Chapter Seven: Jobs Under the Table
"This is Gloria Melton, hello!"
The voice on the other end was that of her erstwhile Modern History teacher. "They're willing to interview you if I introduce you," she said. "Are you available Sunday afternoon?"
'Yes' had to be the operative word for interviews, there was no choice. "Yes, I am. What time, and where?"
"About two o'clock -- do you know where Cabernet Drive is, off Scenic? It's past the cemetery, but not as far as Nobel Farms. It's the Baker Family, that own Southwind Winery. You're going to want to take Cabernet all the way to the house, and then continue on to the parking lot by a stand of pine trees. There's a walkway that leads to a patio, with french doors that lead into a parlor in the house. It's not a servants' entrance, though it is a casual one."
"What would you recommend that I wear? Should I wear makeup, or none?"
"Tie your hair back, look clean and efficient. Minimal makeup, I'd think. No heels. They want someone intelligent and trustworthy, capable and pleasant. Park your car beside mine -- I've got a bright red Prius with vanity plates that say "ARMBUST."
"I really appreciate this, Dr. Armbuster. I'll be there."
"Hope it can help you out," the woman said. "See you Sunday."
Gloria hung up the phone. "I've got an interview Sunday, Ben."
His brow furrowed. "Both you and Will hit the money pretty dang quick for a recession, don't you think?"
She shrugged. "Both with Mr. Van Duyken and the Bakers, they're just working with people they know or who get recommended, I think. My teacher said they would consider me only if she introduced me and vouched for me. Mr. Van Duyken already knows Will from his son running around with him. But there's no promise I'll get the job. If they hate me from the get-go, there's no chance."
The front door opened and their mother came in, grinning from ear to ear and almost dancing. "Good news, my little chickens! I got a job starting Monday!"
Ben turned to Gloria and said, "What have you been doing, sacrificing virgins, or selling your soul?"
"Yay, Mom!" Gloria crowed, ignoring her brother. "What kind of job?"
"Well, it kind of sucks, I guess. I'm going to be working for a cleaning service that only does businesses. But it'll be full time, and they say the work isn't that hard. Ten dollars an hour, better than minimum wage, only fifty cents less than I've been making at the drug store. If I make it past the first ninety days, I'll go to eleven dollars an hour." She smiled a little less enthusiastically. "I can dust and vacuum and clean up coffee stains for eight hours a night, I think."
Gloria put the casserole dish in the microwave, and turned on the burner under the frying pan. "Dinner in fifteen," she warned them.
"What are we having?" her mother asked.
"Orange roughy, mac and cheese, and sliced tomatoes," Gloria answered. Last time we're going to see orange roughy for a while ... hope we enjoy it.
"Where's Will?" Philli said, looking around at the quiet hallway.
"He's with Pete Van Duyken," Gloria said, her face deadpan. "He said he'd be back after dark." To distract, she went on, "I've got an interview on Sunday, to be a cook's assistant. I think I'd enjoy that -- I like cooking."
"That's why you do most of it, my dear daughter. I never liked it as much as you seem to." She washed her hands in the sink. "I'm going to go lose these drugstore clothes and get comfy wear on. That's going to be one good thing about this new job -- I can wear sweats and sneakers or sandals and tanks and shorts in the summer. The dumbest thing about retail is expecting everyone to dress the same, no matter what common sense suggests."
Her mother left the kitchen; Gloria put the fish filets into the pan to brown on one side, the heat not quite 'high' but a little hotter than 'medium.'` She remembered broiling a thick fish filet called 'Chilean Sea Bass,' with seasoned butter basted over it, how sensuously good it tasted, and what a treat it was ... until it was announced that 'Chilean Sea Bass' was actually called 'Patagonian Tooth-fish' and was on the endangered list. That was the end to that taste treat. At this point they were just about at the end of any kind of fish in this household, unless it was canned tuna, which was just about the equivalent of cat food. In point of fact, walking down the pet food aisle with her friend Mary, who had four cats who ate canned cat food, Gloria had become convinced that the cats had a remarkable dietary advantage.
Maybe there was cheaper fresh fish out there. Eleven dollars a pound for orange roughy was no bargain, though, even as uninformed as Gloria found herself to be.
Gloria put the casserole in the microwave oven, having covered it with wax paper. She set the timer for eight minutes on a medium setting. By then the fish was gently browned on one side; Gloria turned it, reseasoned it with a little garlic and butter substitute, and after a minute, put a lid on it to hold in the moisture and make it cook through. She turned off the burner. "Ready!" she shouted. "Get your drinks!"
Ben scrambled for a soda. Yet another thing you're going to lose from the grocery list, Gloria thought sadly. Water is going to have to be good enough.
