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May 20, 2024

Going Hungry 11

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Eleven: Changing Heart

Yes, there were a lot of ifs to this venture. They could succeed if Gloria got a job, if Will could find other work after the almond harvest, if their mother was able to adjust to a night job, if, if, if.

Once she had seen Will and her mother off to work, and Ben off to school, she'd called the cable company and cancelled service for the next billing cycle. One more nail in the old coffin, she'd thought a tad bitterly. The image of her father's coffin had come into her mind, and she'd spared an angry thought that if she had known then what she knew now, she'd have convinced her mother to have her father cremated and put into a shoe box to dump by the side of the road rather than pay for a coffin and a funeral and a burial plot. She was still outraged by the idea of him keeping a mistress, no matter how blasé her mother was about the affair. He had taken income and respectability from them, and squandered it on a floozy.

How had her mother managed to bury her anger and hurt and come to accept the dirty whore? Gloria had no such ambitions, and thus no desire to seek paths of whore acceptance. Her anger seemed to keep her focused on her desire to see the family kept safe, to put aside any personal interest Gloria might have for her own future. She was no longer a separate entity; she was part of the Meltons, and her role in life was to preserve that family.

Of course she hadn't said anything to her brothers of her father's intransigency. She certainly didn't want to encourage any latent sexual profligacy in them, but neither did she want to sully the image and remembrance they had of him. Her mother was right. Had her mother told her that her father was a stupid and wasteful spender, she would have accepted that as a simple opinion. That he was a cheater and spent himself outside of his proper family, that would have broken them down.

I won't be broken down, Gloria thought. There's a lot more at stake than the stories behind the family album. There's our future.

From the parking spot in the public lot, Gloria walked to Central Valley Bank, an envelope holding Will's cash stashed in her purse, clamped firmly to her side. As part of its new branch grand opening extravaganza, Central Valley Bank was offering new accounts with no minimum deposit or balance for six months. In a matter of minutes, she would have an account of her own for her income and that of the boys.

There was a kind of buoyant feeling in her heart; she and her brothers were taking steps toward financial responsibility, and financial independence, as well. They were severing a tie with their mother, which was both scary and attractive. Part of the attraction was that it was secretive; it spoke to their sense of adventure, of mischief, of rebellion.

Gloria opened an account in her name at Central Valley Bank, and received ten free checks to start her off until she received her personalized checks in the mail.

She felt liberated, felt like she was unclipping her younger brother Ben from some imaginary leash, turning him loose. He was internet-savvy, and if there was a chance of getting some bucks by way of eBay, he would be the one to do it.

It was odd, how she felt toward her brothers. Before the notice of impending financial ruin, they were like flies buzzing around the house, really annoying, always inconvenient, dirty and aimless. Now they were part of a team, all of the siblings together, ready to take on the world and defend and support each other. How did that happen? Was it that they now saw a monetary value in one another? That couldn't be it, as Ben was still an unknown in terms of cash flow, and neither she nor Will (nor her mother) expected Ben to drop being a kid and become a wage earner.

Or had they previously been dulled in their perceptions by their comfort and self-centeredness? They'd had everything they needed without worrying about it, be it money, possessions, health, affection from their parents, security in their futures. Two weeks ago, Gloria would not have spared a thought for Will during the course of a day. Now her concern was for Will's strength to endure the hard farm work, his health, his caloric intake, his rest. You'd almost think I love the stupid ass. Is this how a mother feels about her kids?

Philli had always told her children that she loved them, frequently -- every day of their lives, as a matter of fact. Her care for them, helping them learn, guiding their choices in behavior and dress, feeding them and laughing with them, nursing them in illness -- it was just like the air they breathed. They took it for granted without thinking themselves selfish. Her mother had protected them from their father's shameful behavior, and she had done that out of her love for them, also. Just like me. No way would I tell them Dad was a jerk.

And Philli never made her kids feel like they had to pay their way into her love. She just loved them, without reservation. Never had Gloria gone to bed wondering if her parents really cared about her. She could worry and sigh over whether or not some boy at school returned her crush; she could wonder if her girl friends really liked her hair or were just being polite, but the way her mother loved her was rock solid as the earth beneath her feet.

