I’ve wanted to become a writer since I picked up my first crayon and autographed the dining rooms walls.
By Tara L. Marta
My mother keeps pressuring me to contact a publishing agency to inquire about how to become a professional writer. “I’ll do it later,” I respond. She doesn’t like procrastination so she never hesitates to remind me that lazy people don’t get anywhere in life. Mothers are like that. They’re always trying to lay guilt trips on their kids to get them to do something. The only problem is my mother has been dead for ten years, but she frequents my dreams, especially when she’s in the mood to assert her motherly duties.
I guess I should mention that I’ve wanted to become a writer since I picked up my first crayon and autographed the dining rooms walls. My mother recognized my talent immediately and informed my father that there was going to be a writer in the family.
I wake up from my dream and saunter over to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get dressed. My father is in the kitchen yelling at the toaster for smoking — again. Dad loves appliances and I think he deliberately burns the toast just to have an excuse to buy a new toaster. I finish dressing then make my way to the kitchen table.
“Juice?” my father asked.
“It gives me gas.” A delightful conversation to start the morning.
My father is a man of few words so he often has the small television on whenever we eat. He loves slurping his coffee and watching the news. I scrape butter onto my charred bread as the table starts to vibrate. Another of my father’s delightful habits is shaking his leg under the table as if in the far distance he hears a symphony. A look of disgust crosses my face, but my father takes no notice. I bite into the toast and immediately inhale crumbs. My father continues to slurp coffee and shake his leg. I lunge for the orange juice and take a big gulp. When my throat finally clears, I retrieve my coat from the closet and head out the door for work. And just like clockwork I’m back in the house. Damn juice.
Being a writer is all I ever think about, but I haven’t a clue how to get started. I write for my own pleasure never allowing anyone to read my stories because I can’t take criticism. But my mother lurks about in my dreams desperately hoping to persuade me to turn my aspirations into reality. Dead people think everything is so easy.
My job is anything but exciting. I work as secretary for two elderly accountants whose clientele is as old as they are. Each accountant has their own office, one to the left of me, one to the right. My desk is in the middle of the office where I can smile and greet people should they happen to need two accountants who can barely stay awake. The workload is pretty laid back – an occasional letter or two. The accountants are too cheap to buy a computer so I use a beat up typewriter. Since there is never enough to do, I bring a backpack full of books to stave off boredom.
My friends are all in college, but I opted out of going because I was tired of taking tests and cramming facts into my brain. I regret the decision every time I walk into the office. My job is boring beyond words, but it’s a job and that $5.50 an hour certainly comes in handy. The price of Whopper Jr’s is going up. That’s about all I do with my money whenever I get paid. I’m only twenty-one still living at home. My father doesn’t take any money from me because he knows that I don’t make much and what I do make needs to be spent drowning my sorrow in fast food. Whenever I bring up a raise to my bosses, they laugh and tell me they will probably retire soon. Promises!
I address both accountants as Mr. Reed and Mr. Schwartz. But whenever I speak of them to my family and friends, I refer to them by their physical characteristics instead. My grandmother chastised me for it, but when she heard how little I was being paid she joined in by calling them two old fats (which I think means farts, but grandma is from New York and doesn’t pronounce her R’s). Thus, the accountants came to be (privately) known as the fat one and the skinny one.
Skinny is tall and lanky and looks as though he’s never eaten. Women would kill to be that thin. He wears dark rimmed glasses and a cardigan sweater like Mr. Rogers. He towers over Fatty, who also wears glasses. Both men are bald with the exception of a trail of white hair that runs from one side of their head to the other. Both men have disgusting habits like Skinny who loves picking the scabs off the top of his bald head, and Fatty who always returns from the men’s room with a large wet spot in the middle of his pants.
One thing the accountants are strict about is tardiness. They expect me in the office early so I could enjoy being bored longer. They don’t like me adding extra minutes to my breaks either, which I usually never do.
I get a ten minute break each morning and one in the afternoon. During today’s break, I decide to run down to Sunshine News on the corner to grab a bottle of water and a banana. It will only take two maybe three minutes tops.
I tell the bosses I’m going for a break and take the stairs down the five flights, walk outside and make a right into the store. I grab a bottle of Evian but notice that the bananas are all gone. Before heading to the cashier, I stop at the magazine rack. Prince William catches my eye, so I pick up the magazine and begin reading. I’m a fan of the Royals and deeply concerned for the Prince’s well-being since his mother’s untimely death.
