WHAT THIS IS ABOUT: “The Trolls” is a non-factual, yet completely true story about life. Many, many eons ago, the world was populated by the ogres, the trolls, and the humans. The ogres and trolls hated one another, and fought for the domination of the world, with neither ever getting the upper hand. Both the ogres and trolls hated the humans, chasing them down and killing them wherever and whenever they could, with no more thought than we give when we kill mice or insects.
The ogres decided to wipe out mankind, assembling a war party and leaving their children and womenfolk in the forest. The men were better prepared and better fighters than the ogres had hoped, and held on for a month. The ogres decided to end the fight with a final attack on their palisaded city, Askalant. The din of their pre-attack party rose to the trolls in the mountain, who decided to come down and attack whichever side was victorious. Their hope was that one side would be wiped out, and the other weakened.
On the way to the battle, the trolls came across the ogre-wives and killed them.
The battle was at a stand-still when then the trolls arrived, and the ogres dashed into the woods. There was a huge fire, with smoke obscuring the sky, and the trolls were about to overcome the humans when the wind blew the smoke aside, revealing the sun. The trolls melted away except for their bones.
Thus, only male ogres and female trolls survived the war. They had to intermarry with humans to survive. The children of the marriages were sterile if of the opposite sex, so the intermarriages have had to continue on to this very day.
“The Trolls” is the story of a man who married a troll; how he found out the truth, what he did about it, and his adventures along the way.
GOOD POINTS: Everyone loves a good fable.
BAD POINTS: It may explain a lot of things going on in your life. It’s only half written.
BACKGROUND: After an unfortunate misunderstanding at McCarran International Airport involving an expired gun dealers’ license, I was cooling my heels in a holding cell and chatting up the deputy assigned to make sure I didn’t hurt myself. This was back when I was still married to my second wife, Cindy. No one in this lockup was in any particular hurry, so the discussion was pretty wide-ranging. At one point, I remember her face looming up close to mine, and her whispering with an odd combination of wide-eyed fear yet 100% assurance, “My husband is an ogre!”
When I gave the stock answer, “Oh, he can’t be THAT bad!”, she insisted, “No, I mean he is literally an ogre. Not like an ogre. IS an ogre!” With that she pulled a family picture out of her wallet, and truth be told, the gentleman’s brows, hair, and malignant eyes did sort of lend credence to her assertion.
By that point, a nasty headache was setting in, and I don’t really recall much until they let me go. On the plane ride home, I was half-dozing, caught between the week gone by and the week ahead. The deputy’s words kept coming back to me. Cindy was a pain in the a$$, and truth be told I probably would have left her if she hadn’t of thrown me out. And I realized that if a woman could marry an actual, real-life ogre, then there were probably men who had married actual, real-life trolls.
CHAPTER 1: The Midnight Council
The beating of drums slowly broke through the blackness and pain, and Gidean woke with a start. His head ached, and he could feel blood drying in his hair. He tried to move, and realized he was trussed. Fighting panic, he opened his eyes slowly, and saw that he was in next to a roaring fire, ashes falling around him. All around was a circle of ogres, drinking from rude wine skins and brawling. He shuddered, suddenly remembering how his hunt had ended. He knew he was going to die.
A massive ogre, wearing a crown of woven vines, stumbled to the fire, and held up his right hand as the drums reached a violent crescendo. It was Ganhaddon, the Ogre King. He dropped his hand, and the drums stopped abruptly. There was a long silence as he surveyed the revellers.
In a booming voice, loud enough to make Gidean wince, he began to speak. “Since the beginning of time, the world has been ruled by the ogres and the trolls. We rule the day, and the trolls rule the night. We rule the woods, the fields, and the valleys. The trolls rule the mountains, the caves and beneath the earth. All other races–the kobolds, the goblins, the troglodytes, and the elves–have either served as our food or our slaves. They only lived as our cattle, and while we let them. And when we let them live, they paid us tribute for the right to breathe the free air. And now they are all gone.”
The ogres cheered, banging their clubs against trees and the ground, struggling over wineskins. Gidean quietly struggled against his bonds.
“But now there is a new threat, one we have to end once and for all. The humans!”
