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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"The Job Market"

My scrapbook started out with a collection of family pictures from before because, at first, our family of four was the only thing that mattered. But now there is Vinny and my mother and I’m thinking that Jack is right, that there are new snapshots to take into our hearts. I’m eager to develop my first roll of film. There are pictures of Vinny with a spatula in his hand, and my mother crossing her eyes and holding Jack in her lap; pictures of Zelda licking chocolate ice-cream from her lips, of Jack standing proudly beside his spear; pictures of Seth playing video games; even pictures of our Meadowview apartment and Ms. Krantz shooing me away with a box of Chinese takeout in her hand. The photos have become a lifeline of their own, the past bleeding into the present, and back again.

“Please wait here, Benjy,” Meeka says and steps out of the Bentley.

“Of course, Miss Jones. Best of luck to you both,” he says and smiles the same cryptic smile my mother gave me last week.

“This is it,” Meeka says and squeezes my hand. I look up at the cursive sign of the Quick-n-Save and my heart starts racing. It is too soon to tell if this is a good or bad thing.

My mother returned from therapy last night and asked me to sit down. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, Amelia, and I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, always flying in to save you. You need to learn how to save yourself and fly on your own wings.” Her words were too Hallmark-y to be her own. They were, no doubt, coming from the man who made two-hundred and fifty bucks an hour. “So go get that job across the street!” She tousled my hair and yawned.

“Are you sure?” With no obstacle in my path, the idea of working at the Quick-n-Save didn’t seem as exciting. “I mean, it could be a lot of hours on my feet.”

She’d told me I was big and strong now, nearly fifteen. And now Meek and I are standing inside the Quick-n-Save but I’m feeling too young to consider spending my free time trapped inside this store.

But Meeka is leading us to the cash register and asking a boy with an, I’M CHRISTIAN, LET ME HELP YOU Quick-n-Save nametag who is in charge. He gestures to a large woman with colorful turkeys hanging from her ears. She looks like Mike Myers’ Linda Richmond character from SNL. Only she is barking at a skinny boy unloading boxes of hairspray and Linda Richmond would never do something mean like this.

Christian must see the look on our faces because he tells us that Annette’s bark is worse than her bite. He asks us what school we go to and when we tell him he smiles. “That’s cool, me too. Can you believe we graduate in like half a year? It’s crazy!”

Meeka and I look at each other. Without speaking, we know that the other is ecstatic to be mistaken for a senior in high school. Sometimes, being tall, and in my case, having old lady boobs, helps.

“I’ll tell you what’s crazy, Picasso. Me letting you keep this job when you aren’t doing a damn thing,” Annette says, slapping Christian on the back. But she winks at us when she says this and is out of breath from her walk over to us so I’m thinking that maybe her bark is all she’s got. “You helping these girls or just flirting?” She smiles and I see red lipstick smeared on her yellowed-front teeth.

Meeka explains that we are interested in working at her establishment in whatever capacity is needed and I’m wondering how long she’s been practicing this grown-up speech.

“Where the hell are you from?” Annette asks and removes a cigarette and lighter from her navy-blue work smock.

“Trinidad,” Meeka says, jutting her long neck forward.

She nods her head and pops the cigarette into the side of her mouth. I can tell by the way Annette squints that this is the first time she’s heard of Meeka’s country. “Do all you guys talk like that? All fancy and shit?”

Christian rolls his eyes and helps a customer check out. Meeka shakes her head, an uneasy smile on her face. In her ivory tower house on the beach, people do not talk this way and Quick-n-Save’s don’t exist.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just joshin’ you,” she says, the cigarette bobbing up and down in her mouth. “You got your working papers?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“You know those forms that say you’re legal to work.” She raises a manicured hand with palm trees painted on each long nail.

“I’m not an alien. I have dual-citizenship. Mother’s American,” Meeka says and sucks her teeth.

“Well, Christ, I didn’t even think about that one. No, I mean proof that you’re sixteen or older.” She is flicking the cigarette lighter and I am amazed that her nails aren’t catching on fire.

“I’m fifteen.” Meeka says this like that number should be close enough. I watch her shoulders hunch when Annette chuckles and says “no cigar” before breathlessly exiting the front door for her cigarette break.

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