Morning, Night & Noon
by Sam Butcher
That morning, Hank’s boss sent for him. Mr Capelli’s office was a spartan place, save for the open box of Cubans on the desk. Behind a blue-grey smokescreen, Capelli spluttered, ‘You want one, Hendricks?’
‘No, thank you.’ Hank had quit the year he met his future wife.
‘You do right,’ Capelli coughed. ‘Disgusting habit, I know. But you know what? It’s turning into one of those days. He outlined the issue in microscopic detail. Hank made mental notes, although it was always a variation of the same story. ‘Back in the Depression, I could have understood us getting messed around. Those were desperate times, but now…’ Capelli sighed. ‘Jeez, does a contract mean nothing in 1971?’
Hank nodded. ‘I hear you, sir.’
Capelli rose. ‘Anyway, I gotta go. Lunch with Barbara at Fior d’Italia.’
‘What with the takeover and everything, we haven’t had a spare second together in weeks. My wife’s a patient woman, God bless her. But I’ve missed our last two anniversaries.’
‘Have a pleasant afternoon, sir. I take it you want me to handle this?’
Capelli handed Hank an envelope and clapped his side-of-ham hand on his shoulder. ‘I know I can count on you, Hendricks.’
‘I’ll do my best, sir.’
That night, Hank eased his ’67 Chevy onto the driveway of his suburban home. Nancy’s dream house, colonial, magnolias lining the garden path. Two more payments and the place was theirs.
As he often did after a difficult day, Hank sat for a minute and watched Nancy through the kitchen window. She was chopping vegetables, singing along to something on the radio.
When he finally joined Nancy inside, she kissed him on the cheek. ‘Hey, Sweetie. How was your day?’
‘Had better. Difficult client, taking my manager for a fool. You bend over backwards for people ’til your spine’s busted and they still screw with you.’
‘Hank, I know finance isn’t the most stimulating field, but it’s such a good earner and I’m so proud of you.’
Hank’s grimace relaxed into a genuine smile as Nancy locked her adoring green eyes with his. ‘For some things’ – he patted the bump where Nancy’s flat stomach used to be – ‘any price is worth paying. And at this rate, I’ll be able to retire once the kids are through college.’
In the dining room, their twelve-year-old son had set the table, at which he sat with his sketchpad, waiting. As Hank entered, he looked up from his drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge. ‘Hey, dad! About time, I’m starving!’
A comfortable silence fell as the three of them tucked into their meat loaf. ‘One of your best, Dear,’ said Hank. ‘So, how was your day?’
‘Well,’ said Nancy, ‘I’ve been trying to convince your son that he needs to spend less time drawing and more on his math. If he wants a well-paid job like his old man, that is.’
‘I don’t know, Nancy. I’ll be darned if we haven’t got the next Edward Hopper here. Ain’t that right, buddy?’
‘Son, as long as you work hard, keep good company, and treat your fellow man with kindness and respect, I say you can – and should – do whatever you want.’
Nancy rolled her eyes. ‘Thanks for the support, Hank!’ However, she couldn’t repress a loving smile. For both her boys. When she went to fetch the crème brûlée, Hank leaned over to his son.
‘Your Mom’s the wisest woman I’ve ever known, but you’re gonna have to trust me on this.’
‘On what, dad?’
‘You don’t want a job like your old man’s.’
At noon sharp, Hank made a house call. A small apartment block, Fillmore district. He straightened his tie and leaned against a lamppost. He opened the East Bay Times – one eye on the funnies, the other on the building’s front door. When a middle-aged Chinese man wearing a Giants baseball cap emerged and headed down the street, Hank stepped smartly towards the entrance and grabbed the door before it could swing shut.
In the lobby, he folded his paper purposefully and placed it on the window sill. Mounting the stairs, Hank pondered. Why does it always have to come to this? Mom and Dad had nothing! Jesus, if they could live within their means, so can everyone else! Then again, if folks were more careful with their money, Hank would be out of a job.
He stood before the peeling door of Apartment 13 and took a deep breath. This part never got any easier. He closed his eyes briefly, picturing his small family, dreading the day they found out his job entailed considerably less paperwork than he’d had them believe. Hank crossed himself and knocked. Just before the door opened, he slipped on his knuckle duster.
Sam Butcher writes quirky fiction in multiple genres. Some of his other flash fictions have been published in Nymphs and Lunate. Currently, Sam is working on a supernatural comedy-drama novel. He lives in North Yorkshire.