The Heirloom-Paisley Real Job

Submitted into Contest #109 in response to: Start your story with a character quitting their job, or getting fired.... view prompt


Fiction Contemporary Coming of Age

Hi. My name is Beth and I can read. Except not cursive. I can read texts and I can read what kind of coffee they have at Dunkin Donuts on the board behind the counter. Café Mocha and Café Latte and Hazelnut Mocha and Coco Berry and Toasted French Vanilla. I know the name of every flavor of coffee at Duncan Donuts. Also, I have tried them all. I don’t know which one is my favorite. People always ask me that. People always ask me too many things, but I don’t know.

I can read Happy Birthday. I love reading Happy Birthday. I don’t like reading You Are Fired. Except that isn’t what the letter in the mailbox said. The letter in the mailbox said, “We have enjoyed our time with you, but we believe you can find a better fit. Good luck with employment opportunities elsewhere.” That means You are fired. That means they did not enjoy their time with me. That means I did not fit.

I had opened the letter by the mailbox. By the road.

I stomped all the way back to the house because I was so mad. Then I kicked the step. Except that hurt. That was a mistake and I was so mad for making a mistake that I accidentally whacked my own head with my hands. That hurt my knuckles. I hit harder, ouch, harder, ouch. I was so mad I slugged my head, then I did it again. Sometimes I can’t stop. It’s by accident on purpose. The accident part is how I am so mad, and suddenly I hit myself. The on-purpose part is when I know I should stop but I am madder than a hornet and I hit myself again instead. Finally I stopped. I stopped and rested. I felt sorry for myself that I hit myself. I told myself I’m sorry and I stroked my own hair. I looked at my knuckles to see if I hurt myself. They looked the same. But they hurt. My head hurt between the strands of my hair. I don’t cry too easy. Even when somebody hits me and that somebody is me, even then I don’t cry.

I should have let Mom read the letter first. She could tell me nicer. She could hug me.

I don’t let anybody else hug me, but Mom can. Even though she’s not the boss of me.

I get home first every day in a taxi from my Program. My Program is where I go. My Program gets me jobs. My program is where I have friends like Kiley and Jeremy. We are special. S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Needs. It means not the same. We have different talents than everybody else. Like I have a good memory. I am very smart at memory.

The reason I am so mad sometimes is because I am not that smart. If I were smart I wouldn’t hit myself when I am so mad. Right? It hurts. Hello. Everybody knows that.

I looked around to see if anybody saw me. The neighbor was mowing the lawn. 

I petted my soft hair and finally remembered that I have an excellent memory. I can remember numbers and dates. I can remember names of coffee like Hazelnut Mocha and Coco Berry. I can remember all the Vera Bradley patterns that Vera Bradley ever made. I know if a Vera Bradley pattern is retired and what season and year it came out. I am smart at Vera Bradley.

I decided to remember for a while.

I have an Heirloom Paisley (fall ’17) computer bag, a Raspberry Medallion (Fall ’19) campus backpack and a Tutti Frutti (Summer ’13) duffel. I have a Santiago (Summer ’17) expandable cooler, a Water Bouquet (Summer ’18) bathroom kit and a Katalina Pink (Fall ’15) backpack. And I have a Parisian Paisley backpack (Fall ’15), too. Plus a Paisley in Paradise (Summer ’16) handbag. I buy them with my own money. Mom makes me put my paycheck in my trust fund. I can’t have a bank account. I have a trust fund. I have to put my money there because Mom says she won’t always be here and I need some money put away for the future. I am almost thirty and she is almost sixty. Sixty isn’t old old. Just the age of my Mom who is like no age at all, just Mom. But she has had me all her life and that might have made her older, because I am very S.P.E.C.I.A.L. She says I gave her all her gray hairs. But she’s not even gray. She has bouncy brown hair that smells good.

I don’t get an allowance. Kids get an allowance but I’m not a kid. I have a paycheck. Except when I don’t because I got fired. Again. Anyway, I always have my Program to go to where we have friends and learn skills like vacuuming and sometimes we put together cardboard boxes. My Program can’t fire me.

Mom made up this complicated thing called percent. I can keep five percent from my paycheck. I think it means five dollars. I don’t know.

I save my money until it adds up to another Vera Bradley bag and a Duncan Donuts Coffee. Mom buys me coffee every week on Saturday. I buy her coffee on the day I buy a new Vera Bradley bag because I’m a grown up and grownups treat the coffee sometimes. But Mom isn’t grown up; she’s Mom. I don’t see why I have to treat her with coffee.

I use the expandable lunch cooler and the campus backpack every day for going to my Program in the taxi. But the sling backpack and the large travel duffel bag I keep under my bed with the suitcase, the small travel bag, and three wallets and two computer bags. Some people say I have too many, some people say. Some people say too much. I don’t know. How can you have too much Vera Bradley? They are different colors. The people who say I have too much have too much too. Like cars. Some people have three cars and I don’t have any. I have Vera Bradley.

