The Outlet by Bob Conklin

There is only one outlet in the room, down by the baseboards. Millicent sits in a corner, smoking a cigarette, tapping the ash from time to time in a Styrofoam cup half-filled with lukewarm coffee from the night before. She looks through a back issue of Glamour, studying the cosmetic ads. Luke watches television, a Perry Mason rerun, the theme song just concluding. He will watch television for thirteen minutes, and then Millicent will want to use the outlet for her curling iron. It is Ladies Night down at the Cisco Saloon, and she and three of her girlfriends from the hair salon will step out for the evening. Luke will be hesitant about pulling out the alarm clock plug so that he can continue watching television uninterrupted, because this means he would have to keep time by the commercial breaks. Then, when he is ready for bed, he would have to call the number for Time and Temperature from the phone booth on the corner and keep count with his fingers until he climbs the stairs back to the apartment so that he can reset the alarm clock precisely two minutes ahead of the time he hears over the phone, allowing for the walk back to his room. That is if he isn’t stopped by one of the boys hanging out in front of the pool hall and harassed into playing a game of billiards for the dollar or two he would have been better off spending on a quart bottle of Miller Lite. After Millicent is done with the outlet, it’s Janine’s turn, who needs it to plug in her adding machine so she can complete her accounting problems for a night class she is taking every other evening after work. “What do you need to study accounting for?” Millicent asks. “What kind of education is that for a girl with your sensitivity to life and all things natural? Why would you want to shut yourself in an office full of white-collar stuffed shirts, who’ll be spending half their time looking up your skirt when you’re sitting cross-legged at a meeting or who’ll always be thinking about pinching you or touching you or caressing you or fondling you—just to make sure you’re real and not some wax doll? A girl with your brains and ability, not to mention talent?” ‘How am I supposed to reply to that?’ is the look Janine gives Millicent from the book she’s reading, a minor work by Sartre. The commercials crop up from Perry Mason, and Millicent plugs in her curling iron right on schedule. “I’ll let you watch the second half of tomorrow’s show to make up for it,” she promises Luke. Tomorrow is Bingo Night at St. Alban’s Center, where Millicent calls the numbers into a megaphone for players with disabilities. “All right,” Luke replies, “all right.” He pulls out the alarm clock plug without thinking, then goes out the door, jingling the change in his pocket and wearing a look of concentration, as though he might have someone important he is going to call.

Bob Conklin specializes in writing unpublished novels for a very select audience. When not writing or editing, he helps his spouse macromanage their three kids as they take less-traveled paths of their own.