A 21st century tale
By Eve’s Rib
5: HOME TRUTHS
The interview was much shorter than Leo had expected, but he had misjudged the amount of time the outing would take. There were chores to do and he had expected an hour or two to sort them out. Instead he got stuck on a bus in rush-hour traffic and he grew increasingly fidgety, glancing at his watch every minute. He scolded himself — what’s up, scared of Gina, now? Yes, I suppose I am. I’m scared of Gina. Of what she’ll say. When he rushed into the house he found his job-hunting documents and printouts strewn around the coffee table and sofa, and he hadn’t even started to clean the kitchen and get dinner started. He was wondering what he could quickly tidy away when he heard the car pull up and he was stricken by panic. Why’d he been so messy? She mustn’t see his job-hunting stuff. He scooped up a handful of papers and wondered where he could hide them.
Gina’s footsteps sounded in the hall. “Hi, Leo.” Gina stopped as she came into the front room, and opened her eyes a little wider. “Why’s it in such a state?”
“I’m sorry, Gina, I haven’t started the housework yet.” He risked a placatory grin.
“It’s past six o’clock! What have you been doing all day?”
She marched to the kitchen. Leo, his body prickling with nervous heat, waited in doomed silence.
“I thought so!” she snapped. “I work all day and you let the house go to the dogs. You know I like to have my dinner around now and you’ve not even started chopping the meat yet. I’ve had enough of your laziness, Leo. Things are going to change around here!”
“But Gina...” Leo began, but she seized him by the jaw as if she wanted to belt him.
“Jesus, Gina. Are you crazy?” he cried, shaking her off angrily.
“I must be, to put up with this sort of bullshit!”
“Aw, fuck off! I wash and I cook and I clean –”
She stared him in the eye ferociously. “Look, sweetheart, I have had a real bitch of a day. My assistant lost an important letter and I got a bollocking. I’ve been pissing about the whole day trying to sort it out and go begging to that idiot at MacNichols. The last thing I need is a husband who can’t even do the housework properly! I want one of those risottos you’ve been practising and I want it now. GET IN THE KITCHEN.”
She stormed upstairs. It took Leo a couple of minutes to compose himself. He knew he had let her down, but why so much fuss over so little? Christ, who did she think she was? He was tempted to storm out of the house, but that would leave her with the strategic upper hand, so for now he started chopping pork for the dinner, banging the knife down in restrained fury. Gina was moving around upstairs for twenty minutes. Eventually she came down, wrapped in a dressing gown.
“Is my dinner ready?” she demanded.
“Nearly, it’s cooking.”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Serve it up and I want a glass of wine too.”
She went back upstairs. Leo sat sulking on the kitchen chair. He didn’t want to jump the moment his wife told him to. When she returned she had changed out of her business suit into a checked shirt and jeans.
“I told you I wanted some wine. Do as you’re told.”
“This is your husband you’re talking to,” he snapped.
She smirked and shouldered past into the dining room. It was good that she moved away, for he felt like he was about to hit her.
“Don’t fucking smirk at me, Gina, or I’ll bloody...”
“You’ll bloody what? Refuse your pocket money? I can’t wait to hear this!” She turned on him, proud and powerful, and with a shock Leo realised he was physically frightened of her. “Touch me and I’ll break your nuts.”
Leo wasn’t sure what he’d do. He just stood there.
“I thought so,” she sneered. “Now jump to it like a good little boy.”
Leo served up the dinner, which was one of the best he’d ever made, and poured wine for his wife. They ate in tense silence — neither of them had calmed down. Finally Gina pushed her plate back and sighed. “I’m sorry for snapping, Leo.”
“It’s OK,” said Leo automatically, though it wasn’t.
“You may want to live like a slob but I don’t, and it’s my house. When I get back from work tomorrow I want this place spotless. That means the washing up, the ironing, the dusting, the hoovering. And clean that damn cooker. If the place isn’t up to scratch there’ll be hell to pay. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Gina. I’m sorry...”
“I don’t want apologies. It’s time you realised who’s wearing the trousers round here.”
Gina went into the front room and put the TV on, one foot propped up on the coffee table. Leo angrily went to wash up. She had ever spoken to him like that before.
He blamed her decision to go into management training. Even during that year they had been as close as ever. He had helped her study: reading out multiple choice questions, picking which topic she’d revise next, printing her coursework while she caught up on reading. She had been a first-rate student. Leo had started to realise that whereas he was shunting rolls of paper onto a print machine for £17,000 a year, Gina would expect twice that as soon as she graduated, with excellent prospects of promotion. It was the modern male dilemma: he wanted to back her up, but a stubborn part of him wanted her to be a good little woman that kept the house and had a steak on the table when he strode heroically home from his exertions. It was the domestic order known to his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather and countless generations before them. Leo was letting the side down. Gina had started on a salary of £30,000 and then he’d lost his own job into the bargain.
This wasn’t fem-dom as envisioned in the dreams of fantasists and masturbators. Leo had been in that dodgy shop down Thornton Lane with Trigger, and sniggered at the S&M mags with their distopias where Amazons in PVC whiplashed male slaves. That was too absurd to take seriously, and was predicated upon male pleasure. This, however, was real life in a world increasingly organised by women for the benefit of women. Where your doctor, your lawyer, your boss, your MP, even your bishop were all women. Where your wife called the shots. And you couldn’t escape it. Men had to fit themselves into this world with whatever compromises were necessary. The process was only half complete, but female power was soaring and Leo was afraid.