopped badgering me about it. I never had an interest in church or what it taught. I went because the family went, Jill went originally because her parent’s went. It’s probably why we hit it off so well. We both really had no interest in church or being there unless made to.” Leaning a little bit forward with a look, “Sex is what we had in real common, Mark. That’s about it. Sex and only that, but she had to go and get pregnant.”

“Well, Stephanie was a church kid before I met her, she also drifted away from it for a while….” He was sure Joel was barely hearing a word Mark was saying, “She left at eighteen if i remember correctly. Moved out of the house and didn’t go back for a while.”

“Church was and is a waste of time, Mark. But Jill insists we go as a family so we go as a family…”

“What’s the church?”

He had to think about it, “It’s near St. John’s Hospital….First Evangelical something Church I think it’s called.”

Mark tried to not laugh, “Ah, I know where that is.” He didn’t add of course that was where Steph was going; she might even already know Jill let alone Lydia.

“I go to keep the peace. Well, what peace there is too keep in the house anymore. The girls are off living their lives doing something most days…They seem to have fit in the church very easily according to Jill.”

“Keeping the peace? Is that what you are really doing? Doesn’t sound very healthy for a marriage to survive….”

The anger came and slowly went but not in his features, certainly not in his eyes, “Marriage? What marriage, Mark? We were married for one reason and only one reason. And that was I was pressured into that marriage because she got herself pregnant!” Adding with no real emotions but anger, “An abortion was out of the question of course….”

“An abortion?”

Not happy, “I did suggested it. It made sense at the time, Mark. At the time we were way too young to have kids, she certainly wasn’t ready, I really wasn’t ready….” He didn’t like the look Mark was giving him.

Mark didn’t care, “What was Jill’s reaction? Horrified I assume.”

“She refused to speak to me for a week, so yes, she was horrified by the suggestion.” His emotions were just simply angry, “I was pressured to marry her. Her dad had become a deacon by then so it would have been way too much a scandal to not simply get married quickly before it became very bloody obvious the bride was already pregnant.” Adding under his breath, “As if it wasn’t already being whispered about Jill was pregnant…”

“So, you’re glad you didn’t have the abortion of course.”

He simply got up with a disgruntled look, his response was unemotional but cold, “Ya, I’m glad, Mark. Their great kids…Like I said, life is tit’s and ass and not much else…” The look said something else as he walked away with a slight wave of the hand and comment, “See ya next time…”

He watched the guy walk away with the stride of a man certain of nothing except his own belief in his own course of life was always correct; Mark pitied the man.

He got up slowly, took notice of the people and activity and simply walked back to work; he hoped Steph was having a better day than yesterday.  He checked his cell phone for the time and figured that she was with her friend at lunch and was hopefully having a good time and hopefully forgetting a little bit about the beginning of the week.

Lydia certainly got around; he was certain she was the same person Steph had met at the hospital a few months ago. He even thought it would be funny to see the expression on Joel’s face if Mark showed up at church. As he walked to work though the look on Joel’s face about his kids and wife troubled him, “Keeping the peace?” His philosophy about life troubled him just as much, “Tit’s and ass?” He felt a need to call his own wife, just to hear her voice for a moment. He headed into his store, waved to the girl at the counter, “Hey Claire, be right back, have to make a phone call…” and vanished into the backroom. He waited for Steph to answer her phone.

More like losing the war to spite yourself, Joel, he commented to himself as Stephanie’s voice answered the phone.

The voice was strained, it had been crying, “Mark….”

“Ya, Steph, what’s wrong?”

It came out in a sob that he felt through the phone, “I think I’m pregnant again…not again, Mark…” She started crying, “Please, not again…”

He let her cry, what else could he do? He silently prayed to a God he doubted existed for a miracle this time. Just one small, breathing, and laughing little girl miracle would be nice he asked the God he had never believed in in a very long time. Just one little miracle would be nice.

Please.

 

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