When anyone asked Ranger where he worked, he liked to say that he “plied his trade” at home, in the cellar. “Ply his trade,” said his wife’s sister. “Now there’s something!”
In the kitchen, his wife, Angel stomped on the trap door , cut into the dining room floor ,leading down to the cellar. Each day, when his meal was ready, Angel would stomp as many times as she needed, to get Ranger’s attention. He’d mumble, ”Not hungry!”
Angel asked her sister to go downstairs and tell him that she’d prepared something special . She agreed. It was the least she could do. She negotiated her girth on the narrow, irregularly spaced plywood steps. The air smelled of beer, cigarette smoke, steel and sawdust.
He could never hear her coming. She stood looking at his tall frame. She liked the way he leaned his whole body into his work, his shoulder leading the way, into the back and forth motion of sharpening a saw with a long file, deliberately, one tooth at a time. She placed her hand against the damp wall of the cellar, squinted in the fluorescent light. “Hey,” she said. He looked up, then down again. “Hey,” she repeated, impatient. “She’s got something special tonight,” she said, flicking her chin over her shoulder. “C’mon.” He stared for a few seconds, trying to read her face. They take him for a fool. A fly buzzed, hit itself against one damp wall and then another. He marked the saw tooth he was filing with blue chalk. He laid the file down on the tool bench. He hesitated.
Upstairs, Angel waited in the kitchen. It was really too hot to eat.
Ranger looked at the food. Warmed up leftovers. He was too tired to argue about it. Angel exhaled, slapped at a fly on the table with a dishtowel. Her sister pushed her own plate away, and lit a cigarette instead. She exhaled. “Who are you working for these days, anyway?” she asked him, narrowing her eyes. She was bold enough to ask.
He laid his fork down, and chewed deliberately. He looked up at her and said, softly, ‘I’m freelancing,” he said, with reverence, like it was a word he just learned yesterday. At that moment his smile was almost beautiful.
The sisters looked at one another. Angel held her belly and her sister held her hand over her mouth.
“Freelance, huh.” Angel said, wiping the tears from her eyes. She said it like a statement, not a question.
“Now imagine that,” her sister said, with genuine curiosity. She forked a mouthful from his plate and twirled it in the air above her.
A fly buzzed around the plate of food, sluggish in the heat, no different from the rest of them.
Angel loved an easy target. She angled the dishtowel, eyes narrowed, drew back. Her sister grabbed her arm, inexplicably shook head ‘no’.
The trapdoor creaked. It sounded like a moan.
The sisters looked up at the State Farm clock on the wall.
The fly buzzed, useless. They decided to let it live, if it could, just a little bit longer.