The ogres shouted, enraged, and one kicked Gidean, pushing him dangerously close to the fire. He pretended to still be unconscious.
The ogre king continued, “Since the times of my father, and even my father’s father, the humans have risen up to fight us. They have done many clever things. They are strong beyond their size and numbers. They have fire, cruel knives, slings, wooden forts. They have even learned to control nature! They refuse to live honestly, by the strength of their arms–as we do. Instead they cut down trees and make the open spaces grow food. They catch animals, and do not eat them. Instead, they keep them in stockades, so they breed! So one meal becomes three. Or five, or twenty! They have even gone so far as to suckle from animals, living on the very mothers’ milk of other creatures! Like babies!”
The ogres howled with laughter, and Gidean renewed his efforts, feeling the bonds on his wrists loosen. He shifted, and began to work on the bonds around his ankles. His muscles were spasming, and he had to find to keep from crying out in pain.
The ogre kind continued, “They are not ashamed by this effeminate behavior. Instead, they are filled with pride!”
He turned to one of the crowd around him, “Barshok! Tell us! How many years has it been since they burned down the woods of your tribe, and made your forest grow corn!”
“Too many, O my King!” he barked in reply.
“And Gardag! You were blinded when your hunting party became the hunted! With horrid cunning and cowardly trickery, they drove you and your brothers into a pit with stakes, where your brothers lost their lives and you lost your eye.”
An ogre with an eye patch shook his fist, and screamed, “Damn them for their cunning!”
A hoary old ogre, covered in scars, jumped to his feet, enraged, and joined the harangue, “And while this ridiculous threat grew, in the days of our fathers, the trolls came from their holes and attacked! The slaughter was great! Both our numbers and the numbers of the trolls are nothing like before. Our woods are emptied or turned into human farmland. Where once there were mighty oaks, there is knee-high wheat. The halls of the trolls are empty and filled with dust. How long must we endure this insolence? How long can we stand by and let these scrawny humans torment us?” He glared around the circle, looking each in the eye.
Gidean heard the ogres mutter and shout, clash their clubs against the ground. “Down with humans!” “Death to the weak ones!” “Put them in their places!” Just a few more moments, and he would have the bonds free.
The ogre king walked up to Gidean, and he felt his insides turn to water. “I ask you, beg you, look at the puny size of this human!!” He reached over, and picked him up by his hair, shaking him like a doll. Gidean went slack, biting back against the cry of pain working to come out.
“This human I have here in my one hand is the very flower of their tribe. A hunter. A warrior. A man. A leader of his tribe. Someone they look up to!!! My brother Tardig and I caught him this very morning, hunting alone.” He threw Gidean back down, and he clashed against a log. His cry of pain was blotted out by the enthusiastic screams of the ogres.
A different voice spoke up, “This wicked human had knocked a stag senseless with a sling-stone, and had just slit its throat when we pounced upon him. There he was, on his knees, muttering his thanks to his worthless gods! Thanking them for the bounty they had given him. The fool! All the while, he was bounty, given to US!!! Not given us by the gods, but by the strength of these two arms!” Out of sight, Gidean could hear him kissing his biceps, “Even their GODS desert them and make them our cattle! A pretty morsel, I say! We let our man do our hunting for us, so we eat both human and stag together!” The ogre shuffled into view by the fire, pulling off the stag Gidean had killed. He tore whole joints of meat from the stag and threw them to the crowd, who scuffled over the meat, on the far side of the fire.
The rope suddenly slipped slack of Gidean’s hands and feet, and he felt the blood rushing back through his limbs, a delicious tingling pain. He rested, waiting for the perfect moment to run, as the ogres screamed terrible oaths of revenge and death to the humans, tore apart the meat, and drank more from the skins.
Suddenly the ogre king roared, “SILENCE!!!!”
The revelers became quiet, awaiting further instructions from their king. Gidean slowly straightened out, ready to run as soon as the ogre king had their full attention.”Tonight is the last night of this humiliation!
