Issue #27, Honorable Mention #2

Bebow-Reinhard felt so comfortable researching the mysterious dream that she called Arabus in her new novel now published by Solstice that she eventually earned an MA in history. Two historical novels are authorized by Bonanza Ventures; Felling of the Sons has twice been used as required college reading. A fourth historical novel co-authored is also available at Amazon, and a fifth has just signed with All Things That Matter Press. See more at http://www.grimmsetc.com/.

 

A Job as Told in Fortune Cookies

by Monette Bebow-Reinhard

 

Jamie stared out the patio doors at the bluebirds pecking at the suet, her coffee steaming up the glass. Where did bluebirds come from? There was no happiness here.

Her husband dropped the news and then walked out. He didn’t put his arms around her to reassure her they’d be fine. How could they? He’s always supported the family landscaping business without question, but suddenly they were told that their father’s estate was used up and there was no more money to carry them through the winter months. That meant instead of salary, he’d have to go on a per-job basis, plowing snow for customers. Depend on snowfall? Jamie thought they were doing so well. He only shrugged and accepted, as he always did when it came to his family, without question. He’d failed to make his business, here in the country, successful after his father died.

Jamie took the blame, because that’s what life was all about, right? He’d made a mess of the business by being unaggressive, but she’d made of mess of their future, too, by quitting too many jobs because she’d had to drive too far. Now the competition for office management was fierce, she was older and her résumé made her look unstable. She’d been trying to find a professional job for two years, ever since finishing her master’s degree in history, and knew the odds were against her, the older she got.

At least, around here.

Her step-mom Phyllis tried to be supportive. “You’ll find something. You’re youthful and skilled. Just don’t let the gray hairs show.” Jamie had picked up Phyllis for her doctor’s appointment. Phyllis insisted on Chinese afterward, because she loved knowing her fortune after the doctor told her she needed to watch her diet for the thousandth time. “Too bad you spent so much on your writing career that’s going nowhere. So much for a degree, huh? Here, this will help.” She handed Jamie a fortune cookie.

“Thanks. I’d rather not think about that. Besides, I’ve worked hard all my life, going to college, all those jobs. Keeping the kids in clothes. Now look at me. Too old to be hired.” Tears welled up so Jamie slipped on her sunglasses to finish eating. She did more than her share, but never paid attention where it counted, on her husband’s family business. She should have helped them more. She should have stood up to their criticism, bit back on her pride.

Phyllis nodded. “Don’t give up. Read your fortune. That’ll tell you what to do.”

Take that chance you’ve been considering. Jamie shared it with a laugh, and then tucked it in her bag. She didn’t tell Phyllis but she had been thinking about applying in bigger cities, like Milwaukee and Madison. She had all but tapped Wausau out, and no one was interested in hiring her back. She’d made too many wrong turns in life.

The next day, without telling her husband, she packed a bag, got in her car and drove to Milwaukee, the printed fortune safely tucked in the coin compartment of her wallet. She planned to stay overnight to scour newspapers at the library and interview with employment offices. Even a long-term temporary job would help. She needed to prove what she could do. But the Milwaukee climate seemed no more welcoming. Employment offices all but shook their collective heads at her. They all wanted her to live here first.

Jamie found a Chinese buffet for dinner and anxiously read her fortune. You will have good luck and overcome many hardships.

She stayed one more night, and the next morning got a call. The temp agency had a job at Senior Living available—they helped seniors stay in their homes, provided them with job opportunities and social events, and they needed an editor/proofreader/researcher. Would she be willing to interview? Her résumé would still be hard to overcome, but she had all that writing and proofreading experience, and a history degree, so she was used to dealing with seniors and their stories. Writing the cover letter was a challenge but she remembered advice she was once given—focus on the positive. No apologies. Jamie gave them an updated résumé and went home to wait.

Back at home Jamie told her husband about the possible interview. She kept the idea upbeat. He could retire and live on her for a change. He could sell his shares to his brother. He only chuckled, wished her luck, and gave her a hug.

Jamie watched him walk away. He didn’t believe she could do anything anymore. But she could. She had to. There had to be a life for her, somewhere out there.

While she waited and the weather cooled, while she feared a winter of tightening their belts because there wasn’t enough money to last, she got the phone call. Senior Living wanted to interview her. Jamie left early for Milwaukee and stopped for lunch. Chinese, of course. She forced herself to wait until she got done eating, because it was bad luck to read a fortune ahead of time. Everything will now come your way.

