Chapter Sixteen: The Interview
The neatly dressed young man opened the door once again as Gloria approached it. Of the Bakers, there was no sign in the sitting room with the french doors. Instead, the young man gestured her to a hallway. "This way, if you please, Miss Melton. Maria is in the kitchen waiting for you."
There were various doorways off the wide hallway, but Gloria and the young man continued walking to the end of the hall. That final doorway opened to a huge room with three stoves and two double-bowled sinks. Four refrigerators stood side by side against one wall. The kitchen was a corner room, with high windows facing east and south, making the room bright and warm. Pots and pans hung from a central rack over a large granite-topped island. There was a lot of counter space beside the stoves and the sinks. Glass-fronted cabinets revealed a multitude of canisters and jars, platters and vessels. Gloria looked around. "Wow," she said in awe and envy.
Maria was washing her hands at one of the sinks. She slowly dried her hands and turned to face Gloria. The young man said, "Miss Gloria Melton," and left the room.
Gloria stepped forward and offered her right hand. "It's good to see you again, Mrs. Bedencourt."
Maria's eyes were hooded. "Maria," she said.
"Maria," Gloria echoed obediently.
"You like to cook?" Maria asked, with her words shaded by an accent. She did not rush her speech, and Gloria wondered if English was a second language to her.
"Yes, I do. Very much."
"How many potatoes would you make for a Thanksgiving dinner?" Maria asked slowly. "Potatoes for mashing."
Gloria was momentarily at a loss. What was the woman actually asking? For a formula? Remembering her conversation with her mother about dieticians not actually thinking about how people ate or what they ought to be eating, but instead using mathematic calculations to decide what to serve, Gloria opted for honesty. "It would depend on how many people were eating, and whether or not there would be many side dishes. If bread stuffing or dressing would accompany the turkey, not so many potatoes would be necessary. And I would take into consideration the age and preference of the diners, as well."
"What do you mean, the age?" The woman's voice seemed truculent, her face heavy with suspicion.
"My mother, who is forty-three, eats about a half cup of mashed potatoes when we serve them. My brothers, who are sixteen and eighteen, eat about two cups each, if not more. I don't think I've ever cooked anything with mashed potatoes and had leftovers."
"You cook for your brothers?" Maria asked.
"My mother doesn't like cooking, so I've done most of it since I was twelve, for my brothers, my mother, and my father. My father passed away early this past summer, and my mother worked a lot of evening shifts, so I've been mostly cooking for my brothers and me."
"You have to cut your hair or wear a hair net," her accented voice droned.
"I don't have a problem with that. A hair net isn't bad. But if I cut my hair, I would have to cut it as short as my brothers -- or it will stick out from my head like a dustmop." Gloria thought she saw the hint of a smile from the older woman, but she still would not look Gloria straight on in the eyes.
"What your brothers' favorite meal?" She asked, solidifying Gloria's hypothesis about English being a second language.
"Turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes with corn and cranberry sauce," Gloria told her without hesitation, with a smile and a nod alluding to Maria's earlier question. "They love holidays, that's when we make that, and they can eat as much as they want."
"How many times have you had to have stitches at the doctor from cutting yourself in the kitchen?" Maria asked, unexpectedly.
"Never, although my brother Will did, for messing around with a knife I was using to slice meat for a stir-fry. He was fifteen, and decided to test the edge of the knife."
"Boys that age should be in chicken coops to protect them and the rest of the world."
Maria was so grim Gloria didn't know if she should laugh or not. "It would have saved me an afternoon of sitting in the emergency room with him." She said, deadpan.
"Okay," said the heavy woman, finally looking at Gloria with dull, uninterested eyes. "You have the job. You be here Monday at ten in the morning, you work until seven at night. Off days are Wednesday and Thursday. You want the job? Okay," she said at Gloria's wide-eyed nod, "let's go talk to Mr. Baker."
They re-traversed the long hallway back to the sitting room. Mr. Baker was there. Maria hooked a thumb at Gloria and said, "This the one."
"Thank you," Gloria said to Maria's retreating back. She turned to Mr. Baker.
"Welcome, Miss Melton. Thomas will be here in a moment for your paperwork."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Baker. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to your house staff." My god, how she had rehearsed that line in her head and out loud in the privacy of her room.
He smiled and shook her hand, then excused himself and left the room. Thomas brought a file folder with him when he returned, placed it on a small table with a pen. "If I could have you fill these forms out, please," he said to her. "This is for withholding tax; this is for our house files."
He was about to turn away again. "I forgot to ask Mrs. Bedencourt what I'm expected to wear to work."