While I’m in the middle of reading about William’s time at Eton, I hear a door slam, then lock. “You have to be kidding me,” I mutter to myself as I glance around the empty store. The clerk behind the counter fails to see me and leaves locking the door behind her. How could she possibly miss a 4 ft. 11 girl standing in the back of the store reading about Prince William?
I run to the door and notice that the lock on the inside can only be opened with a key. I’m trapped. Immediately, beads of sweat form on my forehead. All I can think about is Skinny and Fatty swiveling in their chairs wondering where I am. Skinny is probably ripping scabs off his head right this minute thinking of ways to tell me I’m fired. How will I possibly explain this? Suddenly the terrifying thought of no more Whopper Jr’s crosses my mind, and my eyes well with tears. And while I am bent over silently praying, an old guy walks over to the door and tries to push it open.
“I’m locked in,” I yell.
“What’s that you say?”
“I’m locked in. Trapped. I can’t get out.” He can’t hear a word I’m saying, so I press my face against the glass door. “LOCKED IN.”
Success. The old man finally understands me, only instead of calming my nerves he puts his hands over his mouth and starts to laugh. This is funny?
“Is there a telephone?” the man asks.
“Is there a telephone?” He makes a circular motion like he’s dialing a phone.
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t work here.”
“Well why don’t you look behind the counter?”
“Because it will look like I’m robbing the place.” He was getting on my nerves. “Go and get help.”
“HELP, HELP, HELP.”
“Is there a telephone?”
As I lightly bang my head off the glass door, the man suddenly turns to see the cashier making her way back to the store. “You locked someone inside,” he says in hysterics.
The women has no idea what he is talking about until she reaches the door and sees me standing helpless in the store squeezing my bottle of water.
“I’m so terribly sorry,” she says when she finally unlocks the door. “I didn’t notice you when I left. Obviously!
The good news is that the whole incident only takes a total of 8 minutes and 10 seconds. The bad news is that the woman actually makes me pay for the bottle of water. I thought perhaps she’d compensate me for my distress.
I make my way back to the office but Skinny and Fatty have already left for lunch. As I sit down to read a book on the life of Shakespeare the phone rings.
“Are you bosses there?” my friend Jen whispers.
“What are you doing?
“Planning my funeral because I’m about to drop dead of boredom.”
“You’re in a cheerful mood. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, everything. I hate this job. And to top it all off my mother’s on my case again.”
Jen laughs. “You’re probably the only girl in the world who still gets yelled at by her dead mother. What’d she say this time?”
“She wants me to be a writer. She said it’s my destiny.”
“Well, she’d know, after all.”
I hang up the phone after my conversation with Jen and resume my book when the mailman walks in whistling as usual. I only wish I had something to whistle about. He drops a load of mail on my desk, then whistles his way out the door. I sort through the letters and place a pile on Skinny’s desk before going into Fatty’s office. I notice the drawer to the file cabinet opened, so I make my way over to close it. The drawer is empty with the exception of a few file folders that Fatty uses to conceal the half-empty bottle of Scotch. I once walked in on him while he was taking a few swigs, and he just about had a heart attack. He threw the bottle down and slammed the drawer in an attempt to hide what he was doing. Anyone with a nose knew what he was doing.
I sit back down at my desk and pop a butterscotch candy into my mouth, which flies to the back of my throat. I begin choking and clutch at my throat while my eyes bug out of their sockets. God, don’t let me die this way. I’m in a panic. Here I am choking to death and Fatty and Skinny are somewhere in town feeding themselves knockwurst sandwiches. I jump to my feet and slam my body against the wall, and making a double fist I pound my chest trying to administer the Heimlich maneuver. One big cough and the candy flies out of my mouth across the office and lands on the rug in front of the door. I catch my breath, then try prying the sticky confection off the fibers but it won’t budge, so I return to my desk and pick up my book.
And just when I think my luck can’t get any worse, my stomach starts to rumble. And not just small rumbles but loud ones. The room begins to spin; I feel sweaty, queasy, as if at any moment I will. . . My plan was to run to the ladies room, but I can’t make it so I drop to my knees and vomit in the trash can near my desk. And as I’m recreating the scene from The Exorcist, my bosses return from lunch, their mouths ajar. Skinny steps on the wet candy and I hear a loud crunch as vomit drips from my chin. “I threw up.”
