Repetitious weeks slid by blending and blurring into mediocrity. For the third time, I fired off a revised piece of writing and crossed my fingers that it would meet with editorial approval. I liked to imagine that I owned some proficiency with the written word, but the truth was that I scrambled and scraped mightily to produce minimally. Still, I refused to quit, too dumb to realize my limitations, while deluding myself into believing that I might overcome them. The sunset secretary frequented the lunch wagon. She usually appeared after her co-workers had returned to their air-conditioned office cubicles, which nudged me to think about her in ways I should not. I cautioned myself to stay distant as she no doubt felt obliged to say ‘Hi’ when chance brought us into each other’s sphere.
Whenever she spoke beyond a simple greeting, I slipped away using work-related excuses wishing that I owned a small talk repertoire. Stylishly dressed in pantsuits and skirt and blazer power outfits, our incompatible apparel spoke volumes about the social gulf between us. She was a classy and conservative administrative assistant, while I was a parolee dishonourably discharged from the only future I had ever wanted, now headed for I-don’t-know-where and not in much of a hurry to get there. Our social chasm became the Grand Canyon. Things we might have shared in common grew fewer and farther distant until they vanished from view. There was no reason for us to speak. She would never be more than a pleasant ‘Hello’, not more than a bit of eye candy to enhance my day with what could have been. Better that I set a precedent now, while it was my choice than later on when a co-worker informed her of my past, and her opinion of me changed from gratitude to distrust, and then finally to contempt and condemnation.
Robert Mansbridge, Hidden Oaks owner, was privy to my parole status before I stepped foot onto company land. Aunt Ruth telephoned her husband’s sister’s brother-in-law, Darrell. Darrell’s wife, Darlene, called her friend Ruby. Ruby spoke to Cousin Gloria. Gloria’s husband, Charles Mansbridge, was Robert’s brother. Five minutes of listening to Aunt Ruth explain how she networked me an interview spun my brain in mothers’ sisters’ friend’s husband in-law circles from which there was no escape. Six degrees of separation lived within Aunt Ruth. Ever the optimist, she said Mansbridge had strong Christian values and would forgive my past. Right after those kind words, she told me to get up off my ass and make the request for a job interview because God hated a faithful procrastinator.
When Mansbridge enquired about my crime, I fired answers from the hip, quick and succinct with no-frills, as if I reported to a superior officer. Convinced that he only went through the motions to appease his brother’s wife, I spat out a hard-hitting, point-by-point, Joe Friday monologue. As soon as I walked out of his office, I figured he planned to reject my application, so I did my best to ease his conscience by relaying the facts, just the facts, nothing but the facts. He listened quietly, leaning back in his executive chair as if he contemplated a NAFTA summit proposal, fingers steepled, nodding his head generously, committing himself to nothing. Like any seasoned politician. At interview’s end, I waited to hear the escape clause. He did not disappoint. He required additional time to review our dialogue.
Two weeks passed.
Mansbridge asked me back for a second interview. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I complied. He told me the government was pushing a program offering wage-subsidizing incentives, but he looked anxious. As the interview wore on, it became obvious that he wrestled with something of great emotional weight. I assumed it was my past. Had our places been reversed, I would not have hired me either, but then he asked to speak to my parole officer. So I telephoned Mike Beck, granted permission to release information, handed the phone back to Mansbridge and departed his office a second time.
That was that I recall thinking.
Four days later Robert Mansbridge took a leap in faith that would forever change my life. Faith and charity landed me a job that I protected with gung-ho willingness to perform all tasks well. I felt like Barabbas. Blind, unwavering faith woke my cynicism. Did hiring me soothe his do-gooder conscience? Did it alleviate his guilt over the frayed seams of a bursting bank account? Insurance, I surmised, recalling Christ’s parable about the difficulty for a rich man to enter the pearly gates. Deep down, I envied unshakeable faith.Within days of starting work, word spread that a murderer stalked company grounds. Office personnel who had filled out the subsidized-wage forms ignored the Right to Privacy paragraph. While some co-workers were mildly curious about my past, most adopted a ‘do not talk to’ policy. The secretaries avoided me like herpes. As if I was an axeman on the verge of going postal. Some days I screwed with them. Every now and again when I entered the administration building to speak with an individual who looked particularly nervous to find me standing in front of his or her desk, I might say, “Have you seen my machete sharpener? I know I left it around here somewhere.” Mostly, complications with the potential to have me fired were something that kept me hyper-cautious. Most of my co-workers avoided me; I avoided them. My Christmas shopping list grew shorter. Valentine’s Day sucks and life goes on.