Be Careful What You Wish For
Jack’s day started out poorly. It’s not like it was any big surprise, every day seemed to start out poorly. This day happened to include a parking ticket on his car. Great. He was already short this month because they had cut his hours back at the deli. That had been the bad start a week ago when his boss informed him of his cut hours. Apparently, it was the slow season for sliced meats. Jack only cared so far as it concerned his paycheck, and this time it certainly did. He was down to less than part-time, with rent due in a week and no other work prospects. His mom would scold him for not saving money. What money? There hadn’t ever been anything extra to save!
He wouldn’t call his mom though. She thought it was stupid that he took the job anyway. Of course, he would fail at being a deli meat slicer. “Why not work at a magazine?” She would say. “Why not a newspaper?” He was going to school for journalism anyway, why not? She didn’t seem to get that even “entry-level” these days meant college degree or five years experience. The deli gig was the only thing that would take him with his work history, which was none. If she’d just help him pay for... of course not.
He was failing at school too. He loved writing, but writing for journalism was a different animal, and there was so much more to it than just writing. He wasn’t great at talking to people, so interviews were a chore, and he hated being in sticky situations or confrontations, which meant investigative journalism was definitely out... he didn’t care about sports, he wasn’t interested in fashion or movie stars... what was he ever going to write about?
Today’s first hateful event, besides the parking ticket, was going to be a meeting with his journalism advisor. It was always the same thing. “You have to have passion in your writing!” and “It’s obvious you don’t care about your subject matter, ” and “Why did you want to be a journalist in the first place? Maybe you should just be an English major.” He got that one the most often. Maybe you should suck a fish, he thought bitterly as he thought back on previous meetings before knocking on his advisor’s door.
“Jack, right on time, come in,” his advisor said as he opened the door.
Jack nodded his head as he entered.
“Please sit, we’ve got a few things to discuss.” The tall, balding man placed himself behind his large desk with the small nameplate that read “Professor Theodor R Hudgins” on it in fake gold lettering. He folded his hands in front of him. “Jack, I want you to know I’ve been in your corner from the beginning. I want you to succeed, but” there was a brief pause, “but I’m really starting to think you’re just not cut out for journalism.”
Jack had had this conversation with him before. He wasn’t surprised, and he didn’t particularly have anything to say. He just rolled his eyes.
“Jack. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. In this business, you have to be a go-getter. You have to want to tell the story, the truth, even when people tell you not to. You have to be able to stand up for yourself. You’ve never been able to give me a solid reason for being here, and you don’t show any passion or initiative in your writing - ”
“I do have passion sir,” Jack cut in defensively, “I just haven’t found the subject I’m passionate about!”
“Jack, you’re failing three classes, and two of them are journalism classes. The third is a research class! Jack, sometimes the thing you want is not necessarily the thing that’s right for you.”
Jack studied his shoes. Professor Hudgins hadn’t ever been quite this direct before. He was basically telling Jack to give up. What kind of teacher did that?
“Jack, I’m putting in the paperwork to take you out of the program. You’re going to waste you’re precious time and money here, and I’m sure there’s something out there you are better suited for. I just need your signature.”
“What?!” Jack was up and out of his chair the moment he processed what the Professor said. Seriously?! “How can you do that?!” What kind of professor is he?! “No, I will not give you my signature! Are you telling me to just give up? Seriously?” Not one thing in his life was going right!
Professor Hudgins sighed. “That’s the most passion I’ve seen in you all year? Maybe you should write about this? I’ll give you a week to think about it. I urge you to seriously consider it though. There are other careers you could pursue.” He leaned back in his chair, waiting for a response.
“Sure. Fine. Whatever. I get a week right? Can I go now? Is there anything else?” The Professor shook his head, and Jack got up and stormed out of the room. He was so tired of everyone telling him what he couldn’t do. He heard it enough in his own head, he didn’t need it from other people too.
Work wasn’t much better. It was deli meat. It made him smell like deli meat, and he was in constant fear of losing all his fingers in the slicer. He knew it happened; he had read news articles about it. Maybe if it did happen, though, he could write an article about it and become a smash hit overnight. Fat chance. No one would care about his missing fingers, no matter how passionately he might be able to write about it.
His boss sent him home early. Again. It was bad enough getting his schedule cut, but he didn’t even get to complete the hours he was given.
On the way home his car started making small shuddering noises.
“Aw, come on man, not this too...” He stopped at a light and revved the engine, which seemed to help a little, but then it stalled. He tried the ignition a couple of times, but it wouldn’t start. The light turned green. “Seriously?!?!” He slammed his head on the steering wheel and reached his hand up to turn on the hazard blinkers without looking. Maybe he should just give up on everything. It obviously wasn’t just journalism that he sucked at. Angry drivers honked at him as they passed. Jack lifted his head and looked up at the night sky through his windshield.
A bright flash of light illuminated his vision. It streaked across the sky, more vivid than any shooting star he had ever seen. “Beautiful...” he whispered. Maybe this was a sign. Jack didn’t have much faith in prayer or anything of the sort, but sitting there in his stalled car, with no future prospects, a quickly disappearing job, and no idea how he was going to pay rent... or the ticket for that matter, he felt lost. In his desperate moment he called out to the shooting star whose afterglow was still visible in his eyelids when he closed his eyes, “Please, please... star light star bright or whatever... change my life, I’m so tired of this one...” He let out a sigh and tried the ignition one more time.
His car started. It was a miracle, a small miracle, but a miracle nonetheless. He got home, got into his apartment, shut the door, and heaved a sigh that nothing else had managed to go wrong. His car started, maybe other stuff would start to go right too. I mean, things can only go wrong for so long righ--
There was a knock at his door. He was still standing with his back against it and it startled him. Jesus, what now. He slowly opened the door.
The apartment manager was standing on his doorstep. He was a short man, middle-aged, and he held a black cat in his arms. Jack’s breath caught in his chest. Wait, but it wasn’t rent time yet. Maybe there had been a sewer back up, or they were going to be doing electrical work on the unit or something. They were always needing to do work. “Yeah?” he croaked, “can I help you with something?”
The man had a strange look on his face. “Hey, kid. You’re the only one left. Can you aah.. aahh,” he stood with his mouth open for a moment “choo!” He sniffled. “Sorry, can you do me a favor? You see... I found this cat. One of the tenants who just moved out left him behind... I don’t want to take him to the pound ’cause I know what they’ll do to the poor thing, and ”
“Can’t you take him?” Jack asked, with his hands up in front of him.
“I would but I’m aaah...ahhh...CHOO...allergic. Please please?” Jack only just noticed how red the little man’s eyes were.
“I don’t know... I’m not really prepared, but...” He looked at the black cat with foreboding. If shooting stars could start his car again, he wondered what kind of misfortune taking a black cat in would unfold. No, it’s not a good idea...
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Before he realized it, the cat was being shoved in his arms and the little manager was scurrying away. “I think his name was Oliver, thanks again!” And he was gone.
Jack stood in the doorway holding the cat, bewildered. “Oliver, huh?” The cat purred in response and butted his head up under Jack’s chin. Great. One more thing.