Tomorrow is the last time the humans shall see the rising sun! When the sun sets tomorrow night, it shall never again rise to see a living human! As we drink this final cup, as we engorge ourselves on a last joint of meat, it is to give us strength to set things aright! We shall sweep down the plain between the two rivers as the sun rises. We shall slay these lazy farmers as they lie in bed, their women stoking the fires to make bread. We shall burn their fields, kill their men, drag their women and children off to be eaten later.
“We will sweep across the land like a thunderstorm. The people of Askalant will tremble with fear behind their palisades, seeing us cover the earth like a black snow! They will shut themselves behind their gates, feeling the earth tremble from the thunder of our footsteps! And we will wash over them and their walls like the sea over the shore. When the sun sets, they will be nothing more than a warm feeling in our bellies. The lamentations of their women will be our festal music.
“By my power and the power of my father’s fathers, I order you! Feast to increase your strength! Drink to multiply your courage! Beat your clubs on the ground and the trees! Whet your appetites for the sweetness of battle!”
The ogres roared their approval, upending their wineskins, howling with delight. Gidean brought his knees up to his chest, ready to spring over the log.
“I have but one question,” said the ogre king, laughter in his voice, “This human here. The one who has slipped his bonds and is about to run. Do we eat him raw, or cooked?” Ogres pounced on Gidean as he tried to leap over the log, pulling him to the ground as he cried out to Garicon. The ogre king walked to the scrum of ogres holding him as he struggled, and brought his face inches away, sniffing.
“I like the taste of fear,” said the ogre king finally, “I say raw.” And he reached out and wrenched Gidean’s head around to the roar of the ogre crowd.
CHAPTER 2: Drums
Barhaden was in bed, sleeping fitfully next to Darthea. He was dreaming of the harvest, but whenever he tried to beat the stalks with the flail, they slipped back, out of reach, and he was beating empty air. He suddenly woke, and lay in bed listening. His heart was hammering in his ears, but he was sure he had heard drums. Darthea shifted in her sleep, and he could hear his children breathing on their cots in the dark.
It was silent for several moments, and he heard nothing but night noises. He was about to drift back off to sleep, when his wife’s father, came in, his white hair just visible by the light of the moon and stars coming through the window.
“Barhaden, Darthea! Get up! Out of bed! Quickly!”
Barhaden sat up as Darthea stirred, “Old father, what is it?”
“Listen! Do you hear the drums? I last heard them as a young man! ‘Tis an ogre war party.”
Barhaden leapt from his bed, grabbing his spear, as Darthea began to rouse the stirring children. Wohaden was already out of his bed, and Barhaden heard the clatter of him grabbing his spear and getting dressed.
“An ogre war party!?! It was in my dreams.”
“Mine, too, Father,” exclaimed Wohaden, “I have never heard such a horrible noise, asleep or awake.”
Malvern was suddenly up, by his father.
“What are those drums? Those shrieks?”
Barhaden replied grimly, “Those are sounds no one has heard since your grandfather was little older than you, Malvern. Those are the drums of an ogre war-party. The ancient evil is awake.”
“What will we to do, father?”
“Barhaden,” said Engelswold firmly, “You and Wohaden ready yourselves as if for the hunt. Get the slings, spears and knives.”
Wohaden turned and ran to the hutch.
“Malvern, you are to take your mother and sister to Askalant.”
Malvern protested, “Grandfather, no!” Seeing no bending there, he turned to Barhaden, “Father! Let me go with you!”
“Your grandfather is right, Malvern. You must go with your sister and mother to Askalant. Your grandfather can not do it alone. You need to carry corn and meat for our stay there, so the others can move faster. Do not stop, do not rest, until you are inside the walls. If you pass a cottage, warn the people to flee to the city. Do you understand?”
Malvern began to protest, but Darthea cut him off as she lit a torch from the embers, and began to bustle about, “Malvern, there is no time. Go to the cellar and bring sacks of grain, all you can carry, and all the smoked meat. Sling what you can across the back of the goat for him to carry. Barhadea and I will get the goat.” She thrust the torch in Malvern’s hand, and swept Barhadea out of the room and off to the pen.
