Staring down at the screen of her phone, Megan cringed at the sight of her friend’s Facebook post. It was a picture of a woman standing on a sunset beach, staring happily into the distant waves. Bold pink glittering letters were stamped on the photo, saying: ‘Hey stupid! Stop. Breathe. Smile.’
Yeah right, she thought as she tapped her foot nervously. What’s taking so long?
She taped on the heart icon next to the like button because that’s what Facebook friends do and scrolled down her news feed, too distracted to read, but too anxious to sit still.
Her heart almost exploded when the door finally opened and the young man came rushing out. Megan had a nice little chat with him some ten minutes ago and the guy struck her as confident and enthusiastic. Looking at his face after the interview, however, he struck her as one of those depressed people from mental health posters.
“Next,” a voice said from the office.
Megan jumped up and stuffed the phone in her pocket. Her palms and armpits were starting to sweat.
“Good afternoon, I’m Me-”
“Close the door.”
The words caught up in her throat and she had to cough. She closed the door upon entering.
A middle-aged man sitting behind the desk raised his head to regard her. His face was as bleak as the walls of his office.
Megan walked to the chair and sat. She felt like a schoolgirl being summoned to the principal’s office.
“Why do you think you’re fit for this job?”
The bluntness of the question nearly shocked her out of speech.
“Well, as I’ve written in my resume-”
“I’m asking you, not your resume.”
She swallowed. “I’ve worked with the Morning Announcer press for one year and was head editor of our college newspaper. I run a blog of my own and-”
“Let me stop you right there,” said the man and ran a hand over his face. The gesture caused Megan’s heart to sink. It also gave her the time to scan his desk, which was filled with papers and files and a framed metal plaque that said: ‘Be a leader’.
“You’re the eleventh person today, who came here wanting to be our reporter. But you’re the first who mentioned a school newspaper.”
Megan’s lips put on a tense smile.
“It wasn’t a compliment,” the man said. “The Astute is not a magazine for students or housewives, who read blogs on how to mix smoothies. It is a magazine for entrepreneurs. Tell me what business do you run? What experiences do you have? You didn’t mention those in your resume, for some reason.”
“I…” She didn’t mention those experiences, because she didn’t have any. “I organize weekly get-togethers with some of the readers from my blog.”
The man nodded for the first time. “Brainstorming sessions? New ideas for the market?”
“We talk about the books we’ve read. And about raising children. I’m a mother of-”
The look on the man’s face was enough to make Megan lose her voice again. He sighed.
“Miss, you’re either a very optimistic person or an ignorant fool who didn’t even read our application requirements and I sincerely hope it’s the former. Please call in the next person on your way out.”
Megan sat there frozen in shame, continuously shocked by the man’s bluntness. “I…”
“You’re not right for us. Good day.”
Her body was quicker to process the situation that her brain as Megan stood up and walked out. She felt like in a daze and realized she probably looked just like that man earlier. She immediately forgot to call in the next person, so the man yelled ‘Next!’ once again.
Megan walked out of the building on autopilot. Only when she came to the parking lot did her brain process everything.
“What an asshole!”
She could use that job. Everything seemed to be getting more expensive and her affiliate blog wasn’t generating the income to support a growing child and childish man.
Megan fumed for another minute, too angry to dare sit behind the wheel. And then she noticed an orange piece of paper stuck under the windscreen wipers.
“Aw, c’mon!” She leaned on the hood, staining her knees, and plucked the ticket from the wipers. She cursed, realizing how dirty her car was, and then she cursed again, louder when she saw the number of the ticket. It was three digits, with a big 2 upfront.
“Son of a…”
She glanced at the undertext of the ticket, as something caught her eye. The ticket had a new style design and below the price to pay there was a positive message, saying: ‘Hey, don't be stupid! Take control, pay within one week, and save 50%!’
Megan crumpled the ticket and threw it on the back seat of her car - though she knew she would eventually unfold it again and have to pay. She sat behind the wheel and drove off.
Of course, the traffic was awful. She checked her phone and it was around 5 P.M. All the lanes were clogged, people were slamming on horns and inching forward as if wanting to give a bumper kiss to the car in front. Megan gladly joined the group thinking, beating her hand red on the horn.
“Come on, you mother-”
She slammed the horn with all her frustration and received a middle finger from an elderly gentleman upfront. Like it or not, she would have to wait just like the rest of them. To mask the sounds of car horns blasting all around, Megan decided to turn on the radio. She could use some relaxing music. Or even angry music, for all she cared.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey,” Alice Cooper sang through the radio, “Hey Stupid!”
After an hour stuck in a deadlock, the traffic suddenly gave way and Megan was baffled trying to find out what had caused it in the first place. There was no accident, no construction, just too many people at the same time. Frustrated beyond her capacity to handle normal life, she raced through the streets of New York, putting the parking ticket’s price to shame with the violations she performed.
