Chapter Six: Contacts and Skills
Much to Gloria's annoyance, the loan officer at the bank wouldn't even talk to her about the impending foreclosure. She asked Gloria if she was "Power of Attorney" for her mother, and of course Gloria answered that she was not; indeed she was unfamiliar with the term at all. At that point the woman on the other end of the line became very stiff and abrupt, said, "I'm sorry, I can't answer any of your questions, Miss. Goodbye."
Belatedly Gloria realized she should have lied and pretended to be her mother. Maybe that would have worked. She resolved that when dealing with any of the bills, she would not identify herself.
Her mother had a morning shift, so Gloria had only had a short time to talk to her. Surprisingly, Philli had proven very agreeable to the idea of Gloria taking over the bills. "Can you really do that?" she'd asked, and when Gloria nodded, Philli almost laughed, saying "Great! Be my guest!" After a piece of the berry pie and a cup of tea, Gloria's mother had left for work, saying she had things she had to do after her shift was over, but that she would be home for supper. And off she went, with a spring in her step and a smile on her face.
She hadn't asked about Will, supposing him to be asleep, and Gloria didn't mention the new job. She'd find out soon enough.
Before leaving for classes, Gloria put a package of frozen fish in the refrigerator to thaw slowly, and stuffed the non-essential bills into a large manila envelope. She could call them over her lunch break, canceling services before she lost her nerve or before the family could talk her out of the idea. Then she was out the door, feeling a little strange ... frightened of the future, angry at circumstances, but also ... a little relieved to be attending her last day of college for a while.
In her accounting class before lunch, she asked a few questions that had been bothering her, then let the teacher know she would not be back for the rest of the semester, thank you for being a good teacher. Over lunch time, she visited her advisor (who always had his lunch in his office) and let him know she was dropping out, and why; he was sympathetic, and urged her to return to classes as soon as she was able.
He wasn't even surprised. He's probably just hoping funding to the college doesn't get cut so he can keep his job. With time on her hands, Gloria called the newspaper circulation department and cancelled their subscription. It had been paid six months in advance, so they still had two months of newspapers that would be delivered. The garden service and the cleaning service thanked her for her business and hoped she would think of them again when she needed work done, and would end the last week of the month; it was the prospect of canceling cable and cell phone that made her stomach wrench. When she cancelled those, they'd be back to a landline phone and no computer internet. And no TV. She hedged, and decided to talk to them later.
Then it was time for English literature, and Gloria decided to speak to the teacher before class and say goodbye then, rather than sit through boring discussions about whether the writer meant this or that or couched revolutionary thoughts in some symbol or another, all of which Gloria thought was total bullshit, unless the author had actually come out and said, "Yes, I was just retelling the myth of Prometheus," or perhaps, "I wanted a way to secretly talk about the hidden lesbian life of the English gentry."
She walked slowly across the east end of the campus, looking at other students with a bit of envy. So many of them were talking on cell phones or had laptops open, typing away. Pretty soon, she and her family were going to plunge into an almost unknown world, relying on one telephone in the kitchen, and news from a radio, unless they wanted to go to the public library and read a paper or access the internet.
She patted the pocket of her hoodie where she carried her cell phone, and pulled it out to check it. Will hadn't called her, so maybe he was surviving his first day of farm work.
Modern History was the class she was dreading leaving. She'd thought it would be dull, but as the old teacher recounted what had happened before, and what would happen these days -- and was right -- she'd come to enjoy it, and had even learned a bit from it; perhaps less of history and more of how to survive, but this crisis could have been a lot more traumatic without the class.
Today's discussion and reading was about the cascading effect of recession, and how layoffs lead to much less spending and buying, and therefore, less production, requiring more layoffs. She could see that now; how many clients had cancelled their garden and cleaning services just like she had, because they couldn't afford it? What were real estate agents living on in a nearly dead market? Pamela, the single mother with the little boy, worked as a bartender, and recounted patrons telling her about foreclosures, and threatened jobs, and having huge yard sales to get cash enough to move to an apartment, of watching as towing trucks came to carry away vehicles they could not sell and could not afford to keep.
At the end of the class, Gloria waited for the other students to leave, some of them still discussing with wide eyes what they were hearing about and seeing. She smiled at the teacher, and held out her hand. "I want to thank you for making me think about what I need, as opposed to what I think I need. We're right on the edge of a foreclosure; I just found out two days ago. I have to drop out and find a job, somehow, see if we can keep a roof over our heads."
"Oh, Gloria, no. I'm so sorry to hear this. It's happening all around us, though. God alone knows where this country will end up."
"I wonder, too. I was looking at available apartments yesterday and there's not much out there. Everyone has to find relatives to take them in or ... go to a homeless shelter."
