This is a work of fiction.
The next morning, I go into the kitchen to make breakfast, and see the plate of food for Mom still on the table. With a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, I throw it out, put the plate in the sink to wash later, and take out a package of frozen waffles and some frozen strawberries.
Just as I’m drying the dishes, Dad comes into the kitchen. He’s pale and his hands are shaking a little.
“Hi Dad. Would you like something to eat?”
“No. Victoria’s coming at ten.”
It’s not, but I can’t say that.
“There’s more. I lost my job.” He doesn’t seem to want to look at me directly. “You can stay until Mona needs her own room.”
“Look, I’m going to have to do whatever I can to keep Mona fed and keep the house. You can stay until she needs your room.”
“What happened with your job?”
“I lost it.”
“I mean, why?”
“Because I don’t have a marketing degree.”
“But you work so hard.”
“Doesn’t matter. You understand what I said, right? You can stay until Mona needs her own room.”
I don’t, but what can I say? Where will I go? What will I do? At least he’s giving me time to figure it all out. Then the question hits me.
“When will Mona need her own room?”
“I’ll find out.”
To distract myself from having to leave the place that’s been my home for sixteen happy years, I go to my room and open my laptop. I have some e-mails. One is from the English professor explaing all about the essay he wants. The next one is from the contact form on my website.
My name is Rachel, and I absolutely love love your artwork. I’m writing a children’s book and was wondering if you could draw the illustrations. If you’re interested, I’ve attached a copy of the manuscript and a few details of what I’d like to commission. If you could get back to me with a quote, I’d really appreciate it. I’m sure you’re extremely busy, but I’m hoping to self-publish my book within the next year.
She wants a quote?
The doorbell rings. I close the laptop.
“What’s that smell?” Victoria says, as soon as Dad opens the door.
“Bleach. I washed the kitchen and bathroom with it.”
“No, that other smell.”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“Let’s go through the house and find out what it is. It’s quite disruptive, and it could potentially interfere with Mona’s immune system, which is not a good thing when you consider that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.” I hear them going into the kitchen. “What did you have for breakfast?”
“I’m not sure. Billy cooked something from the freezer.”
“Let’s have a look.” I hear her opening the freezer. “Well, that explains it. All of this needs to be discarded immediately.”
“Why? It’s frozen. It smells fine when he cooks it.”
“See these ice crystals? They’re a sign that the freezer hasn’t been properly maintained. Frankly, I’m surprised that you aren’t all sick, especially considering the fact that he wouldn’t know the correct procedures to make sure that the food is safe to consume. I’ll go in to see Mona. All this needs to be taken outside right now. You need a new freezer since this has been going on for so long.”
“All of it?”
“Yes, every single item, and unplug the unit as well. Really, the best thing would be to take the whole thing outside right now.”
“I’m not sure if I’m strong enough.”
“Well, that boy living with you is good for something, I suppose.”
“Hey, now, he’s—”
“I’m aware that he’s adopted. I have a patient to see, if you don’t mind.”
Why doesn’t he just tell her to leave?
An hour later, I hear her telling Dad that she’s finished.
“I have a question,” he says.
“Yes, what is it?” She sounds impatient, like she’s humoring a child.
“When will Mona require her own room?”
“As soon as possible.”
I’ll have to try and find some place else to go.
As soon as she’s gone, Dad knocks on my door and asks me to help him move the freezer outside. I can refuse, but he’s already thrown out all the food, so I say nothing and help him put it out.
I’m hungry again, but when I ask Dad if he or I should go to the store, he says he went yesterday so we should be fine for at least a week. I hesitate to point out that he only bought bleach, and in the pause, he walks away. Poor Dad. I’m going to have to look into ordering online, except it’ll be so expensive, and I really don’t have much money.
I go to my room and open the laptop. I see Rachel’s e-mail. A quote? Is it real or some kind of prank? That must be it. But why would she do that? I click on the file she’s attached. It’s a pretty good book, but I see some typos. Should I mention them? The story would be a lot more exciting if there were illustrations. I open the other file she’s sent. I read the details of what she’s looking for. How much will I ask for? I know I can paint what she’s after, and it’d be a great distraction. Should I tell her she’s my first customer?
I spend an hour on Google, researching what other illustrators charge, and then I open a reply to her e-mail.
I really liked reading your book and the ideas you have for the pictures. I have to be honest with you. You’re my first customer and I looked up what other people charge and decided to ask for 3/4 of the average rate.
I don’t want to be rude or step on your toes but I found a couple of typing errors in your book. Would you like me to highlight them?
I name the amount I’d like, sign my name, and send the e-mail.
By the end of the day, I’m starving, but I’ve opened a PayPal account and am hard at work on the pictures. (She tells me she’s still working on the book and she’ll fix the typos.)