When she finally came home, Kurt, her boyfriend, wasn’t there of course, and their three-year-old son was left all alone for four hours! The TV was turned on, the bathroom door was left open suspiciously and playful sounds were coming from the kitchen.
Megan stormed to the kitchen. “Hey darling, mommy’s home!”
She found Tommy in the middle of making dinner. A three-year-old, making dinner. There was a raw steak on a plate, sprinkled with flour, and covered in a thick layer of Nutella. The plate with the masterpiece was placed on the electric stove and the heat turned on.
Megan’s facial reaction caused the little boy to giggle. “What the f-”
She stopped herself just in time. She went to the stove and turned it off.
“I’m home now OK? I’ll make you some pasta.”
“Uh-oh,” the boy said and looked terrified.
He placed a hand over his mouth and pointed at something. Megan followed his finger and noticed their cat sitting next to its litter box, looking very depressed. The reason lay scattered all over the talc sand and it was raw pasta.
“Meow!” The cat tried to push off some of the Barilla Elbows to get to the sand, but got distracted instead and began playing with one of the ‘elbows’, kicking it all over the kitchen.
“Sweety, why did you pour the pasta in the cat’s litter box?”
Tommy removed the hand from his mouth to confine a secret with her. “I don’t know.”
Megan sighed long and loud.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.”
Without saying a word she picked her son and took him with her to the store. Since the boy used up all their food, they got nothing to eat. During the drive Megan restrained herself from cursing out loud at the remnants of traffic and when they got to the store she watched where she parked. In the store she picked the same things that Tommy used to make his masterpiece, plus a bottle of red wine.
“For mommy,” she said when Tommy looked at her.
Waiting in line at the cash register, Megan couldn’t help but overhear a conversation two guys were having. At first, she tried to ignore them, asking her son what he did for those four hours he was alone, but Tommy wasn’t in a mood to talk.
“I’m telling you man, you should totally quit that joint!” one of the men said to the other. “If they ain’t paying you more than two grand you’re getting screwed!”
“I know man, I know,” said the other. “I should be bold enough and ask for more. I deserve it.”
Two grand! And he’s complaining?
“Yeah, man, you gotta pound that sucker! Take control! Don’t be stupid!”
“Excuse me,” said Megan and turned around, her nerves already thin as a balloon skin, “but some people would kill for a job that pays two friggin grand! Stop complaining!”
The two guys looked at her, shocked. Megan immediately felt embarrassed and blushed.
“What’s eating your nerves, lady?”
Lady? She wasn’t that old.
Her little boy looked on the verge of tears.
“Miss? That’s 17,79$,” the cashier repeated, as Megan was so focused on the guys’ conversation she forgot it was already her turn.
I swear, she thought to herself, bad luck itself has visited me today.
Embarrassed, ashamed, and frustrated, she paid the bill, took the groceries, took her son, and walked out of the store as quickly as possible, ignoring everyone and drove back home.
Walking up the stairs to her apartment, with the kid in one hand (since he was too starved out to walk) and the groceries in the other, Megan passed a neighbor without even noticing.
“Whoa there!” the old man said and smiled. “Too busy to stop and smile?”
“Hello Mr. Jennings,” she said on autopilot and continued up the stairs. Unlocking the door with both hands full was quite the challenge, but eventually she pulled it off and unloaded her cargo in the kitchen, kicking the apartment door close with her foot.
The raw stake Tommy placed on the plate was now on the floor, the plate broken, and the cat licking the meat, with flies swarming around it. Also, amidst the pasta in the litter, there was some fresh ‘cat sauce’ sprinkled on top.
Megan was so tired that she screamed only on the inside. She used the last of her strength to clean after Tommy, then after the cat, and then made dinner for her son, herself, and her boyfriend, who was running pretty late already. Though it was Friday, perhaps he went out on a beer or two with the guys from work?
When they ate the dinner, Megan cleaned the dishes and placed sleepy Tommy in bed, read him a bedtime story in which the hero took his life into his own hands, and kissed him goodnight. She fed the cat and took a shower.
Then, finally, feeling and smelling fresh, with a towel wrapped over her hair, Megan planted herself onto the couch with a glass and bottle. She poured herself some wine but ended up drinking from the bottle instead. After such a horrible day, she deserved a treat.
She sent 15 messages to her boyfriend, both angry for him not responding or telling her where he was and worried why he hasn’t come home yet.
Has the universe turned against me or what, she thought while watching a lame series on TV and checking her phone for a message. Eventually, with the assistance of the wine, she fell asleep on the couch.
