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E-Male Chapter 1

October 6, 2008

This is my secondary WIP — E-Male is a tentative title that I’m using because it sounds better than Untitled — which has kind of stalled.  Okay, it stalled a couple of years ago but as I re-read the 80 or so pages I have there is a lot I like about it and so maybe it’ll go somewhere.

CHAPTER ONE

Where’s the goddamn milk?”

Cole Coleman, whose parents had picked the wrong day to exert their questionable sense of humor, looked up from his coffee mug, “Isn’t there any?”

His wife, having become more and more waspish over the past year or so, shot a dagger-filled look his way. The fact that she was six inches taller than he didn’t help his chances of winning any argument with her. She always looked down at him and that intimidated him for some reason. “If there was any in here why the hell would I be asking where it’s at?”

Cole sighed and shrugged, his copy of the Dallas Morning News crinkling in his hands, “I don’t know, Kim. What do you expect to gain asking me where the milk is when you can see quite well that it’s not anywhere?”

He winced as the refrigerator door slammed loudly shut. “Don’t get smart-assed with me, Cole. I was going to have a bowl of cereal. What the hell am I supposed to put on it now? Coffee? Maybe just have some Wheat Thins and beer? Is that what I’m supposed to do?”

Of course not, dear. I’m just trying to make the money we have left stretch as far as possible until I can get another job.”

And when is that going to be? Milk is not exactly a luxury.”

I’ll get some more milk in a bit. You know, if you’re so concerned with our financial situation, you could always get a job yourself.”

If her look earlier had been filled with daggers it now held full-fledged machetes as she sat in the chair across the dining table from Cole. “Oh, no. You know that I only agreed to marry you because you said you’d support us both. I don’t want to work and I will not work.”

Therein lay the catch-22 of Cole’s life. He had fallen so deeply in love with Kim, the blue-eyed, blond beauty he had always dreamed of, four years ago that he had agreed to anything she suggested in order to gain her acceptance of his marriage proposal.

At the time he had had his good job at the electronics factory and was making more than enough to support both of them. That had changed about a year ago when he had been caught up in the web of a major layoff. He had achieved the position of senior supervisor and had been a salaried employee and therefore, under company rules, had qualified for what he had seen as a generous severance package.

That money was nearing the end and he had not been able to find a job that would support the two of them in all that time. This was quickly becoming the basis of any conversation the two had anymore.

Cole was aware that most men would say he was insane for staying with such a materialistic and demanding woman but he believed with every fiber of his being that it was just the stress of an unknown situation that brought out that side of his beloved. He was sure, because of the demands she put forth for a relationship, that she wouldn’t leave him either. He gave a wry mental smile. He was the only guy nuts enough to acquiesce to all of those demands, after all.

He was confident that once he got another job the sweet, caring woman he had married three years ago would reemerge and make his life whole again. There were times that her adamant refusal to become gainfully employed grated on his last remaining nerve but, then, that had been their agreement.

Perhaps part of the problem had been her youth. She just turned twenty-one a few months ago and had been less than a week removed from her eighteenth birthday on their wedding day. Cole, in contrast, was now thirty-two years old and had seen far worse times than the two were facing now.

The memory of a two year stint as a homeless person put the current “bad patch” in perspective for him. At least they had a roof over their heads and the food, though not as plentiful as before, was more than the dumpster scraps and shelter handouts Cole had survived on during the time he labeled “the dark years”.

There were some things he had done during those two years of which he was not proud. Those things were definitely immoral and, for the most part, not just a little illegal.

Cole tried his best not to think about those things but there were times that the horrid recollections bubbled to the surface of his consciousness. Those were the times that he had his nice long conversations with Jack Daniels.

Those conversations with his dark amber counselor were getting more and more frequent lately. It seemed that the less money he had the more Jack insisted on visiting. Such was the order of things, he guessed. It occurred to him as he sat across from the doppelganger that inhabited his beautiful wife’s body that he could really use a belt right about now.

Instead, he looked into the light blue eyes that stared at him from across the table. Those eyes were the same on the surface but, at the same time, there was something underneath them that was completely different.

Cole hoped he was mistaken because he was a staunch believer that the eyes are the window to the soul and it would surely tear at the very fabric of his being if Kim’s soul had changed at all for the worse since he had met her. That would almost certainly insinuate that he himself had changed her very spirit for the worse and how could you possibly stay sane if you knew that the one person you loved in the world was stained to the core by your presence in their lives?

He shook of that dismal line of thought before he had to break out the Jack again. That would really set his wife off and he didn’t feel like arguing about why he can afford to keep himself in booze when they didn’t have a basic staple like milk in the house.

You gonna go get the milk, or what?”

Cole sighed, finished the last gulp of coffee in his mug and stood up, “Yeah. Anything else we need while I’m out?”

Kim smiled a sadistic kind of smile, “I’ll let you know when you get back.”

Of course you will.”

He grabbed his keys off the kitchen counter and made his way out the door to the garage where they parked their crappy, yet paid for, twenty year old Dodge Omni.

The door creaked as he opened it. That would probably concern other people but to Cole it was a familiar, almost cozy, sound. The same went for the torn seats and musty smell. This car took a lot of work to keep running but it was his and had been from before his wedding.

Kim had nagged him incessantly for the first year of their marriage that they should junk the car and get a better one. He had steadfastly refused and had won that battle more through non-action than anything else.

