Kari's New Job
Kari opened her laptop, booting it up, and grimaced as she saw her own reflection on the screen. She noticed that the piece of tape that usually covered her webcam was gone, and she studied her pale and blemished countenance on the screen. “I look like shit,” she muttered, grateful that she was mostly alone in the coffee shop. She pushed her unwashed hair away from her face, taking in the contours, and wondering if her jaw line was beginning to sag.
“Ugh,” she said, moving closer to the built in camera to look at her eyebrows, and trying to remember the last time she plucked them. “I look like a sasquatch, an unwashed, smelly bigfoot.” She lifted the neck of her sweater, and sticking her nose into the opening she took a deep breath. “Damn,” she sighed.
She tried to stop the camera using the little icon on the screen, but it wouldn’t close, and finally minimizing it, she went back on her job search. She scrolled through the options, sending her resume when she thought she had half the experience and could fake the rest.
Two months without a job had busted not just her bank account, but also her self-worth. She sent another resume, and sipping her cup of cheap black coffee, she couldn’t remember the last time she showered. She had enough money for rent for one more month; she’d already cut the cable, the internet, the gym, and the only expense she afforded right now was sitting in the coffee shop, with the free Wi-Fi, and drinking cheap bitter brews as she searched for a new job.
She still didn’t understand why she was fired. She’d worked at a publishing house, and her job had been to read new incoming manuscripts and pass them on to the higher ups in the company. There were rules, of course, most of them stated and clear. Things about misogyny, racism, misspelled words and grammar issues, the owners of the house knew that they would have to deal with the writer, so they had set simple rules into place.
Looking back, as she sent a new resume and waited for it to upload, she realized the manuscript Time To Get Out Of Dodge had been her undoing. It was beautifully written, lyrical, and there was no misogyny or racism despite the fact that it was placed in a Southern town in the 1880s. It was a beautiful story, the characters rich, and reminded her of a blend of Steinbeck, Harper Lee, and Hemingway. It was a story about a civil war vet finding an orphan, and the life they attempted to live in the city as father and daughter. The ending, though, was what made it so amazing as they realized that they could never be free of social constraints living in a big city.
Kari stood up after the resume had been uploaded, and carried her cup back to the counter, ordering another black coffee, pulling out her wallet and counting her few dollars, she grudgingly handed them over. Waiting for the coffee, she thought about her meeting with her boss the morning she was fired.
“They don’t have sex?” she asked, throwing down the manuscript.
Kari shook her head. “Of course not, she’s eight, and he’s in his fifties. Why would they have sex? He’s trying to do the right thing after the war, that’s what the whole book is about.”
“Kari, I thought we’d talked about this. Books these days have to have at least one sex scene, did you see the sales on the 50 shades of whatever? You keep sending me things that won’t sell. We can promote this forever, but no one wants to read a boring story about an old man saving an orphan. That not what publishing is about anymore.” The older woman tapped her polished nails on the desk. “I hate to say this, but we can’t keep you on. You’re wasting time and money with the novels you send up. You’re fired, clear out your desk.”
Kari accepted her coffee, and even threw a couple quarters into the tip jar before returning to her table and laptop. The camera was on again as she sat down, and she saw the little blond hairs on her chin. “Crap,” she muttered, holding her chin to the camera, and looking at the screen. “Am I growing a beard?” Between my eyebrows and chin I could be the hairy lady in freak shows, she thought, and then remembered the circuses and fairs no long had freak shows. “Well, damn.”
She looked at herself in the screen again, her face bare of makeup, her hair tangled, and wearing an ancient wool sweater she’d bought for three bucks at a thrift store. She gazed a few minutes more, missing her stylist, when she noticed that the background of the video stream was green and looked like woods. She felt a small breeze and saw the leaves on the screen tremble. She turned to look behind her, and saw paintings on a burnt orange wall.
“The hell,” she muttered, looking back at the screen. She was still there, looking as awful as she felt, but the background was woods, a wooded place, and the leaves lifted, twisting, and slapped together in the breeze. She glanced over her shoulder again to see the orange wall, and turned back to the computer to see herself in the woods, the wind increasing, and her hair now blowing in her face.
She looked up at the vents in the ceiling where little tassels hung to see if the heat or air conditioning had come on, and then to the door to see if anyone had stepped inside. She pushed her hair behind her ears, glancing back at the computer. It was her again, now her tangled hair behind her ears, while behind her in the scene the wind calmed, and she could hear birds in the trees.
She closed the laptop, and the bird song ended. She glanced back up at the vents, the little, stringed tassels still, and shook her head. “What in the hell?” she muttered, unplugging the computer and sliding it back into the case. She slung the bag over her shoulder, picked up her drink, and left the coffee shop.
