It is such a pleasure to be here on Cindy’s blog! Cindy is truly one of the most talented, inspiring women I’ve ever met. Her enthusiasm for community service and creativity spills over wherever she goes, and it’s because of her that Write by the Rails has become so successful in encouraging other writers, including myself. It’s hard to put yourself out there as a writer, no matter how seasoned you are or what genre you write. Yet here I am, putting myself out there again by offering this selection from my novel, Approaching Felonias Park. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the creative process that brought the characters to life. And thank you, Cindy, for being there through that process.
Wishing everyone blessings,
So Jezabel got interested in looking at the woman’s polyester, paisley-print shirt. Orange and teal mega-print and orange pants. Purple boots. Big, sprayed hair and a lopsided smile. The woman was tall, and when she sat in the chair in front of Jezabel, she looked uncomfortable, like her big feet didn’t know where to put themselves. The woman fidgeted and finally handed over her paperwork to Jezabel who scanned it to make sure all the fields were filled in. The lady bounced her leg and peered through big lenses at Jezabel who read and pointed to a section on the form.
“So you are not working right now, is that correct?” Jezabel asked. She had learned to ask this question right off, without hesitation and without apology.
“That’s right,” said the woman.
“So how do you plan on paying this loan?” Jezabel asked, again, directly.
“I get some assistance and I do some work under the table,” the woman said, equally as directly.
Jezabel looked over the paper at the woman. “What kind of work do you do?” she asked.
“I fix fans.”
“Oh,” said Jezabel, and moved closer to her computer.
“Don’t you want to know anything else?” the redhead asked, staring seriously at Jezabel. “Like how many I can fix and why I haven’t fixed any in the last month and how I afford the parts and what I do?”
Jezabel shrugged. It wasn’t her business to ask for details about the lady’s business. She just wanted to know how the lady planned to pay the bill. The lady continued anyway.
“See, on trash day, I go through the neighborhoods. It’s the weirdest thing. You almost always see a fan in the trash. I’ve been doing this for ten years now and you want to know what is even weirder?” The lady bounced her leg faster, her face suddenly animated, the makeup cracking even more. “Every year, if I go back to houses that threw out a fan, they have another one at that same house. So you know what that means?”
Jezabel shrugged again, but this time found herself looking at the lady and wondering.
“It means the same people buy cheap fans every year. They use them for a season or two, and then they toss ‘em. That’s right. Just toss them out like junk!” The woman frowned like she couldn’t believe the injustice of it. “It’s like fans are disposable. But what these people don’t know is…..” Jezabel waited. The woman leaned in closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Fans can be restored.”
“I see,” said Jezabel, who turned back to her computer, mentally slapping herself for being taken in by the story, as if something exciting was going to come of it.
“So I collect all the fans, and I take some apart to replace the broken parts of the other ones. Then when people bring me their fans to fix, I have one to sell them or I have the part to replace theirs. Pretty nice, huh?”
“Yes, sounds like a good kind of business you’ve got going there,” Jezabel said flatly, entering the information into the computer.
“Yup. I get ten dollars usually for fixing a fan. It takes me less than an hour and all my parts are free. And I never have to buy tools because I have Daddy’s old tools and he had a lot of them.” The leg was really bouncing now. The lady was kicking the desk, distracting Jezabel, who wished the woman would just shut up.
“It will be just one more moment, Ma’am, and I will print up the agreement,” Jezabel said. “Do you have any questions on the loan?”
“Nope. I know I will have enough fans to fix in the next month or so because summer is right around the corner. I will get really busy and make lots of money, enough to pay the taxes on the house and this little loan back.”
“You understand the terms of the agreement and the way the interest works, right?” Jezabel asked again. She knew she didn’t have to, but she wanted to make sure the lady knew that even if she paid the loan back in a month, she would still owe the interest for longer than just the summer.
“I understand,” the woman said. “I just have to get through this month, is all. Running out of important things and I just haven’t had the money or the business, and the winter was so cold.”
Jezabel heard this a lot, especially when winters were harsh. A utility bill for even a small house could rise over $500 a month easily. Jezabel knew all about that because her apartment cost a couple of hundred to heat, and she always tried to keep the temperature at about 68 so she would have some “fun” money left over. Then, sometimes Michael would come through and give her some cash, or he would take them somewhere fun, so she would save that way, too.
Michael. Lately, whenever she thought of him, she had the same feeling she got when she looked at milkweeds in the fall, after all their fluff had gone to seed and started flying off. But she didn’t want to think about that right now. And she sure as heck didn’t want to be thinking about fans. She typed a little faster, hit the print button, and told the lady she would be right back.
In the lobby, Tonya picked up one phone line after another. Six or seven people sat in the plastic orange seats by the storefront window, and another three or four people vied for parking spaces out front. This was freaking ridiculous, Jezabel thought. She couldn’t process all these people by herself. Even if Charles were here, they would still have people waiting.
But she had Tonya. A pretty black lady from this neighborhood, Tonya knew how to handle herself and others. That’s why she was so good at her job. She wasn’t afraid of more than one person coming in at a time. She could handle the rude ones, the impatient ones and the sneaky ones. She got them through intake, and if she thought there was something really suspicious about a client (other than the usual working-under-the-table, which many of their clients had to do to survive), she would make reference to her fiancé who was a cop and how excited she was that he would be coming in any minute now to have a cup of coffee with her.
