Chapter Five: Ugly Brother Wins, Sort Of
The next stop was Will's room, with his load of laundry. "Here, Speckles, put this junk away."
"You little shit, I just Photoshopped your face onto a pig and put you up for sale on eBay."
"Hope I get sold to some place where I don't have to work," Gloria quipped, handing the clothes to him.
"I might have a job," he said, opening dresser drawers and putting the folded clothes in them.
"What?" Gloria asked, her jaw nearly dropping with astonishment.
"Look, we both know I'm not going to get any kind of classy job at seventeen, right? Whatever it is, it's going to be a shit job as a dishwasher or cashier, or something crappy, and full-time is just about impossible for a while for me, nobody hires a kid for a full-time job. But I was talking to friends, and Mark Forrest said that Pete Van Duyken's dad still needs help with the almond harvest. I might be able to get hired on for the rest of the season."
"But that's disgusting work, you moron, so dirty, and you could --"
"I could what? Get a job as a bank teller at seventeen? Retail stores don't hire anyone under eighteen, in case you haven't noticed. Construction doesn't either, and anyway, that market is about as dead as real estate. I could work the harvest until after my birthday, and what's more, it would be under the table, so it wouldn't get taxed. I'm calling Pete now." He grinned nastily. "Maybe I'll get a job before you do, Fatgirl."
"Right. And maybe you'll figure out which shoes to wear on which feet."
Gloria took her mother's laundry to her room next, setting the neat stacks on the bed. And finally, she picked up her own laundry, draping the stuff on hangers over the basket and taking them to her bedroom. Will has no idea what farm work means. He won't last a day, even if Van Duyken hires him. My god, how have we come to even consider this?
Exhausted, she looked at the clock. Nine-thirty. Her mother would be home in just a few minutes, and Gloria knew that she really had to spend some time with her, talk about what they were going to have to do, bend her mother to the idea that Gloria was going to be the one calling the shots for a while. She was not even going to mention the possibility of Will working as a laborer in an almond operation.
She heard the ring tone of Will's phone, and tensed. She could hear his low voice talking, then a pause, and then he shouted, "Yes!!" He appeared at her bedroom door seconds later. "You slacker witch head, you're looking at a man with a job!"
"You're kidding!" she gasped.
"Nope! I start tomorrow morning at seven, and work until dark. Eight dollars an hour, Glory, take that in and wish you had a job, too."
"How the hell are you going to work all day like that?" He was an idiot, she knew that. He'd never worked in his life, except for a very short stint on his junior high basketball team.
"I got power to spare," he said, spanking his belly. "It'll do me good."
"You have to go to bed now, then," she told him. "You can't stay up."
"Yeah, I know I should, but I'm not sleepy."
"Okay, come on, dumb boy. Mom would kill me if she knew I was going to do this, but you have to sleep."
"What? You gonna knock me out with a baseball bat?"
"I wish." In the kitchen, she poured over a couple ice cubes a double shot of her mother's vodka, added a squirt of honey, and another of lemon juice. "Drink that, and don't tell Mom. Then go lie down and try to sleep."
"My first drink, my sister trying to poison me. I'm one lucky dude."
"Shut up, drink it, and I'll have breakfast for you in the morning. I'll wake you at six."
"Nite, Ugly. Maybe you'll get lucky in the morning."
He hadn't had an evening snack; therefore Gloria knew that the liquor would hit him hard and fast. How he would survive a day of hard labor was unknown; she could feed him breakfast, and make him a lunch to take with him, but how would he manage the second day, if he made it through the first?
Sunblock. He would need sunblock, big time. She had a 50 spf tube in her bathroom, Will would need that more than she. She put it in the kitchen on the counter just as her mother opened the front door.
"How was work, Mom?" Gloria asked.
"It was fun. I was putting up Halloween stuff on the shelves when I wasn't on a register. The smell of candy was just driving me nuts, even through the plastic. That's all I need is more sweets."
"We saved you some of the berry pie, and a pork chop and mashed potatoes, though the boys ate up all the corn, as usual."
"Oh, thanks, but I'm not hungry. Bel-Marie treated me to Burger King for our evening break, I'm stuffed." Her mother swung her purse under a kitchen chair and took off her sweater. "I just want a glass of water and bed. I think I can catch the end of that History Channel thing about whales before I fall asleep. I feel tired tonight."
"Take your vitamins, that's what you always tell me."
Her mother chuckled. "All right, I'm doing that. Are you turning into the mother now?"
Yes, so it seems, Gloria thought, but smiled and kissed her mother's cheek. "Good night, I'm going to bed, too."
