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Derek Alger

Simple Words

Jake rolled over in bed and reached his hand out but came up empty. With eyes closed, he groped about until, at last awake, he realized that Josie wasn’t next to him and his palm was clenching a clump of empty sheets.

He sat up, shaking his head, and glanced at the red digital clock on the milk crate next to the bed. It was six-thirty, he didn’t have to be back behind the wheel of the cab until five that afternoon.

Swinging his legs to the floor, Jake coughed, a short burst, and then reached for a cigarette. He dragged deep, smoke filling his lungs. He knew he should stop, but hell, he thought of smoking as a protest against everybody who seemed to know what was best for everybody else.

He continued smoking, waiting, hoping that Josie was in the bathroom, but somehow he knew she wasn’t. She said she loved him, yet every Tuesday, the one night her mother-in-law baby sat seven-year-old Jason, Jake awakened to find Josie sleeping on the couch in the living room, a blanket covering her slender body.

She claimed it was his snoring, that it had nothing to do with him, she always had difficulty sleeping whenever there was any noise. Somehow she managed to sleep in a house with her son and mother-in-law, he thought with resentment, but she couldn’t last the night next to him.

Slowly, Jake stood up, his mouth dry from too much beer. He walked into the living room and sure enough, Josie was sleeping peacefully on the couch. Standing over her, an initial flash of anger subsided, and he brushed her chestnut hair back off her forehead and gave her a short kiss.

She moaned, turning toward the backrest on the couch, the blanket slipping and exposing her long legs running up to the flesh of her backside. Jake tried to slip down next to her but her body instinctively bumped up against his and he landed on the floor between the couch and the coffee table.

He looked up and she was lying with her eyes open, a sleepy smile on her face. She stretched, arms extended over her head, and kicked the blanket away.

Jake quickly mounted her, disappointment disappearing with the joining of their tongues.

“What time is it?” she asked, her arms wrapped around his back.

He kissed her again.

“You have plenty of time,” he said.

Josie worked at a diner, the Golden Eagle, which she derisively called the Burnt Turkey, where her shift started at four in the afternoon and continued to midnight, or whenever, depending on the customers and how many girls called in sick.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” he said. “I’ll wake you in an hour.”

Jake went to the fridge and pulled out a can of Bud, flipping the top off and downing half of it. He wished things were different, but overall he was satisfied. Part of him wanted Josie to move in with him, but the kid would have to come and there wasn’t room, and Josie was still married, though separated from her husband who was serving time for B and E’s. No, for now, he was content with the way things were, but he felt as if they were treading water in the present to make it to the future.

Money could change things, but he didn’t make enough. He’d been driving a cab for two years, ever since he lost his job with the municipal department of public works. No sour grapes, it was in the past. If he had to do it again, Jake honestly believed that he still would have hit the foreman, only maybe with his fist instead of a wrench.

The hot water rushed over his head as he stood under the nozzle, balancing himself with one hand around the curtain rod. His cousin was a union rep who knew someone who knew someone on the city council, and though Jake shelled out a grand, it was well worth it when the assault charges conveniently transformed into disorderly conduct when he finally appeared in court.

So now he was a cab driver. That’s how he met Josie, stopping in the diner late one night. He was sitting at the counter and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her, as she confidently carried a pot of coffee. The other waitresses, by comparison, were mostly haggard and heavyset, methodically spinning on the hamster wheel of endless routine, no smiles on their faces, but boredom tempered with pain.

He asked for a cup of coffee as Josie shot behind the counter. She stopped right before the doors to the kitchen and was about to pour when the one marked “enter” swung open and a busboy with a red bandana tied across his forehead burst out carrying a stack of dishes in a plastic bin. The busboy smacked Josie in the back with the bin and her hand slammed down on the counter shattering the pot and splattering Jake’s sleeve with coffee.

Jake howled, more from surprise than pain, and jumped off the stool, shaking his arm. Josie spun around and grabbed the bewildered busboy by the neckline of his t-shirt and slammed him up against the door.

“Why don’t you fucking learn the right door?” she screamed, as the bin of dishes dropped between her and the busboy, several bouncing and rolling across the floor.

A bald man in a gold blazer, the manager, rushed over, pushing his way between Josie, whose long hair had come loose and was dangling down her back, and the busboy who was mumbling something about a “loco bitch” and shaking his head.

“Why don’t you train these people before you hire them, Louie?” Josie demanded of the man in the gold blazer.

Louie was holding Josie by the wrists. Then he glanced over his shoulder and noticed Jake, who was drying his arm with a napkin.

“Please, forgive us, sir,” Louie said, releasing Josie and stepping around from behind the counter. “We will pay for the dry cleaning.”

Jake stared blankly at Louie’s ingratiating smile.

“I think you should take the rest of the night off,” Louie said to Josie.

“Why, I didn’t do anything?”

“It was an accident,” Jake said. “Nobody was hurt.”

He reached across the counter and took Josie by the hand, walking her down the length of it until they met at the end.

“I’ll make sure she gets home okay,” Jake said. Then added, “And I’ll make sure she’s back in time to serve me tomorrow.”

Stepping out of the shower, Jake smiled as he thought about how he had met Josie. He took her home that night and began seeing her regularly, first meeting for breakfast after she had driven Jason to school, and then, finally, after months of hastily squeezing in time together during early afternoons, Tuesday became their night together.

Jake wrapped a towel around his waist and filled the coffee pot with water from the sink. As the coffee brewed, he realized that he had never spent time with Jason except to say hello on the rare occasions that he picked Josie up at her mother-in-law’s. So what, he wanted to be with Josie, not nursemaid a kid. It bothered him that Josie lived with her husband’s mother, but what could you do, Josie was a working mother and it wasn’t easy. Besides, with the mother-in-law there, Jake could see Josie more than he would if she was completely responsible for Jason.

He poured a cup of coffee, adding milk, and carried it out to Josie in the living room. Kneeling by the couch, he lightly ran his hand across her head and waved the coffee before her face.

She smiled, reaching for the cup.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked.

She sipped the coffee, turning her head away.

He lit a cigarette.

Josie sat up, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t help it, I’m a sensitive sleeper.

He brushed her hand away. “Did you have trouble sleeping with him?”


“Your husband.”

She stood up before him, her shirt barely coming down to her waist.

“He didn’t snore.”

Before Jake could say a word, she kissed him, then headed off to the bathroom.

He heard the water running in the shower as he sat on the couch. She was with him, maybe not completely, but time would resolve matters one way or the other, and beginning the night in bed with one you cared about was better than many days of waking alone knowing that there had never been anyone at all.