She walked toward home, taking the long route through the city park, and avoiding the little apartment she once thought was affordable, but no longer did, and stopped at a bench. She sat down, setting the cup beside her, and pulled out the laptop, opening it again.
There she was on the screen, but the scene behind her was not a brick wall, but a creek. She turned, making sure there was a brick wall behind the bench, and turned back to the screen. “Wait a minute,” she said, holding both sides of her head with her palms, “I recognize this.”
She stood, placing the laptop on the bench, and stepping out into the path. On the screen she grew smaller, the creek grew louder as it rushed over old rocks, and she waved her arms to make sure it wasn’t a trick, some weird app that had appeared on her laptop camera. She looked behind her again, and just saw the city park, but looking back at the screen she saw herself standing beside a creek, and she could smell the minerals.
She looked up and around, she knew there was a creek in the park, but it was a couple blocks away. She looked back at the laptop, and there she was standing in wet sand. She glanced down at the concrete path. Back on the screen she was under red leaves that bespoke of fall, she glanced up to see the trees above had already donated their leaves for the season. She tried to remember the date.
An old man sat on the bench beside the laptop. “Is this yours?” he asked, pulling out some nuts from his pockets to feed the pigeons.
“Yes, sir,” she said, looking back at the screen to see a shadow behind her.
“He’s calling, you know?” the old man said, scattering peanuts on the ground.
“Who?” Kari asked, looking from the screen to her surroundings.
“The man in there.” He nodded his head toward the computer, as the pigeons began flying down. “You recognize that place, don’t you?”
“Yeah, it was my grandparents place, but it was sold long ago.”
“Maybe you should go visit it, don’t have much else going on, do you?” He reached into another pocket, scattering birdseed.
She laughed, and it almost sounded hysterical. “Someone put some weird app on my camera, this isn’t real.”
“How many people have you seen since you lost your job?” the old man asked as a few pigeons landed on his legs.
Kari thought back, stepping slowly through the birds so not to hurt them. After she lost her job, no one called, she’d not been invited to any parties, and her laptop rarely left the bag unless she was trying to find work. “None,” she finally answered, reaching the bench. She glanced over at the old man who now had pigeons on his arms, lap, and head as he fed them seed by hand. She smiled. “They really like you.”
He smiled, showing crooked, tobacco stained, teeth. “It’s not me they like, they like the food. That man, in the screen, though, likes you.”
Kari glanced back at the laptop, and caught her breath. On the screen was still the same scene of the creek behind her grandparents’ house, but a man stood, centered, on wet sand. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him. He certainly wasn’t anyone she’d met in the city attending cocktail parties. He wasn’t anyone she’d ever met at book signings, or on the dating site she tried.
She leaned closer to the screen, looking at him. He’s nice looking, she determined, very handsome. She turned away from the screen to tell the old man, but he was gone, in his his place were a dozen pigeons pecking at the bare wood of the bench.
Kari caught her breath, and recognized the black dots dancing in her eyes. She closed the laptop, and shoved it down in the bag. She walked home slowly, still trying to remember the last time she showered, and what the hell was going on with her eyebrows. She stepped into the quiet apartment, turned on the music, and took a long shower, trying to figure what had happened in her day out.
She plucked her eyebrows, tending to stray hairs, and applied make-up for the first time in two months. She checked her bank accounts, and threw some into checking. She packed a small bag, and stepping down into the parking garage she was happy her car cranked on the first turn. It took her an hour to get out of the city, and she had to stop again to fill up, and buy some more crappy coffee.
As she hit the two lane roads leading her to her grandparents place, she rolled down the windows, turning up the music. She didn’t know what she was doing, it had been an odd day, and if she had had some episode, her mind encouraging her to do something crazy, at least she knew she had enough money for a motel room before heading back to her apartment in the city. “At least it’s a night off,” she muttered.
She slowed in the old town, seeing the disrepair, and remembering walking with her grandparents on the wooden sidewalks to do Saturday morning shopping. She stopped at the sign, exhaling long pent up worries. “Whatever,” she said, remembering the pigeon man who disappeared in a blink, leaving his pigeons behind. “I’ll take a chance,” she exhaled again, remembering the computer screen showing the woods she’d grown up in, and the creek.
She pulled on the dirt drive, seeing lights in the house. She hit the brake. Her parents said the house had been knocked down after it had been sold. She lifted her foot, the car moving forward, and she almost wondered if her grandparents would meet her on the porch as they used to every visit. She parked, and pulled her coat out of the backseat, wondering what she was doing, and what she would say when the new owners stepped out after she knocked.