As soon as they left, Barhaden pulled Malvern close and put his arm over his shoulder, “Malvern, you must listen. Do not let the ogres catch you alive. If they come near, hide. Kill the goat so it makes no noise. Leave the food if you must, just so long as you make it to Askalant. If you are blocked by the ogres, make your way to Eagles’ Cliff above the city, and wait. We will send a party for you.” Barhaden could sense the fear in the boy, see the doubt in his eyes reflected in the glowing fire light. He was filled with sadness and fear, realizing that he was putting his faith in a beardless boy to keep his wife, daughter, and wife’s father safe, at all costs. He kneeled down, and took the boy’s shoulders in his hands, and looked straight in his eyes, “And listen to me. If the ogres catch you, and you can’t get away, run your mother and sister through the heart with your knife. DO NOT LET THE OGRES TAKE THEM ALIVE!” Malvern began to protest, and Barhaden cut him off, shaking him roughly, “You must! You can’t fight off an ogre war party, no matter how brave you are. I can’t, and neither could your grandfather when he was young and strong. I tell you, death is better for a woman than to be with the ogres. Kill your mother and sister, pray to the gods, and then you and your grandfather fight the ogres to the death. Do you understand? Do you promise?”
The boy was breathing hard, but the breaths came slow and sure. He looked over at his grandfather, who was staring intently at the two of them. His grandfather nodded. Malvern breathed in deeply, and said, “Yes, father. I promise.”
Barhaden hugged his son, hard, and handed him a long knife in a sheath from a shelf. Malvern stuck the sheath in his belt.
“I will enroll you in the tribe in Askalant, before the sun has risen and set three days.”
Malvern looked back at him wide-eyed, as Wohaden returned with more spears, several slings and bags of shot, and knives, “Father, I brought your horn as well.”
“Very good, Wohaden. We must wake the people of the plains and valleys! War is upon us, and we must not let our neighbors be slaughtered in their sleep.”
Darthea and Barhadea came in as the three men finished bringing up the sacks from the cellar. Darthea rummaged through the sacks, quickly organizing them, and discarding several, “We are ready to go. Here is a bag of smoked meat and dried fruit for you and Wohaden.”
Barhaden hugged Darthea long, and Barhadea came up and threw her arms around Barhaden’s legs. He released them and said, “Now is the time to leave. Engelswold and Malvern, take Darthea and Barhadea straight to Askalant. If you start….”
Engelswold interrupted, “I shall stay.”
“Father! This is no time…” began Darthea.
Barhaden rounded on his wife’s father, angry, “This is no time to argue, old man! You yourself raised this alarm! We can’t…”
“I am old and slow,” he answered with dignity, “A life of war, hunting and toiling in the fields has hobbled me. I will slow down the others. We can not sacrifice my daughter and grandchildren in the foolish hopes that I can outrun an ogrish war party.”
Darthea covered Barhadea’s ears, “But father, you will be killed!”
“I shall be killed in any event. If you go with me, you will be killed with me. If you go without me, you may reach safety. And if by some miracle we all made it to Askalant, I can barely help defend the walls. I would be another mouth to feed if there is a siege, with little to contribute during the siege or after the war. Let me stay here. When dawn breaks, I will stoke the fire. When it is good and hot, I shall put straw from the pen and wet leaves on it and send out the smoke as a warning to all who can see. Let us hope it is a clear day, so the signals can be seen far and wide! Ours is the cottage closest to the woods, and perhaps the only one to hear the drums of the ogres.”
Darthea rushed to her father, her eyes wet, and held him in her arms, “I love you, Father!”
Engelswold held her a moment, and then pulled back, looking at her, smiling, “You were an unexpected gift to an old man, a child of my winter, to a man who already had grown-up children and a first wife long since with Mother Telesan, and another who followed her when you but a child. You were always my favorite.”
Barhadea came over, and stamped her foot, “No, papa! Come with us!”
Engleswold patted her head, and gently pushed his daughter and granddaughter away, “No, my precious. Go with your mother, and be silent. We will be together forever one day, I hope when you are a grandmother. But until then, if you ever need, me, you remember! You hum the song I taught you, like this,” whistling a few notes, “And I’ll be there.”
