WEDNESDAY: Arthur and Janet

BY MARISA BARATTA

Copyright is held by the author.

ART ADJUSTED the thermostat, that one gesture bringing a defiant smile to his face. As the cold air gushed into the small, furnished apartment, he felt the anger dissipate, his shoulders relax. He slid down the black leather of his favourite Lazy Boy and the TV roared to life after one click of the remote, drowning out the wheezing of the building’s ancient yet comforting air-conditioning system.

She’ll know, he thought. Any second now. He counted down with the infomercial couple on TV — they were peddling a magical hanger that somehow did a better job of holding up clothes than everyday hangers one could buy for one third of the price, and they were willing to throw in a gyro bowl if you called in the next five seconds. Five…four…three…two…

Janet burst into the room, slamming the bedroom door behind her. “Art, I’m trying to study for my chem midterm. It’s freezing in here!” As if for effect, she hunched up her shoulders and rubbed her arms.

Art appraised her with uplifted eyebrows. “Oh? Sorry, sweetie, I just wanted to get comfortable. My favourite program’s on.”

Too late, he realized he was still on the infomercial channel. Now they were selling the Ahh Bra. He cringed.

Janet turned to take in the television, brow furrowing. “That doesn’t look like football.”

“Commercial,” Art mumbled, losing his cool. That reminded him. “Is the temperature a problem?”

“Well, yes.” Janet sauntered over to the air-conditioning, which shuddered as it struggled to pump out the frigid air she so detested. “How do you work this thing?” She glanced over her shoulder with a pleading look. “Art, will you help me? You know I suck at machines. Give me some NaCl and Fe any day.”

Art sighed and got up, his jeans protesting against the hard leather. It wasn’t supposed to go this way — why was she always so nice?

Oh, because she was his girlfriend.

But wasn’t that the point?

He dragged his feet across the room and stopped before the air-conditioning unit, hands on hips.

“I’m not changing the temperature.”

“What. Why?”

Art took a deep, yoga-cleansing breath. Janet loved yoga — she spent three nights a week at the studio doing it. The reminder only strengthened his resolve.

“Because I’m hot and I like the cold air.” He forced himself to meet her puzzled gaze. “So there.”

Janet chewed her lip. “OK. But then why are there goose bumps on your arms?”

Art resisted the urge to rub them away. “I’m not turning down the temperature, Janet.”

“But why? I don’t get it. You always set it for me when we get home. I love that about you.”

“Aha!” Art thrust out a finger at her, his goose bumps now in his line of sight.

Stop giving me away, he willed them. “Maybe if you were home more often” — he eyed their open bedroom door — “or out here in the den, you’d have more time to learn how to use your own air-conditioner, instead of doing yoga, or studying, or, or,” he spluttered, “or studying yoga!”

Janet continued to look more and more surprised, her eyebrows so high her bangs hid them from view. He wanted to brush her hair to the side of her face as he always did but resisted the urge.

“I don’t get it, Art. Do you want to teach me how to use the air-conditioner?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to teach myself?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to…”

“I just want you to be home!”

His words were swallowed up in the air-conditioning’s loud hum as soon as he said them.

Janet’s eyebrows lowered to their regular level. And, unexpectedly, a grin lit up her face. She dashed forward and hugged him.

His shoulders had bunched up again. They relaxed down his back and he closed his eyes, melting into their hug.

“You miss me,” came her muffled voice from his chest. She pulled back, her eyes shining. “And I miss you too.” An impish grin. “What do you say we ditch the chem and the…” She squinted at the TV. “And the ad for a Magic Bullet, get out of this freezing apartment, and get some dinner?”

Art reached out and brushed her hair to the side, admiring her beautiful smile. He really did want to see more of it. “Yes.”

9 comments

  1. JAZZ

    Is it just me or does anyone else see the silliness in this story? A chemistry student who doesn’t know how to turn the A/C down.

  2. Frank T. Sikora

    The subject of a story’s internal logic has come up before and should never be taken lightly. I agree that the character’s inability to operate an A/C dial does seem a stretch. Perhaps, the character is purposely feigning ignorance. If that is the case, then what is the character’s purpose / motivation behind this behaviour?

  3. JAZZ

    Frank is right when he suggests that there may be a motivation behind this behaviour; feminine wiles to predict the outcome.

    It would have played out better, however, if she was asking her boyfriend how to put on the spare tire rather than the pushing a tiny button with her index finger.

  4. Michael Joll

    I agree with all three of you, Frank, Leona and Jazz. A sweet — and vacuous — story about a spat over nothing of great consequence. Contrived anger and a cliched young woman lead to the ‘aha!’ moment, one that has little, or nothing, to do with the build up or their spat, comes out of the blue. Some background reasons for the hostilities might have helped flesh out the two characters and lend credence to their differences. Or are Art and Janet really just barely post-adolescent?
    Keep at it Marissa. I hope to read much more of your work.

  5. Marisa

    Thank you all for your comments!

    This story was written as an exercise in a writing workshop hosted by Brian Henry (http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/). The assignment: a man named Arthur experiences some sort of conflict in regards to indoor climate control/air conditioning. Suddenly I had my idea and I was on my way! This story is the result of that short writing exercise.

    Thank you, Michael and Leona — I do hope to write more for CommuterLit! I spend most of my writing time on novels and magazine articles but this has inspired me to write more short stories again.

  6. Purabi Das

    I liked the story and love the fact that you wrote it as a writing exercise. It is full of pent up emotions just fighting to be let out which they did eventually with a very satisfying ending. Thanks for sharing.

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