Thursday, November 10, 2011
At the bottom of the stairs Betty anxiously awaited Jessie.
“And?” she said, inclining her head a little. “What did he want to see you for?”
“I just got fired,” Jessie said flatly.
“Fired!” Betty cried, not able to hide the outrage in her voice. “Why? What did you do? What did he fire you for?”
“Apparently a machine is going to do my job,” Jessie shrugged.
Betty was momentarily speechless. “I … I can’t believe it,” she eventually stammered. “How could he? And what do you mean a machine is going to do your job? How can a machine press shirts and blouses? It probably can do sheets and tablecloths and other flat things, but how can it do delicate things?”
Jessie merely shrugged.
“So where does that leave me?” Betty added as an afterthought. “Am I gonna be fired too?”
Jessie took a deep breath, shrugged again and shook her head. She had no idea. She also had no idea as to what she was supposed to do now. Was she supposed to finish her day, or should she say goodbye to everyone and just leave?
“Jessie,” both Jessie and Betty looked up at the sound of Jenny Sullivan’s voice as she came hurrying down the stairs. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
“I’ll talk to you later,” Betty said, sensing the two women needed some privacy.
“Wanna grab a cup of coffee?”
Jenny led the way to the cafeteria, poured two cups of coffee and took them over to a table by the window.
“What will you do now?”
“I don’t know,” Jessie said, cupping the coffee between her hands. “I was actually just thinking about that. Do I leave now, or do I finish the day?”
“You don’t have to finish the day,” Jenny shook her head. “You may leave right away if you like. But before you go I wanted to have a bit of a chat with you. What will you do now? What are your plans? I realize you haven’t had much time to consider your future and you’re probably still in shock, but…”
When Jenny stopped speaking, Jessie looked up. “But what?”
“Well I wanted to make a suggestion.”
Jessie waited for what was to come.
“I’ve been watching you and listening to you for some time now,” Jenny started tentatively, “and you seem like a very intelligent person. Every morning I see you come in with The New York Times and you don’t just skim the pages, you read the articles. And you talk differently than the other workers around here. You seem to know a lot about politics and the economy in general, and you use words like exemplify, governance and misconstrue. One would expect such language from a college graduate, not from a … laborer. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that you’re so well spoken, but you do seem a little out of place here. Behind a hot press I mean.”
Jessie was temporarily at a loss for words. On the one hand she felt slightly put off that Jenny was surprised she read the newspaper, took an interest in politics and the economy and knew a few intellectual words. Just because she worked with her hands didn’t mean she didn’t have a mind. But on the other hand she was flattered that Jenny was taking an interest in her, and she couldn’t wait to hear what she had to suggest.
“I think you can do better than working in a laundry,” Jenny went on. “I think by terminating your employment here, Mr. Muller might have done you the biggest favor.”
“So what do you suggest?” Jessie said, pinching her eyebrows together. “Are you saying that I should apply to work in a store?”
Jenny inclined her head. “Set your sights a little higher Jessie. Have you thought about going back to school? Perhaps take a course of some sort?”
“As a matter of fact I have,” Jessie admitted hesitantly. “But…”
“Courses are expensive. It would have been difficult enough to pay for a course while I was earning a monthly pay cheque, but now, now that I’ve lost my job…”
“On the contrary,” Jenny interrupted. “Now is the perfect time. While you were working it would have been hard to go to night school, but now that you’re not working you have the time to pursue a new career.”
“And what do you suggest I do for money?”
Jenny waved a dismissive hand. “Since it’s only a matter of money, take any job, any job at all. Be a waitress in a bar or a restaurant. It doesn’t pay much, but the tips can add up. Then once you’re finished with your course you can just walk out. Do something with your life Jessie.”
Jessie was about to mention that she didn’t know anything about waitressing when Jenny handed her two envelopes.
Jessie recognized her pay packet, but she wondered about the second envelope. “What is this?”
“This one is your pay cheque,” Jenny explained. “This week’s pay plus another four weeks as Mr. Muller promised. And this,” she tapped the second envelope, “is a gift from Mr. Muller himself. Invest it wisely.”
After Jenny had left her, Jessie reflected on the five years she had worked for Muller Laundry & Dry Cleaning Services. At age seventeen she had arrived at this building full of enthusiasm. She was going to be a working girl. No more classrooms and homework for her, she was a grown up and she was joining the working force. She had quickly become friends with all the other workers, especially Betty, who had started working for the laundry a little over a year ago and had shown her the ropes. They had sought out each other’s company outside work too. They often went shopping together, went for walks in the park or just visited each other at home. The years passed and when Jessie lost her parents in a car accident she suggested to Betty they become roommates, but as an only child Betty wouldn’t leave her widowed mother. In time Jessie considered herself happy. She had her own apartment, the furnishings – although mainly second hand stuff – were tasteful, and she loved her job. It wasn’t until she started dating and was repeatedly dumped after mentioning she was a press operator in a laundry service that she became unhappy with her job. Now her job had come to an unexpected end. According to Jenny, that was a blessing.
Jessie finished her coffee, went to the locker room to collect her handbag before heading for the exit. She knew she should say goodbye to everyone, but she couldn’t face them. She hated good-byes. She would see Betty tomorrow, and the others – when they heard the news – well, they would understand. Outside the gates she turned around for one last look. For everyone else the weekend was about to begin, followed by another work week. She had no idea what she would be doing next week.
That night in her apartment Jessie opened the gift envelope. To her utter amazement inside was a cheque in the amount of three thousand dollars and a note that read:
“Please accept this as a token of my appreciation for the last five years of excellent service.
Have fun with it.
Jessie knew right away what she would do with the windfall. Jenny had advised her to invest it wisely, Mr. Muller wrote to have fun with it. Well she was going to do both. She was going to invest part of the money in herself and enroll in a secretarial course, and with the rest she was going to go shopping, invest in a whole new wardrobe. Smiling she reached for the phone.
“Betty,” she said when the call was answered, “want to go to the mall with me tomorrow?”