Barhadea began to cry, and Darthea pulled her from the cottage, consoling her as she and Malvern dragged a few sacks behind.
Barhaden turned to his wife’s father, “Do you have you a knife? Do you need a sling?”
“I have the axe. That is enough. My eyes are not good enough to hit an ogre with a sling-stone, and I fear a knife-thrust from my thin arm would not pierce an ogre hide. But I remember enough from the old ogre wars to use an axe! By the gods, I will not fall until at least one ogre is hamstrung or has his knee shattered!”
Barhaden shook his head in admiration and turned to Wohaden, “Boy, I pray that if we must die today, we die half as manfully as your grandfather!”
“Bah! Enough talk!” interjected Engelswold, “‘Tis time for me to stoke the fire and for you to blow your horn. If you raise the men of the plains and fields, you can harass the ogres and draw them to you. Hit them with sling stones, and throw your spears from a distance. When they turn towards you, run in different directions. If they go after one of you, the other must turn and fling stones at their backs so they turn. Make them chase you. Ogres are stupid, and an angry ogre stupider still. Keep them angry and chasing you, and you will save many lives. If the war party sweeps across the plain to Askalant, many people will die in the fields and the city will be taken. Just promise me you will come back to burn my body on a pyre. Even an ogre would not eat a stringy morsel such as myself!”
Barhaden nodded, taking it all in, and replied, “If your daughter gives me another boy, he shall be called Engelswold”. Wohaden embraced Engelswold,
“Grandfather, when I have children, they will know this story by heart.”
The three exited the cottage, and there were several more embraces, none of them knowing when and whether they would see one another again. Barhaden took a last minute with Malvern, “We will see you this night or the next in Askalant. And remember what I told you, boy,” tapping the knife in Malvern’s belt meaningfully.
After the three left, leading the laden goat, Barhaden turned to Wohaden, “Now is the time to see what color ogre blood is! Run to the Stone Valley and get Mastrix and his family. Have those who can fight meet me at the ford, and send those who can not to Askalant. One of Mastrix’ boys must go to Fern Valley to warn the families there. Then go with his oldest boy to the crossroads and raise the families there. Wherever you go, tell the men what your grandfather said. Harass the ogres with stones and spears. An ogre war party is like a flood. If it stays to the channel of a stream, it rushes headlong with great force, smashing trees and rolling along boulders. If you can spread it out, it can not do much damage. This morning they will be sated from feasting and full of the rage of drink. If we can but stop them for a short while, they will tire quickly, and the women and children will be safe. Then we can make it to the city and behind the palisades.”
“As you say, father. And where shall we meet if you have already left the ford?”
“Listen for the horn, and remember our signals from hunting. Listen, and find me if you can. If you can not, you must lead the group you gather, and harass the ogres til the sun is there,” pointing to the time of afternoon prayers, “Then make your way by the final light of day to Askalant. If the ogres are at the gate, hide at the top of the Eagles’ Cliff, and start no fires. From there you can see much and defend yourselves by hurling down stones. If you are not in Askalant tonight, tomorrow we shall send a party to you. But enough already! The sun will rise over the mountains soon, and the ogres be upon us.”
Barhaden put the horn to his lips and blew three long blasts, “Awake! To arms!”
CHAPTER 12: Eighty Centuries Later (NOTE; chapters in between completed. This is to give you a taste of the next half.)
Dan was in the middle of booting a server, punting back his lunch, when the phone rang. It was Mr. Allen; he needed Dan right away in his office. Great, a meeting with the boss just before lunch. He sighed, rummaged his desk for a pen and paper, and made his way to Mahogany Row. On the way he passed two security guards. He nodded and said hello. They stared wordlessly at him as they passed, and kept walking.
He was about to knock on the frame of Mr. Allen’s door, but he saw there was a visitor.
“Should I come back later?” Dan asked tentatively.
“No, no, come right in. Dan, this is Jake Klein.” Dan stuck out his hand to shake Jake’s hand. Jake grudgingly took it, and nodded his hello.
“Mr. Klein is from Human Resources,” Mr. Allen said, as if that was supposed to mean something.
“I see,” replied Dan, wondering which project this might have to do with.
