The bills were piled loosely to theright of the home-made ledger. A pen, blue and white with the words, “take it on,” printed along the side rested on the empty pages of the ledger. Besid e that was her pay cheque for two weeks waitressing at the neighbourhood drive-through diner. A half filled cup of warm coffee sat by the bills and the Buz Light Year figure lay just beyond the clutter of the dirty dinner dishes. Joan, a bit over-weight woman in her early forties, was hunched over the mess in front of her. With her left hand she slowly removed the wisp of premature grey hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. It was the end of the month; the time when she realizes she is on the brink of complete poverty.
She picked the first bill from the pile; the power bill. Two hundred and twenty-five dollars. Comparing it to last month the cost had gone up by ten dollars. Joan enters the new total into its’ space and reaches for another. Dentist, twenty-five dollars. Gas bill, forty-two. This went on until she came to the end of the bills and her total expenditures. She then picked up her cheque; she had enough to pay her bills but she didn’t have enough to buy food.
Joan droppedher fore-head into her hands and rubbed her fingers roughly against her scalp.
“This just isn’t fare!” She sobbed. “I work long hours, I do extra duties and yet I still can’t get ahead.” She lifted her head and rubbed her hands across her cheeks and damp eyes.
“If only Roy would pay his child support then maybe I could get out of this hole I’m in. I can’t afford to take time off work to take him to court, and he knows it.” Her head began to ache as she scanned the ledger page to see what was not going to be paid again this month.
From the bedroom she heard her son crying; knowing he could be in trouble she jumped from the chair and rushed into his small room. Pat was sitting up in his bed gasping for breath; his face was turning blue from lack of oxygen. Quickly Joan attached the face mask of the tank over his little face and performed the usual duties for his survival. Within minutes little Pat was calm. He could go days without any problems but it would only take one time of neglect and her little boy would be gone; and that was her fear. Pat was only five years old and he has suffered like this since he was a baby. Roy said at the time he could not stand to see him like this; that is why he decided to move out. Sure, he had a place to move into; his secretary was young and pretty with no kids and lot of free time to pamper Roy; they were in Mexico right now for the week-end.
Joan sat holding Pat in her arms; the breathing tubes carefully draped so he would not get tangled in them as he slept. “It’s just not fair,” She wept.
Joan must have fallen asleep because she was startled by the phone ringing in the kitchen. She gently lay her small son down on the bed and covered him up while reassuring the oxygen apparatus was working safely, then she went into the kitchen to answer the phone. It was a message from work; “We need you to come in to work for a few hours tonight, we’re short staffed again.” Joan reread the message and looked toward the stack of bills on the table; she then looked toward the sleeping child attached to the tubes and cables. “I can’t go on like this!” She sighed to herself as she dropped into her chair and faced the on-going drama of poverty. The phone rang again.
“Joan, we need you to come into work for about three hours; Mary didn’t show up again; so how long will it take you to get here?’ Joan! Pick up the damn phone. Your needed here at work!” Joan looked at the bills and then she looked toward her little boys’ room; she picked up the phone.
“What do you mean your not coming in! Listen; if you want this job you’ll be here in ten minutes, you hear? If you’re not then consider yourself fired! I can’t afford to have heavy weights around my neck. So your kid is sick, so what! All kids get sick and they survive. TEN MINUTES!” The phone went dead.
Her mother lived just across the street and was able to come and sit little Pat as Joan quickly raced down the street to the diner. Why did they always call her? Did she wear a sign on her forehead that read “Sucker?” Upon entering the diner the shift boss stopped her with a smile on his face. “See, yur kid isn’t as sick as you let on. Glad you made it.” He began to turn away as Joan grabbed him by the arm. “Why do you always call me? Why don’t you call one of the other workers?” He looked at her with a half grin on his face. “They’re not like you; they won’t come in. I can depend on you.” Their eyes met in a long stare. “And what about Mary?” she asked. “Why isn’t she here again on her shift?” The boss sheepishly averted his eyes away from Joan and replied that Mary said she had a very important date tonight.
Joan grabbed the boss by the collar of his shirt and tugged it hard as she glared angrily at him. “A DATE!” She snarled into his face. “A DATE! WHILE MY SON COULD DIE FROM LACK OF OXYGYN!” She then pushed him and he fell back onto a display stand of coffee cups and supplies, knocking it across the floor and breaking several cups. “I’m not here to be your lackey, Buddy!” He stumbled backward, tripped and fell to the floor. “You know what you can do with this crummy job? You can stick it because I quit!” Joan ripped the smock off her body and tossed it at her ex-boss, who was splayed out on the floor looking in shock at Joan. As she turned toward the exit door a hint of a smile crossed her lips. For the first time in her life Joan stood up to a man; she always obeyed her father and her brothers’, even her ex -husband, though she resented the fact that she gave into their whims so easily; but no more giving in to anybody. No sir!
It had begun to rain as she walked home and stepped up onto her front porch. The rain splattered onto her face and she took in a deep breath of fresh, spring air. She knew her life was going to change; she knew that Roy no longer will get away without paying his proper share for his sons’ support and the alimony for the past three years since their divorce; because what he’s been getting away with, is just not fair.