Every day, it was as though he was becoming more “keenly” aware of just how much time had passed. Little “indications” kept occurring that would almost force him to realize it fully, but not quite. Because of his insulated lifestyle, he had been able to avoid the truth for the most part. His wife, being in the same age bracket, allowed him the privilege of sustaining that bubble, even though she was slightly more “with it.” Slightly more acknowledging of the notion that it was, in fact, the twenty-first century. And long gone were the “good old days” of the twentieth. Days that Oliver yearned to still experience. Told himself, whenever he could, that he was experiencing them.
Alas, at seventy-one years old, it was becoming impossible for him to ignore the cold, hard facts: he had grown irrelevant in this world as he had grown older (and then just old) in it. While he was still working, it was easy to tell himself otherwise. He still had a “place,” a “context.” And best of all, he got to order younger people around and make them feel like shit for their “laziness.” Maybe the sudden weight of obsolescence currently bogging him down was karma for that. He didn’t notice himself having such contempt for young people until the final years as manager at a hardware store. Before, he found some way to relate to them—to even admire them. Their “drive” and “resolve” to work a summer job in order to make extra money for school or to start their own side business. But during the last year of managing, when he had turned sixty-seven, something shifted inside of Oliver. It was as though to look at anyone under the age of forty was to set him off. Prompt some kind of internal allergic reaction. It was all he could do to get through a single day at work without raising his voice to one of them for what he perceived as stupidity and insolence. It was almost as though, the higher he paid an employee, the more incompetent they were. Which, of course, made his blood boil—and wonder why he was offering additional compensation just to oblige the state’s absurd demand to raise the minimum wage. In the process, as far as he was concerned, raising the bovine tendencies of the worker.
Most days, he would go home and complain about this to Faye, who worked in the far more “adult” realm of a law firm. And, because of working there (and it being in San Francisco as opposed to the “quaint” San Pablo where Oliver’s hardware store was located), she felt that perhaps she was “forced” to evolve and adapt more frequently to changing “trends” in political correctness and understanding than Oliver. As they aged together, his trapped-in-the-past nature became more pronounced to her, more odious—if not completely depressing. She wanted to live in the world, not in a time warp outside of it. But often, it felt as though that was precisely what Oliver wanted to do. Would have been perfectly content to exist in such a manner. And when Faye didn’t go along with it, he appeared betrayed by her so-called “slight.” As far as she was concerned, however, she was only doing him a favor. Jolting him back into reality so that he didn’t become totally detached from it. Unfortunately for Faye, it seemed as though he wanted to be. And that the only time he was put in a position to reconcile with the present was when he went out to buy various grocery items for the house.
Faye was still working at her law firm, not due to retire for at least another three years. This, in part, drove a further wedge between her and her husband’s ideology. While he was left to stew and fester all day in notions of “the way it ought to be,” she was out living in the present, accepting that change in society had happened long ago. When Faye came home, it was a source of dread. She lamented having to leave the soothing presence of people younger than her in favor of the tired rest home her residence had become with Oliver in it. Oliver who would spout Eisenhower-level conservative rhetoric at the table while Faye did her best not to regurgitate the red meat he had made for dinner. Red meat, for fuck’s sake. Who was this man she had married? While some complained of their spouse with the stock rumination, “You’re not the person I married,” Faye could only wish that Oliver might have changed even slightly since the day she married him. But no, everything he thought then, he thought now. Everything he was then, he was now. Minus the job he once had to place some cushion between him and total delusion.
The delusion that things were still catering totally to “good ol’ boys” (which wasn’t entirely untrue, but society had come a long way—believe it or not). One broken at last by the arrival of a certain pandemic reckoning. But, ironically, it wasn’t the pandemic itself that made Oliver finally apprehend that, yes, time had passed and things had categorically changed since his own youth. Instead it was a very specific after-effect wrought by sanitary precautions taken to mitigate the spread of the contagion. And one day, upon returning from the store to buy his usual red meat that Faye felt obliged to stuff her face with (even though she knew it was killing her) all for the “benefit” of making Oliver “feel better,” he slammed his grocery bag down in a rage. Faye, who was sitting on the couch reading, looked up at him inquisitively to hear him seethe, “It’s not the same anymore. You can’t even get a butcher to cut you a piece of meat now. That’s his entire job. What the fuck has this world been reduced to?”
Faye got up from her seat to try to console him, explaining, “They have to take these precautions you know. The less handling of things by multiple parties, the better.”
He sighed. “It’s all so goddamn sanitized now, Faye. I don’t know what this world is.”
The admissions were growing more existential by the sentence and Faye wasn’t sure what to do. How to make him feel better about a reality that everyone in their demographic had been made aware of quite some time ago. He hung his head in his hands and began to sob. It was utterly out of character and Faye was further put in the position of not knowing what to do. Trying to get on his level of “logic,” she “reasoned,” “Well now, think about it just a minute, Oliver. If things hadn’t changed, you wouldn’t even be buying meat. I would be, as your ‘doting hausfrau.’ Buying meat used to be ‘women’s work.’ So really, you should be glad at all the ways in which things have changed. The way the world has opened up. Don’t you think?”
That did stop him from sobbing. But not because of the “rationale” Faye was expecting. Instead, all at once, his eyes grew cold and dry. He stared daggers at her and said, “You’re right, that’s where it all went wrong. When you started working. Started making more money than me. You thought you were so much better because you had all the power. She who holds the purse strings, right?” He inched closer to her with a menacing air.
“Oliver, what the hell has gotten into you? I’m trying to help, but even I have my limits. I’ve been putting up with your shit for a long time. Maybe I should pull the rip cord.”
As she said this, his right hand gripped her neck and squeezed it. “Maybe I should remind you of your place. Maybe I need to remind every woman of her place, in fact. That’s where this whole goddamn system got fucked up. When women started asking for more.”
Faye couldn’t tell anymore if he was being himself or if a synapse had blown and this was the result. Perhaps it was all the culmination of suppressing his rage about how “things weren’t the same anymore.” And she was the conduit with which he could finally express that rage. As she felt his grasp become tighter and tighter, she finally gathered the strength to knee him in the groin, bringing him to the ground in a fit of agony. She then punched him in the face and announced, “What an amazing news flash, Oliver. Yes, that’s correct: it’s not the same anymore. Including the defunct idea of me loving you.”
She practically ran for the door after saying that, still terrified Oliver might get some sort of second wind and try to kill her again in the name of all “oppressed” men. She would pay someone to go collect her things at a later date. All she knew for sure was that her future—however bleak—was still infinitely brighter now that she had jettisoned a man so grossly attached to the foul “ideals” of the past. Incidentally, on her expedition to someplace far from Oliver, she drove through a town that had an “old-fashioned” butcher. The kind that agreed to cut her some slices of meat so that she might make a sandwich before continuing on her journey.