Oliver versus Janet 2
About the Writer
A teacher and PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Daniel's fiction has appeared in The Lifted Brow #25, The Fiddleback, Hobart, CCLAP, Defenestration, Mobius and Pravic, among other places. He recently completed a novel in which the entire world lives in a single parking garage. Sometimes he brews his own beer.
Janet 1 and Janet 2 shared all the same words. It sounded ridiculous, Oliver knew, but it was as if one Janet spoke to him in anagrams of arguments he'd had with the other. This feeling was only an inkling at first, like when you start scratching your eye before it itches. But then one morning, over breakfast, Oliver had clearly heard himself - sounding stupid and selfish, of course - in everything Janet 2 was saying. It was all so cleverly hidden. It didn't matter that, on the surface, she was talking about how Boston Terriers only liked to play with larger dogs. The two Janets laughed and slapped their knees and covered their mouths. Before Oliver could say anything, Janet 1 and Janet 2 giggled in sync, took their coffees into their bathrooms, and then shut both doors. Their individual exhaust fans whirred to life at precisely the same time.
Janet 1 liked Oliver to smell a little funky when they were fooling around. She liked his funk, onions in the armpits. She would say, "You smell funky," and pinch her nose, but Oliver knew it turned her on. One night in bed, as Janet 1 pinched her nose and pressed herself against him with a naughty smile, Oliver really felt he needed to talk to her about Janet 2.
But why would he want to bring that up now? He was kind of too involved in Janet 1's body to stop and talk to her about anything serious. God, maybe if he was lucky he could at least get the sex out of the way before Janet 2, like always, steamrolled into bed with them, shoving him and his smelly pits out of her way. The thought hardened his resolve. Oliver ran his fingers over Janet 1's smooth belly one more time, eliciting a soft moan, before he slowed his kissing and wiggled his hips away from Janet 1’s tugging on his belt.
"Janet 2 has to go,” he whispered to her. "She just has to. Don't you think?"
"She's your wife,” Janet 1 spat at him. Then she went into the bathroom and locked the door.
It's not like Oliver planned on fucking Janet 2 or reasoned it out. But once it started, it seemed to help. Late one night, as Oliver went to the kitchen for a glass of water, the door to the hall closet opened and a Janet’s ass popped out. He spanked it twice, automatically, making a surprisingly loud pop. The sound excited him. He placed his hands on her fleshy, symmetrical butt cheeks. He pulled her ass to him as an erection fought through his boxer shorts.
"Janet? Is that you?" He was pretty sure it was.
"No talking,” she grunted.
Oliver had no problem with that. He seized her ass again and pushed the both of them forward into the darkness of the closet. The hangers groaned. The leather tennis shoes squeaked. And Oliver kept his eyes tightly shut, gripping her hips. She sighed and sighed, sometimes arching her buttocks like Janet 1 did when gardening in the sun. Sometimes arching her ass like Janet 2 did when she made up the couch for her bed: purposefully, direct, leaving Oliver to wonder.
When it was over Oliver slumped against his winter coat, enjoying the cool fabric against his skin. He could just barely make out the outline of Janet 2's face in the darkness of the closet, mostly the curve of her hair as it draped across her high cheekbones, cupping her chin. She looked softer than when they were first married, more attentive and sympathetic, and Oliver began to worry that she would be the one to ask for a divorce.
"Same time tomorrow," Janet 2 said, before shoving him out of the door with her heel.
After work the next day, Oliver tried to talk to her. She was making up the couch for her bed. Oliver didn't get too close. He was afraid of her, but more afraid of being alone in the dark, of the long cold walk back to Janet 1.
"Come sleep in the bed with us," Oliver asked Janet 2.
"Your wife's in there,” she said, as if Oliver was a moron.
"But you’re my wife, too." He whispered it, but forcefully.
Janet 2 sighed. She made a fist, still gripping her sheet.
"Yes, I'm your wife,” she said, sounding tired. "And I don’t want to talk to you ever again."
Oliver woke up the next morning feeling depressed. He’d slept in too late. The coffee had already been turned off. The Janets were in their bathrooms. Oliver went to a door, pressed his cheek against it.
"I love you," he said.
"Just give me a minute, babe."
He couldn't tell if it was Janet 1 or Janet 2. "Do you think that one day people will start alternating the blinking of their eyelids so that they can see all the time?"
"Babe, just a sec, okay?"
"Gotcha,” Oliver said. He sat down at the kitchen table and listened for the exhaust fans.
Janet 2 was no longer talking to Oliver. But they still had sex. Whenever he and Janet 1 were fucking, Janet 2 came stomping in to join the fray. She stroked Janet 1's hair the whole time and, afterwards, she made the bed. Oliver kept telling her that she could leave if she wanted to, but Janet 2 just laughed and asked Janet 1 if she wanted help with her make-up that day, or with braiding her hair. Then they disappeared into a bathroom together, leaving Oliver alone.
"You have to ask her to leave,” Oliver said to Janet 1 later that day, as he flipped some shrimp kebabs on the grill. Janet 1 and Janet 2 both loved shrimp kebabs.
"She's your wife,” Janet 1 said.
"Yes, but-” Oliver hesitated. "Sometimes, she gets into bed with us."
Again, Janet 1 shrugged.
"I can't ask her to go," Oliver said, "but I know she wants to."
"Maybe that's what you want,” Janet 1 said, picking at their basil plants.
"I know. I know. But I also want her to stay, you know? She is my wife."
Oliver flipped the shrimp kebabs again. They were browning nicely.
