Chapter 2: Desperation Leads to Shady Deals.
The night I met Plum she took me home. I was a little ashamed for her to see the neighborhood I lived in but then I was sure I’d never see her again. My fingers were on the door handle when Plum reached out and briefly touched my leg. She meant it as a sincere gesture of friendship.
I fumbled with the door handle, mumbling about the lateness of the hour. She produced a business card. Her friend Kenji would be in the next day if I decided to give him a call about the property. Plum was so nonchalant about it that I didn’t feel the least bit awkward about accepting the card.
I went up to the dingy hole that passes as my apartment, thankful that my landlord’s light wasn’t on. He would be knocking on my door soon enough. The end of the month was drawing perilously close. I went upstairs, sat on my worn couch and savored my first encounter with Plum. Tomorrow, I’d be a pumpkin again.
I got up and strode to my cramped bathroom. Using my sleeve to swipe at the toothpaste spattered mirror only succeeded in smudging it. A dampened bath towel from the heap at my feet did the trick. I scrubbed the mirror until it squeaked before leaning towards the reflective surface, peering with comic intensity. What did Plum see when she looked at me?
I wanted to believe that I had an air of accidental coolness about me. You know, the just-threw-something-on sort of stylishness. My reflection pained me. What I had actually achieved was a dopey, mom-picks-my-clothes look. No matter how hard I attempt to look mature, my face always betrays me. Somehow, it always manages to retain an air of young gullibility. My doe-like eyes intensify the effect.
No wonder con artists and social misfits are drawn to me. My face is like an open invitation. Plum was definitely not a social misfit. I realized that Plum might have ulterior motives and quickly banished the thought, telling myself not to ruin a good thing with negative thoughts. You see, my doubt- infested mind rebels against anything positive.
Whenever someone is nice to me or something good happens to me, I automatically look for the catch because there always seems to be one. Call it paranoia if you’d like but I see it as safeguarding my feelings. Someone does something nice and then the next words out of his or her mouth are usually something like, “Oh by the way, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind doing me a little favor.”
Since I have a fear bordering on the pathological of disappointing people, I usually wind up doing whatever they ask. You’d think I would be accustomed to being used by now. It shouldn’t even bother me anymore but it does. I’m angry with myself long after the person has forgotten the favor. That’s just how I am.
Other people don’t seem to give a second thought to things that keep me awake at night. That’s my biggest problem. I over think everything. It’s the curse of having an overactive imagination. Sometimes, I wish I could just switch off my brain. If I could do that for an hour or so a day then I’d never need to take a vacation.
That night, I decided for once in my life to just go with the flow. I glared at my reflection and resolved not to analyze every little thing. If Plum never spoke to me again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I repeated the thought out loud for good measure. Even as my lips formed the words, my heart knew it wasn’t true.
If I’m going to make sense of the bind that I allowed Plum to get me into then I really ought to be completely honest. I have thought about it before. You know, the big “S”, last call, skydiving without a parachute, stop the world I’m getting off. But I’d never have the guts to actually go through with it.
Thinking about suicide mostly satisfies the drama queen in me. Whenever I get depressed enough to entertain the thought, I mostly fantasize about the guilt that my family would feel. It’s the ultimate in having the last word. Of course, with my luck I’d do it and no one would even notice that I was gone.
I seem to have that effect or rather that lack of effect on people. Someone could be sitting in the same room with me and forget that I was there. All that was going to change, now that I had Plum. I turned away from the mirror and moved to stand just outside of the bathroom, puzzling over a way to make my self look more mature and sophisticated.
I stalked to the bedroom and flung open my closet. There had to be something in there halfway decent. It didn’t take long to work through every piece of clothing I owned. Everything was out of date, frumpy, too tight, or had some indelible stain in an obvious place. I’m kind of accident prone with my clothes. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t recall the last time I’d actually bought something to wear.
I hate shopping for clothes. Getting undressed and trying things on in a drafty dressing room is a nuisance. Then the clothes I pick out never look quite as nice as they do on the mannequin. Even when I manage to find something that looks like it might work, I wind up balking at the price tag and shoving it back on the rack.
