A Chapter by AlaForniaGirl

“This is a joke, right?  This has to be a joke.”  Risking looking like any number of other crazies who talk to themselves in broad daylight, Audrey stood in front of Cannon Street Marketing with a sinking feeling, the weight of which she could barely stand up under, waiting for Ashton to pop out and tell her she was being Punk’d.

            It was not possible that she had relocated her entire life one time zone and a quarter-continent, to find herself standing before this building, with this wretched excuse for a greeting.  And for that matter, the only explanation she would get for her new-found unemployed status on an otherwise beautiful Monday morning.  If only she had known to take this as a sign of what life would soon be.  Damn the researchers and think tanks for not having found a way to convert hindsight to foresight.  If one would pay upwards of one hundred dollars a month for a cell phone, imagine what the going rate for this little service would be.

            Audrey stood there, mind simultaneously racing and blank, reading and re-reading the bright red sign, as though it would buy enough time for Mr. Jefferies to suddenly appear from the dark interior of the converted townhouse, tell her not to worry, It’s all a big mistake, come on in, I’ll show you to your office.  But the lights never came on, and, gradually, the truth of what that notice represented began to take root.  She was unemployed in a city where she knew no one, save the creepy landlord of the fourplex she had moved into five days prior.  Her bank account now held less than $1,300 and her closest friend or relative was more than 600 miles in any direction.  Besides, after the way she left, the odds of anyone offering to help her out right now favored the house.

            Uncertain of what to do, and having been standing in the same spot for half an hour, she plodded aimlessly down the worn concrete steps and turned east on Cannon.  After about two hours of wandering among the crowds downtown, she found a Super Taco stand on the corner of 5th and Walton, where she was able to get what sort of passed for food and used up the last six dollars in her wallet.  Carrying it to Magnolia Park two blocks south, she made herself comfortable on an old weather-worn oak bench near the playground area and quieted the grumble in her stomach with cold tamales and a warm Fufu Berry Jones Soda.

            While she ate, she watched as the children from Magnolia Park Elementary walked across the street and seemed to bring alive the playground equipment.  It had been years since Audrey had sat in a park, wasting away a day like that.  Usually time at a park was spent being walked by Charley, her Great Dane, which left little time for observing those around her, other than to keep Charley off of them.  Behemoth that he was, he had something of a lapdog complex"completely unaware of the additional hundred or so pounds he carries on his massive frame.

            She had spent Sunday afternoon in the historic district, photographing the old riverfront homes and Civil War battle monuments, and even snapped a few shots of a local garden club, trying to add some color at the entrance in front of the slate gray backdrop of Mendenhall Cemetery.  She slowly made her way to the newer uptown area, where she photographed the relaxed hustle around her.  Families lining up to buy tickets for a matinee show at the renovated theater, students talking and laughing out front at Manny’s Pub, young couples window shopping along the area locally referred to as Designer’s Row, and a pack of teenage boys on skateboards commandeering the sidewalks, willfully ignorant of the No Skateboarding signs mounted on every available post.

Remembering that she had not taken her camera out of her purse the day before, Audrey decided to pass some time photographing some of the city’s younger residents, who were too engrossed in jumping out of swings and hanging by their knees from monkey bars to notice they were being documented in their state of abandon.  She snapped pics of their squealing laughter, shots of boys flying through the air, swings frozen behind them, and girls teaching one another clapping games to the tune of “Miss Mary Mack” and “Hello Operator,” mouths smiling and open as they chanted.

As she moved past the playground, intending to add to her collection photos of the trees for which the park was named, she noticed a man sitting atop a picnic table.  Odd as it was to see a grown man sitting on a table, and not at it, it was especially unusual given his appearance.  Dark brown hair unkempt in the style that is intentionally and thoughtfully disheveled, clean shaven face and eyebrows so well groomed as to give the appearance that they were naturally so, custom-cut linen suit, a shade of dark green that appeared black unless seen in direct sunlight, and the latest designer square-toed loafers.  Beside him sat two bags, one the right size to store a laptop, the other a messenger bag type briefcase that, in an odd way, went with the otherwise top-flight professional look he obviously paid top dollar to maintain.

Adding to the scene was the fact that he did not show concern for the trappings of the life that her imagination built for someone of his appearance.  There was no Blackberry in his hand, no Bluetooth earpiece firmly in place, and the contents of the laptop bag seemed of no importance.  His only concern appeared to be the comings and goings of the freighters in the canal that lined the eastern edge of the park, and even they were being followed with a distant gaze. 

Knowing he would not notice her at a hundred yard distance, she snapped a few photos using the remarkably advanced zoom lens built into her wallet-size digital camera.  Suddenly aware of the lack of sound coming from the playground, she realized the students had returned to school and the only movement was the swings rocked by the breeze carried off the water.  Glancing at her watch, she decided it was time to figure out how to be productive.  It wasn’t like she had much choice in the matter.  As her father often said, he never could figure out how to get a money tree to grow, and she did not have a place to plant one, should one be offered to her.

Leisurely making her way west on Havilland, then north on Delaney, she returned to Cannon Street to find another surprise waiting for her: three parking tickets for failure to feed the meter.  There was another $45 down the tubes. 

Audrey was determined not to lose it.  At least not until she was in the privacy of her apartment"the one on which she would not be able to make her second month’s rent if life didn’t take a dramatic upswing.  She snatched the parking tickets from under the windshield wiper and crammed them in her glove box before pulling away from the curb.

Waiting on the light at Cannon and 12th, she was pulled from her reverie when Bench Guy crossed in front of her car, still looking a little off in space like he had while looking out over the canal, but walking at a clip that made his destination seem of great import.  She hadn’t realized how tall he was before.  And, as life had trained her to do, she also noticed he did not wear a wedding ring.  

© 2011 AlaForniaGirl

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Added on April 26, 2011
Last Updated on May 29, 2011




I'm from Alabama and am now living in NorCal. Have also lived in VA and MS, but will always be a Bama girl no matter where I live! I'm a librarian by trade, a born writer, and hopeful of one day being.. more..