The robins challenged one another from the treetops and insects buzzed in the warm sunshine. All nature seemed an idyllic network of purposeful activity and she couldn’t face making one more meal, sweeping one more floor, or packing one more lunch. The robin protected its territory, the insects found mates and the warm sunshine stimulated every plant in the western hemisphere. Jillian felt unconnected and trapped. She stayed in bed.
“Jill, I can’t find any clean underwear,” called Duane.
Jillian didn’t blink. She snuggled farther into the covers.
“Jill, where’s my lunch? Didn’t you make my lunch?” Duane’s exasperation was clear as he poked his head into the bedroom. “Why are you still in bed? You don’t have the day off, do you?”
“No,” said Jillian. “I’m going to be late,” said Duane. Jillian ignored him and continued to feign sleep, all the while resenting the times she had made sure he didn’t oversleep. She heard his car in the driveway and then it was quiet. She would have liked to have a long lie-in, but years of rising at the same hour had made sleeping in impossible.
She stretched and got out of bed. Eight o’clock. The kitchen was a mess. She turned the coffee maker off but left the toaster out and repressed the urge to wipe the crumbs up. She ignored the butter and jam and the dirty knife beside it. Duane knew where the dishwasher was.
She could still make it into work. She had a quick shower and a piece of toast. She looked in the fridge and when she didn’t see anything appealing, she decided not to pack a lunch. She made it to the insurance office with ten minutes to spare. No one had started the coffee and today she wasn’t going to.
“Jillian, could you bring me a coffee?” asked Ralph, the agent and owner of Wright-way Insurance. Ralph wasn’t a bad boss; he was just stuck in a different millennium where female employees looked after any task involving food and non-alcoholic drinks.
Jillian said, “There’s none made and I have to finish the Anderson claim.” She continued to enter the pertinent information and didn’t glance up from her computer screen.
“Wanda, make some coffee,” Ralph ordered. “And make it fast. I can’t function without coffee.” Ralph liked his little kingdom to run smoothly.
“But I don’t make the coffee,” Wanda protested.
“You do now.”
Wanda’s mouth fell open. She was the receptionist and that suited her fine. She had no grand ambitions or illusions that some day she would have her own insurance business. She was expert at feigning diligence and could look very busy and overworked by answering the phone. Wanda wasn’t about to volunteer for any new duties. Her major interests included cosmetology, hair styling, and the date of her final day at work.
Wanda banged the carafe and canister around the little coffee area. She wasn’t bold enough to defy Ralph, but he didn’t intimidate her either, so she made the process of brewing coffee sound as inconvenient as possible.
Jillian usually ate a bag lunch at her desk. She hadn’t made one and she didn’t relish ordering something in. She had to go out. She couldn’t remember when she hadn’t spent her lunch hour working, sandwich in one hand and coffee next to her keyboard.
“See you guys,” she called. Jillian’s feet felt like feathers as she floated down the street to Daisy’s.
Jillian was amazed at the number of people gathered around each table. The atmosphere was busy and filled with the patrons’ laughter.
“Jillian, join us,” a voice called.
Jillian recognized Sharon from Duane’s office and a couple of other women she’d met at the community garage sale.
When she sat down, Sharon was saying “Did you hear about the new restaurant? I wonder if it will be competition for this place.”
Katie, a fellow garage sale worker, said, “I don’t know. You can’t beat Daisy’s prices and I like the atmosphere. What do you think, Jillian?”
“Well, I … I’m not sure. I don’t usually eat lunch out.”
“And Ralph Wright doesn’t want you to have your full lunch hour,” said Katie. “I think I’d go nuts if I didn’t get away from the shop for a while.” Katie worked at the local florist’s and was known for her artistic flair.
“Me, too,” the third woman chimed in. “You have to have that break.”
Jillian ordered coffee and an open Denver sandwich with fries.
When her meal came, Jillian’s appetite vanished. The eggs smelled greasy and the fries were soggy. One look at the lumpy, pale gravy turned her stomach. Even the coffee smelled stale. She pushed the food around her plate, tuned to the gossip.
“Yep, it’s her third,” said Sharon. “That’s three kids in three years. Time for—“” she made a cutting motion with her right hand, “Jake to get done.”
“Done what?” asked Jillian.
“To get a vasectomy,” said Katie. “Three babies, one of them newborn, and Mindy still in diapers…”
When Jillian finished eating there were 15 minutes left in her noon hour. She paid her bill, waved a quick good-bye to the women and went to the drug store.
She found the tests discreetly displayed. She also bought some markers and a couple of poster-sized Bristol boards. The clerk rang her purchases through and Jillian went home.
