If Monica didn’t go to work, stayed home with Sam and let the care-giver have the day off, then the thing wouldn’t happen.
If she wasn’t there when the manager called her into her office, if she wasn’t there when they escorted her to her desk to watch her shovel her stuff into boxes, if she wasn’t there when they shrugged as she asked would they call her a taxi so she could go home because her bus wasn’t due for hours, then it wouldn’t happen.
Sam’s oxygen tank made clicking noises, like someone breathing and having to open their throat each time; click-sigh-click-sigh.
Like a tired breather, Sam-I-am.
Sam watched her make her lunch. He sat at the dining table. His circuit lead from the dining table to the recliner to the bathroom, the shrunken tour of a former pharmaceutical salesman who once flew to Paris and Rio and Beijing.
She knew she had failed at something but wasn’t sure what it was. She failed at her job, at keeping her husband well, at keeping in touch with the kids. She filled the lunch container with leftovers. They smelled of cumin and cilantro and garlic. Sam loved Mexican.
They ate at Mexican restaurants when they were going to grad school. Chile rellenos. That was all she knew how to cook really well. Sam was the cook of the family — he once filled the kitchen with odors of fish sauce and tamarind and rosemary.
Now he sat and watched her cook. He could do nothing. She could do nothing. And now she had lost her job.
She saw it in her manager’s face. How the manager’s eyes darted sideways whenever they spoke, how she heartily asked about Monica’s weekend. How lately she never mentioned the missed deadlines and delays and paperwork that was never quite correct.
I like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-am.
Monica filled her backpack: Umbrella, even as remnants of summer clung to the shortening hours. iPod for “Selected Shorts”. Bus pass.
Unemployment. Short term health insurance. Foreclosure. Click-sigh-click-sigh.
No one is indispensable. Monica approached Sam, rubbed her hand over his shaved head. He liked her to shave his head. He looked young to her. They were almost the same age. Their signs were compatible. Capricorn. Virgo. They hated the present administration. They shared a love of good beer.
“What if I don’t go in today? Spend the day with you?”
She thought it, but she didn’t say it. Somehow, Sam knew. He could sense her sadness, her loss of self. He read her mind. She broadcast to him and he caught the signal.
The clock ticked toward seven-thirty. NPR was on the radio — interviews recorded for the Library of Congress. A man talking about his dead wife to his son. How they met at a dime-a-dance during the Great Depression.
Monica sat at the dining table. Sam’s hand lay on a half-finished crossword. She could call in sick. They could fire her from a distance, a firing squad, shooters blind-folded.
Call in, call in. Or don’t call in. What did it matter?
“You’ll be late for work. It’s OK. Valerie will be here in a minute.”
Sam thinking she was waiting for the caregiver. Too many tardies to the office, waiting for the caregivers. Too many days off to take Sam to the Emergency Department.
All she wanted was to be with Sam.
But all she wanted was to stay home and walk in the garden on a bright fall day, the light with that pre-owned look special to October.
Monica got up, shouldered her bag. She leaned down and kissed the smooth head, newly shaven last night.
She couldn’t stop the thing that would happen. She couldn’t stop the click-sigh. But she would walk to meet it, umbrella ready in case it rained.
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About the Author
Jill Zeller is a writer living near Seattle with her husband, two overly affectionate pit bulls and two skeptical cats. Her home on the Duwamish River manages to stay dry, even in winter, and she can watch the river flow backwards twice a day with the tide. This cycle, along with a slight sense of imbalance, assists her inspiration for stories.
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Copyright © 2009, Jill Zeller. All Rights Reserved.