Chapter Twenty-six: The Thrill of Survival
Although Will complained about having to share the food, the two chickens had made three meals worth of chicken and gravy. A plate was set in the refrigerator for Philli; Will put dibs on it for his breakfast if she didn't eat it.
Really, she should have put it all away for days when she was working and couldn't cook for them, but it was a labor intensive preparation, and she was too tired by the end of it to start another meal. Besides, Ben would have started a household insurrection if she had taken the delicious meal away from him after he tasted it. "Note to self," she muttered as she put the pressure cookers back in the cabinet, "cook early while Ben's in school."
Will waited until after supper to show them the "treat" he'd brought home. There in the garage, gleaming in the light, was a bushel basket of apples. "They're not market quality," Will explained. "After the main pick, the stuff with marks on it, Mr. Van Duyken lets his men take it home. Jorge says his family loves this time of year -- they make jalapeno apples with chicken and eat it in tortillas!"
Remembering Maria and her stuffed pork recipe, Gloria nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! Or with pork, and onions and raisins! Oh my god, Will, this is great! Thank you, and thank Mr. Van Duyken for us!"
"He knows we're trying to get by. And he knows how hard we all work -- some of the stories the guys tell are sickening, about farmers who pay about half what Mr. Van Duyken does, or hold the pay until the entire harvest is done."
"I didn't know Van Duyken's had apple orchards," Ben mused, reaching for an apple.
"Scrub it before you eat it," Will admonished. "There's nothing organic about these babies. Pesticide, fungicide, fertilizer, land mines -- Mr. Van Duyken said to use a little soap, even. He only has the one bloc of orchards in apples. Sells to the local fruit stands, that's all. I don't think he makes much off it, but I'm not going to tell him how to run his farm."
"The only concern I have is how we're going to keep them. We don't have room in the fridge, and I can't imagine they freeze well."
"I got an answer for that, too! You never thought I'd get this smart, but let me tell you, I'm learning a lot of shit working out there! Salvi said he has a hole in his yard, on the north side of his house. It's about three feet deep and lined with boards. He put a little roof on it, and it keeps his apples and potatoes almost all winter!"
Gloria looked dubious, but Ben laughed out loud. "And if it doesn't work for apples, we can use it as a fort! We still have those pieces of redwood from when Mom and Dad got the new fence -- he was always going to do something with them and never did. I can do that tomorrow when I get home from school. Might have to wait until the weekend for the roof part, though."
"I don't know how much Mom will like having a hole like that dug in her hydrangeas ..."
"Why, because it'll make us look like poor people trying to keep food? Screw it, what does it matter? The bank's going to kick us out anyway, right? Just don't tell her until after the fact." Ben snorted. "She won't even notice it's there. She hasn't been outside for weeks. I'll take care of the mowing and I'll bet she doesn't go out back except to fill the birdbath. If we keep that filled, she'll stick to sitting on the front porch on sunny days."
Will yawned widely and then coughed. "What's for supper tomorrow, Witch Head?"
"Some kind of pasta with meat sauce. I'm going to make up a huge vat of spaghetti sauce tomorrow so you guys can just heat it up when you need it."
"O'Brien's Market has hamburger on sale, or did you already buy it?"
"No, I wanted to wait for Will's pay to see what we could afford, and how did you know that, anyway? We never get their flyers in the mail."
"It's on line. How does a dollar seventy-nine a pound sound to you?"
"Holy shit, Ben, is it made from raccoon road kill or what? I haven't seen any kind of beef for less than two fifty a pound anywhere!"
"Dunno. But maybe we could get some and make it into patties and freeze it. We can use bread instead of buns, and I can eat at a reasonable hour instead of waiting for old Almond Cakes here to drag his filthy ass in the door."
Will reached out to cuff his younger brother, laughing. "If I wasn't so tired, I'd turn you upside down, you little shit."
"Listen, I'll pick up the hamburger tomorrow and make the sauce, but since it's so easy, I'll put it up for you guys to eat on my working days. Maybe we can pull something out of the freezer for tomorrow?"
The three redheads ambled to the chest freezer, and began rummaging through the contents.
"Shit, I didn't know there were any freezer pizzas left!" Will sputtered. "Let's have those!"
"Both of them? That's all carbs ... but I did get spinach, so we could have salad with pizza, I guess."