When you have to count every penny like I do, buying new clothes seems extravagant. It’s easy to get by when you never get invited anywhere. On weekends, a big outing for me is a trip to the grocery store or the mall. So I keep clothes until I wear a hole in them or the seams start unraveling. Even then, I don’t throw them out. They usually become pajamas. My mother teases me about it.
“One of these days, you’ll wind up naked on the bus because you’ll sneeze and your whole outfit will disintegrate.”
At work the next day, I fished the business card out of my purse. It was still scented with Plum’s sumptuous perfume–a blend of white musk, flowers and spices. For the thousandth time that day, I wondered what she was doing. Should I call her friend? What would I say if I worked up enough nerve? Maybe if I called him and set up an appointment she would be there.
That was silly. Why would she be hanging around this guy’s place of business? Someone like her had plenty of important things to do. If anything, the man probably hung around Plum. Daydreamed about running into her again. Maybe I could invite Plum to lunch. Would it be devastating if she blew me off? I tucked away the card and tried to forget about Plum.
The days crawled by and the night seemed endless. The paltry amount of my paycheck was a nasty shock. It would only cover my groceries for the coming week. That was without anything extra, just the barest necessities. It looked like another week of lunch meat and salty canned goods.
I could forget about paying rent or utilities. I hadn’t seen a check that small since I was a teenager bagging groceries at the corner store in my neighborhood. Asking my boss Mr. Canfield about it would do more harm than good. I was having a run of bad luck. Sales were few and far between. No one was buying any of the run down properties I had on my books.
He didn’t trust me with any of the nice properties in decent neighborhoods. Just kept claiming that I was too green. Despair came home to roost and I gave myself over to it. I was determined not to sell the locket though, seized with the irrational fear that doing so would signal the end of my dreams.
I had already sold off my television set. Next went my prized computer. As long as I kept the locket I’d be able to reassure myself that I hadn’t hit rock bottom. How may failed attempts would that make? I had too many plans to move back home with my tail between my legs.
The thought of my sister dismissing my dreams with a smug, “I told you so” made my physically ill. I couldn’t let her win. The two of us had always been competitive. When I moved into my own apartment and left her living at home saddled with two kids and no husband, she could have spit fire.
No one in my family understands me or my ambition. To them I’m a dreamer. Any attempts to discuss dreams with my family are met with indulgent smiles. My mother wants me to settle down, get married and allow my husband to take care of me while I shoot out babies like a Pez dispenser. In desperate moments, that image has almost been inviting.
That isn’t what I want for myself though. I could never be happy sitting around the house wondering about what might have been. I grew up watching her waste the best years of her life working every day and then rushing home to hover anxiously at my dad’s elbow. She’d dash about all evening attending to his every whim.
Devotion seems to have a crippling effect. It impairs your common sense. My mother can’t seem to grasp the fact that dad will never be satisfied. The more she does for him the more he expects. It’s a never-ending cycle. If that is the sacred institution of marriage then maybe it isn’t for me.
I want to have a family…eventually. I just want to make sure that I’ve achieved a few goals first. Otherwise, I could never be happy. There would always be that doubt gnawing away at my insides. Could I or couldn’t I have been successful? It wouldn’t be fair to bring children into the world and not be prepared to make them my priority. I never want to resent my children.
It sounds cold but that’s how I feel. Children absorb a lot of time, energy and money. In my frustrated mind, they would come to symbolize barriers to my dreams. At times, the way my father looked at me made me wonder if that wasn’t what he saw when he looked at us–barriers to his happiness. Like if my mom hadn’t gotten pregnant with my sister when they were young he might not have married her and settled for a nine-to-five life.
My pitiful paycheck made me pick up the phone and contact Kenji. That call changed my life forever. Funny how you rarely grasp the significance of some things while you’re experiencing them. I made and appointment to meet with him after work. That way, there wouldn’t be enough time for me to lose my nerve.