"good heavens, helen, what are you doing sitting here in the dark?"
helen jumped up and switched on the lamp on the table beside the couch. "i am sorry, i did not realize how late it was."
"but you must have noticed that it was dark." aunt jane took her coat off and hung it carefully in the closet.
"i was not reading anything. there was really no reason to turn the light on."
"sitting in the dark is morbid. especially for a healthy young woman like yourself."
"i actually feel a little - not unwell exactly, but a bit peaked."
"but you went to work today?"
"oh, yes, yes. i got through the day all right." helen wished she had not brought the subject up.
"hmm." aunt jane looked sharply at helen. "i don't suppose mister burkheimer said anything about layoffs at the plant?"
with the war over, it was expected that there would be at least a partial shutdown at the local factory, which had manufactured cartridge belts for machine guns since before the war started, and throughout its duration.
"nobody has said anything, " helen replied.
"yet. but they will."
helen hesitated. "mister wilson thinks there may be war with russia. then the plant would stay open, maybe even be hiring."
"al wilson is a fool." aunt jane headed into the kitchen and switched the light on in there. "if he says something will happen, you can bet your best woolen mittens that the opposite will happen."
"he is not the only one saying it," helen answered. she got up from the couch. "do you need any help?"
"you peeled the potatoes, i hope?"
"yes, i did."
"you can open the can of green beans. and set the table."
"may as well. if dave isn't here, we won't wait for him."
"all right." helen turned the lamp off, leaving the front room with only the light from the kitchen spilling into it, and went onto the kitchen.
she took the can opener out of a drawer and began opening the can of green beans with infinite care, aiming to cut the top off cleanly without leaving any jagged edges.
"do you want one burger or two?" aunt jane asked helen this every time they had burgers for dinner, which was two or three times a week. helen was sick of them but it could have been worse. uncle dave would have liked burgers - or steaks, if he could get them - every night.
"just one, thank you, " helen made her usual reply.
"i don't suppose you are going to the dance tonight?" aunt jane asked, as she quickly molded three burgers - two for herself, one for helen.
"oh no, i don't feel nearly well enough." and with dave perhaps not coming home for a while, she might have a relatively peaceful evening, not having to listen to him. of course she did not say this - she didn't have to.
"pooh. always some excuse." jane took the potatoes helen had peeled, quickly chopped them into two or three pieces each and dumped them into a saucepan on the stove filled with water. she lit the burner beneath it with a wooden match. then she used the same match to light a cigarette she had had ready behind her ear. she took a deep drag of the cigarette and blew the smoke into the saucepan with the potatoes in it.
"when the men and boys start coming back, there won't be nearly as many jobs, you know. you should think about grabbing a half decent man while you have a chance."
helen smiled and nodded and concentrated on finishing her perfect can opening. they had had this conversation before. she already knew jane's definition of a "half-decent man" - one that didn't beat her and brought in at least some money.
"if you don't want to go to the dance, you could at least get out and go to a movie. you might meet a guy at the candy counter."
"but tonight they will all be at the dance, right? anyway, the movie is with errol flynn and i don't like errol flynn."
jane laughed. "always an excuse." helen handed her the can with the top cut off perfectly - not a hint of a jagged edge. jane dumped the green beans into another saucepan without looking at the can. she put the saucepan on a back burner without lighting it and tossed the can into a wastebasket.
helen went over to the cupboard and took three large plates out of it. "you know," she said hesitantly. "there might be all sorts of new jobs. that's what - what some people at the plant are saying. they say there might be a whole new world now that the war is over."
"who say? al wilson? don't tell me he's thinking of running for mayor again."
"oh no. mister wilson thinks there is going to be another war."
"who then? anybody who knows what they are talking about?" jane took a salt shaker from beside the stove and shook some salt into the water starting to boil around the potatoes.
"well, there is rita." helen put the three plates on three sides of the kitchen table.
"rita ryzinski. she's new - she just started a couple of weeks ago."
"and she already knows everything, huh? she sounds like a real drip."
"do tell." jane lit the burner under the green beans. "and is pretty rita going to the dance tonight?" she took a black skillet out of the oven and put it on a front burner. the skillet looked like it had been carved out of a lump of coal.
helen reddened slightly. "she might be. i think she is."
"there you go." jane laughed. "you missed your big chance. you go to the dance with rita the prettiest girl in the world. she gets clark gable and you get clark's best friend. " she dropped a spoonful of grease into the skillet and lit the burner beneath it. "it's nature's way. it's been that way ever since adam and eve."
"really? did eve have a friend that she always took to the dance with her?"
"ha, ha! good one!" jane poked helen in the ribs. "you know you can be kind of sharp sometimes. in your way."
they heard the front door open.
then a voice - "it's meeeeeee." helen's heart sank.
"it's him," said jane. "what a relief."
helen took some knives and forks out of a drawer and put them beside the three plates. she wished she had not mentioned rita to jane. now jane would never stop teasing her. and rita was not really her best friend. helen just wished that she was.