These might be very well the last stories I ever write for university classes. What a bittersweet realization. They are the laggers, the late hand-ins, the incompletes. Yet I’m proud that they made it to the submission box, the finish line, nonetheless. And with that realization I realize that I can be a lifelong writer-as long as I believe in myself. I’m certainly a better versed in the craft than I was when I first started this journey in creative writing four years ago. And with the advent of these stories it shows that my mental health is better than it has been for ten years, too.
(has in-text edits)
After the first days of calm and ensuing weeks of explosive fear, Jane had come to accept herself as unemployed. In actuality, she cashiered at the hardware store downstairs, but to her friends, she had moved to a new town to pursue high end clients. In the three months she had been there, she had refreshed the shade of yellow of the backsplash behind the sink twice and added blue stripes. But the cheap coffee maker still clashed with the glossy tiling and the designer fridge was very often filled with nothing more than leftovers. The plaque she had made, with Appearance Matters-Interior Decorating by Jane Woodall written on it in fancy script, had become chipped.
Like most Sunday nights, she was doing what she liked to call practicing her eye for
Great design but in actuality amounted to just staring. It was fun game to play, picking out which parts worked and which didn’t. In actuality, it made her feel even worse that she wasn’t truly putting her skills to work the next day like the rest of the professional world. Tonight it was the laminated paper magnets on her fridge that were peeling at the corners. The colourful array of delivery menus and bottle drive notices tacked underneath like continents on a world map. At this moment, they seemed to be the sum of her life. Her interior decorating diploma, glinting in its cheap frame, was eager to impress her guests but was most likely being ignored like the incessant flyers that announced Ms Jane Woodall. Love letters to the lonely soul, Jane thought. The ceiling light stammered in agreement. She made a note to buy some flowers.
She had thought that redecorating would do it. Delft tiles, yellow accents on recommendation of the barista. She ran a hand over the dust on the stack of unopened decorating magazines. Three, three unopened magazines. Three months that she’d been unemployed. Her hand reflexively went to her pocket where she kept her phone, where she felt various coins jingling, a stick of gum and the bent ear of a business card. Where was her phone? A balloon of panic expanded in her throat. Who cares? No one had called.
And why check her phone anyways? The sour note of seeing her friend Yasmin redecorating with her boyfriend that she had met at nursing school while she was curled up in her studio apartment was enough to make her stomach turn. The redecorating was distasteful, and the colours as cold as her character.
You look great today. Jane frowned at her pinched look in the shiny chrome fridge door. In case she didn’t remember, it was scrawled on a sticky note on the fridge, too. In fact, nowadays, she spent a lot of time in front of the fridge. Contemplating dinner. Contemplating cold calling. Contemplating life.
Jane closed the light and drew in a deep breath. Moonlight reflected off the shiny appliances and lit the short distance to her room. Another day marked by a held breath. She began to think of her days as numbered, although they were supposed to stretch into infinity. Her fingers crawled until they touched the phone and pulled it closer to her bed.
* * *
“How beautiful!” her mom had exclaimed during her first visit. Jane had pulled her hair back into a bun, which she noticed made her nearly a mirror representation of her mother. They had both accidentally worn yellow. “Just like the daffodils!” Jane couldn’t help but think her mom was gushing. She was twenty five, not five.
Jane’s mom flitted incessantly while she was in the kitchen. What should she cook for her? Was she eating regularly? Jane relented and told her.
“Glad to hear you’re enjoying life out here, honey!” her mom had chirped. Jane had felt compelled to hug her just to make her lie more convincing.
“Do you like this nautical theme?” Jane asked hesitantly.
“I love it!” Jane knew that was as good as an answer she’d get out of her mom.
As her mom put it, she fixed what went on behind the walls as a family therapist, while Jane fixed what was on the walls. But she was pleased that her mom noticed the yellow backsplash at least.
“Something about the kitchen doesn’t look right.” Jane pointed at the backsplash. “I thought I’d repaint that to add a bit of life to the room but it’s already such a statement.”
“It’s just empty, that’s all. It needs a bit of life to fill it up,” her mother suggested.
Jane thought her mother was just lonely from being separated from her own family while simultaneously uniting others’.
It was not a surprise then, that her mother pointed out on the succeeding trip that Jane had taken down her plaque. “I’m just so bored!” Jane couldn’t help but hear the whine in her voice. She envisioned herself in her best skirt and blouse with her seven year old face. God, I sound so immature! “I want to work with cutting edge design, not this boringness!”
The next week, Jane made excuses why her mom couldn’t come over. But her mom insisted on calling her anyways.
It was always some variation on the same thing: How have you been? Are you eating? Jane began to nod without even listening while scanning job listings.
Her mother called every week and usually it was Sunday’s but sometimes, like today, it was Monday. She’d been going through a backlog of clients.
“Have you met anyone new? Any interesting?” her mom asked.
Jane scrambled to come up with a plausible reply. “Yes, mom, I met someone while buying milk the other day. He’s really nice.”
