Front Desk Woman; Volume 5
Quarter ‘til midnight, Pansy’s husband finally came home from work to find Pansy and Helen stumbling their way through the last few slices of pizza. Briefly forgetting to put on his pretend charm for company, he said, “My God, Pansy, this house is an embarrassment. What have you even been doing all day?”
Pansy’s innards squeezed tightly into one another. What had she done all day, huh? Easily the most offensive question a working husband could ask a mother staying home with her young child. A mother who had reluctantly dismissed herself from work to adequately keep house and baby. Stepped away from the title of berated Front Desk Girl only to accept her new one as underappreciated mother-of-infant and doer-of-laundry. Despite herself, she felt her head bowing to him in submission. Throughout the years, she’d learned that this was the only way to live in relative peace. Bowing of head. Kneeling of knee. Averting of eyes. Softening of voice. Internalizing of opinion.
His presence made her sober.
In the corner of her eye, Pansy saw Gertha, who hadn’t had a sip of alcohol all night, intentionally wake the baby from her slumber and hand her crying to Pansy’s husband.
“She needs changing,” Gertha told him before pushing her into his awkward arms. “And there’s frozen breast milk in the deep freeze. Thaw it, check the temp, and feed this baby. We have something to take care of.”
Pansy stood in her living room stunned by Gertha’s strength. How could she find the words in the face of such a man? And more, how could she say them with such conviction? A hero, she was. Gertha should be super while Pansy the sidekick.
“We’re going?” asked Helen, watching Gertha storm out the front door. “I guess we’re going.”
Helen grabbed the last slice of pizza and followed, while Pansy paused to face her husband.
“Who’s going to clean up this pizza and filth?” he asked her. “And I don’t know how to babysit a baby.”
Babysit, he said. Babysitting was for sophomore girls in the summer for extra cash. Babysitting was for grandmothers with empty, lonely homes to fill. Babysitting was for M.I.A. Ashley from the babysitting App. Babysitting was not for fathers. She opened her mouth to scold, but couldn’t find the words. She instead kissed her daughter and followed her girls without another word.
“I don’t know why you don’t stand up to him.”
“No offense, but he’s a textbook bully.”
“Stop it,” Pansy interrupted, already embarrassed with herself for not being able to take a stand in her own home. “Let’s focus. Nana said two streets over to Edith’s place. It’s this way, we’ll cut through the alley so we’re not caught on anyone’s Ring doorbell. They’ll put us on the Nextdoor App before the sun rises.”
They must’ve looked quite insane, Pansy thought. Still dressed for clubbing, there they were – three thirty-something moms fighting crime. She smiled at the absurdity, and then the belonging. She’d always wanted very much to a part of something like this. Not necessarily the crime fighting part. But an easy union of non-judgmental, genuinely helpful ladies. A squad, of sorts, only better than that. No braggadocious selfies in this squad.
“Shh,” Helen said. “I hear something, over there.”
“That’s Edith’s backyard,” Pansy whispered. “Police has cleared out so it must be them.”
“Why are they in the pitch dark backyard, though?” Gertha asked. “They could just go inside to talk. This feels wrong.”
The three ducked down behind a large bush at the edge of Edith’s back fence to wait for the moon to clear the clouds. When it did, they saw Edith’s husband standing as close as humanly possible to a woman not Edith. Still wearing his plaid pajamas, he towered over her like he was on stilts. And she, petite and shiny-faced from crying, looked like a fragile doll begging not to be broken. Pansy had to fight the urge to be angry at her. This was on him and him alone, she reminded herself. Kick his ass, Nana had told them.
“How do we get rid of her?” Pansy asked Gertha and Helen.
“We should kick her ass, too,” said Gertha. “Teach her tail not to mess with married men.”
“She’s a child,” Helen inserted. “Can’t be twenty-one.”
“Even better,” added Gertha. “We’ll teach her early.”
“No,” Pansy said sternly. “We don’t fight women or girls. Not ever. We’re here for him.”
“Fine,” Gertha replied before placed two fingers into her lips and whistled loudly.
“Who’s there?” he shouted. “Go, go now.” And the young girl scurried off through the front gate.
“Come out,” he said with authority. “Be a man and face me.”
The three ladies stepped into his yard and stood in a crooked line with their fists raised. In response, he laughed. Not a chuckle or a grin, but a full belly laugh that made his head fall backwards. Standing in front of him, Pansy could only think of the worst comic book anti-hero – smug, evil and without an ounce of empathy. This man was her perfect first villain.
When he finally stopped laughing, he asked, “Who the hell are you? You look like a bunch of moms.”
Pansy replied, without hesitation, “I’m Front Desk Woman.”
“And I’m,” Helen inserted. “Administrative Assistant Lady?”
Gertha didn’t even try to come up with a name for herself.
He paused and laughed even harder. That’s when Pansy truly realized she had no idea how to fight. She hadn’t been in one since middle school, and even then, she got her behind beat by a girl name Janice.
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know.”
“We can’t kick anybody’s ass, this is madness.”
Suddenly, the moon disappeared behind the clouds, leaving the backyard without its primary source of light. They noticed the laughter had been replaced with silence, and in the darkness, there was a very loud crash.
“Gertha, Helen,” whispered Pansy. “What on earth was that?”
Gertha said, “I can’t see you. Let’s clasp hands.”
Gertha found Pansy’s hand and then Pansy found Helen’s. “Now,” said Helen in a low voice. “Let’s back away, back into the alley.”
“We need light,” said Pansy. “We’ll trip and fall. Wait, here comes the moon.”
“Be ready for anything, Ladies.”
They watched the cloud make way for the brightness of the moon in five, four, three, two…
All three ladies let out loud gasps when they saw Nana standing over Edith’s dead husband.
“Heart attack,” Nana said. “Real shame.”