Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 13 • Spring 2005 • Fiction

Dick and Jane Grow Up

Valerie Frankel

A bright new day dawns. Seagulls swoop over the bay. Swoop, seagulls. Even through glaring office windows, the air smells fresh and salty.

Jane's busy at her counseling session. A picture of Dick smiles on the windowsill. Smile, Dick. "Go back to your childhood," Jane tells her patient. What a traumatized patient! "Did you have to wear frilly dresses that Mother wouldn't let you dirty? I wore frilly dresses. Frilly dresses drove me into homicidal rages. Then I learned to suppress them and play with dolls and decapitate them with mother's sewing scissors. I need to listen to my ego more. Now I use throw pillows and voodoo dolls." Good for you, Jane!

"Are we still talking about me?" the patient asks. The patient likes Jane. Jane is a strong, liberated woman who doesn't wear pin curls anymore. The patient's name is Betsy Lou and she is still wearing a red-striped apron. Betsy likes being a housewife. Good for Betsy. Jane had two unsuccessful marriages. Not so good for Jane. But Jane says she's happy. Watch her grind the voodoo doll in her hands. Grind, Jane, grind. So happy and successful.

Jane glances at her watch. She can tell time (quite easily since it's a digital). "We have five more minutes to discuss how you hated baking cupcakes for Dick and Spot while they had adventures," she snarls. "Let me fetch a throw pillow and some pins." Fetch, Jane, Fetch.

Across the city, Dick is trying on a new suit. Dick looks handsome and very grown up. He still has dimples, but doesn't wear yellow shorts anymore with red shirts and blue socks. Now he wears suits. He speed dials Jane on his cell phone.

Jane picks up. (Her patient is writing out a check. Write, patient, write. What a helpful patient for Jane.) "Hello, Dick," says Jane.

"Hello, Jane," says Dick. "Will I see you before the wedding? We could eat ice cream cones in the park."

"I don't eat carbs, or sugar, or fat, or dairy," Jane says. "Ice cream has carbs and sugar and fat and dairy. So no ice cream."

"How about pizza?" Dick asks.

***

Jane tells Dick about a vegan seafood restaurant. She arrives early and orders fake crab, fake shrimp, and fake fish. She waits next to the fake meal. She smiles a happy smile. Fake, fake, fake. She wishes tomorrow's wedding wasn't happening. She doesn't want her life to change. But Dick seems so happy. Jane sits at the table and folds her napkin. She still has good table manners. Nice manners, Jane! And she smiles at her table of fake fish. Fake, fake, fake.

***

Dick struts in the door. What a fancy suit! "Hello, Dick," says Jane.

"Hello Jane," says Dick. "I'm here."

"Yes, you're here," Jane says. "Come and eat." She stands by the table.

He grins. "You always cook and dust and offer me food. So cute." He smiles. Jane frowns.

They hug. They smile. They smile and hug. Since Jane habitually avoids sucrose, the reunion makes her feel queasy. Dick feels happy. Jane still feels queasy. But they smile at each other. Jane has always had rosy cheeks, no matter how much ivory foundation she wears. And Dick still has boyish charm. After they eat, he reaches for the check. Jane snatches it from his hand. "I'm a professional now."

"But Jane -- "

"We always act like this, Dick. Remember the time I baked you a cake that was not one, not two, but three big layers? One, two three spongy layers."

"I got you a doll. A pretty doll with yellow curls like yours."

"But we've grown up now, Dick. I wear my hair short. You wear suits. We've sure grown up." Jane swallows and takes his hand. Her feelings have changed, but she doesn't want everything to end. "Tell me you understand. Do you understand, Dick? Please, understand."

"I understand, Jane." Dick releases his knuckle-whitened grip on the check. "Thanks for lunch."

***

Red and yellow flowers bloom all over the room. Red, yellow, red, yellow, red. So pretty!

"Congratulations, Dick." Jane kisses his cheek.

He smiles at her. "You have a lovely white suit, Jane. You should be a bridesmaid."

"Not without having a bride here," Jane says. "But there's the other groom."

Mike steps down and takes Dick's hand. Now there are two grooms. Can you count them, one, two? Jane could, but she's too old to bother with that sort of thing.

The commitment ceremony is short, but moving. Mike and Dick have been friends for a long time, ever since they were childhood neighbors. "Such a long time," Dick murmurs, as he leads Mike down the aisle and toward their honeymoon. Mike's twin sisters, Pam and Penny have grown up too. They offer baskets of birdseed bundles to throw over the couple. Such a happy couple. Such a pretty commitment ceremony.

"Oh, I like weddings," says Jane.

"So do we," say Pam and Peggy. They still talk at the same time. Jane hands them her professional card.

Jane tears the netting off the birdseed and puts it in her pocket. What a big, round pocket! Her voodoo doll could use a wedding veil. A soft, white wedding veil. Such a pretty wedding veil! Lots of suppressed trauma there, Jane. Goodbye, Dick. Goodbye, Mike. Jane glances at the beaming twins and begins dialing her cell phone. After a night of bingeing on celery sticks, maybe she can schedule them in for tomorrow.

Valerie Frankel's many short stories have appeared in the anthologies Legends of the Pendragon and In The Outposts of Beyond, as well as forthcoming in Once Upon a World, The Kings of the Night, and three best of the year anthologies. Her work has also been published in Marsdust, SFCrowsnest, and forty other magazines. She reviews monthly books for New Pages and Rambles, as well as Bookreview.com and The Drexel Online Journal. She currently teaches grammar and creative writing at a number of private institutions and was the recipient of the Phelan Award 2004 first place for humor and satire. Her website is www.calithwain.com.

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