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TITLE: The Housewife
By Sheila Boyd

Leslie glanced at the digital clock on the microwave; it read 9:45 she knew her friend and neighbor would be arriving soon for their Friday morning visit. Knowing Stella’s obsession with cleanliness, Leslie double-checked the cups and spoons to insure Stella’s inspection would produce no grounds for indictment. The two women had met 10 years ago and as was Stella inclination determined to make Leslie conform to her own fastidiousness concerning housekeeping. However Leslie was obstinate in her own independence and set up boundaries to which Stella at last had agreed. A type of cold war continued between them, but now it was more a sport than combative in nature. Especially where Stella was concerned, she would inspect her cup and spoon, but only if she was sure Leslie was watching out of the corner of her eye.
However, for the last six months Leslie had begun to dread Stella’s visits. Stella’s husband Fred was soon to retire and Stella were in a constant state of panic over this life-changing event, and could not be consoled. Numerous suggestions and helpful advice had gone unheeded. Leslie was out of new ideas and almost out of patience.
Stella arrived precisely at ten o’clock wearing a print cotton dress. She placed her matching purse in the same spot and sat down in her usual chair. “I have told Fred at least a hundred times to please clean up after himself when he does his wood carvings, but do you know what I found on the patio as I was leaving this morning? Wood shaving! At least a half a dozen. I was almost late getting here because I had to clean them up.”
“I saw you hurrying across the yard,” Leslie said as she began to pour their coffee. “You know the world would not stop if you were a few minutes late.”
“My mother taught me to be on time and do things right. Life just goes so much smoother when there is order and routine. I wish my sister had learned that. I wish Fred would. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with him home all day, every day. I’m truly afraid I will lose my mind,”
‘He’ll be 65 in September. He cannot put off retirement much longer. You will just have to adapt.”
“Me! Why can’t he just learn to do things right? All I ask is that he cleans up after himself, no more. I don’t expect him to help with housework, but he cannot even remember to remove his shoes after mowing the yard, or wipe the sink after he shaves. Last night, he tossed the remote control onto the coffee table where I have the magazines so neatly arranged. It slid across the magazines, messed them all up and even knocked one onto the floor. He could have easily laid the remote down and not disturbed anything. But no—he tossed it!”
“Did he straighten it up?”
“No! I jumped up straight away and put things back in order.”
“Did he apologize?”
“Yes. Fred’s a good man, but….”
“He’s a saint!” Leslie said with more vigor than she had intended.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I do love him dearly. I do. But every day, all day long….” Stella paused to shake her head. “His retirement will be the beginning of so much more work for me.”
“Here’s an idea, why don’t you retire as well?”

“Oh pooh! Housework is never done. Wives don’t get to retire. Fred tries to help sometimes like with the dishes or laundry, but he just doesn’t do it right. It’s less work for me to do it right the first time.”
“I am looking forward to when Karl retires. We are going to travel.”

“I don’t like traveling that much. Going to Florida once a year to see my sister is enough travel for me.
“Fred likes fishing and golf. Maybe you could learn to enjoy it with him.”

“No, no. That’s not for me. Besides when he is gone, it gives me time for myself. If only he could find somewhere to do his woodwork. I know how much he loves it, but to accommodate me he doesn’t do it so much.”
“Diane loves the doll house he made for her, and the tiny furniture is precious. I am still amazed at the detail he used to make out birdhouses. He could make a living selling his work.”
“Yes, he does good work. I’m glad he has a hobby.”

“If only you could find one that you enjoy as much.”

“I have my house, that’s my hobby.”

“I meant something besides the house, like crafts, needlework or take a class at the community college.
“Leslie I love you, but you just don’t understand. When Fred retires, I won’t have time for anything but to follow him around and clean up after him. If only there was something for him to do. You know, something to keep him occupied, something outside of the house….” Stella stopped short; an idea was beginning to form.
Suddenly she jumped up and grabbed her purse. “I have to go.”

“What? It’s not three minutes to eleven yet!”

“Well, you are the one who is always telling me to be more flexible. Deal with it. Thanks for the coffee.”
Stella dashed across the yard and through her back door to her perfectly ordered kitchen. She removed the yellow pages from the table and began to search. Finding the number, she reached for the phone. She hesitated. This was all so new to her. She had never made a decision without first talking to Fred. Nor had purchased anything without his knowledge.
However, this was for her marriage. This would affect the rest of her life. Indeed, this may even save her sanity. She called the number and made the appointment for Monday.
Stella arrived at the contractor’s office on time. She explained that she wanted to build a workshop in back of her house as a retirement gift for her husband.
“Without his knowledge?” Mr. Wilson asked amused.
“I wanted to make all the arrangements before I tell him”
“I can do it, but building and electrical permits, supplies and sub-contractors it will cost about $20,000.00, so I wont do it unless your husband approves it.’
“Oh, it isn’t my husband’s money, my mother left me some money, and I can afford to pay you.”
“Sorry, ma’am, not without his O.K.” Mr. Wilson insisted.
“Would you do it if he came in alone?”
“That’s different ma’am”
“Then I’ll be my own contractor.”
Stella arrived at Leslie’s almost in tears. She explained all that had happened then exclaimed, “I’ll be my own contractor, what a joke.”
“But that’s wonderful. Of course, you can, and I’ll be your assistant.”
“Mr. Wilson laughed at me.”
“We can do this. Karl poured our patio, I’m sure it would not be that much more difficult to pour a foundation. Karl’s brother is an electrician, I know he would give you a good price.”
“Fred could do some of the carpentry work, we would need to hire a roofer, but I’m sure some of the men from church would help.” Stella was ecstatic.
“You get the permits and I’ll make some phone calls.”
Friday’s dinner was usually leftovers from during the week. Fred was amazed to see pork roast with all the trimmings
“Who’s coming for dinner?”
“No one.”
“I thought maybe the kids.”
“No, you know they only come around when they have to.”
“That’s isn’t so. They have their lives, their families.”
“Anyway,” Stella indicated for Fred to be seated, “I have something to tell you.”
“You want a divorce.”
“No. It’s good news. I hope you want be mad.”
“Why should I be mad at good news?”
Stella looked at her husband. Anxiety gnawed at her stomach. He looked old. His shoulders were more slumped than she remembered.
“Fred, I have a retirement gift for you. It will take up a good part of the back yard, but that only means less grass to mow on Saturdays.”
Fred was intrigued, but listened silently as Stella rushed on.

“I bought you a workshop. There will be a work space for woodwork, a storage space for your fishing stuff and room enough for a television and chair so you can take a break and watch your sports.” Stella swallowed hard. The rushing of words abated, Stella stared intently at her husband. He did not look so old and his shoulders were perfectly straight. A faint smile began to form on his mouth; there was actually a twinkle in his eyes. He leaned across the table to take her hand. “I have never loved you more than I do at this moment. Thank-you.”
Stella felt years of tension leave her body. She smiled.

“Let’s eat before the food gets cold.” She said. “Put your napkin in, and use your knife, don’t tear the bread.
“Yes, darling.”
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