Chapter Fifteen: A Lighter Heart
Tuesday and Wednesday melted into one another. Will went off to work in the orchards, Ben went to school; Philli went off to her training days. Gloria read the classified ads in the newspaper, and was disappointed that only the same jobs -- minus the custodial position -- were listed. Thursday Philli had off; she and Gloria inventoried the contents of the freezer in the garage and the one in the bottom of the refrigerator. "We should eat this stuff up before we buy more," Gloria cranked. "No point in walking away from good food just because I can't find a damn job."
"That's true. About the walking away from food that's already paid for, not about you finding a job. You'll find something. Maybe it's time to think about something part-time for the interim. At this time of year, the stores are already bringing in some Christmas stuff. Maybe a seasonal job at the Mall -- then you'd have until January to find a full-time position."
"Could we make it if I did that?"
Philli smiled sadly. "I don't know, honey."
"There isn't even much part time stuff listed in the newspaper. I'll go over to the mall and see if there's any chance of filling out an application at the stores. Maybe there'll be something. And fast food places. Maybe I could get two part time jobs for a while." Gloria perked up. Will wasn't the only one who could work long hours. She was only three years older than he was.
"I'm going to stay up late tonight, Glory. I have to try to get acclimated to night shift. So I'll be sleeping in late tomorrow."
"Gonna watch TV all night long?" she kidded her mother.
"Yes. I'm going to watch everything HBO and write letters to our relatives to see if any of them will take us in when we crash. Your father and I weren't ever close to our families, except for Nedda and Gwen -- I don't know if that's what 'close' means, but we try to keep track of their craziness -- but maybe we should at least see if any of them could help us out if we have to fall back and re-group."
"Is that a football term?" Gloria asked.
Philli blinked at her. "No. I think it has something to do with war."
"Sounds like some shitty management jargon to me. I always wondered."
True to her word, her mother slept until one in the afternoon on Friday. "I think I should have slept later, but I just couldn't," she said to Gloria over a cup of tea. "I don't know how to prepare for a night shift."
"It'll be like -- well sort of like -- those long closing shifts you had at the drugstore. You'd eat a good early lunch, then work from twelve-thirty until four-thirty, have something to eat, and get off at nine-thirty. Only a few hours later. Will you want a sandwich or something to take along?"
"Yeah, probably. I don't know that I'll always have a microwave to heat up food. Not all the places have them. My partner is Elena Rico -- she's going to have to teach me the ropes."
"'The ropes,' what is that, some boxing term, or more of your shitty management jargon?" Gloria asked, grinning slyly.
Philli laughed. "I have no idea! When Ben comes home, we'll make him look it up on the internet."
Gloria didn't think it was the right time to tell her about pirated access from the neighbor's wireless connection. Ben's explanation about why it wasn't wrong didn't sit well with her, though she could think of no way to refute his claim. Their mother didn't need more to worry about just now. "We're still slicing through that little canned ham that was in the pantry, will that be all right?"
"For a sandwich? Sure. I can make it. I just want a little mustard on it, no cheese like you put on Will's sandwiches. That's gross."
"That's protein," Gloria corrected. "He's not complaining, at least to me."
"Will would eat a sandwich of shoe leather if it had a little jelly on it," her mother quipped.
"Mom, I don't want to be picky about money, any more than I have been, but what does Ben's school lunch thing cost?"
"He's paid for school lunches until the end of the month," Philli said. "I hate to put him through more hardship, but we need to talk to him about making his own lunches to take to school. When I was a little girl, school lunches were still being made by clever old ladies who knew how to stretch nutritious food into affordable servings. I couldn't believe you guys telling me that you had a choice of lunches, or that the choices included corn dogs or pizza. Corn dogs aren't even food, for god's sake."
Gloria held up her hand. "I promise you, I never, ever, ever, ate a corn dog at school. Pizza ... well ... tell me you wouldn't have eaten pizza instead of vegetable soup and peanut butter sandwiches."
"Pizza. Why didn't they have pizza with vegetable soup?"
"Bleah, their vegetable soup looked like vomit. I think they just made a little pot of it to scare kids off eating it. It was really gross."
"Was it gross because it had vegetables in it, or was it gross because it tasted bad? I always wondered that, because I know the schools hire dieticians to supervise if not make the lunch programs." She shook her head, her hair graying only a little at the temples, the rest a rusty mass of curls.
"Oh," Gloria said, warming to the subject, "the dieticians are bound to the government's guidelines, which some sources say are about the same as the dietary requirements for beef and pork feedlots, which are formulated to put the most weight on the animals in the shortest amount of time."
"But dieticians are supposed to study what the best diet for people is."
