Sunday, December 17, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 2

Susan frowned at another text message from her friend blowing off her request to meet up for coffee. When they had worked together it was normal to see each other at lunch and then go running after work. Now, they hadn't done anything in the six weeks since the big lay offs. Just then, the door banged open as Danny trudged in, "Hey, Mom. What's wrong?"

She looked up, startled, "How could you tell something was wrong?"

"It's the way you're sitting; like there's a heavy weight on the back of your neck."

"Oh, well, I was just thinking about friendships. I knew some of the people at work would forget about me but there were quite a few I thought of as friends and I expected that to continue. Even my supervisor; the only contact I've had from him was when he couldn't find the key to the supply cabinet and he never even asked how I was doing." She spun the phone around listlessly. "Maybe they're all just swamped now that the office is understaffed."

"What does Diane say about it?" Danny looked shocked when his mother brushed away a tear and shook her head. "But she's your best friend! You were her Maid of Honor and, and, you know! All that stuff when her mom died; you helped her with everything!"

Now openly crying, Susan said, "I can't explain it because I don't understand either."

Danny sank into a chair and looked helplessly at her. This was beyond him. In desperation, he grabbed his mom's phone and dialed a number.

"Hey! How's my favorite sister?" 

"Uncle Bill? This is Danny. Um, could you talk to Mom, please?" He handed the phone over and retreated to the living room where he could keep an eye on the situation but felt more comfortable with a little distance between them.

It took some time for Bill to coax the full story out, but when Susan finally wound down he began to speak, "This is going to sound strange, but it reminds me of when Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her oncologist warned her it would happen, but she didn't believe him; who expects the worst from their best friends? The doctor called it a twisted form of survivor's guilt. Some people can't deal with the reminder of their own mortality and reject and blame the victim. 

"I suspect that's what's happening to you. Your friends can't bear the thought that they could be in your position through no fault of their own so they push you away. It sucks, but it's their weakness showing, not yours. Remember, I was your friend long before you met any of them and nothing's going to change that. Understand?"

Susan took a ragged breath, "I understand. You might have to remind me a few more times."

"Always. Night, sis."
Susan staggered into the apartment, dripping sweat and fighting the urge to fall flat on the floor. Instead, she began her post-run stretching routine; fully aware of how much pain she would be in later if she didn't. Forcing herself to get out and run this morning had been one of the hardest things she had done in a long time. Why was the best relief for her depression an activity that was almost impossible to start while depressed? "A cosmic practical joke," she muttered to herself.

A quick shower and she was back to her daily check of the online help-wanted postings. In her inbox she found a reply to an application she had filled out over a month before. "Please, please, please...Yes! An interview!" There were two days before her appointment, but she decided not to leave anything to chance. First, she mapped the route to the office building and located the nearest free parking. Then, she pulled out her interview outfit, tried it on, checking for stains and ironed it carefully. Finally, she went to the company's website and began reading up on them.

Knowing Danny was always later on a lifting day, Susan decided to cook his favorite spaghetti to celebrate her good news. When he finally arrived home, she popped out of the kitchen waving a spoon, took one look and dropped the spoon on the floor. "What? Why?"

Dropping his backpack on the floor, Danny ran his hands over the short bristle of hair covering his scalp. "Well, I didn't really mean to, but you know Dave's sister? Tracy? She wants to be a hair stylist and she kept begging to practice on me. And finally I said yes because it was free; except, she messed up a few times. Each time it got worse until the clippers were the only option left. What do you think?"

"I think it's kind of nice to see your eyes again."
The weeks turned to months as Susan and Danny found ways to scrape by. She continued her job search and went on interviews but wasn't offered a position. Making a deal with her landlord gave her a discount on the rent in exchange for cleaning and painting empty apartments. When it was time to pay for the tags and registration on the car, she realized she hadn't budgeted for that and the decision was made to sell it, providing her with a little cash to tuck away for emergencies.

Through it all, Susan's brother was a source of strength, emotional support and good sense. One conversation she found very valuable in helping her keep it together...

"I wanted to talk to you about Danny," Bill's voice was calm.

"What about him? He's doing great." Susan wondered where this was coming from.

"That's my point. Who's the family expert on teenage boys?"

"You because you were one?" she rolled her eyes.

"Of course. Danny is doing great and has been all along, but he's still a sixteen-year-old who has never had this much responsibility before. No, don't interrupt. Let me finish. Eventually, he will act out; it may be at work or school or home or even with his friends, but it will happen. The reason I'm telling you this is because you are under extreme pressure also and when he snaps you have to be the adult and not overreact."

That was it; just a simple warning that she remembered when Danny's grades dropped and he had a fight with his best friend. Her calm attitude and willingness to look for solutions led to him turning to her when he needed help studying. He also apologized to Dave and they were able to cheerfully compare black eye to fat lip battle scars.

