The Big Pants (part four)
“Luisa, you said…”
Jackie froze here, and Luisa, without much to go on for answering, smiled instead and gave Jackie a prompting nod.
“You said you lived in a camper.”
“Well, we do. It’s funny.”
She’d been going to explain this, how it was funny, but Jackie had then rushed on. “But, I mean…I’m sorry…it’s kind of expensive, this place, isn’t it?”
She’d meant, yes, it is expensive; but no, don’t be so anxious. The question had not offended Luisa. No, she’d told Jackie, she had paid the full price. She’d used her own money. If the Messermans gave discounts to needy cases—they might—Luisa had not asked, and didn’t know.
They’d all gone from picking vegetables to gathering eggs. The chickens also roamed under wire mesh. They had a coop in which to roost, a generous yard, unmown “mixed herbaceous groundcover” in which to forage for insects.
“Healthy chickens…healthy meat and eggs. More than that. You may laugh, if I tell you that a chicken has an intelligence, and that like any of us, she being unfulfilled, unchallenged, bored, stressed by the conflict between her ancestral urges and her daily imprisoning limitations, our chicken’s gut digests poorly, her hormonal state is chemically one of crisis. This will not feed us well.”
Toby also had told them they would find the work peaceful, inside the Faraday cage, and that it was—unpressured humans interacting with quiet-minded chickens, both species content and purpose-oriented—a beautiful thing.
“Eggs,” he’d said, holding one up. “And very small portions of meat. Never red.”
Yes, it was a beautiful thing. Toby Messerman was a genius; Luisa had known it when she’d first heard him on the radio.
There was a woman named Belinda, who complained. She called their quarters a barracks. “If they’d asked for another thousand or so, for a private room…they have private rooms.” And having distracted herself, sharing this, Belinda then finished: “This boot camp stuff is just an exercise.”
“But,” Jackie said. The lights were out. The Messermans, opposed to every sort of interference with nature, did not flank their compound with security lighting. But the dormitory was not pitch dark. Jackie remarked on this; Luisa had expected it. Now and again Leon had to move their camper well outside the city.
In an uncertain voice, Jackie probed on, tackling Belinda’s finances as she had Luisa’s. “I guess…if you could afford a private room.”
No one spoke. “But Gerda said it’s important for us to have our routines shaken up…” Jackie mumbled something, having taken this second abortive tack, about snacking habits. Belinda continued single-minded.
“They locked up our phones! We’re only allowed to make calls from the office! I mean, you don’t call that boot camp? I’m never going to sleep. I wish I could at least check my mail.”
“Oh, shut up,” someone else said.
Luisa then told her thoughts over to herself. She’d been waiting to give Jackie the rest of her answer…about the funny ways of circumstance. Her own job was full-time, and permanent, for what that meant. Her daughter sometimes, as a casual, worked at Pacifica Terrace also. Because of the children, Manuela could not be on call at all times, and got from her supervisor a number of sly put-downs, to make her feel bad for not taking midnights and holidays.
“Don’t accept it,” Luisa told her daughter.
Even Leon would come on as a housekeeper, when it was not the wildfire season. There was always cleaning to be done in a nursing home.
Leon got insurance for those times he was fighting fires; the rest of the time, he could not, the children and her daughter needing added to her own…and that was a lot of money from her paycheck. Luisa got a little above seventeen hundred a month take-home, and tried to put, of this, at least four hundred into savings.
If any place close to Pacifica Terrace had been a possibility for renting, her family would suffer, for having found a place to settle. She would have to enroll the children in a school. Which she wanted, very much, to do…but without a doubt, this was expense after expense.
Then, of course, the problem with rent was not merely whether you could afford it, whether you could save enough deposit money to secure a nice apartment; but that then, you had sacrified all you’d put by. If I lost my job, or if, Luisa thought—and touched her crucifix—Leon had an accident, the money would be gone.
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.
And so they camped. But that was, as she’d told Toby, not so bad if you were only sleeping. They ate at Carl’s Jr. They took the kids to libraries, parks, shopping malls. She and Leon had figured, with their savings, to find a cheap little house. Probably they would go to Oregon. California was too much. They would do all the repairs themselves. Luisa could find work…nursing assistants were needed everywhere.
“But, Jackie,” she whispered. She wanted to tell this, 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, you save money for the future, and if you get sick, there’s no future.”
Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster