Even Steven: a short story that evolved from a 5-minute-freewrite exercise

Thanks, @mariannewest, for the daily 5minute freewrite!
Today’s prompt: Day 348 : 5 Minute Freewrite: Wednesday – Prompt: vinyl.


Steve was done with Stephanie.

Her big baby-blue eyes and blonde curls, her pouty lips, her heaving bosom would not get her off the hook this time.

He almost left her over the leather recliner. It was his. No other chair in the world held him so comfortably. If it was as ugly all that, she could have bought some fancy “throw” thingie with useless tassled pillows to camouflage it. But oh, no, she had to have it hauled off when he wasn’t home. He’d been pretty damn nice about the redecorating, dazed and amazed that this beautiful blonde was moving in and about to marry him. The furniture dated back to his parents’ marriage 50 years earlier, but that didn’t mean it was worn out. All that clean, modern, shiny-new shit at Ikea was what she loved.

He didn’t put up much of a fight when she moved into the house his parents left him and made it “theirs,” by which she meant “hers.” He was in love. She was smart and witty, with a degree in architecture, as soon as she passed all the math classes. He’d taken over his dad’s construction business. Everyone said it was a match made in heaven.

The kind of houses he built were simple, not because he wasn’t smart enough to complicate them with gratuitous gables and peaks, but because he liked things sensible and easy to maintain. It wasn’t because he was lazy or indifferent that he hadn’t redecorated his childhood home. Everything was fine.

Until she moved in.

The Howard Miller chair, he thought, had settled matters once and for all. This was no knock off; this was the iconic and original chair, in excellent condition, worth thousands of dollars, but she would have hauled it off to the Salvation Army. That was where she sneaked off to with the leather recliner, but he retrieved it. The upstairs bedrooms were slated for purging after the wedding, which is why he hadn’t settled a date yet. She didn’t have a ring yet because she refused the half-carat diamond he’d chosen, and he wasn’t ready to siphon several thousand dollars from his savings for a danged rock.

His Budweiser beer stein collection was non-negotiable. She’d made fun of them in her cute, lilting way, but it stopped being cute after so many repetitions. Those steins were going nowhere, and she knew it.

If she had to take it upon herself to remove them, she could have boxed them up and stored them in the attic crawl space above his workbench in the garage, but she wouldn’t risk spiders or dust, probably not even for a Free Shopping Spree at Ikea.

What was it with clowns and spiders, anyway? It was a thing now. Something in the drinking water, maybe, made too many 1990s guys phobic about spiders. Maybe Stephanie planned to marry him just for his fearless, manly way of carrying spiders outside while she screamed like an idiot at the sight of them.

He’d kill a mouse for her, he’d rehome spiders and snakes, but his Budweisers stein were iconic, one for every year since he was born, because his mom went into labor in the middle of Oktoberfest. Back then, women smoked and drank all nine months and tossed babies into the back seats of cars without “safety restraints,” and boys played with cap guns that struck actual gunpowder and set off real smoke, and words like “toxic masculinity” didn’t exist yet. Steve was born in the cusp of 1950s manhood and 1990s gender-neutral-hood.

If Stephanie wanted a less masculine man, the wedding was off.


“Where are they?”

Steve asked her in his quietest, scariest voice, that authoritative bass his dad had used on Steve, Polly and Holly, the twins who caused their mother to get her tubes tied on the delivery table.

Stephanie just smirked. “Where is what?”

“If you sold them,” he said, “I will track them down, and I will get them back.”

Her denim cut-offs and mid-riff shirt distracted him momentarily from his wrath. She was stretching up to the ceiling, taping the wall where his steins used to be, getting ready to paint. Granted, a wall could use painting after so many years.

“Aww, you’re so cute when you’re mad, Stevey.” Flipping her blonde curls over her shoulder, she gave him that look of innocence he now recognized as a red flag waving. Cats had perfected the look, but he saw now that he had been had. She was innately evil and irresistibly cute but he was over “cute,” and he was over her.

“You have 30 days to move out,” Steve said.

She stepped down from the ladder and faced him. “Seriously? It’s me or those ugly, outdated Budweiser steins?”

Cat. Think of her as a cat. Not as a gorgeous little blonde who caught his heart and ran with it.

“It’s not so much about the things,” Steve said. “It’s about your lack of respect for my things. I like your minimalist style, but I’m thinking it may be incompatible with little things that matter to me, and your disregard is a big thing.”

“You can’t kick me out!”

“I said you got 30 days.” He marched up to pack some things, tuning out whatever words she was hurling at him, then stalked out the door and into the late September sunshine. The day was crisp and clear, unlike the brain fog Stephanie had afflicted him with.