Meanwhile, the economy tottered along on the edge of disaster. December proved to be the worst holiday shopping season in modern times. Even those who habitually overspent on gifts weren't buying or travelling. This pinch was felt by supporting industries as two minor and one major airline declared bankruptcy. The big delivery services faced cut hours instead of the normal December overtime and even Amazon implemented layoffs. In January, the ripple effect hit the banks hard.

It was a Friday afternoon when the debit cards stopped working. Danny's boss had hung a hand-written sign by the cash register saying "Credit cards or cash only" by the time Danny showed up for his shift.

"What's with the sign?" he asked a co-worker as he pulled on an apron and hair net.

"Something wonky with the debit cards. They only work if 'credit' is selected. If you take a phone order make sure you warn them. You know we never took checks, right?"

"Weird." Danny shrugged it off. He didn't even have a bank account, usually cashing his weekly check at the register. He kept enough money to pay for his reduced lunches at school and gave the rest to his mom. One of the perks of working for a busy pizza branch was there was almost always a mistake or two on the orders and they got to eat those for free. Sometimes he wished he could work every evening for that, but practically, he knew his mom was right about his schoolwork. And, secretly, he thought he might actually get sick of pizza!

After closing, he waited the normal five minutes for the bus to his street. If the sidewalks were clear he preferred to ride his bike, but that didn't happen often in the winter. At least his school-issued bus pass got him home for free. For the short ride he always sat near the front. Tonight, he heard arguments behind him, "I'm telling you I can't transfer any money! The bank's entire website is shut down." 

"Well, I don't have any cash. What the **** are we supposed to eat? You should use a different bank. That one sucks."

"ALL the banks are offline. Haven't you been listening? It's all over Twitter."

"So why wasn't it on the News? You can't believe everything you read."

"Well, duh. They keep it off the News, but they can't stop people from talking."

The couple was still bickering as they disembarked. Danny watched them through the window and wished they had stayed on longer so he could hear more. As soon as he got home, he asked his mom if she knew anything about it. 

"Yes, Bill called and warned me that there were problems but he didn't know how bad it would get. He was worried that we might not be able to get our money out again." Her eyes danced in amusement at the irony. She had closed her bank account months ago when the fees started to add up because she no longer had direct deposits going in. She paid bills using money orders now. "He was going to call the rest of the family to give them the warning also."

"Why wouldn't everyone just get their money out on Monday when the banks open?" Danny was confused, not seeing the possibilities.

"That's the one thing the banks don't want to happen. It's also why this doesn't make sense. If everyone tries to get their money at once the banks will be in big trouble because they don't keep that much cash. I wish I knew what will happen next. Something must be very wrong for all the banks to do this at the same time."

Monday morning found Susan checking the local news on her laptop. "Whoa..." she breathed as the anchor read the announcement that the banks would remain closed today due to a 'glitch' in the system. Even he was unable to keep the skepticism off his face.

Morbid curiosity led her to look at what was trending on social media. Unsurprisingly, it was a storm of panic, fury and denial. With a sigh, she shut down the laptop and tried to imagine how she would have reacted before her life was upended. She probably would have felt panic as well; she rarely used cash then and only bought enough groceries for a week at a time. Then a scary thought crossed Susan's mind: what would happen if her landlord couldn't pay the utility bills?

When classes were over that afternoon, Danny met Dave in the school weight room. All of the equipment was older and donated, but any student could use it. Normally, one of the coaches or a senior student kept an eye on things so nobody messed around and got hurt. This time the boys started with their usual jokes about spending all their time on biceps and looking like lop-sided Popeyes; soon, though, they were soberly talking about the bank situation between sets. 

"My parents were talking about it this morning. See, there were supposed to be rules set up back when they bailed the banks out so that wouldn't happen again. Dad thinks the rules didn't work and they're trying to figure a way out without getting the public all riled up again." Dave paused to spot Danny's lifts, then continued, "He thinks the bankers are right to be scared. Some of the guys who got laid off at the same time as him are mad as **** and if they lit off it wouldn't be like one of those stupid riots where they burn their own neighborhoods and steal stuff."

"What would they do?" Danny asked.

"Dunno. They don't really trust Dad because he's black and it's probably better he doesn't know because Mom is so strict about church and stuff she might turn them in."

"Wait, wait, wait." Danny waved his arms, "What's this about you being black? Why didn't you tell me? Why am I the last to find out?"

"Jerk." Dave mock-punched him in the arm. "Listen. I heard them arguing last night. Mom's hours got cut at work and Dad's unemployment runs out in another month. They're talking about us moving in with my grandma."

"But she lives..."

"Yeah, in Wichita." Dave stared glumly back. They had been best friends since their first days at school. 


Part 3


Leigh said...

You say this isn't going to be a book, but it ought to be! Very well written and the story draws the ready right in. Can't wait for part 3!

tpals said...

Thank you! Maybe I'll put it on Amazon as a freebie when I finish.