OIL IN WATER
Kori rummaged through her purse, searching for spare change. Frustrated, she dumped the contents onto the bed. She picked two crumpled dollar bills and a few coins from the debris, turned to her night stand drawer and found four more coins inside.
She ran down to the basement and threw open the swinging doors to the little room where the washer and dryer sat. Perched above the machinery were two rows of six-foot long shelves which, in another incarnation, served as bleacher seats for the local high school football stadium. Marty had rescued them from the trash heap when the township had built a bigger stadium, whitewashed them and bolted them to the wall. Instead of pubescent derrieres, they now housed laundry detergents, dryer sheets and stain removing products, used sparingly since Ruth’s death.
Stepping over the mound of dirty clothes, Kori pulled a small box from the shelf, about the size of two decks of cards, and rifled through its contents. Three dozen coins, several buttons, a Sharpie magic marker, and a single ear plug – Kori had tossed the mate, mangled and melted beyond recognition — had survived the dryer, hapless travelers in an unplanned foray through the cotton cycle. She dumped the contents of the box into her hand and weeded out everything but the coins. She counted the money: $5.76. That plus the money she got from ravaging the rest of the house and she had about $13. Enough to buy a gallon of milk, some bread, peanut butter and jelly for Gil, a pack of hot dogs and buns, a head of lettuce, a few other miscellaneous items.
But what about tomorrow? They were out of fresh fruits and vegetables, the only thing left was canned goods: tuna, beans, corn and the like. She could live on the cans for a couple days, maybe even three or four, but after awhile the pallor of her skin indicated her body’s disapproval. She clenched her teeth and threw the money to the floor, scattering change to the four directions. Filled with regret, she slumped down after it, falling in a dejected heap on the floor. She sobbed for several minutes, the crescendo a high-pitched wail, and then, silence. She rolled over and lay on the floor, her breathing shallow, her eyes dazed and unseeing.
After several minutes she walked to her work area, flipped on the computer. Beyond the screen, the French doors of the walkout basement beckoned her eyes to the east, that place of peace and spiritual renewal, of new beginnings. Kori breathed in the pastoral setting, allowing the spiritual rejuvenation it afforded to settle in her bones. She took a deep breath and pulled up some client billing information.
The bill was sent two days ago. Her hand hovered above the keyboard a moment and then she began. She added a few hours to the labor, a few dollars to supplies, tweaking it here and there, enough to increase it by almost $200. Then she composed a letter of explanation.
Dear Sir or Madame,
It has come to our attention that the bill you received on 11/14 was in error. Enclosed please find a more accurate accounting of work performed on your behalf. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Also, the billing cycle has been shortened. Please remit payment to the undersigned within the twenty (20) days of the date of this letter. Please be advised that failure to pay in a timely fashion will result in incurring late charges which will begin to accrue immediately at the close of the grace period. Prompt payment is therefore, requested.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Very truly yours,
Kori jumped so high she banged her thighs on the bottom of the computer table and sent the mouse flying. She turned to glare at the interloper.
“Geez, Gil. Don’t sneak up on a person like that.”
“I didn’t sneak. I walked right down the stairs. It’s not my fault if you didn’t hear me.” Gil peered over Kori’s shoulder to read what was on the computer screen. Embarrassed, Kori closed the screen before Gil had the chance to figure out what she was up to. In an attempt to change the subject, Kori focused on Gil’s attire: pants that were two inches up from the ground and shirt sleeves that didn’t come anywhere near his wrists.
“Gil, what the heck are you wearing?”
“Very funny. I meant, why are you wearing clothes that are too small for you?”
“Because I can’t find anything else.” Kori glanced over toward the alcove that housed the washer and dryer. Even from here she could see several mounds of clothes behind the swinging doors threatening to overtake the little room. Kori sighed.
“You mean you only have a week’s worth of clothes?”
“Of clothes that fit.” Gil looked out the window transfixed.
“Kori. If you keep working on the computer, can we buy that farm?” Gil asked, looking out at the broad expanse of now slumbering fields.
“The farm?” Kori shook her head and laughed. “Well, if you want to buy the farm I suggest you get busy and invent something big because that farm’s gonna cost a lot more than I’ve got in the bank.
“I’m hungry,” Gil said. “And there’s no bread. Also almost no peanut butter.”
“All right,” she said, shutting the computer. “Help me pick up the money that’s all over the floor. Then we’ll go to the grocery store.”
Kori stood at the kitchen table unpacking the groceries: white bread, generic peanut butter and laundry detergent and a three-pack of soap, a gallon of milk. Avery walked in the door, bundled against the wind, backpack flung over his shoulder. He dropped his pack on the table, shed his hat and coat and flopped down in a chair. His cheeks looked red and chapped.
“How was school?” Kori asked.
“Fine.” He sighed without looking and absent-mindedly poked at the loaf of bread. “I need $75 to go on the field trip to D.C. To the Holocaust Museum.” Kori removed the bread from his grasp before he did further damage. “If I don’t go, I’ll have to spend the day hanging out with the kids in detention. Not that I’d be in detention, per se. It’s just that there wouldn’t be any other place to put me.” He did look at her now and Kori saw him so close to tears that her own heart threatened an emphatic split in two.
She sat down beside Avery and took a deep breath. “Go ahead and sell it.”
Avery’s eyes grew wide.
“I can’t stand this hand-to-mouth living anymore. And I can’t for the life of me figure out what else to do.”
Avery smiled, and Kori noted his eyes had taken on a translucent quality facilitated, she figured, by the wateriness in her own.
“It’ll be okay, Kori,” Avery said. “I promise.”
to be continued. . .
to read what came before leap here