You’ve just stepped out of the movie theater into the humidity of a late August day. You weren’t particularly moved by the flick, although the reviews called it “heart-warming” and a “welcome mood-booster.” It’s a story of love and forgiveness. Both of which you’ve given up on recently.
The year is 1988 and you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid condition on the same day you get turned down for one of three jobs you applied for. You’re already feeling sluggish, but being rejected by a veterinarian’s office to keep flea medicine stocked is another low blow. You only know they didn’t hire you after the interview because you stopped by to drop off a thank you note for their time. Your sunny disposition does not compare to the state of Florida. You didn’t want to move from Oregon to begin with. You were perfectly happy working for Dr. Gresham. Sometimes you’d bring home casts of other people’s teeth if they didn’t want them and samples of mini toothpaste tubes. What you wouldn’t give for free floss right now.
All your husband can talk about is how he’s going to become a millionaire because of how much better the housing market is in Florida compared with Oregon.
Big whoop, you think.
He hasn’t been able to find work either. It’s an unspoken race to see who gets a job first. You went to the theater to forget these domestic issues, but you know he’ll be mad you spent the $4.00, plus popcorn.
You’re sitting in your car finishing the greasy corn kernels. The un-popped portion at the bottom of the bucket. Across the parking lot you spot a Publix and you watch women pushing their kids in carts to their cars with several bags of groceries. You remember how good it felt when you had to grab a second cart to hold all of your bagged items on your big shopping days at Safeway in Oregon. In Florida you can’t even keep cereal on the counter or the roaches creep in. The sunshine state doesn’t impress you.
When you get home the kids—even though Alex is eighteen, you still consider him a kid—ask where you’ve been. Before they let you answer, they’re talking over you.
“I got a job at Publix,” says Alex. He’s grinning while wearing a green apron and a name tag that says Dane—his middle name.
“I tried a pierogi at the neighbors,” says Heather who turned thirteen last week. “How come you never make pierogi’s?”
You have an urge to get back in your car and see another movie. You’ve never even tried a pierogi and really the only ingredient you’re sure are in them are potatoes. Heather won’t even eat French Fries unless they’re crinkle-cut. You know they’re both expecting praise for these mini-victories, but you don’t have the energy.
The phone rings and saves you from a response. It’s the office of Gordon, Michael, and Sterns. They want to set up an interview for the office receptionist you applied for. Friday at 3p.m. works for you. Two days to prepare.
And just like that, you think you can do this. Don’t you still have that cookbook of exotic foods? Aren’t pierogis Polish? Or maybe Russian? Will Alex have a discount at Publix you can use to buy groceries?
Alex and Heather both look at you, waiting to hear who called. A roach crawls across the counter and down into the basin of the kitchen sink—it disappears through the garbage disposal. You hear Mike at the front door, maybe he’ll come in with news his bid on building a house went through. Things can’t be worse, right? You slap a mosquito away from your kneecap.
It’s just like that movie you saw today. The arc in the story where the woman finds love, loses love, then ends up forgiving herself for making bad choices. It all subsides. The humidity is worse in the afternoons, then as night comes it lifts a little. Just enough to breathe. Florida is a peninsula, you remind yourself. Three sides are surrounded by water. The other side is land. You take a deep breath. Feel the ground underneath you. You stand in the same place for awhile, you vow to not move unless you want to. At least not again.
Mandy Clark graduated in 2012 from Pacific Lutheran University with an MFA in Creative Writing. Her fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, and poetry has appeared in Whitefish Review Literary Journal, RWW Soundings, 100 Word Story, High Shelf Press, and Third Point Press. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon and loves pizza and rain in no particular order.