What if she actually got the job? He’d be lost without her. Maybe they won’t pay her enough. He can’t sort socks or balance the checkbook. Maybe they won’t hire her. He keeps windows open even on humid nights until the house starts to smell moldy. He can’t figure out what the cats want even when they give him the look. That was her home, too, their investment of over 30 years.

Maybe the fortune meant something else. Maybe it meant she would get him to listen to her. Maybe she would sell that novel she’s been marketing. But why can’t his family let her manage the business? She was good with numbers and very honest. She could even market the business. Making new contacts would keep them solvent in the winter months. They could pick up indoor clients who wanted their plants cared for—something his family refused to consider. And he always sided with them.

The interview with Senior Living went well enough, she thought, considering how she had to defend her long career of job hopping. She had kids, got her degrees, lived too far out of town and hated to drive in the winter. She did a lot of writing and research, and would be perfect for them. The interview lasted longer than most, especially once she assured him she was in this for the long haul, in case the job became permanent. They told her about other duties she might do in the future, if things went well. They had her do a small editing exercise. She felt she held up quite well. Don’t rearrange their thoughts, just fix their grammar and make sure it makes sense.

She refused to eat Chinese on the way back home. “Hiya kitty kitty.” Her two cats were happy to see her. “You need water?” She added water to their dish. “Oh, I’ll bet you’re tired of that food.” Her husband tended to be a cat food conformist, and always overfilled the bowl. “Time for a walk?” She opened the patio door and they both ran out. A lot of her friends kept their cats indoors but hers loved to go for walks. They never wandered away, and unlike theirs, hers caught rodents.

She followed them outside. As usual, Lee anticipated the route and was often ahead, while Lou, older and more complacent, needed to be waited for.

“Oh, you’re home.”

She ran into him on their walk. “Yeah.”

“How’d it go?”

“Okay.”

“I bet you were great.”

“You think?” Jamie shrugged. “I’m past having hope.”

“At least you try. A lot of people stop trying at your age.” He started for the house, but turned back. She always envied him his home business, where he could walk to his equipment shed. She always had to drive to work—snow, sleet, rain, an hour a day on dry days. “Want to go out for fish tonight?”

“I don’t know, can we afford it?”

“I sold a piece of machinery today. So we can.”

For the next week or so, as the trees began to change color, she forgot about the job and concentrated on what she liked about her life out here. True, she still felt like the least important item on his totem pole. But they talked, watched movies, and one day called their eldest daughter on Skype and got the news they were going to be grandparents.

Jamie woke the following morning with an inexorable sadness that traveled through her day. She did some research, worked on a novel—anything she could to get her mind off how useless she felt. She was going to be a grandma, but they lived so far away. Finally she left her husband a note that she wouldn’t be home for lunch and went to the library, did some shopping, and finally stopped for Chinese.

Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny. When her phone rang she felt sure it was her husband and answered without looking.

“Is this Jamie?” After some small talk she was offered the job in Milwaukee.

She stared at the fortune cookie. “Yes, I want the job. Yes, I can start in two weeks.”

She drove home nervous. In these late fall months he took a lot of tree-trimming jobs, working until the sun set as the leaves fell for home owners who feared tree limbs had grown too close to the house. Jamie was afraid to tell him. Her husband was generally an even-handed kind of guy, but she knew that his temper simmered deep down.

This fear dwindled, replaced by “I’ve got a job!”

She was told she’d work for a week with the lady who was retiring, and pictured someone her age ready to live off her well-planned savings. At home Jamie greeted the cats and sat down with paper and pencil. “Work until I’m fully eligible for social security, maybe to age 70. Travel until I’m 80. Then write my memoirs.” She sat back, satisfied. No bucket list for her. She’d planned a life for her next 30 years.

When he came home he was cranky and not willing to talk. So she didn’t tell him.

The next morning she threw an overnight bag together, left him a brief note, and took off for Milwaukee to find an apartment. She’d turn the job down if she couldn’t find a place, so why worry him now?

On the way Jamie called her step-mom. Phyllis told her to sublet “in case things don’t work out.” Jamie found a few but they were pricey, filled with someone else’s goods and too many rules. She wanted something close to work so she could walk, bike or take a bus. All the places in the paper were high priced and most only included heat.