She loves us. I know that. Then why am I not telling her what all we're doing? Searching her feelings, Gloria understood that she was still furious at her mother for what her father had done, for her mother's refusal to be angry. She wasn't even angry at finding out her husband screwed up and stopped paying the insurance policies.

On the other hand, she was pretty upset the day she told me about all this crap. Then I took over being angry as well as paying the bills. Maybe I've been too pissed to see what's going on with her.

Today was her mother's first day at her new job. She was to learn the locations of the businesses and the order in which to work for her first three days. She'd have Thursday off, and start her night shift Friday, working from seven in the evening until four in the morning. She'd have off Wednesdays and Thursdays on a regular basis.

"I'll feel better when I have that first paycheck in hand, honey," her mother had said that morning after Gloria had asked her if she was all right. Philli had appeared worn to her, all her triumph over landing a full time job gone.

Well, it is a big kick in the ass for her, I guess. A couple months ago she was just playing at working, and now she's got to face the every day grind of being a cleaning woman. It's got to hurt, it's such a come-down.

After the bank, Gloria's next stop was the Goodwill Store, where she picked up two huge sweatshirts for Will, an expenditure of four dollars. And then it was time for her to start finding a job herself.

The line at the Department of Motor Vehicles was long and daunting. People shuffled and fidgeted in the too-warm office, rattling papers and looking at their watches. Others stood along a shelved wall taking driver's license tests, many of them sweating both with the heat and with nervousness at the testing. A plump black woman in a tight tank top lifted a portion of the counter and began asking questions. "You got an appointment? Driver's license test, you stay in this line. Just photo? You're going to go to Window A over there. DMV printouts, any of you here for DMV printouts? You all go over there on the right to Window G." There were about five others who needed printouts of their driving records ahead of Gloria, but that didn't seem too bad compared to the other lines. In spite of the mass of people (and more were coming in the door by the second), the employees behind the counter moved slowly, as though they were moving through some motion-inhibiting goo, frequently stopping movement altogether to talk to each other. They rarely spoke to or even looked at the people in line or standing before them at the counter, taking papers and stapling them together, carrying papers to other individuals at desks in back of the counter.

Watching the procedure, Gloria took her driver's license out of its holder in her wallet, hoping to shave a few seconds and a sentence or two from the time she spent getting her printout.

The man in front of her handed the clerk his driver's license. She put it on the counter on the far side of her keyboard and slowly typed in some information. "This your right address?" When he acknowledged that it was, she typed in a few more things, then stood up and went away from the counter, sometimes walking sideways to move her bulky body through the rows of desks, and out the door at the back of the office. The man stood on one foot, shifted to the other, leaned forward futilely to see what was on the screen, and heaved a sigh. A minute passed. Another. He turned to look at the line behind him. "Do you have any idea where she went?" he asked Gloria. As she shook her head, he thumped his hands to his side. "God, I can't believe this." He tugged at the collar of his shirt, then shrugged off his jacket and put it over his arm.

Gloria, too, felt too warm, regretting that she had not chosen a cardigan and blouse instead of a sweater. The September air had been brisk when she'd started out in the morning. The fat clerk appeared at the back of the office, holding a cup of coffee, and stopped to take a candy from the jar on another woman's desk, laughing and waving her fingers in the air. Could it be that the woman had just left for coffee, and that was it? She slowly made her way back to the counter, tore something off a printer, and handed it to the man along with his driver's license. "Next," she said dully. "This your right address?" she asked Gloria.

At least she already has her coffee. How the hell do you get a job as easy as this? Obviously there was no manager stomping around making sure people were working. As nearly as Gloria could see, most of them weren't. They were people securely placed in their jobs. What skills had been required for them to be employed here? How much experience would have been expected for them to lackadaisically type data into a computer and move pieces of paper around on their desks?

"Thank you," Gloria said automatically as the woman handed her the printout and her license.

"Next," said the clerk. "This your right address? No? You're going to have to get that address updated. This window is just for printouts. You want that line over there. They'll update the address, get you a temporary sheet, and then you bring it over here to me."

They've got everyone where they want them. Sound off about how slow they are and they'll just lose your paperwork or punch a key and invalidate your license. Gloria felt the cool air of the outside wash over her as she left the building, hoping that she would never appear so rude and incompetent to people, not ever in her life.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-07-13
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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