I’m going to be thirty tomorrow, and then it’s happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me. I hope I get to go to Duncan Donuts and shop at the Vera Bradley store. I hope Mom gives me a Vera Bradley Foldable Rolling Duffel Bag for my birthday. She buys me lots of presents. Because she’s my mother. But she can’t tell me what to do. Neither can the police. Or my teacher at my Program. Now that I am a grown up, I have to cooperate. That’s what grownups do.

She says the police can tell me what to do, but I don’t know.

I had many jobs so far except they aren’t real jobs and they never keep me.

My first job was at the Honey House. I was nineteen at the honey house. There were bees there, but I’m not afraid of bees. I wore an apron and I put frames of cut honeycomb in the extractor. My job was to fill the big extractor, then my boss turned it on. It whirled around so fast that the honey flew out the sides. It’s called centrifugal force, my boss explained. Centrifugal force is the opposite of gravity. When the earth spins around, we don’t fly off because of gravity. When the honey extractor spins around, the honey flies out because of centrifugal force. I don’t know why it doesn’t have gravity instead, but it doesn’t. You never know when there’s going to be gravity and when there’s going to be centrifugal force. But anyway, when we turned on a tap, the honey flowed out because by now it had got gravity. It smelled good. The honey house is the best-smelling job I ever had.

It was also the best tasting because I could lick as much honey as I wanted, and so could my boss. His name was Don. We licked the honey together after he cut the wax off with the big knives. But that wasn’t a real job. That was just a teenager job with somebody being nice to me.

The next summer, another teenager got my job. I was twenty then, too old to work at the honey house.

Another job I had was picking blueberries. I am an excellent blueberry picker. I pick every berry. If I drop a berry, I pick it up again. The boss told me, “You don’t have time to pick every berry; leave some for the birds.” If you pick fast, then you can pick a bucket in an hour. But I only picked a bucket in two hours because I always dropped some, and then I picked them up. And I forgot to leave them for the birds. I remembered Vera Bradley “Cherry Blossoms” from spring ‘20 and while I remembered, I picked every berry. It is bad luck to do a bad job. I do an excellent job. That was also a good-tasting job.

They said I did too excellent a job because I went too slow and I wasn’t a good fit. That meant I was fired.

Another job I had was shampooing dogs. I am a good dog shampooer. Dogs like me. By accident I used all the shampoo on the same dog. Remember how I said I can read? Well, I can read. I read the bottle. It said to wash and repeat. So I repeated and then I repeated and I read the bottle to see if I was done, but it said wash and repeat. At that job they said I was real good with the dogs, but I used too much shampoo. It was a very clean dog. They don’t put enough shampoo in those bottles if they’re going to write “wash and repeat.” They should put enough so you don’t run out. Then I would still have my dog-washing job.

Mom says that everybody has letters behind their name. Some people have OCD and some people have PhD or ADHD or ASD and some people have extra and some don’t have enough IQ or EQ points.

I shouldn’t have hit myself today because it’s bad luck on the day before my birthday. It is bad luck to hit myself and get fired.

I heard a noise in the driveway and it was the car. It was Mom coming home. I ran to the door and opened it. She was carrying groceries. I shut the door behind her and she said “Hi Beth,” and “How was your day?” and I said good and she said look what I have in the car.

I went to see and it was—guess what?

Guess what Mom brought me?

I carried it in the house.

It was Coco-Berry Decaf. I carried it in the house on the cardboard take-out tray and I opened the lid and smelled it. It smelled like coffee.

I texted my friend Kiley from the Program that I got a Coco-Berry Decaf.

Kiley texted back that she was playing Candy Crush. She can read, too. Jeremy can’t read. I feel sorry for him. I can’t text him about my Coco-Berry decaf and that’s why I feel sorry for him.

“You remember what day tomorrow is, right?” Mom asked.

“Yes, it’s my birthday,” I said. “But I got fired today.”

“You didn’t really get fired, Beth. They just thought it wasn’t a good fit. Not everybody fits every job, remember?”

“It was in the mailbox,” I explained.

“I know, honey. They gave me a call, too.”

I could tell she felt sorry for me because she said honey.

“Don’t call me honey,” I said. “I’m a grown up.”

She took a breath to help her think. “Okay, Beth. Do you want to go to a job interview tomorrow?”

“But what about my Program?"

“Albert from your Program is going to take you to the interview, if you want to go. “

“I want a REAL job,” I told her. “I want to get dressed up and wear good shoes.” At my berry-picking job we had to wear old clothes that could get stained with berries. That’s not a real job if you wear dirty clothes.

“I know,” Mom said. “In this job you have to dress cute and clean.”

"With high heels?” I asked.

“No heels,” she said, “but you have to do your hair cute every day.”

“Makeup?” I asked.

“A little makeup, yes,” Mom said.

“Good. Do I have to talk to people at this job?” I asked. I’m no good at talking. People don’t understand me sometimes, especially if there is an R. R’s and L’s are too hard. My real name is Carley and I accidentally say Cowey, and then nobody knows my name. I get so mad then. I get mad if they ask questions. It doesn’t always work out so well. Lucky for me, my middle name is Beth. I can say Beth. Everybody understands me say Beth. Now my real name is Beth and my pretty name is Carley, but only Mom says it when she needs a longer name, like Carley Elizabeth, are you listening to me?

