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December 05, 2022

Going Hungry 60

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Sixty: The Priority of Work

Gloria fiddled around in the kitchen, waiting for the phone to ring, until she could find nothing more to do. Potatoes were peeled and cut and in salted water; the frozen vegetables had been mixed together and set in the refrigerator to slowly thaw; onions were chopped and in a prep bowl on the back of the counter. The phone was silent.

I can't sit around in here and pine like a teenager, I've got to be moving. In the garage, she opened the door and examined Ben's pile of giveaways in the dim light of the day's fog. His ski gear from the winter break ski camp when he was in eighth grade -- jacket, pants, skis, helmet, boots, the whole package -- none of it would have fit him any more, but she remembered how enthusiastic he'd been and how adorable he'd looked all geared up. Someone was going to find this stuff at the thrift store and think they'd gone to heaven. She got in her car, backed it up to the garage.

She loaded the neatly-folded donation clothes first, then cushioned electronics and DVDs on them. On the other side of the trunk she put baseball bats and gloves, a football, old Halloween costumery. Carrying an armful of books he'd received as Christmas gifts over the course of years, Gloria was glad that Philli was working today. She'd have cried over the memories of Christmases and kids.

A car pulled up at the sidewalk -- Steve!

He hurried to her. "Gloria, are you all right? You sounded upset, I wanted to make sure you were safe. Who was the person you didn't want to talk in front of? I mean, I'm not trying to be nosy, honestly, but was someone bothering you?"

"Let me put this stuff down. Steve, it was my mother's boyfriend -- only he didn't know she's been keeping him a secret from us. I was trying to worm information out of him without him realizing it."

"You devious woman -- why were you so agitated when you left the message, then?"

"Because he made me miss your call, what did you think? What if you thought that I didn't want to talk to you or see you as soon as I could again? I couldn't stand that."

He stared at her for long seconds. Then he stepped towards her, put his hand around the back of her head, and kissed her, pulling her close to him this time, cradling her head in his elbow, and stroking her back, then working his hands into her thick curls.

She clung to him, insanely wanting to throw him over her shoulder and haul him off to her bedroom. As the kiss ended, she treasured him leaning his forehead against hers, their elevated breathing making a whispered symphony between them.

"Oh, god," he muttered, "this is the first time I've ever hated my job. I don't want to leave you."

She smiled, feeling her lips trembling a little. "I hate your job, too, right now, and that any minute Lolo could pull in, or Ben could have had a minimum day and walk up the sidewalk, or anything that's an interruption --"

"I saw you carrying that stack of stuff and thought maybe you were moving, running away, and it made me crazy to think of losing you," he looked up at the sky, "losing you when I don't even know if I have you."

"Oh, you've got me, all right," she said, touching his face with one hand. "You've got me like I've never been got before."

In response, he kissed her again, like the first time, tenderly, sweetly, carefully. "That's good, because you've got me, too. Are we getting together when I'm off work?"

"Yes, or I'll shrivel up like a witch wearing a bucket of water. But here's the thing -- my mother and I are going to have a confrontation about this boyfriend of hers and what she intends to do with our house -- Mr. Boyfriend let drop that using our house as a rental unit was probably the best choice. I can sort of see that, but he seems really serious about her, and I don't know where that leaves us."

"Do you have to confront her today? Don't confront her today. Let's just ..."

"Okay," Gloria nodded. "If she doesn't start anything, I won't, either. You're wiser than I am. I shouldn't have an all-out war with my mother just before my last three days in charge of the Bakers' kitchen. I don't need any major distractions." She paused. "You're distraction enough. Come by when you're ready, there'll be turkey for sandwiches or heating up in the microwave if you're interested."

"I'll call first, and make sure you're not at war with your mom." Suddenly he hugged her hard, and kissed her cheek. "See you a little later." Before he got back in his car, he looked back and grinned.

She waved, feeling her heart lift. Armageddon's on the horizon, and I'm happier than I've ever been in my whole life.

"I think I've got it," Lolo said as she came in the front door, looking elated. "The general manager had eyes all over me when we met, and then when I started talking shop to him, he turned into jelly candy."

"Well, you're pretty hot," Gloria snickered. "He didn't even know what was coming."

"He's a hog, and I despise him already," Lolo nodded, "but if he gives me a job, I can put up with his eyes and sell enough cars and trucks to make him respect me as income." She pulled her hairclip out and let her hair fall. "Does that make me a kind of car prostitute?" She went back the hallway, leaving Gloria to ponder her question.

A few weeks ago, Gloria would have labeled her a prostitute and thief under any circumstances, but now, she couldn't. Lolo had been in love with her father, who should have known better than to woo a woman other than his wife. But he hadn't, and Lolo couldn't resist him; and in all her memories, Gloria could not remember anyone who could resist his charm -- no one didn't want to be friends with him.