The next morning, Megan woke up to a slight poking sensation on her cheek. She grudgingly opened her eyes and noticed Tommy standing in front of her.
“What?” she growled, immediately smelling the foul scent of her wine-flavored breath.
“I’m hungry,” the boy pleaded.
“Hungry? But I just fed you…”
Then she noticed the bright light coming from the windows. She thought she dozed off for only a couple of minutes, but it seemed to be day already. Good thing it was Saturday! Although, it didn’t really matter because she didn’t have a job…
The thought caused her to begin this day in the same mood she ended the previous one.
“I’ll be right up…”
She checked her phone. 12:37 P.M. Still no messages from Kurt.
Then she noticed that she wasn’t alone on the couch. Shocked, she realized that Kurt was fast asleep next to her! When did he come back?! He was planted face down on her back, breathing warm breaths down her neck. At first, Megan thought it was her who smelled so bad, and that the heavy feel of the blanket was from her sleeping too long. But it was Kurt. He smelled of beer and cigarettes. And he fell asleep right on top of her!
Hungry, tired and angry, Megan wiggled her way from under Kurt’s unconscious body and left the man lay where he fell. Cranky, she made breakfast for her son and coffee for herself. Even though she showered yesterday, she now smelled like she went to a party, a lovely gift from Kurt.
Frustrated already, she went out on the balcony to sip her coffee in peace. Fresh air ought to do her good.
When she took a third sip, thinking of how screwed up her life was, a pigeon flew and landed on the balcony fence. It cocked its head sideways and cooed softly.
Megan raised the mug to her mouth. “What are you looking at? Go judge someone else!”
Then another flew. And another. Three pigeons were now sitting on the fence and looking at Megan, as she sat there, still in her bathrobe, all cranky and with a wine-colored tongue, sipping bitter coffee.
For a few moments they stared at each other. Then one of the pigeons dumped a load all over one of Megan’s flowers. And for some reason, that made Megan so furious that she jumped up and started yelling at the pigeons and shooing them off her balcony.
“Go and shit on someone else’s life, mine is already shitty!”
Needless to say, she had enough. She stormed back inside, ignored her son’s protests of ‘the cereal being too crunchy’ and her boyfriend’s drunk snoring, put on the first half-decent clothes she found, and left the apartment.
In a whirlwind of thoughts, problems, and frustrations, Megan made her way into the local park without even realizing it. Much to her surprise, nothing out of the ordinary happened to her and because of the hour, there were very few people there.
Megan planted herself down on an unoccupied bench under a tall tree and closed her eyes. She pushed away all the thoughts and feelings, and instead focused on the lively chirping of birds.
She sat there for some time, enjoying the peace and stillness of it all until she heard a squeak of wood and felt a slight tremor on the bench.
She opened her eyes and prepared herself to receive another portion of shit, as she noticed a man that just sat beside her, even though there were a ton of empty benches.
“Hey stupid,” the man said.
Megan’s face turned red immediately and she leaned forward to stand and go away.
“You know,” the man continued, “I don’t usually do this, talk directly to people, but in your case, I decided to make an exception since you managed to ignore every single one of my messages.”
Megan blinked. “What?”
“Oh, you know what I mean. Your friend’s Facebook post, the plaque in the boss’s office, the parking ticket, the radio song, your son’s masterpiece, the guys talking at the store, the bedtime story, your boyfriend's behavior, the pigeons, the neighbors… You know, the hints I’m sending you all the time.”
Megan felt goosebumps all over her skin. How did this man know so much about her? Was he some stalking creep?
“Who are you?”
The man turned his head towards her. He was about the same age as her, but she didn’t recognize him.
“I am the universe, giving you hints and messages for how to be happy. Why are you ignoring me?”
Megan didn’t know how to respond to that.
“I’ve been talking to you since the day you were born, of course, and you managed to hear some of my calls when you were little, but lately your life has become full of suffering. I’m worried about you, Megan.”
Panic came up. “How do you know my name?”
The man smiled. “I told you. I’m the universe. I usually don’t do this, but I’ve ‘borrowed’ this man today to talk to you directly. Please, Megan. Listen to me. Take control of your life. My hints don’t help if you keep ignoring them.”
Megan tensed up, ready to bolt the heck away, but then she paused. Something clicked in her.
“So you’re my visitor… I mistook you for bad luck.”
“I’m only doing my best to nudge you in the right direction. All I ever do is because I love you, Megan. And I want to see you happy.”
The man then stood up and walked away, as if nothing ever happened. Megan was left sitting there on the bench, processing what she just heard.
She glanced after the man, but he was gone. How could he have left so fast?
Was he even real?
After a while, Megan stood up, still shocked. But she was not the same woman as she was when she sat down. This time, she stopped. She breathed. And she smiled.