Saturday, December 23, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 3

While Susan was picking up her mail from the apartment complex postal area she bumped into a woman swearing into her cell phone. Murmuring apologies, she edged around and was leaving when the other woman disconnected and burst into tears of frustration. "Sorry, sorry," sobbed the stranger. "My sitter just told me they're shutting down. How am I supposed to find a new place by tomorrow? If I miss work..."

"Were you paid up in advance? Don't forget to get a refund before she disappears." Susan had gotten very practical about money and not letting emotion cloud her reactions.

"Oh! You're right. I totally spaced out on that; I'm paid through the end of next week. I'll go tell my husband what's going on and run over there now."

"That's right. First one there is more likely to get the money owed." Susan began walking away, then paused and turned back. "Wait. I know you don't know me, but I'm laid off, so if you need an emergency sitter tomorrow...well, here's my phone number. Call if you get desperate, okay?"

The other woman's eyes had narrowed suspiciously, then she slowly nodded as she took the number. Susan smiled briefly and left. As she entered her building, an elderly neighbor from the second floor was heading for the door, pulling her shopping trolley behind her. "Mrs. Perkins, good morning. Are you going shopping already?"

"Yes, Susan dear. Did you need something?"

"I was hoping to visit; it gets lonely when Danny is in school. May I walk with you?" She didn't mention the worrisome rumors about pedestrians being mugged in the area. A solitary woman in her eighties was too vulnerable for Susan to be comfortable.

Mrs. Perkins' smile brightened, "Why that would be lovely. Are you sure you don't mind the walk in the cold? I'm not very fast anymore. Would you believe I once ran for my school? That wasn't yesterday."

Susan chuckled delightedly; she loved the dry humor behind her neighbor's chatter. On the way back, she insisted on pulling the loaded trolley; the wheels tended to stick in the snow. She accepted a cup of tea and cookie in the Perkins' apartment and settled down to listen to the couple reminisce and argue. Afterwards, on her departure, Mrs. Perkins said, "So, I didn't need a bodyguard after all."

Susan stared at her guiltily, then laughed. "You saw right through me. It makes me feel useful though."

Her friend smiled gently and patted her arm, "I know, dear, and I enjoy your company. Shall I let you know next time before I go?"

"Yes, please." Susan was still chuckling at herself as she mounted the stairs to her floor.


Somehow the banks managed to open on Tuesday without the feared panic. There was some muttering about shifty deals behind the scenes, but nothing made it out into the media and the public soon went back to complacently expecting everything to carry on as usual.

"What's wrong, Mom?" Danny sat down across from Susan and began peeling an orange.

She frowned at the receipt she was holding, "Food prices keep rising. Almost everything has gone up at least 10% in the last month. Some are up by half!"

"What can we do? Grow our own?"

"Not really. We don't have any of the supplies to start with and our balcony is on the north side of the building. I'm afraid the results wouldn't be worth the investment. No, about all I can do is buy what I can now before the costs rise more. Can you go with me tonight and help carry some home? I'd like to get large bags of flour and rice. Beans are still cheap." She was jotting down a list.

"Beans? Are you trying to kill my social life?" Danny had slumped down in his chair.

Susan raised an eyebrow, "Well, I'm open to suggestions."

He opened his mouth to make a sarcastic comment when his gaze landed on the empty space where the television used to sit, "Never mind. What are you doing today?"

"I'm watching the Calhoun kids this morning. Then I'll go to the library to go online and fill out my unemployment data for the week."

"You know, something about giving up the internet makes it feel like our lives are never going back to normal."

"I..." Susan ran down and shrugged helplessly.

"Yeah." Danny slouched back to his room.


Susan slowly moved the phone away from her ear and stared at it in disbelief. She could still hear her sister's shrill voice shouting as she calmly ended the call. When it rang again moments later she turned it off.

"What was that?" Danny asked from the door.

"That was Aunt Peggy. She just found out that Aunt Stephanie and her boyfriend moved in with your grandparents and has decided it's my fault."

"Wait. What? We live in a different state. How could you have stopped them?" Danny dropped his backpack and started shedding his coat and hat. 

"Logic isn't Peggy's strength. She won't blame our parents for overindulging Steph, but it has to be someone's fault."

"She's not going to forgive you for hanging up on her."

"Whoops," Susan's unrepentant grin said just how much that wasn't worrying her.

"Can you imagine living with your parents at your age? Yikes!"

Susan's smile faded, "Honestly, that was my backup plan."

Danny looked stunned, "Are we losing the apartment? What are we going to do?"

"No, no. We aren't even behind. I'm just trying to plan ahead."

"How old are you, Mom?"

"Thirty-four. Why?"

"Just under the wire! You could join the army." 

"Really. And what would you be doing while I'm on the fast-track to general?"

Danny chuckled, "I haven't figured that out yet."

"Well, you're doing a good job thinking outside the box, but potential homelessness doesn't feel like the right reason to enter the military."


The economy continued to stagger along as corporations constricted with pay cuts and hiring freezes. Smaller companies were shutting down entirely. Income and sales tax revenues plummeted, causing state governments to slash the funds to schools and universities. This, combined with falling enrollment, forced the Boards of Regents to halt the normal expansion projects on campuses and impose cutbacks to personnel. 

Each event caused multiple reactions which precipitated even more events, not just in the U.S.A., but globally. From the personal when a job loss meant a foreclosure and the relocation of a family to live with relatives to the corporate where dropped stock dividends left it open to a hostile takeover.

Susan leaned back from the library's computer terminal with a grim smile on her face. The CEO of her former employer had just been forced out of his position. An arrogant man who hated admitting he had ever made a mistake, even to the point of carrying on with damaging policies for years, was not someone she had any sympathy for. 

Continuing her search, she was quickly learning that relocating was unlikely to help her situation. She simply didn't have a skill set that could find a position anywhere.

On the walk home she called her brother. After asking how his wife was responding to the chemotherapy, she brought up her idea, "I've been thinking about going to school. Weighing the pros and cons between going into debt and learning a new career option. I know you always thought I made a mistake by getting married instead of an education."

"Well, you always said Danny was worth anything you gave up. Do you still want to be a nurse?"

"Yes. I can apply now for a spot in this Fall's program and student loans. What do you think? Am I missing anything?"

"I think it's a smart choice for you since it was your dream job and it's likely to get you a job even when times are bad. At least you aren't falling into the lottery trap." Bill was referring to the surge in lottery ticket sales as people pinned their hopes on winning big to fix all their problems. "I heard that's why Stephanie had to move in with the folks; she spent all her money on lottery tickets."

"What! No way, even she wouldn't be that silly."

"She might not be, but her boyfriend is." Bill's wry tone expressed his opinion of that young man.

Part 4

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