Bad Counsel: part five
Saturday, Karen had asked if she had anything to wash. Andrée scooped up everything lying on the foot of the bed, the chair back, the bathroom rug. Sunday, Karen would take a carload of boxes to the new place and be gone all day. While on the phone with Buel, Andrée had rifled the basket of folded things. Tuning him out, she tried again. It was all jeans…a sweater, towels and washcloths, her black work pants.
She called Karen.
“What do you want when I’m driving?”
“Mom! Where is my shirt?”
Her mother muttered something. Andrée heard a squeal, the revving of an engine, then: “I am not going to wash a white shirt with a bunch of jeans. If you needed it, you should have got those sheets off your bed and run a load yourself.”
“Oh, who cares.”
Who cares, Andrée meant, about separating whites, Jesus. Besides, the shirt already has a couple of stains.
“All I mean is,” Andrée talked right past her mother, “if you told me, I could have done it. No problem. But you didn’t tell me!”
She is beginning to hate this job too.
“Y’absolutely. She’ll get you.”
That’s Buel, talking to a customer. He roots in his pocket after the electronic lozenge Andrée saw him stuff there, playing with it, a second ago. He wrinkles his brow, purses his lips, moves his jaw sideways. Well, where did that key get to? When he’s finished kidding the customer, he will fake handing the key to Andrée. Snatch his hand up over her head when she reaches for it. Wearing her unwashed polo, she has just got to the lot―but tries saying to the customer, “Blue Ford?”
“No.” He scratches his nose. “White.”
So…not a bad guess…almost prescient. Which white Ford doesn’t matter; this type is easy to find. Some of the customers still use actual keys.
Her mother tells her: “So win the lottery! When you work, you have to do things you don’t like.” Karen can, and does, deal aphorisms with fluency and conviction…but Andrée’s mother spends her days in an office by herself.
“I hardly make enough to live on.” So she says. She has taken a bedroom in a friend’s apartment, and told her daughter—like a warning—that she has to invest every dime from the house sale in her IRA.
Andrée, if Leo would have hired her when she’d asked, would do her mother’s job for half the pay.
“Learning on the job, Leo.”
“Yeah, great. Who’s supposed to have time to teach you?”
She would almost work for half minimum wage, only to be alone and unharried, at times there was nothing to do.
“You stand around like that, Andrée, I have to think maybe I’m giving you too many hours.”
“Jonas!” Since he’d smacked her with her own name, she smacked back with his. “What do you want me to do?”
“If you don’t have anything to do, you need to ask someone.”
This was good. Jonas got paid more than the cashiers. So what was up with this popping out of corners, hinting he was going to fire you…why not manage, then, if that was his job? Just do this, do that.
Because he was the boss, but he wasn’t the boss. Andrée could spend ten minutes dickering around with the Windex and the paper towels, cleaning the belt; she could go to her locker and say, “I’m just looking for my medication.” It was a good lie one of the other girls had taught her. No one wants to know what’s wrong with you.
But most of the time she had to suck it up, and go begging…to Haiden the head cashier. Haiden could be friendly in low gear, but could shift on a dime to hyper-reactive and vengeful…when Andrée got her register locked; when a customer got shitty, wanting to pay for groceries with returned merchandise.
Andrée thinks her mother would like her to embrace an ethic never really exercised by Karen herself. Karen’s career has been the result of a special relationship with Leo. Not, as Andrée guesses, that if you stick with a sucking job, the way her mother would like her to do, you won’t in time gain something to show for it. Maybe a raise. Andrée, helped by a gift card someone dropped on the floor, just bought herself a suede jacket, property she didn’t have last year. That’s getting ahead. She might get a house one day. (Though she doesn’t understand what good owning a house has done her mother.) She might even get an education.
A year ago, giving school the third go-around since leaving it, she’d taken out a student loan, and signed up for a certificate program in Office Administration. She did it for Leo, so next time she asked him for a job he couldn’t say: “When you get some experience. I don’t need a check-out girl.”
This, after a ten-minute head count.
Andrée took a seat on a wobbly chrome-legged chair, at a classroom table. Two girls, already friends, talked for forty minutes about a cable show.
“No way he’s dead. Any time someone’s car goes off a bridge, or he’s supposed to get burned up in a fire, he’s coming back. Got to be.”
In the whole class there were no male students. Andrée exchanged a sheepish half-smile with another girl, acknowledging they’d be losers if they actually worked on their project, and both bent over their phones. At the end of the class, the teacher clapped his hands. “Okay, everyone.” They all left.
Enough of that. She’d signed up for online units. She began to think you could do anything…or nothing…and when the school gave you a certificate you would just use it as currency.
“I know about office administration because I got this. See?”
But Andrée doesn’t see why a miserable grind, years of it, makes the painstaking acquisition of things, even real estate, a substitute for life. And since last time at the store, she’d left the whole mess in the middle, walked out, Andrée thinks Jonas will not take her back again.
She’d had to park her mother’s car uptown for an interview; one that ended up being just a bunch of women in a room with plastic chairs along the wall, and three kiosks, where you filled out a form and got your picture taken. Picking up the car, she’d asked the guy in the booth, “Do you hire people?”
Maybe she’d phrased the question a little weirdly (her brain taxed by red asterisks, and the refrain: a required field is missing). He made a joke. “Yeah, we tried cats. Didn’t work out.” He enjoyed his joke. He beckoned, as he chuckled, summoning from behind the fence―via a bleat over the loudspeaker―a slender, dark young man, who wore a white polo shirt, black pants, and a yellow vest.
“That’s right. Go for it.”
The lot boss grinned sideways at Andrée. These words had been a sort of narration. When the employee (lot jockey, per him) faltered his way around the padlocked fence to reach the window, the guy tapped his wristwatch and yelled: “Lunch! Get the booth…right? LUNCH!” Again and again the staffer nodded; each time, he caught Andrée’s eye, as though she could tell him something. Each time she nodded back.
“You come on with me,” the lot boss said. “I’m Buel.”
She guessed she was having lunch with Buel; and that she was paying her own share.
“You like kebobs, hummus, that kind of thing.”
Andrée, having nothing against kebobs, answered: “Sure.”
“Mom!” This was what she thought Buel had yelled out to the man in the apron. Another joke, she supposed, and shrugged…trying, while she was at it, to shrug his fingers off her shoulder. Buel kept nudging her forward. The owner, as Mom must be, offered his hand.
“Andrée,” she said. Then she got it. Buel had given her his one name; he was getting hers. He’d asked her right off the bat, as they strolled up the street, if she had a criminal record.
Has she ever been sued? (Jeez.) Did she paid taxes last year?
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)