“This won’t take a minute,” said Mr. Allen, who then cleared his throat and fiddled with some paper. Dan waited expectantly, a polite smile on his face.
“Uhhh, so you see….” started Mr. Allen, “Well, Dan, it’s like this. You signed an at-will employment contract. And your services aren’t required anymore.”
Dan’s jaw dropped in shock, “But…but…”
“Now, now,” said Mr. Allen, picking his steam back up, “You’ll be treated fairly. Generously, I might even say. You’ll receive a one-month severage package…”
“But my wife, she’s pregnant!” said Dan, too shocked to stand up, “She’s due any day now….I need this job!”
“Now, now,” said Mr. Klein, “I can certainly sympathize, but you’ll have two month’s pay to draw on, and a good reference to boot. It’s all here,” he said, patting a sealed Manila envelope, “All worked out.”
Dan stared at it, wishing he could think what to say.
“It’s not your performance, mind you,” said Mr. Allen, “No complaints there, I dare say. Just business, son. Business isn’t going so well, and we have to cut costs.”
“Cut costs? But…I….my projects, they’re…uh…”
“They’ll be in good hands, Dan. Good hands. None of that work will be wasted,” assured Mr. Allen.
Dan stared at him blankly, and gathered his things to stand up and go.
“There is some paperwork,” said Mr. Klein, putting his hand on Dan’s forearm to keep him seated, “Some formalities.”
“Yes, the standard. Non-disclosure form. Non-competition form. Things you’ve signed before, these are just reminders. Information on COBRA. That will keep your health insurance in effect until you locate another job. A hold harmless form…”
“What if I don’t sign?”
“Well,” said Mr. Klein with some measure of sympathy, “You’ll still be held to non-disclosure and non-competition. If you don’t sign the hold harmless form, you don’t get the severance pay.”
In response to Dan’s blank stare, he elaborated, “Virginia is an at-will employment state. You can look it up on your phone if you wish. That means you really can’t challenge your dismissal, unless you believe it was on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, national origin, or disability. I don’t believe any of these could possibly apply here. The hold harmless form is just to keep you from wasting our time and your money in the courts.”
Dan thought about it a moment. Under thirty, white male, born in America, no disabilities, yada yada. He might as well get the severance pay. “So if I sign, I am guaranteed the severance pay?”
Mr. Klein held up a check, made out to Dan A. Angstrom, $6,200. Based on his average two week’s pay, it looked like they had rounded up.
As he began to read and sign the forms, he asked, “So no complaints, Mr. Allen?”
“None. I feel just as badly about this as you do.”
Dan humphed, and signed the Hold Harmless form. He handed the stack to Mr. Klein.
“Any advice for the next job? Anything I could have done better?”
“Dan, this is hardly a time for a detailed performance review. You have an excellent letter of reference, three actually, all signed in ink. You can feel free to copy them, and have anyone call for a reference. I’ll speak highly of you.”
“I guess that’s it?”
“That’s it,” answered Klein, now rising and shaking Dan’s hand, “We…the company…and I might add, I, am truly sorry this has happened. It’s always difficult to have something like this happen. I’ve been there myself. Just let me assure you, it does get better.”
“OK. Well, thank you. And I hope the layoffs help you turn the company around,” said Dan, “Or I suppose you two will be unemployed soon, too? Eh?” He chuckled to himself, although neither Mr. Allen nor Mr. Klein joined in. Perhaps things were that bad.
When he got back to his desk, the two security guards he passed were at his desk. All of his personal things were in a couple of boxes. He was going to protest, but the one guard, an skinny older man, said, “May I have your badge, Mr. Angstrom?” Dan handed it over, and away it went into a breast pocket.
“I’d suggest you take one last look around, make sure we got it all,” added the older guard. Dan looked in each drawer, and there was nothing but paperclips and pens and notes from meetings. Everything else was on the server, now locked safely out of his grasp since his card was gone.
“Ready, gentlemen?” he asked, and grabbed his coat. Most everyone was gone for lunch, and the few who were left wouldn’t make eye contact. Probably figured he was under arrest for something. He wanted to say goodbye or something, but he figured that might be frowned upon. He was going to have to stay in Mr. Allen’s good graces for references. Everyone wanted to check on those these days. Let him spin this any way he wished.
The guards were pleasant enough, although the young one was trying to look as tough as he could. Maybe he figured Dan was going to snap or something. They helped him load his stuff into the trunk, and walked away without a look back. That had to be a sucky job. He wondered how much it paid.
He bobbled his keys trying to start the car, then dropped them again as soon as he picked them up. He finally got them into the slot, but he realized he was shaking too bad to drive. What was he going to do now? What was he going to tell Annelise?
Ah, Annelise. This was turning out to be the capstone lousy day of a lousy year. First, he had gotten Annelise pregnant their final semester at Virginia Tech. He had been planning on getting his MBA at William and Mary, she was going to go to England for her MFA in Creative Writing. Instead, they informed their parents and scraped together a wedding, and he desperately looked everywhere for work, finally landing a decent job in Norfolk working in the IT department of an engineering firm, making $52K a year.
Her parents were in Alexandria, his outside of Roanoke. Most of their school friends had moved on, and they pretty much knew no one except her cousin, Edie. She was married to a sailor, and would be in the area another two years. Edie and her husband, Rolando, were decent enough, but he was off on a ship half the time and she was tied in to her Navy friends. They got together about twice a month.
The rest of the time, it was just the two of them, living in the Beach Pointe apartments. The joke was, you could pointe to the beach from their place. It was fifteen blocks away, too far to walk with a pregnant wife, especially one who didn’t like going out in the sun.
Dan sighed again. He had heard marriage changed you, but it had totally transformed Annelise. She had been tall and thin, ready to laugh at jokes and crack them herself. Not a heavy drinker, but always up for an adventure, ready for a good time. Even leading up to the wedding, she had been excited, looking forward to their life together, never one for recriminations or what could have been.
As soon as they were married, it was if a switch had flipped. Her doctor had put her on bed rest, and she had ballooned up, gaining pound upon pound, until she barely resembled the woman he had known. Her face was puffy, and she was always morose, borderline depressed, and took it all out on Dan. Nagging about how little he made, nagging when he worked late to earn overtime, complaining about his cooking yet gobbling it all up, interrupting when he was on the phone, trying to get him to hang up and take care of whatever little issue had cropped up. She sat on the couch all day, grousing about how there was nothing on, even though they had cable and Netflix and Hulu. She used to love to read, but he hadn’t seen her crack a book in months. The more he thought about, he hadn’t seen her read a book since they got married.
Now he had to go home and break this news to her. He shuddered to think what she would say. With this last paycheck and their razor-thin bank account, they could make rent and utilities for three months. The place was $1450, and the utilities another…what, $250 a month? Everything else would have to go on credit. The groceries, supplies. Aw, crap, the car. Dan wondered if they could charge that or if it had to be a check. That was another $460 a month. At least Annelise didn’t have to drive. But that would come soon enough. She’d need a minivan or something to run back and forth to the doctor, appointments, whatever. He didn’t know if she’d be able to find a job, and they had always wanted her to stay home anyway with their little one. A pipe dream, on $56,000. A total fantasy, on $0.
He thought about everything he had read about mothers of young children needing to earn at least $40,000 to break even with a job, once you factored in child care, added meal expenses, formula, all that. He doubted she could earn that with a Bachelor’s in psychology. You needed a Masters to even get your foot in the door with counseling.
He realized this was all stupid, he had to go out to LinkedIn, and Monster, and Indeed, and start looking. Start cold-calling classmates from VT. He shuddered to think about having to move up to DC. Break the lease, and come hat in hand to his in-laws, asking for a place to stay while he tried to get a good job in DC.
Finally calmed down enough to drive, he started up the car and headed home. He idly considered going to a bar, but he realized he didn’t even know any. There were places at the beach, but he didn’t feel like looking at all the happy vacationers, slamming Long Island Ice Teas and tequila-based drinks of dubious parentage.
When he got to the apartment, someone had parked in his spot and left a note on the windshield telling him to knock on Apartment 17635F if they needed the spot. This day couldn’t get any worse, he thought.