The Equivalence of a Working Woman
A massive blizzard has brought traffic to a grinding halt. A woman and her husband are stuck sitting in their car on the freeway. She knows now is the time to be honest with him.
Traffic was backed up for miles on end. Each car bumper to bumper, moving no more than five-miles-per-hour at a time, often for only a few feet at a time, hoping to not be the one to get stuck and have to throw their hazards on in the middle of the interstate.
The sky was dark, and the snow was still falling.
The man says, “Weatherman says this is the biggest snowfall since the fifties.” Saying, “My grandfather used to tell me stories about snow when I would complain about going to school.” His voice becomes all old-like, all raspy, saying, “We would get up at four in the morning with shovels and gloves to plow our own roads so the buses could come through.”
The woman, she’s laughing. “Is that what he actually sounded like?”
“He was a little raspier, but you get the point,” he laughs. “I guess that would explain his undying work ethic. The old man worked until he died. He would never stop!”
The car inches its way forward, slow as the snow falling.
“Why couldn’t they postpone the wedding,” he says. “This is basically a state of emergency, and they expect us to go to a wedding?” He scoffs. “Ridiculous.”
“They had it planned for months, maybe even an entire year, to be today,” she says. “What’s a little snow to true love?”
A few feet later, the car comes to a stop. All traffic comes to a stop. White lights pile up behind the car, and red lights flood the forward.
The woman, she’s nervous. Not for the driving, not for the snow. More for her thoughts, for her intentions.
Nervous that if she opens her mouth she’ll be on the statistical end of any other young marriage that will be used in divorce statistics in those college courses.
She starts with the generic, “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
His generic, confused, “What about?” response.
She hesitates and speaks slowly, as if she were traffic on the interstate in a snowstorm. She’s all, “I want to go back to school.”
“School? Why?” His tone swiftly intensifying.
“I’m twenty-six,” she says. “I want..I don’t know,” she hesitates like the car on the interstate. “More.”
His response is quick. “More? We don’t need more.”
The heat is pumping through the vents so the snow doesn’t freeze on the windshield. The man, he cracks his window and lights a cigarette, a small puff leaving the car.
“We don’t need more right now,” the woman says. “But, what about in five years?”
“What about in two years when we decide to have children?”
“What about it?”
The man, he blows smoke out the window. Intoxicating the air, he says, “Are you going to do online classes?”
The woman is nervous. She looks out the window at the white snow falling from the dark clouds above.
“I’m not sure,” she says without looking at him. As if it were a whisper to the wind.
“I thought we agreed on having children?”
The cars barely inch forward in the downpour of snow.
“School was never mentioned in this plan,” he says.
“Life isn’t entirely planned.”
“Why do you need more school?”
“Do you think we don’t?” she insists.
“No, actually.” His tone as short as the roll of the tires.
“You don’t even have as much as a G.E.D.”
Swiftly, he’s insulted, saying, “Is that what this is about?” The car comes to a stop once again. He’s all, “I’ll be making over sixteen-dollars per hour in two years!”
The car hasn’t moved, and they haven’t looked at each other.
He cranks the window up with his left hand and grips the steering wheel with his right, saying, “We don’t need the debt!”
“There are assistance programs out there.” She’s soft as the snow.
“What? Scholarships?” he laughs. He boasts, “You can’t get a scholarship.”
She furrows her brow, snaps her neck back, and glares like, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You graduated high school, what? Eight years ago now? You wouldn’t be eligible for those.” He lights another cigarette. “So that would just be,” his cigarette is falling from his mouth as he lights it, being all like, “more loans and debts to pay off that we can’t afford,” through the fall of the cigarette as he grips it with his pursed lips.
Hurt, like the snow melting on the windshield, the woman. Like smeared snow. The woman being, “And you think sixteen-dollars-an-hour and no diploma can pay off the birth of a child?”
The woman laughing, all, “You better cut back on that smoking habit if you want to afford some baby formula.”
The traffic rolled forward an entire wheel rotation before coming to another halt. The ’96 Buick coming to a stop. The argument coming to a stop.
He jams the window back down with one, two, three jerks of the handle. Smoke filling the car as he huffs and puffs the carcinogens as if they were a heavy snowfall on their marriage weighing down the power lines.
“Imagine how much better off we would be if I owned the restaurant instead of just managing the kitchen,” she says.
“You’ve been there for nearly ten years. You should own it by now,” he says.
“That’s not how it works.”
“Well, it should be.” The man, he’s blowing smoke out the window.
The car is rolling, up to six miles an hour now.
“Well, it’s not!” this woman snaps. “Life isn’t what you want it to be!” The car reaching seven, reaching eight, reaching nine miles per hour. She’s being all, “I’m going back to school.”
“Oh, yeah? And what if, on the slim chance, you get accepted out-of-state? Huh?” The man is reaching seven, reaching eight, reaching nine.
“Then I guess I’m leaving.”
He’s reaching ten, reaching eleven reaching twelve, all, “Then that’s it, huh?” He crams the cigarette butt through the window, and jams up the window one, two, three swift jerks. “Just gonna leave at the thought of some stupid idea like that?”
The woman, she’s reaching ten, reaching eleven, saying, “If you don’t see this as an example of my love for you, for us,” the woman turns and faces the man, “for this family,” she grits her teeth as she stares at him as he stares at the road blowing by at fifteen, sixteen seventeen, saying, “then you’re blinded by cowardice and calling it chivalry.”
It’s thick snow. Flakes like in your grandpa’s stories. Roads like the ones in history books before this year’s winter made the editors rewrite their stories.
The car, slowing to ten, slowing to nine, slowing to eight. The man, “What does that even mean?”
“It means you’re afraid.” She’s steady, cruising at fifteen.
The heat pumping, chapping his lips, him being all, “What do I have to be afraid of?”
The car, slowing to five, slowing to three, slowing to one.
The woman saying, “Of not being the breadwinner, the income, the man.” She’s slowing to fourteen, to thirteen, to twelve. Coming to ten, talking like, “As if any of that even matters anymore.”
One last rotation, and the tires stop on the snow covered roads, the pavement, the lines all but hidden.
He’s saying, through the windshield, saying, “I don’t care about that.”
The woman looks through the window, through the fog she creates with each breath at the driver next to them. An all-black sport utility vehicle, with silver accents that, if not for the splashing dirty snow, would be all shined up and sparkly, as if it were a crown fit for a queen, and only for the queen driving it. The woman saying, “I wish you actually didn’t.”
Stopped there, with the SUV on the right, a queen on her throne, their ’96 Buick blowing air like a toddler through its raspberrying lips, the snow comes to a moment of silence. The windshield wipers bouncing across the glass in dry rubs.
The man, he lights another cigarette and lowers his window with one, two, three slow movements as if to be more precise. He says, “Maybe I am.” He’s breathing out the crack in the window, saying, “What happens when I’m worth sixteen-dollars an hour,” he takes a long drag, saying through the pumping air, through the chapped lips, through the plume of smoke out the window, he’s saying, “and you want a man that’s equal to your value?”
The car is reaching twenty-eight, reaching twenty-nine, reaching thirty.
Alex Eakle is a mental health technician working with at-risk youth in a psychiatric hospital, who are struggling with suicidal ideation, self harm, anxiety, depression, and other traumatic life events. Find his poetry on Instagram @a_r_eakle!
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