She drove to the Senior Living building and circled the area. At the top of the hill there was a “now leasing” sign, so she wrote down the phone number. At a Chinese restaurant she stared at the number as she ate. She wasn’t making a ton of money—almost turned the job down when she heard how much. She even considered answering an ad for a live-in-nanny. The idea still made her shudder.

Back in the car Jamie allowed herself a good cry. She didn’t know what she wanted anymore. She opened the fortune cookie.

You will live a long, prosperous life.

“Not without effort, I won’t.” She dialed the number and made the appointment. This one so close to work was actually affordable, and the apartment had been freshly painted. How much detail should she ask about maintenance, how to control the heat, how does recycle work? Jamie hadn’t had an apartment since they got married. She conjured up all sorts of horror scenarios from those days, because this place seemed too good to be true.

When they offered her a year-lease signing bonus, Jamie signed. She could walk to work. The savings in bus fare and gas would help with the food budget, too.

She called her husband and told him she’d gotten the job and signed the lease.

“You think you’ll last a year?”

She was glad she didn’t do this in person. “I plan to keep this job as long as they’ll let me.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“Okay, I know, but that’s only because I hate driving in the winter. This time the job is something that’s right for me, and I can walk there. You know, like you do.”

“So you sign the lease without even checking with me.”

“Was I supposed to? You knew about this job. Did you expect me to commute?”

“What do you want me to do now? Move away from my family?”

“You do whatever you want. You always do.” She hung up on him before the yelling match started. She knew her life was her problem and her mistakes belonged to her. But for so long she swallowed her needs for him and their children, and she just couldn’t listen to him anymore.

She had to start work before she could move in, and booked motel rooms for the first couple of weeks. The first day of work had her both jubilant and terrified. What if she failed? The lady she was replacing didn’t seem able to do the advanced work they were hoping for. She also didn’t want to train Jamie, so Jamie sensed a little unhappiness here. But she’d been in this position before, and kept her cool. Just a week, she kept telling herself, even as the week began to disintegrate.

She had Chinese the fourth night and opened her cookie with breath held. You will be awarded some great honor.

Jamie couldn’t figure that one out, and suddenly felt silly leaning on fortune cookies like a trusted mentor.

By the end of the week, Jamie had had enough. With yet another criticism over her “lack of ability” she blew up. The lady scurried away. Jamie knew she’d just screwed up, but she’d been trained so often in the past and always caught on well. She braced herself for being fired. Of course the boss found out and intervened, in a boss-like kind of way, to smooth things out.

Jamie headed back up north that Friday swearing all the way. What a way to have to face her husband, who hadn’t said much to her since she left. But she had nowhere else to turn.

He wasn’t there when she got in. She got right to work cleaning the kitchen, but paused when she saw a window was cracked, right in the center of the pane. When he got home, she gave him a hug and a kiss, and asked about his week. And then she mentioned the window.

“Oh, that. Yeah, a bird hit it.” He excused himself to shower. He had been spraying chemicals, a tradition this time of year to prepare lawns for the winter.

When she heard the shower running, she felt the glass. They’d just put in these extra insulated panes a few years ago. She could ask him how the bird managed to get inside the house, but instead knew the truth.

She wondered what her fortune cookie would have said that day. Don’t go home again. Ever.

The next week she was on her own. Nancy, the girl she worked closest with, avoided her, and Jamie felt Nancy was afraid of her, after hearing her blow up the week before. But then one of the guys in the field called her, and he was laughing.

“Heard you gave the old battleaxe the what-for.”

“The what?”

“Listen, don’t feel bad. It wasn’t your fault you blew up at her. She liked to yell at everyone. That’s why they got her to retire, by giving her something she couldn’t handle. Glad you gave her a good send-off.” He was still chuckling when he hung up.

Jamie sat back. If she was going to be awarded a great honor, that was as good as any. “Welcome to the work world.” She started doing again what she’d always done—learning the hard way, asking questions, analyzing what had been done before, lots of reading, and improving processes. She prided herself on efficiency and was not about to let them down.

Her next fortune cookie did not surprise her. Your mentality is alert, practical and analytical. She still had moving ahead of her and hoped to stay practical, at least. She was afraid to ask her husband to help, but finally she did. He said he was too busy. So she asked her brother, Bill, and rented a truck.

