Harold walked out onto the balcony, leaving the door cracked. He always did now, ever since the time he’d locked himself out of his apartment and had to wait outside several hours until his girlfriend came home and let him in. She’d laughed at him, didn’t even care that it had been a chilly Columbus day and he didn’t have his coat, could’ve gotten frostbite and lost an ear or some fingers and then he definitely wouldn’t be going back to work. Wouldn’t that just serve her right?
The winter air stung his face and hands, burned his throat and lungs as he took a drag of his cigarette. Janet didn’t let him smoke inside, even though it was his place, not hers. She might pay the rent but it was his name on the lease. And besides, he was disabled, for Chrissake; couldn’t she throw him a bone once in awhile?
He imagined her voice, preaching the same points over and over. “You’re not disabled, Harold; you’re just lazy with a doctor friend. Why don’t you get off your ass and get a job?”
But he really was disabled. He’d pinched a disc in his back, making it hard to sit or stand for long periods of time. He’d been out on short-term disability when the plant shipped the jobs overseas. No job to come back to, and easiest just to collect a government check every week. Much easier than searching for a new job. What could a 51-year-old disabled guy even do, really? How’d those liberal socialists expect a guy to support his family when they were giving all the jobs to the Mexicans?
Harold snubbed out his cigarette butt and went back inside, plopped down on the couch, and flipped on the TV. His buddies from the plant hadn’t found work either, not most of them. All them foreigners were taking the jobs, what had once been good union jobs. Didn’t they realize that guys like Harold needed to work, deserved those jobs and benefits more than someone who couldn’t even speak good English?
He checked his watch; just a few minutes until Judge Alex came on. Judge Alex was his favorite of the daytime court show judges. He was a good, manly judge, not taking crap from anyone. And he did it without getting an attitude like Judge Judy, damn woman thinking she should be passing judgment on people just trying to get by. Or Judge Mathis, who felt that working his way up from the streets somehow made him qualified to interfere in people’s lives.
Harold got up, made his way into the kitchen. The fridge lacked anything of substance, nothing suitable for a mid-morning snack. Janet hadn’t been grocery shopping for a few days. Probably spending all their money on clothes or make-up. He jotted “smokes” on her grocery list, then returned to the couch.
The show was just starting. Some chick was moaning because her loser boyfriend wasn’t paying child support. Stupid girl should’ve known he was trouble just by looking at him: long greasy hair, tattooed neck and arms, pants around his knees. That guy would never get a job, would never support his kids. It was her own fault, really. She should’ve gone for the all-American football player, not the druggie. And now she’d be on welfare, sucking up Harold’s hard-earned tax dollars to feed her brats. Probably had a nice car too, nicer than his.
Harold shook his head in disgust, and his gaze fell on a picture hanging on the wall next to the TV cabinet. His daughter, Sue. Another example of what was wrong with this country. He’d brought her up right, a God-fearing girl who would’ve made a good wife for any man. She’d decided to go to college, not something that was really necessary but he was a sucker and always gave in when his little girl wanted something. Something had happened in college, changed his sweet innocent daughter into a liberal activist. She joined the Peace Corps, married a black guy, and enrolled their mixed kids in daycare instead of staying home with them.
Harold hadn’t seen them in years, her or the kids. She’d blown up at him the last time he was there, when he’d mentioned that he didn’t feel safe around her husband.
“He’s a good guy, Dad.”
“But what about his friends? Aren’t you worried they’re going to try to steal your TV or your car, or murder you in your sleep? And really, how can he even afford that car?” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I think he might be selling drugs.”
Janet had hurried him out, for his own safety, she said. He hadn’t talked to Sue since. True, he hadn’t tried to call her, but really, he had nothing to apologize for. He was just being honest with her, because he knew what was best for her.
A series of election commercials popped on. No way was he voting for those socialists, wanting to give away his hard-earned money to the forty-seven percent of his fellow countrymen who refused to pay income taxes, thinking they deserved entitlements his paycheck, when he’d gotten one, had paid for. Nope. He was Trump all the way; Trump understood a working-class white guy much better than some Muslim community organizer ever could.
The next case was on now, a fat chick who was upset because some other fat chick had hit her car in the grocery store parking lot and refused to pay for the damage. What was this world coming to? Didn’t anyone believe in personal responsibility anymore?
Harold threw his feet up on the coffee table and stretched out on the couch. His shoes brushed against a pile of job applications Janet had picked up for him. They could wait until later to be filled out. And usually if he left them long enough, she’d even fill them out for him.
He was disabled, after all.
E.D. Martin is a writer with a knack for finding new jobs in new places. Born and raised in Illinois, her past incarnations have included bookstore barista in Indiana, college student in southern France, statistician in North Carolina, economic development analyst in North Dakota, and high school teacher in Iowa. She draws on her experiences to tell the stories of those around her, with a generous heaping of “what if” thrown in.
She currently lives in Illinois where she job hops while attending grad school and working on her novels. Read more of her stories at her website.