Jo Heath “Sweet Tea and Ice”

Janie smoothed her hand over the cool white satin. She arranged the pattern pieces, carefully using the selvages to edge the long seam down the back. As she pinned the frail paper to the white cloth within the seam allowances, Janie pictured herself on her wedding day. She wanted to look nice in her gown but didn’t want to be vainglorious; she’d—

Suddenly, Janie spotted a roach scooting along the edge of the room and into the kitchen. She shuddered.

Leaving behind the white satin, she ran for the bug spray. Armed, she checked behind the refrigerator and under the sink but couldn’t find the critter. When she heard Hank’s motorcycle in the distance, she put away the spray can, washed her hands, and set out lunch for the two of them: butter, salt, and pepper in the center of the small table and two white plates on opposite sides, with cutlery to their right on white paper napkins. She began to heat the leftover chicken stew in the heavy iron pot and started four pieces of toast.

When Hank’s motorcycle squealed to a stop in her driveway, she poured sweet tea over ice in two tall glasses. Hank entered without knocking, and the screen door slammed behind him. The sharp sound made her jump.

“Can’t you make less noise?” she asked.

“What noise? How’s my sweetie-angel today?”

Hank irritated her when he ignored her complaints that way. He leaned toward her for a kiss, and Janie turned her head slightly to divert his kiss to her cheek where it wouldn’t smear her lipstick.

“Roach!” Hank said as he stomped the floor, and Janie heard the sickening crunch of a cockroach being squashed.

“Ewww!” Janie said. “Now you’ll have to go outside and clean off your shoe.”

“It’s the floor, not a dinner plate,” he answered.

However, when he saw a horrified Janie, he opened the screen door and scraped his shoe on the edge of the first step. “Satisfied?” he asked her as he sat down to eat.

Despite knowing she’d have to mop the floor thoroughly when he left, she nodded yes.

She placed the glasses on coasters and smiled at the settings. The toast popped up, and she distributed the hot slices. It bothered her sense of symmetry that her plate had one piece of toast and Hank’s had three. She ladled the hot stew into thick white porcelain bowls, placed them carefully on the plates, and sat down across the table from Hank.

Hank’s hand squeezed her knee.

“Hank, remove your hand. Remember our agreement? No sex before marriage.”

“Yeah, but that’s actual screwing. This here’s just a feel. Don’t you like it, at least a little?”

“Henry Walter Anderson, it doesn’t matter if I like it or not. We both know where a feel might go. You said yourself you wanted a virgin.”

“You do like my hand,” he said with a grin. “I could feel a quiver.” The frown on her face convinced him to remove his hand. “Okay, okay. I can wait a couple more months.” He began to eat noisily while Janie cut her chicken meat into small pieces that she could eat without opening her mouth wide.

His helmet-hair stuck out over his ears, and it looked to Janie like roach antennae. She smiled at the thought.

After a few bites, Hank stood. “I’ll be right back. There’s beer strapped to my bike that needs to be in the fridge.”

“Don’t you like the tea?” Janie asked nobody as the screen door slammed shut. Why did he always ruin everything she planned? “Hank,” she said when he returned, “you said you drink beer because my sex rules are frustrating. Right?”

“Right, Babe.”

“And you’re going to stop drinking as soon as we get married?”

Hank sat back down across from her and made short work of the rest of his stew and toast before opening a bottle of beer. When he threw his head back to gulp down half the beer in the bottle, Janie reached across the table to straighten his dishes. Why hadn’t he answered? He belched and covered his mouth with the side of his fist. Janie noticed for the first time that the dark brown of Hank’s leather motorcycle jacket was the color of a cockroach.

“Well,” he finally said, “there might have to be a tapering off.”

“How long is ‘a tapering off’?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never done it. You’re the only woman I’d ever quit my beer for. You’re extraordinary-perfect in every way.”

Janie smiled. He would quit for her. She knew it and felt in charge again. “Why, thank you, Hank.” Had she blushed? She felt warm. Then she remembered what she’d meant to tell him right away. “Hank, I’ve finally decided on the gold-rimmed white china at Ware’s Jewelry. If you bought it today, it’ll be ready even if the monogramming takes a month.”

“Uh, sweetie, I meant to tell you a few days ago that I used the cash for new tires and a carburetor job on my bike. The money’s gone for a month or two.”

Her china! His promise!

Janie felt the blood draining from her head. When she lowered her forehead to clear the dizziness, she knocked over her tea and didn’t care. The glass rolled off the edge of the table and, when it hit the white linoleum, spewed ice, sweet tea, and shards of glass.

Slamming doors, beer belches, and a messy man who spent their china money on his motorcycle clarified her mind. He was a roach, a dark brown selfish roach with antennae.

She decided: she would break up with the cockroach, mop the floor with bleach water, unpin the wedding dress pattern, and return, yet again, the bolt of white satin to her hope chest.

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