They dined, Philli and her son Ben making most of the conversation, talking about work and school, as though there were nothing more important than the little details in all the world. There was no mention of foreclosure imminent, or repossession of cars, or homeless shelters or becoming street people; no mention of spouse's intransigencies or extramarital extravagances and infidelity. Philli made sure her youngest son had as normal and nice a life as anyone could possibly wish. Ben, by the same token, was playing a role of youngest son in a completely normal family, not screaming, "Are we going to be on the streets by Thanksgiving???"
Gloria was glad of this, as she wanted as little acrimony as possible revolving about the changes that were occurring to their world.
She was washing the pans and putting dishes in the dishwasher when they heard the side gate open, and slam shut, and then the garage door click and bang. All three of them froze and looked at each other, not knowing what to make of the sound. The door from the garage to the hallway of the house opened, and each of them widened their eyes in horror at an invasion of their house.
"Don't anyone look, I'm in my underwear!" shouted Will hoarsely. "I gotta get a shower!"
"What on earth?" Their mother sputtered, standing.
"Let him go, Mom," Ben said. "He'll be out here sniffing the food in no time."
"But why would he be in his underwear?" she asked, perplexed and worried.
"He's been working," Gloria said. "Let him tell you about it, okay?"
"Okay," her mother answered. "Are you all in on this?"
"If he made it through the day, yeah," Ben answered her. "If he didn't, he's on his own."
"Have you done your homework, Benjamin?" his mother asked tightly. She was feeling the threat to one of her own, and she wanted to take charge and re-establish her order.
"No, not yet. I've been kind of waiting for you to get home, wondering what you were doing, and waiting for supper, too. Most of the homework I did at school, Mom. Instead of pissing around during study hall, I did homework. On the way home from school, I stopped by the library and picked up some reference stuff. So I was a little late getting here. I think I talked to my sister then for a while, don't even know why I did that, and then I wanted to spend time talking with my mother. You want to tell us a little bit more about why you're going to spend eight hours cleaning a night? You're going to be out all night?"
"It was a shift that was open," Philli said irritably. "And one that if you can take to it, no one is going to try to bump you out of. And if I can work from eight-thirty at night until five-thirty in the morning, I can still be available if you or Will or Gloria need me during the day. Gloria says we can keep this place if we find jobs; I found one, a better one than I have right now, so what are you yipping about?"
"Yeah, Ben, what are you yipping about?" Gloria asked him over her mother's shoulder, her eyes twinkling. She knew what was bugging him, but chose to give him no slack at all, pretending ignorance, tormenting her youngest brother as though times were normal.
He glowered. "I'm yipping about my sister becoming a prostitute so that she can be independent of this family. I think her proceeds ought to go to paying the mortgage."
Gloria screamed in outrage and started for him with fingers outstretched, ready to pinch the living shit out of him. She chased him down the hall, only to land up against his slammed bedroom door. She pounded upon it in mock fury, hearing him laugh beyond.
Then she turned to see Will emerge from his room.
"Will, oh my god, are you okay?"
"Yeah," he whispered. "Could you get me something to drink? My throat feels like it's caked solid. Tea?"
"Chicken bouillion. You don't need caffeine tonight. Come on out to the kitchen -- but Mom's there, and she's probably going to do the 'WTF' thing. Are you going back tomorrow?"
"Hell, yes. It wasn't that hard of work, not really, but it's dirtier than a fuck -- sorry -- dirtier than hell." His face had a stripe of sunburn across his nose and cheeks, and another across the skin above his brows. "You got any of that aloe shit you use when you go to Amy's pool?"
"Yes. I'll get it for you. Didn't you use the sunblock?"
"I used it, but it wasn't foolproof. Salvi said I need a bigger sweatshirt, all cotton, and a face kerchief made of microfiber, whatever the hell that is. But damn it, Glory, I made ninety-six bucks today. Tax free."
"Shut up for now, you're weaving, you fatass slacker. Go out to the kitchen and sit down. Would you like some macaroni and cheese?" Gloria shoved him gently down the hall.
"I want to sleep in it."
Hurriedly, she went to her bedroom and got the aloe vera gel, and then returned to the kitchen, in time to hear her mother exclaim, "Will, my god, what have you been doing?"
"Been harvesting almonds," Will told her in a rusty voice, while Gloria smeared the aloe across his forehead, then across the cheeks where a mask and his sunglasses missed protecting his fair skin. From the pocket of his pajama pants, he pulled American currency, ninety-six dollars, and put it on the table. "Tax-free," he whispered.
"Will, what have you done?" Philli gasped.
"He may have saved our asses," Gloria snarled. "Stop the inquisition and get him some food while I get him something hot to drink."