You will be taking a relaxing journey to a far-away land. Jamie was treating Bill to Chinese on the way to Milwaukee with the filled U-Haul, and laughed at this. “Relaxing?”

“Far away?” Bill was supportive, although he had been divorced himself. Jamie was surprised he said he’d help. “You’re close enough to go home every week. If you were moving to Santa Fe, I wouldn’t be helping.”

Jamie had no intention of going home every weekend. “Did you know he has to file for unemployment?”

“Not surprised. You’re the aggressive one of the family.” Bill read his fortune and they laughed. You are rich because everyone loves you.

“Probably why his family hates me. I had to take the job, Bill. How many offers could I expect to get anymore?”

“He’s pretty upset, you know.”

“I suppose he blames me for his business failing, too.” Jamie tucked her fortune into her wallet. “But he can move here with me and start another business, right? Or take a job with someone here.”

“Sure. Just what a guy wants. Follow his wife around.”

Jamie knew her husband took after his father, who also had difficulty with change. She had to face it—she made this change for herself, not for them.

*

The next chance she got after the move-in she took her step-mom out to lunch. Phyllis wanted Chinese, but Jamie pushed the fortune cookie aside. “Am I wrong in doing this? He’s trying to be supportive but I can see he’s fighting his anger.”

“Oh, you know men. They get used to being taken care of.”

“It’s more than that, though.”

Phyllis eyed Jamie. “You telling me that at your age he still wants sex every day?”

They shared a laugh. “I’ve forced him to confront the fact that he can’t support us anymore. Maybe I never understood how upset he is that the business is failing.”

Phyllis leaned over and whispered, “Do you want a divorce?”

Jamie sighed. “I think I would… if he did. We’re so different. And now here I am with a leg in two worlds, having to go home every other weekend, pay his bills, clean his… our house. I don’t know how long I’ll last. And I can’t take the cats with me.”

Phyllis pushed her fortune cookie at her. “You’ll figure it out.

You are compassionate and understanding. “If only that helped.”

“It means you won’t do anything wrong, or at the wrong time.”

When Jamie dropped Phyllis off, she gave her step-mom a hug. “Always good talking to you.”

“Any time, doll. Listening to others is good for you. Even if you still do things your way, your way will change a little, by listening.”

The crying didn’t stop, but seemed to return every week at the same time. If she called either of her daughters, she fought back tears. Every time he called, he asked her something that would have to wait until she got back home. Sometimes he hung up on her. Sometimes she hung up on him. Sometimes they made plans for the future. Neither of them mentioned the D word.

And work, well, once she was left alone to do what she did best, she amazed them with efficiency. She improved one process after another, and kept asking for more work, every bit as determined as a twenty-year-old. Sometimes she didn’t have enough to do. Into the winter now, walking to work was a challenge, and still she remained a temp.

After her three-month review, she took herself out for Chinese. She remembered the few times she and her husband got Chinese and he always got useless fortune cookie messages. Her favorite was Your favorite uncle will die and leave you a fortune. She remembered the two of them trying to guess which uncle that was. “Yeah, if he left me money he’d be my favorite.”

While having her buffet, her younger daughter called. “I saw your message on Facebook. Did something happen today?”

“Oh, they just told me I needed to slow down.”

“Because you’re making mistakes?”

“No, because I’m running out of things to do.”

“Didn’t you tell them you’re not fast, you’re efficient?”

“No. I just said I’d try.”

“Still being pushed around, eh?”

“Yup, no backbone.”

“Oh, I’m kidding. You’ve got tons. Look where you are now.”

“Yeah, just look. It’s hard, you know?”

“Mom, for years you’ve done whatever Dad’s told you to do. You’ve put up with driving through blizzards, taking any miserable job you could find. Now you’re in the big city. It’s what you’ve always wanted.”

“And the world is my oyster.” Jamie plunged ahead. “At what cost, though? Will you hate me if this ends in divorce?”

There was a long silence. “I think Dad will come around. You’ll find a way.”

“Or he will.”

“Right. Just hang in there. You need this job. They’ll make it permanent, you’ll see.”

Tears rolled down Jamie’s cheeks but she kept her voice steady. “I hope so. I don’t want to job hunt anymore.”