"Here we go," Ben said, diving into the right hand corner of the freezer and coming up with a plastic square. "Sausage. Dad's favorite snack sausage. If we cut this up and fry it, that ought to be a meal, right? Carb, meat, veggies?"
"Kinda high in fat," Gloria vacillated.
"Like you," Will muttered out the side of his mouth.
Before she could retort, Ben's voice grew serious. "Well, if we're going to have to leave this place, we can't take any of this shit with us. I vote we eat it while we got it."
"Give me that. Pizza, sausage, and salad it is, then. At least it'll be easy."
"So easy even a younger brother can make it. Go to bed, old brother. You have to go keep us alive tomorrow." The three of them went back inside the house.
"I do, don't I," Will said. "You know, it's harder work than I thought it would be, but when I'm choking on dust even through the mask, and feel like I'm being roasted with a hundred bugs in my shorts, I know why I'm doing it, and it's weird -- I feel good about it. Maybe after another week I'll feel different, but I don't know. It's kind of cool to be -- relied on, you know what I mean?"
"Not yet," Gloria answered. "At least not as far as a job goes, but I do like cooking for you poops. Maybe when I get my first paycheck."
"I know what you mean. Mostly because I feel like a parasite, and can't feel what you feel. Pisses me off. 'Night, Will."
"Don't worry about it. Just do the school thing and keep Mom happy. Is she okay? I haven't seen her lately."
"Yeah, she's good, but bitchy. She doesn't like her job."
"That's why we had a maid service come in every week. She never liked cleaning. Good night." Will shut his door.
Gloria sighed. "I knew I was forgetting something. With all of us out of the house most of the time, nothing looks really bad. But I need to dust and vacuum tomorrow, and do the kitchen floors. You guys with your bathroom are on your own."
"We'll get it done, Glory, stop stressing. You do the spaghetti sauce and burger patties in the morning, and I'll take care of dinner. That should still give you time to wash windows or scrub floors or whatever."
Ben withdrew to his room, and Gloria went to the kitchen to have a cup of herbal tea -- lemongrass and a half teaspoon of sugar, a liquid lollipop taste -- and think about their immediate future. Will's enjoyment of keeping them going was a little bit of a surprise, although his working with other young men who were in the same boat probably contributed to that. They all knew what they were there for, and it wasn't job satisfaction. It was to make sure there was food to eat and a roof over their heads. She'd bet that the almond harvest workers didn't stand around a water cooler and plot how to best suck up to the boss ... if they did any sucking up, it was by working harder and longer than anyone else.
None of Gloria's friends had replied to her email. She'd hoped, perhaps, for a couple of sympathetic responses, just a little support as her family embarked on this strange and desperate adventure, but there was none.
Face it, she had taken a job as a kitchen assistant, a servant. None of her friends would have really understood that. Some of them were baristas in coffee shops, part time to make some spending money; none of them wanted to work full time at a menial job, especially when the time off from the job had to -- had to -- be spent taking care of the rest of the family. Her friends had family only to be embarrassed by; they had no real need of their parents and siblings except in as much as they were sharing the same house, and the minute that they could hook up with a boyfriend with an income and an apartment, they would be so, so gone. What their parents needed or what their siblings needed was not even in the realm of their dreams at night. They all had cars their parents had bought for them; they all set their own hours and entertainments. And now, they had almost nothing in common with Gloria, who had to work full time, who had to drop out of junior college, who had to take care of her brothers, and her mother, as much as her mother would let her. The friends who had giggled over margaritas and each others' shoes weren't really interested in visiting Gloria's current level of existence.
I'm sunk, she thought. I have sunk to the depths, and have to swim like mad to get up to where we can breathe.
Her probationary period with Maria was ninety days, a veritable eternity. Three months would take them through Christmas and into near spring. Will's job would end with the almond harvest, only a month or so away; the question was, would her income as an assistant cook and her mother's income as a night janitor be enough to keep a roof over their heads? Only if she was the best assistant cook that she could possibly be, blameless in Maria's sight, promptly on time every day, missing no work, learning exactly what Maria wanted and doing exactly what Maria expected. She could do that, as long as she didn't get sick or anything.
Shit. She needed a flu shot, all of them did, and that was money they just didn't have.