The Big Pants (part five)
Leon got insurance for those times he was cutting brush, and crossed fingers the rest of the time. The children and her daughter needed adding to her own…and that was a lot of money from her paycheck. Luisa cleared a little above seventeen hundred a month. She tried to put at least four into savings.
So it was, that if any place close to Pacifica Terrace had been a possibility for renting, her family would suffer, having found a place to settle. Manuela would have to enroll the children in a school. Which Luisa wanted done, very much…but without a doubt, this made for expense after expense.
The problem with rent was not whether you could afford it, whether you could save enough deposit money to secure a nice apartment, not that alone… Gambling on a roof overhead, you could sacrifice all you’d put by. If I lost my job, Luisa thought, or if—she touched her crucifix—Leon had an accident, the money would just leach away.
And if you had to find yet another place to live…well, maybe there would be no place you could hope to pay for. Having sold the pop-up, they would be left with the car.
So they camped. But that, as she’d told Toby, was not so bad if you were only sleeping. They ate at Carl’s Jr, Krispy Kreme, Denny’s, anyplace with pizza. They took the kids to libraries, parks, shopping malls. She and Leon figured, with their savings, to find a cheap little house. They might try Oregon…California was too much. They would pay cash, do the fix-ups themselves. Luisa was confident of this, that nursing assistants were needed everywhere.
“But, Jackie,” she whispered. She wanted to tell, and it would be good for the others to hear, even if she disturbed them a little, what a good husband she had. “Leon said to me, it’s the future you save money for, and if you get sick, there is no future.”
“Now, what you think about dating?”
Absentminded, Jackie had been on the verge of giving Tom a considered answer. There was no reason she could think of not to. Date. She hadn’t been divorced before… Maybe, by a premature launch, people really did get shocked. It occurred to her he was feeling her out. Or asking her out. She might have just managed a lukewarm acceptance.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “Maybe it’s not much of a thing for you.”
Or an unintended insult. “No, Tom…”
“My problem is, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a skinny girl. Like that, I mean. At a bar, say. Or, you know, you get invited to a wedding.”
They had a free period, three to four-thirty, just before kitchen duty. There was nothing to do but walk the grounds; and being exercise, this didn’t count as free, exactly. The compound had no television. The computers were in the classroom. They ate no supper, because a long fast at the end of the day accelerated weight loss, and reset, by Gerda’s estimation, the hormonal cycle. Lights out was the time darkness fell. Reveille, the crack of dawn.
They took a morning lecture at attention, accomplishing, Toby said, two tasks at once. “Time is precious. One ought always to think in these terms.”
“Yes, to stand properly correctly positions the hips and shoulders, straightens the spine, allows the abdominal organs to uncompress. You will breathe more deeply, and your liver and kidneys will clear toxins from your body with more efficiency. This is an exercise you can do for ten minutes every day.”
They did…and Gerda’s dictum persuaded Jackie. She felt empowered (a little), standing tall, and her neck had stopped hurting. Paul Messerman also had them align in two squadrons, as he called these. He had taught them a simple command, to pivot right or left at the sound of a whistle, in columns to make for the cafeteria and breakfast.
Belinda had decamped. She had gone with a threat of legal action—unwarranted, Jackie thought. Toby hadn’t said he wouldn’t refund a portion of her money. Maybe the inmates (she caught herself using Belinda’s word) were accomplishing the Messermans’ farm and household labor, but Jackie found the week doing for her what Toby and Gerda claimed to offer—breaking her routines, teaching her what to eat and how to cook it. Or mostly how to lay it on the plate raw.
As to insults, this came to her slowly, while Tom talked on, about a friend baiting him with a promised hook-up, and then…
“He lames out, you know? He’s like, c’mon, ask one of the bridesmaids. Yeah, free comedy show, fat guy dancing.”
He thought this colleague, not so much a pal, wanted less his company than his fifty bucks in the honeymoon pot.
Jackie began to think Tom was asking her opinion—if she understood him—on what he ought to say to the sort of girl he’d like to date. The skinny sort. It was their last day, and she was back to socializing with Tom.
She was not on the moral high ground.
Her lawyer, taking a sideways approach to it, had let her know he was disappointed. “Well, there are other ways of getting that information, but if you’d happened to back up those files…”
“I don’t know what that means, backing up files.”
She faced him down, when of course he was her ally, not her enemy. And Jackie did know what he meant…or anyway, knew how to Google. She wouldn’t call Brendan the enemy, either. But her lawyer would like it if she considered their relationship adversarial.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)