→ non sequitur “I’ve been having orange juice every morning instead of milk. You should try it too, honey. It’s nice to switch things up once in awhile.”
Jane made a mental note to get orange juice.
“By the way, next Sunday is Mother’s Day. Can I come visit? I know you’re busy, will that make it a little easier?”
Mother’s Day. Her mom visiting again. Jane nodded into the phone and fell asleep.
→ too much time passes
Sunday. Another week had rolled by so quickly. Jane rolled out of bed and realized it was 2 p.m. She punched a familiar name in her phone as quickly as she could. Yasmin.
“What about orange juice?” Her friend’s yawning voice told her that she had just woken up, too. → delete sequence about orange juice? Or incorporate more smoothly-not necessary
“It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and my mom’s definitely going to ask me about work!”
In fifteen minutes flat, Yasmin was at her place and fully in agreement with her mother’s assessment of her loneliness.
“You need a boyfriend!”
Jane dismissed this thought immediately, but Yasmin caught her hand and waved it in the air. “What do you have to lose? You have a beautiful apartment but no one to enjoy it with, nada!”
But Yasmin did help her compile a list of potential employers. “Look, it’s easy to get what you want,” Yasmin had said, looking her friend earnestly in the eye. “It’s as easy as making a list.” Jane made another mental note to make more lists. Design is not about reinventing the wheel, Jane thought, just making that wheel turn. Meanwhile, Yasmin amused herself on some dating site. But when her friend didn’t budge when 2 a.m. rolled around, Jane realized Yasmin intended to crash for the night. Yasmin didn’t have an artistic eye either, but she was a great friend.
→ another scene with Jane’s mom-Jane lies about dating again, gets shit from Yasmin
* * *
“Get out!” Jane had to kick Yasmin awake; ironically, since Yasmin had to get to her shift at the hospital on time. That left her an hour before her mom came. Cleaning until a space spotless was one of the interior designer’s best weapons and also a prime method of procrastination. Jane could no longer convince herself that she was doing it for the former when, after all this time, despite what her mother thought, the latter had always been more true. All of her possessions, meant for her portfolio, were nothing but shams. She’d run down to the bottom of the list. No one was willing to hire her.
The first tear came, as it always did, without warning. Before long, she was palms down on the large glossy tile, her long hair shaking vigorously with silent despair.
She must have made a mistake, moving to this town.
Jane wiped away the wetness on her face and concentrated as if that would make the redness go away. The door flung open in her face before she even had time to hide the flowers behind her back.
“Happy mother’s day!” Jane croaked. → remove mother’s day to separate scene
The next morning began like any other. Jane poured herself a glass of cranberry juice, which she had found on sale after the orange juice had run out, when the phone rang. She started, caught between swishing a mouthful of the vibrant liquid and turning to the Employment section of the newspaper. It was the first on the second list of numbers Yasmin had left on her night table labelled Best Bets. Barely able to contain her excitement, Jane shouted without her usual composure: “Yes, Jane Woodall here, I’m available noon today to meet if you’d like.”
“Trevor calling.” The smooth baritone that greeted her back surely belonged to a rising business star. “Noon would be fantastic! Now, where would be most convenient for you?” Trevor’s voice became indistinct as he began mumbling about interior design and how he’d love to meet her in her “studio space” as he called it. Jane’s heart trilled. A sincere interest in her design skills? The rest of Trevor’s speech was lost in the amazement. She gave her his address and hung up.
For the next hour, Jane scurried around until she had found all the pieces to her coffee set. Carafe, cups, miniature spoons, sugar bowl. What a strange thing, an at home interview. Yet oh so appropriate for the job. It was definitely going to be a winner.
The doorbell rang at exactly noon. Jane smoothed out her skirt, stepped into the heels she had waiting by her feet, and looked cautiously through the peephole. A tall man with a smiling face.
“Hello.” Jane opened the door with the most grace she could muster.
“Are you Jane?” Trevor, mousy and casually dressed, approached her with what seemed to be some caution.
“How nice to meet you!” Trevor’s face flushed immediately into a brilliant shade of pink that would go great with her walls, Jane thought. She thought she’d mention that to him later.
“You’re just like your photo!”
My photo? Jane tried to remember if googling her name had any hits. A grainy black and white on her online student portfolio, at best. A sharp eye. Good.
“Come, sit down and have some coffee.” Jane ushered Kevin to the glossy white coffee table she had bought off a classmate.
“So, ready for our date?”
Jane froze in her tracks. Date? Visions of sleazy bosses with panties in their top drawers swam into her hazy mind. Pervert alert! Jane reflexively swung her hand towards the door when she remembered. Listss. Yasmin had really meant it when she said it was as easy as making a list. This wasn’t an interview. These were Best Bets that would fill a space with life, not allow her to fill spaces for a living.
Jane stepped forward and met Trevor’s tentative gaze. “Let me show you how to liven up a space.”
The next morning, Jane woke up and walked past a pile of her own clothing decorating the high pile carpet without a second look.
→ to keep in mind for edit: story is NOT about being validated by someone else-it’s just about leaving some parts of life up to chance to invite new people in