by Margaret Nelson
The rec centre is crawling. Bob leans against a table in the foyer, working a toothpick and watching other voters coming in from the cold November rain. They dance around wet patches on the tiled floor, their awkward hops amusing him. But this isn’t his kind of venue. He wouldn’t be here if Betsy hadn’t made him come.
He checks his watch, having cast his vote for Mayor some time ago. Now he’s just waiting for the wife to mark her X and meet him down here. He’ll drop her off and head back to work at the cement plant.
A couple of young guys give him a thumbs up when they spot his BC Lions jacket and cap. He grins and returns their gesture. Big game this Saturday.
What’s keeping Betsy? Fifteen minutes, for Chris-sakes. She was right beside him at the ballot boxes. Standing around yakking, no doubt.
A teen with a bunch of piercings raises a chuckle. His daughter Janice has a ton of them too, but she wouldn’t be caught dead here. Far too “cool” for community centres. She’d rather date a bunch of greasy losers, stay out clubbing all night, and maybe not come home for a couple of days. His wife is beyond frantic about it all, but Bob figures it’s just a phase. He hates the screaming matches they get into. He usually grabs a beer and heads for the television.
He checks his watch again.
“This is bull,“ he mutters. Striding across the wet floor, he shoulders his way back up to the polling place, skirting the lineups. No sign of Betsy. He starts to double back when he spots her furred parka hood in an alcove. She’s watching two girls dancing on gym mats. A couple speakers blast out club music.
Bob can’t believe his eyes. Betsy knows he has to get back to work, so what the hell is she doing? He storms over, ready to give her what-for. Then she turns and her eyes are teary. He stops dead.
“They asked me to watch,” she whispers. “Wait just one minute.” Bob rolls his eyes, exhaling hard. But he waits.
The girls move sweetly enough, but as the music goes up-tempo, they kick into stripper mode, sliding palms along upper thighs, tonguing their lips while grinding left and right. Then the twerking starts. Bob glances around, his face reddening. Do they think they’re Miley Cyrus or something? They can’t do that here! Besides, they’re maybe thirteen, for Chris-sakes! That tall one, though. She’ll be a knockout in a year or two. His brow lifts as she hooks one finger into her leotard leg and pulls it down, eyes shooting him a challenge.
He feels the burn of a different pair of eyes.
“Let’s go!” huffs Betsy, pivoting. She’s halfway down the stairs before he can grab her arm. She wheels around.
“Don’t you touch me!”
His eyes make dinner plates. What the hell…? But he releases her and she runs to the bottom.
“Betsy, stop!” he pleads, following along. “For Chris-sakes! What in hell’s the matter with you?” She halts and wheels again.
“With ME? What do you mean, with ME?” Then her shoulders drop.
“Jesus, you don’t get it, do you? You don’t see what happens to young girls. You saw those two upstairs, acting sexy, just like Janice. Learning how to catch a man, just like Janice. We ruined her, you and I, teaching her to be cute with frilly dresses and Princess dolls for all those years. What the hell were we thinking? Now she doesn’t stand a chance, the way she’s going. Those girls upstairs don’t stand a chance either!”
He’s stares, not quite getting it. A problem with Princess Dolls? Betsy yammers on.
“Don’t you see that could be Janice up there, prancing around half-naked, being ogled by guys like you?”
Guys like him? What the hell did that mean? He hadn’t been “ogling” those girls and he would never “ogle” Janice. Betsy had asked him to watch the girls, for Chris-sakes. He hadn’t even wanted to! For the life of him, he can’t see why her knickers are in such a knot.
“Oh, why do I bother!” Betsy slaps at his jacket like a cranky child, then hurries across the foyer.
“Careful!” he shouts, seeing her slide in a wet patch. He rushes over to take her arm while fumbling for his golf umbrella at the door. She allows his touch, but her tiny frame still shakes with emotion. Seeing her like this, the last of his own anger dissipates. Forget work. Forget waiting too long. Forget the crowds, the rain, the two stupid girls. All he wants now is for his wife to feel better, to not be angry. Unfurling the umbrella on the way out and placing his free arm around her shoulders, he begins crooning the soft words he hopes will help.
“Don’t cry, Betsy. It’s okay, babe. Whatever I did, I’m sorry. Cheer up, hon.”
He guides her into the parking lot. As they huddle through driving rain, a thought strikes him. It’s likely some hormonal thing. Of course! His shoulders relax as understanding floods in. It’s probably that time of the month for her. She always goes a bit nuts.
He should have thought of this sooner. He’ll be extra good to her until it passes.