"And if all they're taught is what the government guidelines say?"
Philli sputtered a disparaging laugh. "Someday, someone is going to open a school that teaches what is correct and sensible and responsible. And then, in no time at all, the school will be burned down, the teachers arrested, and the founders executed for treason."
"I'd tell you that was silly, but that was basically what my Modern History teacher was saying. It was kind of depressing, but also kind of amazing -- she didn't bother much with the textbook, which she said had a lot of facts and also a lot of magical illusions. 'Go ahead and read it if you want; keep it for reference, maybe. But question every conclusion it proposes.' She also said, 'And if you don't know what a conclusion is, turn that book in for resale as soon as possible.' I'm already missing that class."
"I wish you hadn't dropped out," her mother said.
"I liked the Modern History class ... after I found out what was happening to us. Before that, it didn't seem to have much relevance. The Accounting class was dull as hell, and the Literature class was so stupid and incredibly snobby and boring that I wanted to be chained to my desk just so I could have an excuse to chew my own leg off and escape, maimed, into the wild."
Philli laughed, holding her middle, her curly hair tossing.
Gloria laughed with her, glad to have brought mirth to the day. Some scab on her heart had healed over, and she was no longer enraged by the thought of her father's mistress. It was gone with him into the grave; done, finished, now forgettable. Her mother's laughter allowed love to well up in her heart again.
The house phone rang in the kitchen, and so Gloria got up to answer it, still smiling. "Melton residence, hello?
"Hi, this is Chase calling to offer you a lower interest rate than you are currently paying on your credit card bills. We can provide a special introductory rate to lower your monthly bills but only for a limited time. Would you like to -- "
"Fuck off, please," Gloria said with great irritation, and hung up.
"Gloria!" shouted her mother. "What on earth are you thinking?"
"It was a telemarketer, from Chase."
"Oh. All right then, though you don't have to be so vulgar. Those bastards still have our number, even though we haven't dealt with those crooks in seven years. Damn them. They change their due dates every six months, I think, just so they can penalize cardholders and take away their lower interest rates."
The phone rang again. "If this is that Chase dude, my language is going to amp up, and if you don't like that, Mom, you better bail to the bedroom now."
Her mother didn't move, so Gloria answered the ring. "Hello, Meltons."
A mellifluous-voiced young man introduced himself as Darrin, calling from Public Broadcasting as part of their pledge drive. Would she be interested in pledging twenty dollars a month, or forty, for a baseball cap with 'PBS' on it, or seventy, for a t-shirt and baseball cap, or for a hundred fifty, for a mug, a cap, a t-shirt, and a CD of the Tower of Power's greatest hits?
Gloria waited as many seconds as it took for the young man to falter in his pitch and ask "Hello?"
"Cupcake, my house is about two weeks away from foreclosure. What do you think?"
"Good luck, Ma'am," the voice said, and hung up.
Gloria turned to her mother and grinned.
"You're good," Philli said, wiping her eyes. "God, there's a career for you somewhere with that kind of talent. "'Cupcake.' I can't believe you called him 'Cupcake.'" She went off again into the realms of laughter.
As Gloria stood by the kitchen counter, the phone rang again. She raised her eyebrows significantly at her mother, who got up from the table and ran back through the hallway. Too bad. This next one I bet I could have made my mother wet her pants. She picked up the receiver, and said in a low, mocking voice, "Helloww?"
"Hi," the light male voice on the other end said. "This is Thomas Eckrund calling for Gloria Melton on behalf of the Baker family about a job."
Oh, god, I'm an idiot! she screamed to herself. But she threw reason to the winds of change, and said, still in the falsely deep voice, "One moment, please."
Having done so, she was seized by a fit of hysteria not far from her mother's own. She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and hissingly giggled several times, then recovered herself, cleared her throat, took three deep breaths, and said, "This is Gloria Melton, how can I help you?"
"Hello," the male voice said, "I'm Thomas Eckrund, from the Baker Family. You applied for the assistant cook's job?"
"Yes," Gloria said.
"If you'd like, they've asked you to come to a second interview," his voice said.
"Wonderful!" Gloria exclaimed. "When would be convenient?"
"Could you come tomorrow at two?"
"Yes, of course. Should I come to the same door?"
"Yes, that will be fine. We'll see you then."
"Second interview?" asked Philli.
"Yes!" shouted Gloria. "Tomorrow afternoon!"
"You're lucky you didn't blow it with that low fake voice," her mother said, beginning to giggle again.
"I do all my interviews, this way, dah-ling," Gloria said in her deep and uncultivated tone.
Her mother laughed loudly again, and Gloria took hope from the merry sound.