Today is another day in which I sit on this busy, talkative train on the morning route to work.
I’m not just sequestered to a lonely area where I’m divulging all my pertinent thoughts. In fact, I can’t—I’m sitting aside a teenager distractedly banging her head to big headphones. Her closed eyes don’t bother the sitting and standing people hanging on to metal poles and bars.
Mornings are synonymous with everydayness.
But I get up with a cheery smile (for Marcela), dress and feed Conner, Equestria, Emily, Cat, Tom, Celebrity and Olivia before Dog whisks them off to school, waving the grumpy bus driver goodbye. My seven children do attend school, while I attend to my duties in the office. My starch white shirt is a little plaid—faint lines of blue appear.
I just hope my children notice it one day.
Because they haven’t.
My seven children—all of them already teenagers, the oldest about to graduate high school in five months—just waltz into the kitchen, grab an apple or banana from the counter’s fruit bowl and zip their homework and lunch-filled backpacks. They don’t see me. I’m not there.
Every morning, I wrap my arms around their waists, picking up the youngest—an eighth-grader—but he squirms away, dashing towards the cereal in the large pantry bursting with various choices of snack packs, cereals, cereal bars and other goodies children and adults alike enjoy.
I’m getting pretty sick of being ignored. My husband reminds me before he sees those seven younger people off to school that they didn’t like me the moment they were born. I was just someone in their life.
Amelia sniffed. And blinked so the tears of remorse from being their mother didn’t rain down her face.
I’m a workaholic.
I work even on weekends.
My husband, he too works. Sundays even.
But he’s not going to work this Sunday. Just me.
Maybe work will catch their attention. I mean, that’s all I’m here for, right? I don’t understand what else will force them to finally see me as their mother. Maybe they’ll want me one day. Maybe they’ll look for me, finding me in my office, or on the phone—
The train was slowing, Amelia just noticed, as she looked up at red words sliding across the electronic sign. It then stopped, and a woman’s mechanical voice alerted the passengers this stop was South Jackson Street and 5th Avenue South.
But Amelia had two more stops to go. She looked at her watch. 6:45 am. Work started at 8. Maybe she could get a bite to eat with Marcela—
Amelia, smiling cheerily, answered quick as a wink.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Her voice bubbled with joy.
Then Amelia looked up, spotting two pretty black boots and a shiny new coat enter the crowded train. The person sat beside her. As Marcela handed her a steaming cup of coffee, Amelia continued.
“I already have my breakfast.” She sipped her drink. Amelia looked at her own and thanked her.
“What I usually do!”
“Thanks!” Amelia caught her diary just as it slipped off her lap onto the metal floor. The train remained still as some passengers exited and then the doors finally slid shut. As it continued its venture forward, Amelia discussed her need for her best friend to help her steal her children’s attention.
“Oh…” Marcela exhaled, Amelia hoping she wasn’t offending her by bringing her woes up again. “I know. It’s something I go through too. My daughter was killed in an accident, but let’s not bring it up,” they put their heads together, “here.”
She brought out her phone. Amelia responded by turning so she sat diagonally on the seat. Marcela stayed where she was. She continued the electronic conversation.
I’m sorry for your loss, Marcela. You loved Cassie like a mother hen loves her own young. But Cassie’s death is nothing compared to my loveless life—
Dog’s an amazing man, Amelia.
Sure, Olivia may share your name in a way, but she’s out drinking with her girlfriends. Some group they are. Conner’s stealing from every thrift shop he can swoop in and out of. Emily’s on her way to winning another Emmy award. Equestria’s ran away. Cat and Tom sneak into theatres and prank nasty ones on restaurant owners. Celebrity’s following Emily like she’s her best friend. Emily just ignores her. But Celebrity’s got more talent than Emily could ever have. It’s sad to know your children may not want you. You may not be their object of desire.
“But…” Amelia looked down at her diary as the train slowed.
Dog was always working, too.
They cuddled together every night, his long arm extended around her pajama shoulders while the TV lit the room—and their faces with excitement at the newly released season of one of Amelia’s favorite shows. Dog brought home the weekend groceries, spent summers building a wooden shed behind the small house and took the kids out for a camping adventure every August to celebrate one last weekend of summer before the school buses roared into the neighborhood.
But the kids have grown up, trading the river’s saltwater for the bar’s alcohol. Golden awards were won rather than a fish. Taking things not his, instead of thanking his father for giving him a snuggly sleeping bag and a cotton piece of cloth stretched over a metal pole from end to end to sleep in.
Celebrity’s recently abandoned Emily for fame, drinking in the sound of his name and encouraging his fans to be louder, wishing they were faster and earlier to his basketball games so they could see him shoot the farthest, dunk the hardest and fly the highest. Celebrity’s found his place. In fact, Emily and Celebrity have been attending each other’s award ceremonies and partying at each other’s summer houses.
The summers aren’t so hot anymore. Camping equipment is abandoned for bodyguards. The fishes’ river is forsaken for the never-ending flow of cash into the pockets of children whose value comes from the green paper they put into their accounts at the end of the day.