Are we all prostitutes when we take jobs that we have no choice but to take? That job at the disgusting group home facility, it's not something I would do except to get money; they were filthy and uncaring and all they wanted was warm bodies to do their bidding to keep them in business. They didn't have any interest in their clients or their employees, they just wanted humans in order to use them for their own purposes. Their own purpose, to make money. Yeah, that was a kind of prostitution.

Lolo wandered out of the hallway a few minutes later, dressed in jeans and a sweater and four inches shorter without her heels. "Smells so good out here. Can you teach me a little about how to cook? That would save me a lot if I knew how to cook some food once I get a decent job and move out."

"No, to answer your first question, about whether or not selling cars is a prostitution. You love car sales, so it's not an act of desperation, and you can always go back to the perfume counter at a department store," Gloria said snidely. "But yes, I can teach you some basic stuff about cooking -- so can Philli, she taught me most of it."

"Ahh, Philli hasn't been real open with me since she started dating that Brady guy. She kind of closed up, so I'm glad I can still stay here for a while."

Gloria winced a little. Lolo knows Mom has been dating Brady, too. But we didn't. "Okay. Poultry, be it chicken, or turkey, or pheasant, needs to cook to 180 degrees. It can be done a little lower, but at 180, you got juices running clear and the meat is done. You won't poison yourself if the poultry is at 180. A meat thermometer costs about twenty dollars, but it's worth the investment."

"I could keep myself fed with just chicken and salad, I think," Lolo nodded.

The sound of Lolo's phone came from the hall. She trotted back to answer it, and a moment later, poked her head out of her room. "Good thing I didn't wash off my paint -- the afternoon girl was a no-show, so I'm going in."

Gloria sighed. Lecturing about food would have passed the afternoon. But it was a sign of their time -- everyone who needed work jumped at the chance to find some. Will, her mother, Lolo ... even Ben. At least Ben will be home to eat hot food. She opened the oven to baste the turkey again.

"I got all your stuff to the thrift store this afternoon," she told Ben over turkey and mashed potatoes. "You were right, it took two trips."

He nodded, his mouth full. He signaled a thumbs-up over the food, or maybe having the stuff out of the garage. After swallowing, he spoke. "Good. Some of those ski things I didn't even remember I had. Some day I'd like to ski again, but I'd need all new gear again anyway. I keep getting taller ... that should stop soon, shouldn't it?"

She shook her head. "When Will was seventeen, he grew another four inches, and not just in diameter. Mom said that Dad said he hit a big growth spurt at that age, too, so get ready for longer pants for another year or so."

"Got a question for you, Sis. How much money would it take to get internet back again for us? I'm a little nervous about sucking off of that dopey neighbor next door and his unencrypted connection. Part of me wants to go and tell him his bandwidth is being eaten up by his neighborhood -- some days when he's not even home I have a hard time getting on line. That means that other people are using it, too."

"I'll look into it, Ben. I can ask Steve when he comes over, or you can. I'm sure he has internet." Internet! I don't even have his email address. I could be chatting with him online all night. At the thought of nighttime instant messaging, she giggled, unable to suppress it before it erupted.

"What?" Ben grumped.

"Sorry. Thinking about talking to Steve."

"You're really falling for him, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I am. He's the bomb of bombs."

"Do I need to be discreet tonight? I'd prefer to know ahead of time so I'm not making an awkward entrance." He helped himself to another big slice of turkey.

"No. I'm feeling crazy about him, but the fact is, he's a co-worker, and I need my job to be stable, so I can't go crazy over him. I kind of wish I had the leisure to do the crazies, but I don't. So you have to be the hall monitor for me."

"Well, that's a problem, because I've got a computer visit to make this evening. This Hammond family has got a brand new computer upgrade, and they're scared shitless about how to transfer their old files to the new one. I'm out of here at five-thirty, won't be back until I've got all their bookmarks and crap taken care of, which won't be before eight-thirty or nine, depending on how many they have and how many passwords they have to input." Mopping up the last of the gravy on his plate with the bite of turkey, he added, "They're only a couple blocks away, so I'll be walking. I'll call from their house when I'm on my way home. That way you can comb your hair and wash off your smeared makeup."

"Shut up."

"Hey, I remember how Will and Chelsea were." He took his dish to the sink and rinsed it. "Good food, Glory. Thank you."

"For a damn free frozen turkey, it was pretty good," Gloria agreed.

"I'm going to take a shower now, so don't start doing dishes," Ben admonished. "I think when I'm done with the Hammonds, I'm just going to want to plow in and go to bed. Oh, by the way, not that you might know, where is Mom?"

"She said this morning that she picked up an extra shift from nine to three ... but I haven't heard anything since then. She said to just keep some food warm for her, but it's four, now. I'm going to put it all away, I don't know what she's up to."

"If we pulled this shit like she does, she'd send us away to private reform school."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-07-11
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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