Chet's having a bad day
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The VFW Dance Studio
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Withersmith strained at his leash. Chet had sent himself to pick up their neighbor, Nancy Lynn, at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vfw, Hall, where she was taking ballet lessons.


The lodge was even older than the retired personnel who frequented it. Once a month, on a Tuesday night, those GIs held a formal meeting in its outdated main room. Otherwise, they only accessed the hall for its bar’s free pretzels and cheap beer and encouraged other groups to rent its vacant spaces. In addition to the dance school, a tuba quartet, and several 12 Step programs leased the hall’s two rooms.

All things considered, the servicemen and women who used that building enjoyed doing so. Before the barman had pointed Chet and Withersmith to the door, citing restaurant codes, a few self-identified Bosnian War vets, an Afghanistan War vet, and a very elderly Vietnam War vet all had asked to pat his pup. Ironically, the only “C” hygiene rating that Chet had ever seen was plastered above the bar.


As he and Withersmith walked out as slowly as possible, they could overhear the defenders of Old Glory talk about artillery, tax rates, and the VA’s National Emergency Fund. The vets compared notes, too, on local pizzerias that extended discounts to soldiers. Since Chet had wanted to ask those legionnaires whether they received price cuts on time travel, he felt that he was missing out by being shoved away.


The night before, after he had pledged to pick up Nancy Lynn, Dorothy had laughed at him when he had spoken of veterans’ interdimensional adventures. She had corrected him that service men and women didn’t move among points in time and had tried to distract him with talk about the four sisters who rented the Vfw hall for their dance studio.


Those siblings taught ballet, toe, baton, gymnastics, jazz, and modern to local children. The oldest sister was the school’s principal. The next three were its full-time instructors. The two youngest sisters, who were minors, were its assistant teachers, and the lone brother was the star of the school’s annual recital. In a rented high school auditorium, that young boy wowed the students’ parents with tap or jazz routines. Half of the girls in the school had a crush on him (albeit none were aware that he had a girlfriend and that she was an entire grade above him!)


That family had rented the veterans’ hall for so long that they had had ballet bars and a long mirror permanently installed in the smaller, basement room, and that they stored huge boxes of dance paraphernalia along the main room’s walls. What’s more, that family’s students changed from school clothes to dancewear in the building’s coatroom, except for the rare, male students, who changed in the men’s’ bathroom.


Despite the fact it was weird that kids practiced jazz hands or cabriole under the watchful eyes of old warriors, neither the parents, who sent their offspring to the dance school, nor the troopers, themselves, seemed to mind that leotards and leatherheads mixed. In fact, the veterans composed such a significant per cent of the yearly recital’s audience, that the sale of their tickets provided much of the school’s revenue.


Additionally, the tykes loved to listen, at the barkeep’s prescribed distance from the bar, to the soldiers’ tales in-between classes. The veterans, too, enjoyed that camaraderie since many of them had outlived their spouses and even their children.


Dorothy’s narrative would have continued had Mr. Henry, who had entered her and Chat’s unlocked bedroom, not mewed insistently for kibble. After she filled his bowl, she had changed subjects. More exactly, she had reproofed her new mate for his dealings with her doxie, her cat, her albino hedgehog, and the birds that she fed from their kitchen window. She had scolded him that wee creatures needed to be lavished with pats and hugs, not kicked, or admonished. Likewise, she had reminded Chet that the furry and feathery life taking up residence in their home had comprised her family long before Chet had come courting.


The newlywed further remarked that Rudford had developed a tic after Chet had moved in and that she believed that her furze-pig’s spasms had resulted from it being repeatedly exposed to the racket that Chet made when fussing in the kitchen Above and beyond, Dorothy’s critters were to be coddled, in the least, cosseted, moreover. Human food was to be distributed to them at least weekly, and Withersmith’s sweet tooth, especially, had to be indulged. She warned that Chet had to change his ways, henceforth, if they were to start a family. Meaning, Dorothy’s pocket-sized companions would have to be treated more favorably by Chet before she would agree to having children.


Furthermore, Chet ought to be mindful that as a lawyer, Dorothy was ordinarily gone from their home for large amounts of time, although he, a science writer, who nestled in their spare bedroom when  working, uniquely, had enough temporal resources available to care for young.  Dorothy then spouted that Chet’s epicurean sensibilities were bothersome. She had tendered that he could continue to fabricate his macrobiotic, keto-influenced, Djiboutian, or Burmese comestibles if he dialed down his ranting about establishing a food forest. Neither she nor he had adequate discretionary time to maintain a diverse planting of edibles. If Chet meant to finish his poetry collection about contemporary men’s fashion, or to complete his novel on the social disparity found on Tristan de Cunha, he would have even less time for such matters.


Finally, Chet’s lady love declared that she would ignore his use of bhang if he indulged her, weekly, in Scrabble games. Dorothy had read in Honey Bunnies and Matrimony that date nights were essential to sustained happiness. Whereas Dorothy had rightly figured that Chet had no interest in exploring intellectual property law updates with her, she imagined that he might yield to board games, elsewise, be willing to go online window shopping with her for kitchen furnishings.