"Do you have relatives to help you out?" the older woman asked.
"Mom has two sisters in Colorado, but they both still live in the same house they all grew up in. We visited there a couple times ... I don't think we'd like to live there, to be honest. Her sisters fight all the time. Dad's brother lives in Mexico. He was the smart one, he sold off his dot-com stocks for a fortune, and his house in the Bay Area, too. He lives on his interest and tequila infusions, Dad told us. So I guess the answer is mostly no, we don't. But I think we can get by, if I can just get a job." She stood from where she had been leaning against a desk.
"Wait, Gloria -- what kind of work are you looking for?"
She snorted. "Anything that doesn't involve prostitution or drugs, I really don't have a choice. My brother took a seasonal job helping with the almond harvest, and if the farmer was hiring girls, I'd be right there with him. I've read the paper, and looked at jobs online, and there's very little available right now."
"And any job posted ends up with hundreds of applicants," the teacher agreed. "I don't suppose you can cook, can you?"
Gloria cocked her head at the older woman in curiosity. "I'm not a chef, but I can cook almost anything, I think. I was never much good at bread from scratch, but my brothers only want white Wonder anyway, so there was no need for me to practice. Why do you ask?"
"I may be overstepping my boundaries, but I know of a job opening as a cook's assistant. They're looking for someone dependable, clean, and capable; it wouldn't pay a lot, but it would be full time. They don't want to advertise the position. If you're interested, I could ask if they've filled it yet, and I would feel comfortable recommending you."
The blood seemed to drain from Gloria's face, making her skin tingle for a moment. "Thank you, yes, I would be interested! Very much! Is this a restaurant?"
The older woman shook her head, and opened a notebook. "Let me get your phone number, I'll call you when I find out if they're still looking. I understand the chief cook is very demanding."
"It's worth a shot. Anything is. Thank you! Thank you so much!" she recited both her cell phone number and the land line, explaining that she only had a few more days with the cell phone.
"I'll call them tonight and talk to them," the teacher said. "I'll give you a call before nine tonight and let you know what I've found out."
Her mother was not home when Gloria returned to the house. She checked the fish, set it out on the counter to thaw faster. She washed her hands, wiped down the counter although she was pretty sure no one had used it since she'd put dishes in the dishwasher in the morning, and set to slicing tomatoes. The fruit stand where her mother had bought the berry pie was also known for its production of heirloom tomatoes. They were rich in flavor, and the family loved them. Gloria sliced three huge tomatoes and set the dish at the back of the counter. Macaroni and cheese was next; Gloria got a three-quarter pound block of cheddar cheese from the refrigerator and grated it into a beautiful fragrant pile.
The white sauce came next; Gloria would normally have used milk to make it, but this time opted to fortify the milk with the last of the heavy cream. Will was probably going to need every single calorie he could pack into his stupid ass hard-working frame. Unless he had quit the job and just wouldn't come home and admit it, in which case, he wasn't getting a single spoonful of the pasta.
Ben came into the kitchen and pinched some of the cheddar cheese into his mouth. "Where's Mom?" he asked. "Her calendar says she only worked until three today."
"She said she had some running around to do," Gloria told him. "I hope she's not spending money. She did say she'd be home for supper, though, so I expect her any time. Did Will call you at all today?"
"Nope. Hope he's okay."
"Me, too. I don't think he knew what he'd be in for."
"I do. We're not stupid, Gloria, we just look that way. We've seen orchard workers all our lives." Ben reached for the cheese again.
"Get out of that!" Gloria brandished her wooden spoon. "Yeah, we've seen them and pitied them. Now we have to pity our brother?"
"Our brother, pity or shitty, which shall it be? When do you put the cheese in?"
"The white sauce has to boil for one minute, stirred constantly, and then -- leave that cheese alone, Ben, I can see you in the reflection off the back of the stove -- I take it off the burner and add the cheese. If the cheese boils, it separates and gets really ugly-looking, and the texture is gross."
"I hope you're making enough of this."
"A whole pound of macaroni. That would be ... um ... eight servings, not counting the caloric content of the milk and cheese. Probably ten servings." She removed the pan from the heat and began to add cheese, stirring gently with each handful.
"Apparently someone who decides on serving sizes never tasted this stuff," Ben said. "I have to learn how to make it so that I don't have to worry about never having it again if you and Mom go on strike."
"Get me the green casserole dish, please. The round one." While he got the dish, she folded the cheese sauce into the macaroni. She poured it into the dish, then set it aside. A small saucepan had been slowly melting butter, and into it, Gloria crumbled gold-colored cracker bits. She spread them out over the casserole. "Now, when Mom gets home, we're about 15 minutes from dinner."
The phone on the kitchen wall rang.
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