The truth was, Tonya had been divorced from her retail-district-manager-husband for three years, didn’t have a fiancé that was a cop or even a fiancé for that matter. Though she was well under thirty, Tonya said she was through with men. But she did legitimately know a couple of the cops from the station two doors down, and her tone was so convincing that no real, dangerous thug had ever called her bluff. It was amazing the way a truly shady character, after talking to Tonya, would suddenly get a cell phone call and have to come back at another time.
Tonya prided herself in this art of bluffing and subtle intimidation while still being polite, and she knew it was one reason Bobby and John would never want to think about losing her as an employee. Jezabel was sure Tonya got paid very well. And she was sure that anyone who got by Tonya was not a thug—with the possible exceptions of Bobby and John themselves.
It seemed to be getting worse every day. Each morning, shortly after the doors opened, potential clients filed in. The seats filled up fast, and often, it was standing room only, with a wide array of people from every country, represented in the microcosm that was the lobby of In-a-Pinch. And what they all had in common was a kind of poverty that relied on loans, these high interest loans supposed to provide a quick fix and a way out.
“Tonya, is Sharon coming in today?” Jezabel asked, though she knew wouldn’t like the answer either way.
She supposed it could be worse—Bobby and/or John could be coming in, but they wouldn’t be caught dead processing loans. That meant would be here to increase stress but not the line lengths.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tonya replied.
Great, thought Jezabel as she grabbed her papers from the printers. Just great. Sharon-I’m-so-proud-to-be-working-in-the-financial-industry-Stuart.
Sharon wore a gray or navy blue suit every day, practical pumps and a pressed, white blouse. Jezabel couldn’t tell if Sharon belonged on an airplane serving ginger ale or in Washington, D.C. serving papers. Sharon spoke clearly, enunciating every word as if articulation were a job qualification in this zoo.
“What time is she in?” Jezabel asked.
“Nother hour,” Tonya answered.
“Okay. Please, just tell people I am alone until then and to hang on. It might awhile. They can get some coffee or come back in a couple of hours if they don’t want to wait.”
“K,” Tonya said. “Whatever works for you,” Tonya said. “I’ll keep ‘em at bay.”
Jezabel knew she would.
Tonya was such a good person to work with, so strong and polite at the same time, rare qualities in this industry, in fact, in any industry. She half wished Tonya had another job. Tonya would could work anywhere and make good money. She didn’t have to rely on Bobby and John. She could go out and do something meaningful.
Jezabel wished she were in the same position.
Back in her office, Jezabel saw the red-haired, fan-fixing lady cleaning her globular glasses and pacing. “Okay, I just need a couple of signatures,” Jezabel said sitting down at her desk. She was thinking about Michael and the park again. Stop it, she scolded herself. Focus.
The lady sat back down. “You know, your office is kind of stuffy,” the lady said, taking a pen out of the penholder on Jezabel’s desk. “You could use a fan in here. You can…”
Jezabel pointed to the places that required signatures. “Sign here and here,” she interrupted. “Then I sign as a witness, and I can get you a copy for your records.”
“So what do you think?” the lady asked. “About the fan, I mean.”
This lady is relentless, Jezabel thought, but she was used to clients trying to sell her things. After all, that’s what a good sales person did, and it put Jezabel a little at ease thinking the lady was ambitious and assertive.
“I think the owners won’t approve the expenditure,” Jezabel said.
“Well what about for your house? You have a house, right? You need a fan for your house? I can get you a fan for your house.”
“Um…I’m all set. But thanks anyway,” Jezabel said. Her voice was flatter than she meant it to be, but she needed to discourage the lady and still be gentle about it. Not that Sharon was gentle. Sharon was a stucco wall trying to pass herself off as 1970’s velvet wallpaper.
“Well, if you ever need a fan, you know how to get in touch with me,” said the lady. “Just call me. I can sell you a good fan, a really good fan, or I can fix one that broke or I can….”
Jezabel got up to make copies. “Excuse me,” she said, going back to the lobby.
A trip to the copy machine was always an excellent escape. When she returned to her office, the woman was pacing again. Jezabel handed her the copies, shook her clammy hand and told her to have a nice day.
The woman smiled briefly and said, “Okay. Call me about that fan.”
“I will,” said Jezabel. And the woman walked out of her office, breaking into a tuneless whistle as if life had just given her something wonderful to look forward to. Jezabel wondered if fans made the woman happy. Was the woman happier than she was?
Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt is a poetry and prose writer residing in Western Prince William County, VA, where she enjoys exploring history, art, culture and nature. An advocate for preservation, conservation, education and civic engagement, Katherine volunteers for several non-profit organizations. A former community writer for the regional News & Messenger newspaper, Katherine has taught college English composition online and English as a Second Language (ESOL) at an adult detention center. She currently freelances and does outreach for Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center, a non-profit providing therapeutic equine services to those with disabilities.
Katherine’s poetry and prose have appeared in various online and text journals. Poems from the Battlefield, a collection of her Civil War themed poetry, original and archival photos and period quotes, was published in 2009. Katherine’s children’s book, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, was published in 2010. Approaching Felonias Park, a novel focusing on predatory lending, was released in November, 2011. Weaker Than Water, a second collection of Katherine’s poetry, came out in April, 2013.
In addition to founding Writers for a Cause, Katherine is an active member of the Prince William County Arts Council, Write by the Rails and the League of Women Voters, Prince William Area.
Katherine’s resume can be found on LinkedIn. She is available for speaking engagements and workshops. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
photo courtesy of Chip Deyerle