When her mother's door closed, Gloria went back through the house, turning off lights, stopping only in the kitchen to open the refrigerator and see what was available for Will's lunch and ... supper for the next day. There was a part of a roast chicken, and the pork chop her mother had not wanted. She could make him two meaty sandwiches, and there were some nectarines she could stuff in his bag. She doubted very seriously that Will would have access to a refrigerator for his food, so instead of putting mayonnaise on the sandwiches, she could put a slice of apple in the sandwich bags, to make the bread soft. However, that meant she had to make his lunches tonight, to give the apple time to soften the bread.
With a shrug at her own weariness, she began to slice chicken and pork thinly, so they'd be easier to bite through. Will wouldn't have much time to eat; and even if the workers got a decent break, working hard would make him want to wolf his food. Each sandwich had a slice of cheese added to it, for extra fat and protein. He'd bitch about it, he'd never left any doubt about how he hated cheese on his sandwiches, but too bad. It was for his own good. If he lasted more than just one day, or part of one day, he'd see the wisdom in it.
Feeling more like an adult than she ever had before, Gloria put the sandwiches in the fridge and cleaned the counter. Before turning out the lights, she set her alarm for five thirty.
It was wrong of you to try to make your little brothers find work, a hateful little voice yammered. They don't deserve to have to support you.
They're not supporting me, dammit, they're supporting themselves.
Child labor went out with the Depression, whispered the voice.
Gloria cringed and curled under her covers into a fetal position. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and tried to think about watching surfers in Santa Cruz.
You're selling your brothers for the sweat of their brows, said the voice.
A couple tears squeezed out, and ran down Gloria's nose. Then she thought about Ben's revelation about Debbie Moreley. They aren't really children, are they?
Either of her brothers were of an age to engender a child. What if they did? They would have to find some kind of work to support the child, or ... her mother would have to find some way of making room in the house and the budget for the survival of a mother and child. Or the mother's parents would. It didn't matter. Current society allowed those who were considered children to also be parents. There was no rule to say by whom and when babies could be made; all there was -- was the right to make babies, no matter who, no matter what their financial circumstances were. Well, of course there was the option of abortion of a pregnancy, but that cost money, too, didn't it?
Will's girlfriend, Chelsea, was really clingy, so much so that although Will liked her, he didn't invite her to the house much. The times he had, her mother and she had been appalled at how much her hands were on Will, and even Ben had pantomimed sticking his finger down his throat and had escaped to his own room.
Gloria tried to imagine Chelsea greeting Will after a day in the almond orchards, him covered with dust, exhausted. "Willy, let's go to a movie! Let's go to the mall for the last hour they're open! Let's go to Malley Durfey's party tonight!" Good luck, Chelsea, she thought. Maybe this stupid financial crap will prove to be a good thing.
Her own current semi-boyfriend would probably propose to her if she told him about the predicament. He was your classic, "Let me take you away from all this" kind of guy. Nice, but not interesting enough to want to be taken away. She smiled to herself that she was not desperate enough to want to be saved from her fate by alliance to Damon. In fact, the need to get a job and save the house was just about the most perfect excuse to completely ditch him. She'd been kind to him to this point, dating him on sparing occasions, but finding him utterly predictable and dull each time. She had outgrown him like Ben outgrew his shoes.
Damn. Two days ago, she'd had the world in order. She had been wrapping up her last half of community college before going off to California State at Merced; after that, she would have set off on her own life, one of fortune and monies, independent of her family, destined to visit them on anniversaries and birthdays, holidays and tragedies. Now, the tragedy was current, and there was no independence in sight, unless she wanted to let the house be repossessed by the bank, and look her mother in the eye and say, "See ya, Mom," and head off to another city's homeless shelter.
What if her mother's perception of the bank's reaction to their situation was wrong? She needed to call the bank herself tomorrow and ascertain just how dire their position was.
God, if Will could just make it through the almond harvest, and she could find something, and her mother could, they could survive. It would be ugly, and inconvenient, but they could make it through. For a while.
Gloria fell asleep, but her rest was broken by nightmares of Lolo taking food from their refrigerator, of Lolo sitting on the patio yelling for Ben to bring her a fresh margarita, of Lolo writing checks for her fancy ass apartment to pay for cabana boys on the roof top swimming pool or chauffeur service to take her to ... whatever she called 'her work.'
The alarm woke her, making her jerk almost in spasms. This is where the new life begins, she thought, kicking off her blankets. This is when we start to understand what real life is about.