Thomas laughed. "Maria hates being called 'Mrs. Bedencourt.' She's a widow, but I don't think her marriage was a happy one. Still, she's too old-fashioned to go back to her maiden name -- probably because her children are all Bedencourts."
"Oh. I noticed that she wears a wedding ring ..."
"She'd have to have it cut off, I think. As far as clothes go, slacks and a blouse of modest fashion are fine as long as they're clean. You'll wear an apron, of course, but be prepared for possible stains. Wear shoes that don't hurt your feet; you may have to stand for long periods of time."
Gloria filled out the forms and stood, feeling a little dizzy with relief. "Is there anything more I need to know before Monday? Where should I park?" she asked Thomas on his next pass through the room. She'd noticed that there were no other cars parked in the spaces outside the sitting room.
Waving an arm gracefully to the right, he demonstrated the continuing driveway past the house. "Keep going to the right, and then you'll come to a lot that has a little sign that says "Staff Parking."
"Okay, thank you. Do you know if there is bus service this far from down town? I'd prefer to use public transit if I can." She didn't mention that her car was most likely to be repossessed in the all too near future.
"Yes, there is. That would be the 'D' loop that services Gayhauer Fabrication a little farther out. I don't remember where all it goes, though, sorry."
"That's all right. I can look up 'D' line's route on my computer. Will that be all, then?" Jeeze, listen to me. I can talk the lingo already.
"See you Monday," he said as she went out the door. They were very, very welcome words.
* * *
Her mother was just sipping tea, blearily looking at the newspaper. She looked rumpled and somehow dusty. Undoubtedly she had only awakened a little while ago. There couldn't have been more than a few sips taken from the mug, unless it was the second round; that would have been unlikely, as Philli had always complained that two cups of tea made her jittery.
"You got the job!" Philli exclaimed, realization overwhelming her sleepiness. "You have that glow -- or did you just run off and get married?"
"I got the job! You should see the kitchen, Mom, it's HUGE! There are three stoves, and a commercial-sized double oven, and it's big -- bigger than our kitchen and living room and maybe the garage all together, I think!"
"What's the cook like?"
"She's kind of heavy, and moves really slow, and has an accent of some sort. Her last name is Bedencourt."
"Portuguese," Philli said, sipping her tea. "Don't piss her off; the Portuguese are notorious for having bad tempers."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"'Yes Ma'am and no Ma'am her and don't second guess her."
Philli shoved the newspaper across the table so fast it scattered and showered Gloria with sheets. Both of them laughed hard, a sound of relief and release from tension.
"You got it?" Ben cried from the doorway. "Cool! We're okay, then, aren't we?"
Philli and Gloria darted looks at each other, looking for assurance that they were going to be okay. However, in each other's eyes they saw only a doubt, a fear, a reluctance to make any promises.
"Aren't we?" Ben repeated. "I thought you said if Will and Mom and you all got full time jobs, we could make it."
"Well, we'll be in a better position to know that for sure in a few weeks. If we can keep the jobs, if none of us get hurt or sick, if there are no other surprises ..." Gloria didn't want to let the sick feeling of failure return to her, or seep into the rest of the family. "How's it going with the eBay thing, any takers?"
"I've got a bunch of the comics listed, and some of them are getting bids, but they're low yet. I'm giving them a good long bidding time -- kind of banking on that Christmas rush stuff, you know?"
"What are you talking about?" Philli asked, a little bit on the grumpy side at finding out yet another secret her kids had kept from her.
"Will gave me all his old comic books to sell on eBay, and Gloria gave me some of her knickknacks. We can make some money there, not a lot, but some, and a lot better than with a yard sale."
Philli jumped in her chair. "Can you sell jewelry?"
"Sure," he answered.
"Oh, my god," she said, her face paling. "I've got some stuff you can try to sell, Ben."
"Jewelry? I know the comic book stuff, but I don't know jewelry for crap. You'll have to write down for me what it is exactly, and a note about what it was worth? I won't put that in the ad, but it will give me an idea about what's a good bid for it. What have we got that I can take a picture of it against? Something rich looking."
"I have a black velvet top I just washed the other day," Gloria offered. "Would that do?"
"Is it ratty with bar crumbs stuck to it? No? Then maybe. I need to find the right lighting, maybe morning light, here in the kitchen."
"All right. I'll go see what I can muster," Philli said. "And write down what I know about the pieces." She got up and left the room.
"That was weird," Ben said. "I don't even know that I've ever seen her wearing jewelry."
"Me, either," Gloria agreed. "Do you get the idea we don't know a lot about our mother?"