She said that now. “Carley Elizabeth, are you listening to me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“This is an important interview. Do you think you can talk real nice to the woman interviewing and answer questions and not get grumpy?”

Sometimes I get mad when someone asks too many questions. One time a very rude man asked me if I was pregnant. I got so mad that I told him he was rude. Later Mom told me doctors can ask personal questions; doctors are the exception to being rude. But I don’t know what made him so special just because he was a doctor. If a strange man asked you if you were pregnant, I bet you would get mad too.

"Is she going to ask if I’m pregnant?” I asked.

“No, I think she’s probably going to ask if you want the job. And I think you should tell her yes, and you should say ‘Thank you for giving me this opportunity.’”

“Where is it at?” I asked.

“It’s at the mall. I think it’s a good fit. Can you practice that for me? Say, ‘Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”

“The mall with the Dunkin Donuts and Vera Bradley?”


Imagine if I could get a Dunkin Donuts coffee every day?

“Can I get a Dunkin Donuts Coffee every day?”

“I don’t know. That’s not even the best part. The best part is still coming. Tell me something, do you remember Cindi?”

“Cindi at Vera Bradley?”

“Right, Cindi at the Vera Bradley store at the mall.”

“Yes, I remember her.”

“She was impressed that you knew all the patterns. She needs someone there three times a week to help unpack the bags, cut the threads off if there are any threads left hanging on the new bags, and also answer customer questions about retired patterns.

“You mean like remember when they made Java Blue and Pink Elephants?”


“Java Blue was in Spring 2006 and Pink Elephants was in January, 2007.”

“Beth, how in the world do you know that?!”

“I don’t know,” I said “Do I have to take off all the strings, or just some? I’m no good when it’s just some.”

“You’ll have to ask Cindi. But I’m pretty sure they want you to cut off all the dangling threads, not just some.”

“I am very good at doing a perfect job,” I said. “I can find every thread.”

“Good girl.”

“I’m a grown up,” I said. “Tomorrow I turn thirty.”

Then Mom gave me a big almost-my-birthday hug and I let her and I tried to remember to squeeze, too. Sometimes I forget.

“I hit myself today, by accident,” I blurted.

“Oh, poor you. Why?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember. I kicked the stairs because they sent that mean letter in the mailbox—”

“—Oh honey—”

“And I was mad because I got fired and then I was mad because I kicked the step.”

“Let me see your foot,” Mom said. “And your hands.”

She combed gently through my hair, and turned my hands over.

“You have a bruise on your scalp,” she finally said. She petted my hair to undo the hitting.

“I won’t do it again.”

“You always say that.”

“Tomorrow I turn thirty and I’m going to get my dream job. I’m never going to hit myself again because I’m not going to get so mad if I don’t get fired.”

“Yes, you’ll be the best in the store knowing all the patterns. They’re going to be happy to have you there unpacking their bags and cutting the threads.”

“Can I get a coffee every day?”

“Let’s say you can drink one coffee every day from Dunkin’ Donuts—but remember the calories. Try to get black coffee sometimes.”

“Can I wear high heels?”

“Do they hurt your feet?”


“Do you want to wear high heels?”

“I don’t know.”

“You better ask your new boss about the dress code.”

“Am I going to get the job?”

“Cindi asked for you by name when she called your Program. I think she wants just you for the job.”

“Will it be a real job?”

“The most real job ever.”

“Can I have a business card with Vera Bradley on it? Because I can read? And when I hand them my business card, they will know I can read.”

“Beth, you are an excellent reader.”

Tomorrow on my birthday I am going to say “Thank you for this job opportunity” and I am going to drink Dunkin coffee, regular.


September 01, 2021 16:44

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00:15 Sep 09, 2021

I liked the message that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and if yours aren’t the same as everybody else’s that’s okay! In complete honesty the read was a bit tedious, but I know that was the effect you were going for. Good job!


Linda Gruenberg
20:00 Sep 09, 2021

Thanks. I think it's a hard message to believe if you come up on the short side of the stick, but it's important to find a way to believe it? Maybe in the story you can sense that this girl has at least been told she has her own important strengths and she knows how to think and repeat that. But then, she also hits herself... Do you think it was the Vera Bradley patterns that were tedious? Or the voice itself? I started a second story in the same voice, but maybe there's not far enough to go with it? (Or if I kept trying, maybe I'd get it...


22:41 Sep 09, 2021

The voice was from her perspective which is a view we don’t see a lot. It may be something to play with, but changing the punctuation might help the flow. Commas instead of hard stops? A third person perspective with lots of introspection may work also. Either way, I know you are going to be able to tell a great story!


Linda Gruenberg
14:27 Sep 10, 2021



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01:13 Sep 05, 2021

Interesting perspective!


Linda Gruenberg
18:02 Sep 05, 2021

Thank you. I found this challenging but I also felt some fascination trying to get into this special-needs girl's head.


19:29 Sep 05, 2021

And you accomplished it! It was like being inside her mind. Great job!


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