“Yes, we can see that.” Skinny replies. “Look if you’re ill, you can go home.” God bless you. “But do something with the garbage bag, huh?” I’d love to do something with the garbage bag like haul it across the room.
Since I’m too weak to walk the stairs, I get in the elevator with the garbage bag secured in my right hand only to find another old man going down to the first floor. I can feel his eyes looking me up and down, so I turn to give him a dirty look. Although I’m in no mood for chit-chat, the man feels otherwise.
“You know, I used to be an elevator operator?”
Bully for you. I nod, then turn my back to him.
“Sometimes the gals would let me kiss them before they got off of the elevator.”
Is this seriously happening? This guy looks like something someone dug out of the cemetery, but he’s thinking about kissing women. I’m disgusted and want to tell him what he can kiss, but I choose to ignore him instead. My aunt warned me once about dirty old men, but I never believed her. How could anything that age feel a spark of romance? I mean, I thought only Dr. Frankenstein could send a spark into something that old.
When the elevator reaches the main floor, I get off and head over to the garbage bin.
“By the way, whatcha got in the bag?” the dirty old man asks as I fling the bag over my shoulder.
I walk across the street to retrieve my car from the parking garage, pay four bucks then drive like the devil to get as far away from my day as possible. While I’m driving through town in my 1983 Buick Skyhawk, I stop at a light and hear a loud pop. The light turns green, and I’m off again just as something catches my eye in the rearview mirror. It’s a teenage boy chasing my car, screaming for me to stop. Oh, God, I hope I didn’t run over anything. That would be horrible after the day I had. Poor kid. Oh, my God. The guilt. I slam on my breaks at the next stop sign just as the boy reaches my car. He’s out of breath. “Take it easy,” I say to him. “Catch your breath and tell me what’s wrong.” I’m preparing for the worst – dead puppy, cat, sister. I can’t begin to imagine what I hit, but I swear I didn’t see anything.
We’re gazing deeply into one another’s eyes, and in my mind I’m trying to justify what I did before even knowing what it is. I grab my forehead with my right hand, and suddenly my stomach starts rumbling again, but the kid is standing there like a mannequin. What is it I’ve done? I’ll confess to whatever it is. Call the cops and have them take me away. Tell my father I love him, and I’ll write him from jail. Tell my dead mother I’ll practice my writing in the pokey. Oh, God. This can’t be happening.
“You lost your hubcap.”
I look down to see the boy gripping my filthy hubcap. “Oh, that’s OK. You can have it.” And I drive off.
I arrive home just in time to see my father sprawled across the kitchen table gasping for air, the back of his hair is standing straight up. “What happened?”
“I went to store,” he said in between breaths. “A bird started swooping and pecking at my head, so I ran and tripped, fell flat on my face.”
I dig my nails into my thigh praying that I won’t laugh, because if there’s one thing my father hates it’s being laughed at. But I can feel the corners of my mouth begin to raise, so I place both hands over my face.
“What’s that?” my father inquires. “You think this is funny?”
I shake my head, but it’s too late, so I wrap my arms around my stomach and hit the floor laughing so hard I want to vomit all over the linoleum. My father stands there tapping his foot, his face beat red. The vein above his right temple begins to pulse, but all I can do is scream with laughter, because between me and my father things can’t possibly get any worse. And while I’m doubled over I think about being locked in Sunshine News; I think about the candy nestled in the carpet at the office, and Skinny who is probably still trying to rip bits of it off his loafer; I laugh harder at the fact that I threw up in the wastepaper basket and that my bosses had to witness it, and the man in the elevator who turned green when I told him what I was carrying in the bag; I rolled over as I thought about how terrified I was thinking I ran over some boy’s dog, only to learn that I lost a hubcap. And now this – my father with hair sticking up – the man who isn’t afraid of anything, running for his life from a sparrow who tried to nest in his hair.
“Keep it up,” my father yells.
And I did keep it up – all the way up the stairs to my room. I can’t walk so I crawl. My stomach muscles are sore from throwing up and laughing. When I get in my room I close the door and leap on the bed, still giggling from the day’s events. What else, I wonder?
It takes only fifteen minutes before I drift off into a deep sleep and the face of my mother appears in a dream.
“Well, did you contact a publisher?”