Ralph answered the phone himself on the third ring. “Hello, where the hell are you?”
“At home,” Jillian said calmly. “You can consider this my notice. I’ll put it in writing if you like.”
“Now you just wait a minute,” Ralph blustered. “You can’t just quit.”
“But I have,” said Jillian. She could hear Ralph starting to wheedle. The click of her receiver was final.
She turned her attention back to the little strip. She always thought she would feel elation or joy. It was funny how she experienced neither of these emotions, just a kind of relief. But the test must be accurate. It explained a lot of things, Jillian thought, as she dialed her doctor’s office.
Later with poster boards arranged in the middle of the kitchen table, Jillian selected the red marker and in large block letters printed, ON STRIKE. In smaller letters she wrote: Duane Granger: This is my official notice. I am no longer going to work without recognition. I am striking for fair working conditions.
Then using the second board and the black marker, she printed: No more laundry, meals, cleaning, or sex on demand. I have demands of my own and will only go back to work if my tasks are cut by 50%.
She stepped back to admire her handiwork. She stapled the posters to the wooden posts and took them outside. Picking a prominent position near the front flowerbeds, Jillian pounded the stakes in. She went into the middle of the street and looked back. Yep. Duane couldn’t miss them.
Duane’s bewilderment was almost comical. “What do you mean strike?” he asked, not even saying hello, I’m home.
“You know what a strike is, don’t you?” Jillian asked.
“I’m on strike. I’m tired of doing everything around the house. Until we reach a settlement, I’m on strike.”
Duane said, “But what about my dinner?”
Jillian didn’t answer.
Later that evening, Jillian could hear Duane talking on the phone; her strike was a hot topic.
“Yeah,” Duane said. “She’s on strike. Just like the damn signs say. I had frosted flakes for supper. And I don’t have any clean underwear.”
He must be speaking to his mother, Jillian thought. She’s welcome to come on over and look after her little boy. She took another sip of peppermint tea and nibbled a soda cracker. They weren’t bad with a little butter.
“But it’s not fair,” she could hear him saying. “I work all day and when I get home I’m tired.”
Really, she thought, and sipped more tea.
“Yeah, I’ll try,” he said and hung up. There was a five-minute silence and then Duane came into the front room. He slouched into the couch and his hand automatically reached for the remote control. It wasn’t there.
“Where’s the remote, Jillian?” he asked.
“I’ve hidden it,” she said calmly. “I’m tired of TSN all evening. This movie is pretty good. That woman has lost her husband and…” She was talking to Duane’s back. The next thing she heard was the car door slamming and the sound of screeching tires. “Tickets are expensive,” she said to the empty room.
The next morning, Jillian did notice the slamming and swearing in the kitchen, but she was able to roll over and almost immediately fell asleep again.
She woke up at 8:00 fully rested, so she got up and made some coffee. Idly she wondered if Duane had bought some new undershorts or if he had just turned the dirty ones inside out. She turned on the TV and caught up on the news.
Jillian was about to go into the shower when the phone rang.
“Jillian,” the voice said, “It’s me, Sharon. I drove by your house today and saw the signs on your lawn. And Duane is looking like a thundercloud.”
“Hello to you, too,” Jillian said.
“What’s going on?”
“You said you saw the signs.”
“I did. They almost caused an accident. What do they mean?”
“Oh, I think they’re clear enough.”
“And you’re not going to give up until Duane helps out?”
“Or until he leaves, but that would be up to him.”
“Are you serious?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve had it up to here and I don’t need two babies.”
“What do you mean?” said Sharon, and then, “Oooh, does Duane know?”
“I haven’t told him, but I’m not sure he’d be interested. It isn’t food or clean underwear or sports TV.”
“I think you may be onto something,” said Sharon. “Thanks, Jillian. Gotta go.” She hung up.
Jillian shrugged and, picking up her towel, went into the bathroom where she had a long, hot shower. A luxurious shower with no one knocking on the door to see if she was finished.
When she came out of the bathroom, she could see the message light flashing. She checked her callers. Three calls had come in. Oh, well, she thought. If it’s really important, they’ll call back.
There were two more calls while Jillian was blow-drying her hair. From the call display, it looked like the local radio station had phoned. She waited a while longer, savoring a final cup of coffee. Then she listened to the messages.
“You go, girl.” That was it.
The next message was a little longer. “Mrs. Granger, this is Paul Martel from WKXY radio right here in Clairview. We are really interested in interviewing you on our morning show, Coffee Talks. We’ll be in touch.”
Jillian put her cup in the sink and was just going to settle in and read the paper when the phone rang.