Throwing caution to the wind, she stepped out into the cool wind, looking at the colors in the trees as the sun began setting. She slid her arms in her coat, zipping it against the wind, and looked at the porch, and the lights in the windows. “What the hell?” she said, walking up the stairs.
As she stepped on the porch the door opened, and the man smiled.
“Wait a minute,” she said, “I do know you. You wrote that manuscript that I loved, but got me fired.”
He smiled. “Adam Moore, at your service.” He was dressed in jeans, and a high collared white shirt covered with a brown leather vest. He bowed at the waist. “Ready to get out of Dodge?” he asked.
She nodded, shivering against the cold. He was more handsome that his black and white picture on the manuscript, and even more attractive than he looked in the small screen of her laptop.
“Well, come in, and warm up.”
She stepped inside the old familiar house, looking around at old artifacts. “I figured I was crazy coming back to my grandparents house. You own it now?” she accepted a mug of coffee with cream and sugar, and a mug she made when she was eight-years-old at camp.
“Yes, ma’am. I do.”
“This is crazy,” she said, moving closer to the fire and shivering.
“Yes, ma’am. It is.” He settled on the couch watching her beside the fire. “I appreciate you sending my book up the chain, sorry you lost your job for doing it.”
Pulling herself back, and turning from the flames, she said, “It was the best novel I’ve ever read, and I read a lot.”
“I know,” he said simply, lifting a cup to his mouth and looking into the fireplace.
She didn’t know what to say, so she turned back to the fire, sipping good and sweet coffee. “I tried,” she finally admitted.
He sat up, setting his empty mug on the coffee table. “How many books have you sent up? How many books that were pushed down, and thrown in the trash?”
“The rules have changed,” she began, and sighed. “In the beginning it was grammatical mistakes, and then it was misogyny … your book had none of the things, but got me fired.”
He nodded. “Do you need a new job, Kari?”
“I do, and how did you buy my grandparents house?”
“Can you read the new manuscripts, and send them up, disposing of the trash, and giving us the best ones?”
Kari turned back from the fire to face him. “I can do that.”
“Are you ready to get out of Dodge?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes, sir. I am.”
The phone woke her at 5am, and she struggled to find it under the covers. “Kari, wake up. It’s number one!”
“What is number one?” she asked stupidly.
“Time To Get Out Of Dodge” is number one! You are part of this, you sent it up, and Adam Moore, the head of the company, is giving you all the credence for getting it done. We have a breakfast to celebrate in a couple hours, get up! Celebrate!”
Kari crawled out of the bed, looking out the windows, and seeing that although summer was done, autumn hadn’t fully arrived. She showered, tending to her face, applying make-up, and stepping out of the apartment, she walked to the party, looking at the newspapers and drinking mimosas.
“Good job,” the boss, Adam, said pulling her into a hug.
Kari pulled back, looking at him, and shaking her head slightly, she said, “Feels like a dream.”
“It probably was, that’s why you’re sending the best novels up. We’re giving you a raise, and a better office.”
Kari pushed her recently cropped hair from her eyes. “I need a couple days to get out of town.”
“Absolutely! When you come back you’ll have a better office, with windows.” He smiled.
“Thanks,” she said. She went home to pack a small bag, and checking her bank she added more to the checking account. She was happy her car cranked on the first try and pulled onto the street. She stopped to fill up the tank, and then stopped for a nice latte with steamed cream and rolled down the windows, turning the music up loud.
She turned onto the small two lane road, remembering her grandparents, and drove through the town. Her car bounced over big holes where the street was no more, just a rutted path. She came to the stop sign, where she usually turned, but the sign was gone. The trees either leaned down on the road, or fell on the road, and the road was no longer a piece of blacktop, but turning back into the old dirt roads she’d learned to drive on at twelve-years-old.
She turned, driving slow, and catching her breath as she avoided deep holes. “What the hell? I just met Adam the first time out here, just a few days ago.” She found her grandparents driveway and turned in. Trees had fallen this way, or that way, and she couldn’t drive in further than twelve feet. She stopped the car and reached into the glovebox to pull out a flashlight. Reaching into the backseat she pulled out a coat, and stepping out of the car she slid her arms inside, zipping it against the wind.
She shivered, stepping over the trees with the flashlight. Finally, she found the old house, or at least the remnants of it. The beam of her flashlight showed her that her parents had told her the truth that the house had been knocked down. She remembered stepping into it just a few days ago.
She looked at the flashlight, and then up at the sky, the sun, under the clouds, was at noon. She turned off the light.