"Tell you what,” Janet 1 said. "I'll ask her to go, but then you have to start helping with chores."
Oliver nodded, poking at the shrimp kebabs with his grill fork.
"And she's going to know it was you that asked."
"Fine," Oliver said.
"And she won't really leave. But you won't get to see her again."
For the next three months, Oliver never heard or saw Janet 2. Every once in a while he stumbled across one of her bags or found that both of their bathrooms were occupied at once, but, by and large, it was as if Janet 2 really had left for good. Fall began and the leaves turned. Oliver lowered the bedroom window about an inch a week as the colder weather sank in. By the time Janet 1 left for Houston it was barely open a crack.
Janet 1 had gotten a teaching job there. She flew out every Sunday, and returned every Thursday. The job was for three months and paid extra for the travel. Oliver drove her to the airport each week and said goodbye. He hugged her for a long time before Janet 1 ran for the security gate. They gave strong, insistent kisses. Oliver always carried her luggage for her.
He missed Janet 1 when she was gone. He also missed Janet 2. This was how it always was. He didn't like Janet 2 that much, but she had a place inside of him, and he knew that she had a place inside Janet 1, too.
Most evenings Oliver was tired from work. He sat on the couch watching television with the dog, then moved to the porch with a tumbler of scotch and some ice. Each night Oliver sorted through his feelings, missing Janet 1 and Janet 2 in turn. He missed Janet 1’s presence in the apartment. Then he missed Janet 2 in the way he sometimes missed his childhood. He rifled the closets looking for Janet 2’s luggage, but found nothing.
On Thursday Oliver drove to the airport to pick up Janet 1. He felt fresh and light, even though it was raining. He got to the airport early enough to park and wait by the gate, so that when she emerged from the plane-to-airport umbilicus she would see him right away, maybe move a little faster to reach him. He would carry her luggage to the car, up the stairs, and leave it in the center of the room.
Janet 1 would no doubt know how to get in touch with Janet 2. He would convince Janet 2 to come and live with them again. Janet 1 would throw her arms around him and kiss him deeply for the idea. He couldn't wait to ask her.
Oliver shifted his feet as the airport announcer droned on about a flight about to board. He paced around the trash bin, then took up a post near the door to the gate. He could see partly around the curve into the tunnel.
Before long Oliver felt another person standing behind him, also leaning on the rail. He spent a long time hoping that they would get tired and go sit down in the waiting area. Janet 1’s flight was now delayed half an hour. But the figure behind him remained, coughed a few times, even blew her nose. Eventually he turned and saw that it was Janet 2.
He said hello to her, but she just kind of shrugged at him, as if contemplating leaving.
"I was hoping I'd see you here,” Oliver said.
"Yeah?" She looked away, towards the airport bar and a man with a beard on a barstool. Oliver waited for her to turn back around before explaining.
"Janet and I have been talking it over, and we decided to invite you to live with us. For good this time."
"I don't think so,” she said, peering down the gate's tunnel. Oliver had hoped for a hug, at least. A firm and demanding hug to say, "I'm back, and you know why." But Janet 2 just stood there.
"Well that's fine with me,” Oliver said over his shoulder at her. “We just thought we'd ask."
"Is this flight delayed or what?" Janet 2 said. "I parked in the short term lot." Janet 2 shook her head. Her hair floated for a moment, then wrapped around her face like a cat's tail when it lies down to sleep.
"It's just air traffic,” Oliver said. "Shouldn't be too long."
"Well I'm tired of waiting.”
"Me, too,” Oliver said. He meant it, too. As much as he wanted to see Janet 1, he was also tired of waiting for her. "You remember that time that we went camping out on Rock Island?"
Janet 2 nodded.
"It was just you and me, and that was kind of scary. I was worried that we would get sick of each other. We hiked around the island all day and talked about our families for the first time.. At night it got so dark that all we could do was hang out in the tent with our little battery powered light and talk. But it didn't take very long to say everything.”
Janet 2 smiled.
"The next day we hiked 2.5 miles straight up. We didn’t say a word. I didn't have anything at all to say to you.” He sort of reached for her hand. “That’s when I knew we'd be married."
Oliver broke off. He wanted to stand there in silence, leaning on the rail. Janet 2 put her arm around him. She'd always been good in situations like this.
The P.A. system announced the arrival of Janet's flight. Oliver stood up and straightened his shirt collar. Janet 2 helped him.
"I think you should go,” Oliver whispered to her.
"I can't," she said. The first few passengers waddled through the gate, their eyes large and glassy as they read the signs pointing to their luggage, rental cars, and exits.
"Sure you can,” Oliver assured her, his hand at her hip. "Just forget that I ever existed."
Janet 2 was gone just like that.
Oliver took a few deep breaths. He sort of felt like crying. He sort of didn’t know what to do. After a few minutes, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It surprised him. Janet 2 was back.
“You miss me?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” Oliver said.
"Just because she's your wife now,” she said, then pinched at his leg with her thighs.
“Well, you know.” A small crowd had begun to gather around the tunnel entrance. Passengers waddled stiffly around the bend with their luggage. Janet 2 pinched Oliver's leg even tighter with her thighs. He struggled to turn towards the gate, but Janet 2 kept a powerful grip.
I will!" he screamed. "You know I will.” He wrenched free of her just as Janet 1 rounded the corner wheeling her carry-on luggage. Oliver leaned forward and waved, and Janet 1 saw them and smiled, picking up the pace of her walking. He prepared to throw his arms around Janet 1 and to kiss her, hard on the lips, almost too hard, and he waited while Janet 2 stood behind him.