A 21st century tale
By Eve’s Rib
1: LIFE WITH LEO AND GINA
When Gina came home from work, Leo was pouring himself a beer. He was sunk into the armchair, one foot propped up on the coffee table. He was wearing his tracksuit bottoms and a vest that rucked up against an emerging pot belly. His eyes fixed on the television screen, he grunted to acknowledge her.
Gina halted in the doorway. She was a handsome young woman in a suit that flattered her slim figure. As she undid her tie, her clear, keen eyes took in the beer cans, the scattered newspaper, the slack-fingered hand clasped around the remote control. Leo sensed her preparing to unleash a crushing put-down of the sort that kept her subordinates on their toes at work. Instead, she put her briefcase on the table and went into the kitchen, where she halted again.
Leo heard water slosh into the sink, followed by a chink of crockery, and he had a spasm of guilt. The washing-up had been accumulating for three days. He was supposed to have done some housework today, but there was an England men’s international on and he wanted to see the lads prove themselves. By the time he had bought a couple of beers and watched the preamble, he had forgotten about anything else.
“Any luck?” Gina called in a level voice, banging in the sink. She had always hated washing up.
“Nothing, as usual,” he said. “Just security and portering, all the menial shite.”
He tried to return his attention to the game. The television was a reassuring object for him. Its sleek electronic box was the last thing he had bought before his short career collapsed, and he could consider it his own — unlike the wallpaper, and the curtains, and the carpet, and the suite, and the fitted kitchen, and the car, and the house, all of which were paid for by Gina. Presently Gina appeared behind him, peeling gloves from her strong, manicured hands. “You could be a driver. You can drive.”
“Driving isn’t my job. I’m a printer’s assistant.” He took a long draught of his beer, then winced in disappointment at the screen. The lads were letting him down, racing about wildly and still getting nowhere. Too many missed chances. “They’re giving it to you on a plate!” he roared. “Stop wasting it!”
“Calm down, Leo,” said Gina, sitting down beside him. “Can I have the news on in five minutes?”
“Aw, give me a break, love, there’s half-an-hour yet.”
Gina picked up a beer can with exaggerated gingerliness. “Has it occurred to you that we may have to eat tonight?” (Leo shrugged sheepishly.) “I’ve been on my feet since seven this morning. Did you go shopping like I asked?” (Oh, Christ! Leo shook his head. He was really feeling guilty now.) “Well, can you go now, please? How about chicken and rice?”
“Whatever you want.” He stood up, sighing. He couldn’t deny it, he had promised to shop. There was no getting out of it.
“Seeing as you put it that way,” said Gina, picking a fleck off her white shirt. She dropped onto the sofa and changed the channel.
Leo was about to protest, but stopped himself. He stumped off to the Tesco down the road. It was irritating how Gina could turn the screws on him. Christ, all he wanted was to watch the game! He wondered how the lads were doing as he stormed impatiently along the aisles, dropping items into his trolley. Shopping bored him. The queue took an eternity: he was ready to clout the dippy couple in front him if they didn’t get a fucking move on...
When he lumbered back to the house, Gina followed him into the kitchen, studying the shopping as he unpacked, in that way he found so overbearing. “What’s this, Leo?” she demanded, holding up the milk carton. “I said we should get semi-skimmed. And you know I want brown rice. Don’t you listen to anything I say?”
“I don’t like brown rice,” he grumbled.
“Well, I do.”
It was one of those days. A bit of aggro belonged to any relationship. He had learned not to get worked up. He put water on to boil and unwrapped the chicken. As he hunted for a knife he noticed that Gina hadn’t left the kitchen. She was standing by the door, examining him — she looked great in her slim trousers and white shirt.
“Leo, leave that a second.” She brushed back her short dark hair and folded her arms. “I want you to know that I have just washed up for the last time in this house. From now on it is your job.”
Shit, he thought. She doesn’t want to let go. “I’m sorry, love, I meant to do it, but the game was on, and —”
“The thing is, Leo — can you pay attention, please?” He turned. Gina was behaving rather stiffly, as if there was something important to say. “I’ve been promoted.”
“Gina, that’s great!”
“I get a car and my own office. And more work.”
“You really are climbing up the old corporate ladder,” said Leo. He should have been proud of her, but he wasn’t quite. He resented that she was successful and he wasn’t.
“Leo, I don’t care any more if you don’t find a job,” Gina went on. “The labour market is becoming a much more competitive place and it promotes women, not men. Every employer nowadays realises that woman are better workers than men. — No, hear me out. We said we’d try to share everything, but it isn’t working out. I think we should make a more formal arrangement.”
“What, formal?” This really sounded like trouble.
“Leo, I would like you to stop looking for work and be a househusband.”
Leo’s throat went dry and he got a queer feeling in his stomach. He had been fearing that sentence for some time.
“I earn enough to support both of us, and we can avoid this sort of stroppiness.”
“I ain’t stroppy, Gina...”
“You don’t pull your weight, Leo. I haven’t got the time to take care of the house. Look at the state of the front room! And every time I ask you to wash up or do some shopping I get whingeing or excuses. I’ve asked you enough times to clean the kitchen. You had all day today and you haven’t done a scrap of work around here. It has to end and end now. If we could take it for granted that the housework was your job —”
He stood there over the simmering dinner. She must be crazy if she thinks I’m going to do all the housework. Who does she think she is anyway? Of course, I should do some, that’s only fair. But I’m not doing every little thing she wants. You can’t expect a bloke to play housewife, not a normal bloke, not a bloke like me.
“I can’t stop looking for work completely, Gina. When would it end? I’m never going to work again or what? You’re not the only person in this relationship —”
“The thing is, Leo,” said Gina, growing impatient, “I work hard. I pay the mortgage and all our expenses. So of course we must discuss things together, but at the end of the day, I expect to have the final say in everything. I’m the boss.”
Leo fidgeted unhappily. “Is this what you get from those management courses or what?” he muttered.
“No, Leo, it’s what I get from being the breadwinner,” said Gina. She put her arm around him. “Who can say what the future will bring? At least we can see how it works out, eh?”
“I know I’ve not done my share, Gina, but I’m not the sort to doss around at home, I’m a working man.”
“Working?” said Gina. “That’s a good one! And you won’t be dossing if I have any say in the matter.” She was smiling again, at least. “If you need any help, you only have to ask Brian nextdoor. He’s an expert. He’s been a househusband all his married life.”
“That ponce! I suppose you want me to wear a bloody frock as well?”
“Oh, my goodness,” laughed Gina, hugging him. “Not unless you want to, darling. I’ll be happy if you’ll simply do the housework and defer to my decisions.”
“OK, OK, Gina, love, I know you work hard, and I know I’ve not been pulling my weight. Very sorry, love, OK? I’ll try harder. — Can we have the game back on?”
“We’re having the news,” said Gina, sitting back on the sofa.
“But it was —”
“Who’s the boss, Leo?” She crossed her legs and folded her arms across her bosom. “Men’s football has had its day, anyway, love. The women’s game is where the money’s going. Now where’s my dinner got to?”