A mother’s hugs at the end of a school day are just—
“No one enters Amelia’s circle.” Amelia continued quietly to sipping, nodding Marcela. “Except Tag, the golden retriever Dog’s thinking of giving to someone else. No one rides Tag anymore. No one wants to hang out with a family pet when they can be reaching for the sky. Equestria’s galloping mares jump at equestrian tryouts, flashing her silver harness whenever she breaks another speed record at the Kentucky Derby.
“Equestria, of all my children, should—”
Amelia jerked up, swallowing nervously. She shook as she gathered her things, and then walked off the train with Marcela warning her to have better situational awareness. Nodding her head brusquely, Amelia stopped short. She reached a hand back and crinkled her face in disgust as she slowly pulled it back around. Glaring at the sticky bubble gum stretched between her middle finger and her lower back, Amelia ordered Marcela to scrape off the stuff and throw it away in one of the train station’s trash cans.
Marcela told her she needed to focus. Amelia groaned, the gum peeling slowly but stubbornly. Amelia then balled her fists as Marcela wadded up the gum and tossed it into the bin nearby. Should this crap happen ever again, Amelia warned, she was going to stick it on her children’s pillows.
“What if they don’t care?”
“They will.” Amelia’s hands relaxed. “They will when the paparazzi’s pictures reveal something orange on their forehead!”
“Amelia,” Marcela skidded around her, and Amelia screeched to a halt. “Vengeance will not make your children love you. Your anger is only going to drive you towards it. Don’t let it.” Then she looked around herself. “I must’ve set my coffee down! Where’s yours?”
Amelia reassured her she’d buy more when they both got to the office.
Walking up two flights of stairs and then crossing the parking lot to Marcela’s small blue van, Amelia smiled—at least Marcela was the passenger. Amelia was always grateful Marcela let her use her car, as Amelia didn’t like driving her huge, clunky Soccer Mom minivan. She told Marcela she was thinking of selling that stupid thing.
“Conner will only swindle the money.”
Amelia remained icily silent the whole trip to the office. Her morning slogged. Mid-morning, Marcela reminded Amelia she had some coffee to buy.
“Right.” Amelia walked over to the coffee vending machine, but Marcela, seeing Amelia’s brows furrow upon deciding Marcela’s drink, gently moved Amelia aside. Amelia rubbed her eyes, but Marcela insisted.
“After all, you consoled me while I sobbed at Cassie’s funeral. You’re not just there—you’re my friend.”
Amelia agreed. After returning to their papers and computers, Marcela heard Amelia’s boss in the room next door yell at her about another unedited document.
“Don’t tell me you’re too busy. You’ve had a week!”
The slapping of paper onto what a frowning, wide-eyed Marcela knew was an assumedly teary-eyed woman’s desk turned into her watching a sniffling Amelia storm away. Marcela shook her head.
But Amelia, Marcela noticed, continued striving to perform her best for Mr. Walrus, her coworkers later wondering how she could be so focused. Marcela told them in a clipped voice she was upset with Amelia’s boss. She went to his office at lunch break.
His eyes stayed on his computer. “Yes?”
“I want you to know that woman is my best friend. She’s frustrated with her dilemma.”
“Yes. She’s very unhappy with her familial plight.”
Mr. Walrus twisted around, his face having become a huge question mark.
Marcela sighed, her hands struggling to remain flat and calm. Then she took a huge breath. “I don’t understand why you would put your employee under so—”
“Marcela, get those copies on my desk, please!”
Fists on either side of her bright red dress, Marcela unclenched them after she got in front of her computer. But she slapped the coveted files onto Tammy’s desk after typing, printing and shuffling them. Then she returned right to Amelia’s boss.
Mr. Walrus silenced her with an impatient finger and went over to Tammy. They conversed, and he returned to Amelia, demanding more papers to be stacked, stapled, on his chair when he returned from lunch. Marcela, remembering her lunch break was now, went to her small refrigerator and brought out some salad and a piece of freshly baked cake. After chewing every bite but not enjoying any of it, Marcela chucked her containers into the fridge, shoved it closed and marched straight into Tammy’s office.
“I gave you the files.” The fists returned. “What else…?”
Tammy talked to her and then told her to return to lunch.
Marcela did as she commanded, but her mind was on Amelia the whole time. Tammy ordered her back into her office. “Something wrong?”
“No.” Marcela turned to go, but her boss waved her over to a chair. Sliding a document towards her, Tammy tapped the blank line.
“I’m demoting you.”
Marcela sat upright and leaned forward. “Demoted?”
“Lie like that to me again, and we’ll have another meeting.”
Marcela folded her hands as she apologized. Her boss forgave her.
“You can leave now, please.”
Marcela got up and walked away, scowling. Tammy was disrespecting her!
She wrote a note that afternoon.
Please know I would like to meet with you at Starbucks to go over some concerns about today. I’m pretty upset about the way things worked out here.
Tammy declined it.
Marcela ripped up this response, smiling as the shredded sticky fell like snow into the trash can.
Then she saw Mr. Walrus standing outside her window.
When he turned towards a typing Amelia, Marcela dashed out her door to him, saying she was just doing something she felt was necessary. He shook his head.