So, Chet found himself snuffling on the steps of the Vfw hall. He had been thunderstruck by Dorothy’s speech. Where he had hoped, the previous night, for homemade pie, a noogie, or, perhaps, an invitation to a picnic with Dorothy, he had received a list of effective parenting characteristics that he had been bade to emulate.


He shook his head. He had never considered Dorothy to be submissive, but he had thought her to be bubbleheaded. Plus, he had never witnessed his mom question his father on household management or on marriage. On balance, his mother had divorced his father when Chet was just sixteen.

Withersmith panted. He watched Chet open a bottle of water and pour some into a plastic cup pulled from Chet’s backpack. The hound wagged as he slurped. He then stuck his snout into the cup to seek more.


As, a gush of little girls in pastel leotards suddenly coursed past them. The doxie wagged at each child, hoping for a friendly pat or a handout. He received neither. Rather, two young, would-be ballet stars pulled on his ears until Chet noticed and told them to stop. They laughed at Chet.


Resting his head between his paws, the short canine snorted. It was hot outside. He was hot.  There didn’t seem to be any more refreshments. He wished for Dorothy.


When, at last, Nancy Lynn appeared, the wiener hound wagged and wagged. Almost always, that small human dropped chow in his direction. Maybe, she had a cookie or a bit of water to share. Maybe, she would scratch his long back in his favorite way — she was no longer wearing her arm cast or her neck brace.


While Nancy Lynn patted Withersmith and the hound sniffed for goodies in her opened carryall, Chet again woolgathered. Nancy Lynn exhaled gum bubbles.


Her mom forbade her to chew the stuff, but she accepted a gumball or two of from friends after each ballet lesson. Nancy Lynn tossed her used pieces into her family’s curbside garbage, never weighing that her father, monthly, had to clean that vessel. She didn’t regard herself as a source of microaggressions, let along grasp what it meant to communicate hostilities. After all, she wasn’t even ten.


When Nancy Lynn burst a bubble over the entirety of her face and cried out, Chet resurfaced. Meanwhile, Withersmith, who had found nothing edible in Nancy Lynn’s bag, had begun to pull at his tether.


Nancy Lynn went back inside to wash her face. After she reemerged, she asked Chet if she could visit Mr. Henry and Rudford en route home.


Chet answered, “no!”


Nancy Lynn proceeded to scream, loudly.


Chet quickly dialed Nancy Lynn’s mom to ask permission. He got through on the first ring but was unable to end his call until that parent stopped engaging him in chitchat about electronic grocery coupons, cat litter brands, and the plight of homeowners unable to water their lawns during droughts.


In the interim, Nancy Lynn once more blew a bubble that burst on her face and Withersmith relieved himself on the building’s steps. Chet pulled them toward the street while ignoring stares from passers-bye. Not too soon, he brought them home.


Surprisingly, Dorothy greeted Chet, Nancy Lynn, and Withersmith. She served them warm cranberry and walnut-studded muffins. Because a spectacular court win had heartened her supervisor, the entire office had been given the rest of the day off.


Dorothy was glad that she had baked the fresh, sweet cakes. Chet needed positive reinforcement for escorting Nancy Lynn from the dance school. Dorothy would praise him and not reveal that their young neighbor usually walked herself home.


Mr. Henry rubbed against Dorothy’s ankles. Rudford came out of hiding to nibble at some dropped crumbs. Dorothy beamed. Chet seemed educable. Having children was going to be lovely.


Then again, that night, as Chet washed the lasagna pan and then swept the kitchen floor, he announced that he would never become a parent. It had been tiresome to wait for Nancy Lynn and it had been disconcerting to have to protect Withersmith from swarming, sweaty youngsters.


Dorothy’s eyes bugged out. Her spouse was a tad unformed, but she had never measured him to be so infantile as to not to want offspring. She stared into space while tears ran down her cheeks.


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Chet offered, believing that his wife had seen him sweep debris into a corner instead of into the dustpan. Quietly, he amended that action.


Dorothy didn’t notice. Being a lawyer was nice. Being married was nice. Nevertheless, being a mom was essential. Her life’s worth depended on her ability to birth and to nurture the next generation. Were her parents right that she had picked the wrong partner?


Scott Vought, too, had courted her. Scott had been too much of a nerd, all the same, notwithstanding that Dorothy was a relatively highbrow girl. That youth had belonged to a Dungeons and Dragons club and had worked as a coder for a successful computer gaming company. However, he had bought Dorothy daisies, not roses, for special occasions, and he had sneezed every time that she had worn her favorite perfume. Worse, Scott’s twin was both hunky and married, essentially causing Dorothy to suffer twofold each time when she dated Scott.


Flustered by his woman’s continuing eyeball leakage, Chet ran into their bedroom and fished under their bed. He located the spliff that had formerly gone astray. Unfortunately, when he presented that gift to his darling, she slapped it out of his hand and began to cry anew.


Chet reached to pat Withersmith. He had given Dorothy an item that was meaningful to him. Maybe her doggie could help him understand why she had rejected it.




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