His wife would never qualify for financing on a car without him so, unless he signed the loan paperwork, she couldn’t force her will on his Omni and condemn it to the scrap heap.

He took a deep breath, leaned over and took a pack of cigarettes out of the carton in the glove box. He kept his smokes out here because Kim, much like the rest of society, detested smoking and didn’t allow it in the house.

He lit the cigarette and pulled out of the garage, headed to the Walmart Supercenter down the road.

He reflected more on his habit’s plight as he pulled the carbon monoxide- and tar-laden smoke into his lungs with relish. The light of his life wouldn’t even let him smoke on the patio. She said that she could smell the stench from the ashtray whenever she went outside.

Thus was he condemned to smoking away from the house. Usually he went for a walk when he needed a nicotine fix but he also would find excuses to run to the store so that he could have a smoke.

He could tell by the way her face twisted in disgust whenever she got in the car, that Kim could definitely smell the smoke permeating the upholstery. She mentioned it every time but Cole would simply remind her that the car was from before they got married and he had been a smoker since the age of nineteen.

All the more reason to replace it with a newer car is all she would say on those occasions. He again refused each time. He liked the car. A lot. He thought about it sometimes, though, and had decided that at least some of his determination stemmed from the fact that this was the one argument he could win with his young wife. One that he was sure she wouldn’t leave him over.

He pulled into the parking lot of the huge store and was chagrined at the multitude of different vehicles. It seemed that every housewife in Crystal Mines was shopping at Walmart on this Wednesday morning.

Granted, this was about the only place in the small Texas town two hours or so southeast of Dallas to do most of your shopping but still it was inconvenient in Cole’s eyes. He hated spending half his shopping time just trying to find a place to park his car. Cole was an “in and out” type of shopper. He didn’t spend any time browsing the shelves or debating the merits of the various impulse items the corporate executives expected people to buy in order to improve shareholder wealth.

Surprisingly, he found a spot only about ten spaces away from the food center entrance. He parked and made his way to into the store. He didn’t bother to grab a shopping cart since he was only getting a gallon of milk.

He went to the dairy case and picked up his milk. As he closed the door and turned to go pay for his item, he saw a familiar face approaching up the main aisle.

It was Andy Anderson. The two of them had made friends at the plant a few years ago mainly due to the fact that they both had idiots for parents that should never have been allowed to name kids.

Andy was what women would consider “hot”. He was six-two and took pride in the fact that he weighed almost exactly two hundred twenty-five pounds. He was a workout nut who hit the gym every day for at least two hours. He had a dark complexion which he owed mostly to his Greek heritage. He had, however, helped that along with almost constant sessions in the tanning beds at the gym.

Cole was sure that the pair was a somewhat comical sight when they were hanging out at the bar or wherever their moods led them. The tall, dark and handsome bodybuilder type guy alongside the foot-shorter, pale guy who weighed one-twenty dripping wet.

Andy flashed his perfectly straight, white smile as he approached, “Hey, Cole. Howzit goin’?”

Cole smiled back and paused to talk to his friend. “It’s going. Going a lot slower the past year or so but still going.”

I know what you mean, man. I’ve been going out of my mind since the layoff. I mean, they gave us a good package when they let us go but that only goes so far, you know?”

Don’t I know it. I’m getting toward the end of it myself.”

Well, yeah, I’d suppose so. I only have to buy stuff for one person but you’ve got a wife to support too.” Andy furrowed his brow, “How come you haven’t had her find a cashier job or something again?”

Cole had spent more than one night confiding to his friend about his situation and its steady deterioration. Andy was one of those that thought Cole was nuts for keeping his status quo. “She really isn’t the working type.”

Oh, that’s right.” Andy spoke with not a little distaste. “She’s got some sort of royal ambitions, right? Thinks she’s a princess or queen or something?”

Come on, Andy. You know it’s not like that.”

Cole, man, I’m just not the kind of person that can watch a friend get walked on and not say anything. You can agree or disagree with me and I sure hope you’re right but I won’t go without stating my opinion. You know that.”

Cole sighed, “I know and I respect that. Things will get better once I can find another job that pays enough.” Andy only had Cole’s half-drunken ramblings on which to base his opinion of Kim. Curiously, Cole had never invited Andy over since wedding Kim. He thought about possible reasons for that sometimes but couldn’t come up with any viable ones. He just had a feeling that it would be bad news to have Andy and Kim in the same room.

Speaking of that, have you got any leads? If you do, don’t hold out on me. This town isn’t the smallest in the world but it’s small enough to make job hunting an adventure, you know?”

Yeah, I know. Haven’t got any good ones yet but I’ll definitely let you know if I get any.” He looked down at his milk jug. “Well, I’d better get going now. Kim is expecting me back soon so she can have her breakfast.”

Alright, man. Don’t forget to call me sometime. We’ll go somewhere and hang out. Get our minds off the unemployment thing.”

Definitely.” They smiled their goodbye and Cole went through the express checkout. He noticed that he was going to need more cash soon. Cash that he was becoming increasingly short on.

He got in his car and started it up. He glanced at the fuel gauge and noticed that if there was any space between the indicator needle and the “E” you would almost need a microscope to see it.

Just great. Gas prices had been dropping lately but they were still holding just under three-fifty a gallon. At least he drove a four cylinder. The only problem was that it was an old enough car that it still was lucky to get fifteen miles per gallon.

He pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward home. He knew he had to find a way to make money again and soon. Very soon.

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