Marcela, eyes flashing, nodded curtly. She returned to get her things and clock out for the day. Once she got home, Marcela answered her ringing cellphone.
“Yes, Marcela. This is Tammy. I need to see you in my office tomorrow. Then on Saturday and Sunday, you can be writing up the following reports. Mr. Walrus told me you were disrespecting the company as he saw those shredded pieces of paper fall into the recycling bin.”
Marcela stared at the ugly wallpaper during Tammy’s ramblings. She resisted wishing Amelia would just shake her awake. Gritting her teeth, she answered, “Forgive me, Tammy, but I need to tell—”
“Another employee’s disposition should not infringe upon your workday. Your ability to get your work done is on you. Should you see someone in danger or immediate help, please consult the authorities.” Her dry, monotonous, metallic voice—which Marcela sometimes wondered how she became a boss with this automated messaging system voice streaming through the day—droned on. Marcela even restrained herself from punching the End Call button.
And officially lose her job.
And her reference letter.
“Yes, ma’am. I was just—”
Tammy hung up, and Marcela jammed the phone into its receiver, taking some deep breaths. At least Amelia’s spanked, too. She rolled her eyes. Not that this stupidity of a career ever enhanced our lives in any other way. She put her shoes in the coat closet in the mudroom and then snatched up the phone.
“Amelia, come on over.”
“Okay. I’ll bring some—”
“No, no. I have cake. Let’s enjoy.”
The two friends chatted about summer holiday fun times together. When Amelia told her she’d get through the rest of the workweek while Marcela’s busy with her resignation letter, Marcela promised her she’d do her best on those reports all weekend. Maybe they’d celebrate on Sunday night with a trip to the museum or the aquarium.
“We could do that.” Amelia’s fork plugged eagerly into the buttercream frosting-layered dessert.
Marcela smiled, trying to forget this nightmarish weekend. But as tomorrow and Friday clouded with frustration and a desire to squeeze Tammy’s neck, Marcela strived to keep her hands under control. She gave her boss her stapled and printed work before heading out with Amelia that early Friday evening.
Marcela even grinned to herself as she looked at her reports all set neatly on Tammy’s desk to read Monday morning.
When she entered her office, Tammy spent some time looking over her own work. Then she stashed it away from the other millions of documents ready for her eyes to scan and mouth to decide whether those words are the right ones. Marcela waited in her own cubicle, early that morning, knowing hers was the best. She not only spent a lot of time on it but she also considered it her finest piece of writing she had ever spent time working on.
Tammy was going to praise it!
After Marcela got called into Tammy’s office, Marcela pressed on her knuckles but not too much as to crack them. She did her best, she told her.
Tammy read maybe a paragraph. And then dismissed her.
Marcela bit her lip as she walked away to her own desk. She spent the day careful to ignore Amelia, but she couldn’t resist visiting her cubicle whenever Amelia’s eyes sparked with frustration. Marcela gave in.
“I’m so sorry!” As Marcela encouraged her, her eyes caught a moving figure. She looked up to see Tammy lay the packet of work she had done over the weekend on her desk. A scowl, maybe permanent, on her face, she returned to her office.
Marcela told Amelia to work harder today, and scurried away. Blowing puffs of air, she stopped right in front of the pile. On top was the same sheet of paper with the blank line on it.
Marcela inhaled and then exhaled.
“I’ll need it by—”
Some coworkers sniggered before Tammy could finish.
What is this, kindergarten? Marcela grabbed a pen and scrawled her signature. No, wait, before she did that, she turned around and walked back to Tammy with it in hand. Exclaiming she had done her work, she wondered why she was being fired.
“I’m sorry, Tammy,” Marcela wouldn’t let her get away with it this time. “but—”
A voice rang out, and Marcela turned to see Amelia scurry into Tammy’s office. Standing beside a sitting Marcela, Amelia told Tammy she shouldn’t lose her job. She looked at her and nodded.
“Yes, Amelia, but I’m her boss. Marcela, I’ve thought about your near demotion. Lying goes beyond ripping a note up. Therefore, I have decided to excoriate you from this company.”
“Tammy, please understand. I was tempting Marcela. Please don’t.”
Marcela put a hand on Amelia’s shoulder and told her to go back to work. Marcela signed the paper. Handing it back to Tammy with a heavy heart, Marcela nodded and walked away, packing up her office.
“Wait, Marcela. I need to tell you something.”
She swung around. “Yes?”
“Please look in your email. I’ve sent you something.”
As Marcela marched off, shoulders sagging at the thought of staring at a list of potential office careers, she noticed Amelia looking straight out Marcela’s office window. She texted her later. Amelia’s response came quick.
What a gorgeous day to celebrate the end of an exhausting career!
Marcela grinned only after Amelia told her Marcela’s office venture today helped her forget her frustrations for once. Marcela kept smiling as Amelia sent happy faces her way. Then she jumped up and was about to call Amelia when another message showed up.
I saw the beautiful flowers blowing in the breeze. And the huge oak tree with its leaves green and full. The sun’s still shining, because--I just looked it up--today's Earth Day!