“Hello, Mrs. Granger?”
“I’m Mrs. Granger.”
“This is Pat Roman from the Clairview Register. I wonder if we could meet. I’d like to do a story on your strike.”
“Are you serious?”
“Totally. It’s human interest. Our readers want to know about their community and the people in it.”
“I don’t think so,” said Jillian, and hung up.
The phone rang immediately.
Jillian debated letting it ring but it was her mother.
“Hi, Mom,” she said.
Her mother didn’t bother to say hello. “Jillian, tell me there’s no truth to the ridiculous rumor I’m hearing this morning.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the so-called strike. What do you think you’re doing?”
“You don’t know what a strike is, Mother?”
“Of course I know what a strike is. I just don’t know what you’re doing. It’s embarrassing, that’s what it is.”
“I’m sorry to humiliate you again, Mother,” said Jillian. “But I’m just doing what I have to do and if you can’t support me, I wish you’d leave me alone.”
“Well, I never…”
Jillian broke the connection and calmly unplugged the phone jack. She’d had enough calls for today.
Jillian went outside and spent a relaxing couple of hours deadheading her petunias and watering and trimming her patio pots. The sun was warm but not too hot and the sky overhead was clear, the kind of early summer sky that stretched from horizon to horizon, unbroken by clouds. When Jillian was done, she made herself an iced tea. She took it outside and drank it sitting in the lounger they had bought last year, but that she had never found the time to use. Across the street, someone started a lawn mower.
By late afternoon, Jillian had read most of the latest Robin Cook medical thriller. She yawned, and went in to check the fridge. She didn’t plan to make anything for supper, but she would need to eat herself. There were some cold cuts and the makings of a salad. Good enough.
When she had finished supper, she sat down to catch the early news. There had been a train-truck collision at an unmarked crossing and a man and his wife had died at the scene. The provincial government was weathering another scandal and civic politicians were deadlocked over approving a tax hike to fund infrastructure repairs. Jillian was about to switch channels, when a preview for the story after the commercial break was run. “And right here in Clairview, a local woman strikes; equal work in an equal household. Our own Jane Reynolds has an exclusive interview with her husband. Stay tuned.”
The commercials seemed to take forever. Then the cameras switched to a close-up of the reporter. “Good evening. I’m Jane Reynolds on location in the parking lot of B and H Industries where I am meeting Duane Granger. Duane’s wife, Jillian, has been causing quite a stir. She has signs on the lawn, has quit her job, and is on strike.”
A picture of the Granger lawn appeared, followed by a close-up of Jillian’s posters.
“The signs say that she will no longer supply meals, laundry, cleaning or sex on demand. She is striking for a 50 percent reduction in her workload. CDRV television has arranged for an exclusive interview with her husband, Duane.”
Then there was Duane right in the middle of the TV screen, his rooster tail sticking up in back. Didn’t they have a make-up person for interviews?
“Mr. Granger. Our audience wants to know how this happened. What drove your wife to the extreme action of striking?”
Duane wasn’t talkative most of the time unless it was the Oilers or some other sports topic. “I don’t know,” he said. “I thought things were pretty good.”
“Our viewers want to know, Duane. Weren’t there some clues, something to let you know how dissatisfied she was?”
“There was nothing. I just get home from work yesterday and she has these signs on the lawn. I think she lost it.” Duane was squinting into the camera and looked genuinely puzzled.
“I just don’t get it.”
The camera cut back to Jane Reynolds. “There you have it, an exclusive interview with Duane Granger. His wife is on strike. CDRV could not get Mrs. Granger to comment. Be sure that we will follow this story and CDRV viewers will be the first to know how this is resolved.”
Jillian couldn’t believe it. How could Duane have gone on TV? And how could he pretend he didn’t know why she was on strike? It was going to take some time.
Jillian took her plate and cutlery to the counter. She heard Duane’s truck drive up amid some kind of commotion. When she looked out of the window, she could scarcely believe her eyes. There were 20 or so women walking a picket line up and down her avenue. They all carried signs that mirrored her demands.
One older woman struggled with a huge sign that proclaimed “Equal jobs for men and women. Men can cook. Men can wash laundry.”
She shook her sign at Duane and shouted, “Shame. Shame.”
Jillian smiled. She settled in, prepared for a long struggle.
Good story. Wow, did you EVER nail Duane’s character!
Thanks, Linda. I enjoyed this story very much. The dialogue was smooth, and to any woman who’s had a boss like Ralph, it is soul-satisfying. So much in the story, yet written so simply. It left me wondering if there’s any hope for Duane.