Steve squinted at the old Airstream Flying Cloud 28 that Steph would have hauled away by now except she got the bright idea to strip the carpet and turn his mom and dad’s motorhome into a party shack out back. Sample floor tiles and cabinet colors were spread out awaiting a final decision, but he had a moment of clarity and pulled his key ring out of his pocket. The old Airstream fired right up, and he headed off to the salvage yard where he remembered a glimpse of blue and white vinyl tiles in a clearance bin. She’d seen them too and laughed and steered him to the custom-order books. Well hell, whose Airstream was it, anyway, and what if he felt like driving it with no regard for who might see him in the ghastly metal house on wheels?

    First, he stopped at the Salvation Army and inquired about his Budweiser stein collection. He’d guessed right. She hadn’t even tried to sell them, thank God for small miracles, and they were vintage collectibles.
The boxes were still unpacked in the receiving area and he managed to retrieve them without having to threaten violence because Quartez knew the routine, knew what to expect before Steve even charged the door.

“You gotta put that woman in her place, man,” he advised Steve. “Let her know who da man of the house.”

Steve sighed. “Quartez, the 1950s is calling. Apparently you landed in the 1990s by mistake and they want you back.”

“Ha ha. Suit yourself man. But, uh, before you go, I hate to tell ya, she dropped off some of your polyester ties and I don’t mind saying they look better on me than they would on you.”

“Shit!” Steve lunged for the cart piled high with shirts and polyester leisure suits. “She didn’t!”

“She does have a kind and compassionate and charitable side, unlike you.” Quartez lifted his chin, affecting the same hurt look that Steph was so good at, and he had rich brown puppy eyes with long, dark lashes to make ya feel his pain. His faux pain. Gawd.

The man broke out laughing, unable to keep up the act.

“Whatever you took,” Steve said, “just keep it. But I’m taking back the rest.”

“Now ya talkin,'” Quartez crowed.

With all 33 steins

safe beside him in the passenger seat, Steve moved on with his mission. He bought the vinyl floor tiles and made up his mind to install them here and now, in the parking lot. He would do this thing, now, without her input or protestations.

The diamond pattern required extra cutting, but he always had a utility knife at hand, and if that wasn’t sufficient for the job, the salvage store had everything he needed to do whatever the hell he wanted to with his motorhome. His. Not hers, not theirs, but his.

While he worked, his mind replayed scene after scene where she had done some outrageous thing, and he had protested, and she had soothed the savage beast with her feminine wiles. The little cat. Calling him the savage beast, when he was a just a guy, a regular guy, the kind who turned heads–and not just in small-town taverns where the pickings were slim. She met him at a misleading time in his life, dressed up as a groomsman in the wedding of his buddy Mike to her cousin Emily, and she caught the bouquet, and they danced at the reception at an upscale brewery and drank craft beer and fell under a spell of wedding euphoria.

His friends were in awe of her and so was he.

It happened gradually, the way she’d get him to cancel outings with his friends so he could take her where she wanted to go. Parade of Homes, ok, but art galleries full of expensive so-called “art” and snotty artists, no, he’d rather shovel manure at a hog farm.

He cut and peeled and stuck down tiles.

When did the kettle come to a boil–when did it occur to him he missed his old gang and their antics–and why was he in position to be missing them at all?

The floor turned resplendent with the blue and white pattern you saw at Oktoberfests everywhere. Party shack? You bet, Steph, but not the kind you have in mind. This one would take him to weekends of Dirndls, Lederhosen, green alpine hats with feathers, beer steins, sausages and sauerkraut, oompa-band tubas and accordions, beer chants, big Bavarian pretzels, and bosoms.

Stephanie might look like the St. Pauli girl but he’d always been a Bud man.


Beer and sausage sounded good

after installing a floor. Hell, it sounded good any time of day, any season. Steve dumped the vinyl scraps in the nearest bin in the parking lot, maneuvered the Airstream onto the street, and headed to the Tallcorn Tavern where his buddies no longer expected to see him. And that strong, sturdy little brunette at the bar who, according to Mike’s now-wife, wanted to do more than flirt with him. But she said that after he’d take up with Stephanie, and that was the last time he set foot in the Tallcorn. Until now.

He parked the mammoth right across from the open door of the tavern and unpacked two of his steins, one for his own beer, one just in case. Ya never know: a Budweiser kind of woman might be there at this very hour. She didn’t have to be a blonde bombshell with book smarts and a razor-sharp wit. But she would have to like him, as is. He wasn’t going to be anyone’s home improvement project again.

Through the door came laughter and warm light spilling onto the brick sidewalks. The old booths were still covered in red vinyl that was new when his parents were young. The brunette was at the bar. What was her name? Amanda. Mandy. She caught sight of him and broke into a shameless grin and called out his name, and everyone turned to look at the dusty construction worker at the door.

Who said you can’t go home again?

Where did the Oktoberfest blue and white diamond pattern originate?

The diamond pattern in heraldry is called a lozenge and dates back to Otto II of Bavaria.

“Budweiser girls” promote beer for Anheuser-Busch. The first Budweiser girl was in 1883. (Wikipedia)

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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