“Listen, I gotta go. Bruce is taking me to an opera tonight. Can you imagine? Never thought I’d find a guy who’d sit through an opera.”

“Happy for you, Hun.” Jamie hung up and slipped her sunglasses back on. She stood to get another plate of food. Supportive wasn’t always supportive. Didn’t they know she was lonely? Tired of fighting life? Why did his family have to hate her? All she did was make the suggestion several years ago at a Christmas gathering that they start picking up some indoor landscaping and they all blew up at her. And her husband sided with them. Nothing’s been right ever since.

When she got back to her apartment she opened her fortune cookie. Flying is simple. Not hitting the ground is hard. She felt like she’d taken a leap off the cliff and the ground was coming up hard. But at least someone knew how she felt, even if it was just a fortune cookie.

As the days passed she adjusted, even though her adjustment was more toward not thinking. One co-worker made the remark that her situation must be like dating her husband again. No one could figure her out, and she really didn’t know what to say. She passed on lunches with the gang because she couldn’t afford it. She took on some of the bills because her husband couldn’t pay them. He occasionally offered to buy her some groceries or gas for coming home. But little by little, they were getting bills paid off, even with him on unemployment.

She wanted to take one of the cats, but they would hate being separated and her apartment was too small for two. The lonely never went away. If she flirted with the bus driver, did that mean she was ready for someone else? Or just looking for friendship?

Her next fortune slapped her in the face. Be adventuresome. Try a new look.

Jamie looked at herself in the mirror. How long since she’d gotten her hair cut? Gray was showing. Maybe it was time to look and feel young again. She asked around and got the name of a stylist. She brought in a photo of her favorite hair style from years ago, but the stylist balked. So Jamie just shrugged and said you’re the expert.

She left with a new style, feeling reborn. She started saying yes to lunches and chose the smallest item on the menu, with water. She started telling people about why she moved, and where she thought her future was going.

One day she said a little too much, and her boss called her into his office.

“Are you sure everything’s all right? Jamie, I want you to know we really appreciate having you here. I almost didn’t hire you, knowing I would be taking you away from your home. But you seemed to believe this was the right step for you.”

Jamie didn’t know what she’d told anyone that would have resulted in this meeting. And she didn’t ask. “Well, I signed a lease. I am determined to make it work.”

“Is it true that you came because you want a divorce?”

“I needed a change. Divorce might happen. But I’m not looking for it.”

“Good. We’d like you to make this job permanent. Are you willing? It means a raise and full benefits, and those extra duties you’ve already started on.”

Of course Jamie accepted. She was so excited, but at the same time, it meant permanence here. No longer could she dream about the job ending, as so many have in her past, so she could go home. She couldn’t go home. If she did, it would mean she failed. The question was, could her husband live in her new world?

Jamie didn’t realize she had been sitting with her head in her hands at work until Nancy stopped in. “Everything okay?”

“Sure, yeah. No, I guess I’m just … a little worried.”

“About your job? You’re doing great.”

Jamie laughed. “No, just managing two households, and worrying about my husband. Can I share a secret with you?”

It’s okay. I can keep a secret.”

My husband scares me sometimes. You think you know a guy, right? I mean, if I ever did consider divorce, I knew I’d have to mention it to him from far away, not face to face. I don’t know how he’d react.”

Well, we only know a guy as much as they want us to know.”

I suppose they say that about us, too.”

I suppose.” Nancy patted the doorframe. “It’s not much fun living two lives. From what I can tell, this is the best thing for you. Right here.”

Yeah. Thanks.”

Jamie didn’t know how to start the conversation with her husband. She wanted him to see what she saw. They were both young enough to start new lives. But as she headed home that weekend she was determined to avoid the negative.

On the way, she wrote her own fortune. You are living now. You don’t need permission.

While he still insisted on their usual TV viewing, he made her favorite steak dinner, with a bottle of wine. They spent the entire weekend avoiding any real conversation.

Before she left she told him to consider his needs carefully, as she considered hers. They were living separately, and they should try to make that work, but with careful consideration of what they both wanted in the future—like seeing their first grandchild together.

He seemed to listen.

The first chance she got, after telling him she wouldn’t be back for a few weeks, she had Chinese. The skies above will rain success on you.

She was ready.

 

Copyright 2016 by Monette Bebow-Reinhard