I had a message from Sam. He wanted to talk to me. Mostly we exchange emails about the articles I send him and about when he's going to pay me. Sometimes we talk on the phone; but I hate talking on the phone.
“What does he want to talk to you about?” Maude asked. She was trying not to sound too worried. I would like to say that her worries were unfounded; but since I have a history of telling supervisors, foremen, editors, and publishers to go to hell, I can't really blame her for being a little concerned. To her credit, she does a better job of keeping it in context, or at the very least masking the depth of her worry.
“He didn't say. He said he wanted to talk about some things, is all.”
“He never told you what it was about?”
“Do you KNOW what it's about?”
“What's THAT supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said.” It was her turn to cook. She was making chicken and dumplings using her great-grandmother's receipe. She hadn't made it in a long time, but I knew it was going to be good. When we first got married, we ate a lot of dumplings, usually sans chicken because it cost too much. Chicken bullion broth and dumplings. Flour was an easy commodity to afford, and for that I always felt lucky. That we could now afford to use chicken and even incorporate some vegtables I saw as an indication that things were still better than they once were.
“I'm not worried about it.”
“But you NEVER worry about anything!”
“That's not true. I worry about things all the time.”
I thought for a second. “World peace?”
She wasn't amused. “You nearly quit the last time he wanted to have one of these talks.”
That was months ago, and I was over it. I had gotten pretty pissed off – justifiably – after Sam gutted an article I wrote about the Arliss Church of God and it's relationship with the Arliss Town Council. Apprently several members, some of whom own businesses that frequently advertise in the Star Advocate – said I was picking on “a fundamentally American Institution.” At least, that's what one of them wrote in a letter that she didn't want printed in the paper. Sam showed me the letter. The author, one Fay Parris, was also upset that I spelled her last name wrong. That her husband is also a respected church elder and majority owner in the one of the biggest graineries in the county also had something to do with it. Sam wasn't so much concerned about the fact that I was highlighting what we both see as a problem, even though Establishment Clause issues tend to have little place in small town discussions. He was more concerned about losing the advertisers – which is his concern, not mine, and that's what I told him.
“Relax, will you? I'm not going to quit.”
“He might fire you.”
“He can't fire me. I'm freelance.”
“Well, he could stop taking your articles, then.”
She snorted. “Why?”
“I'm the best writer he's got.”
“That's why I love you; you're so humble.”
“And here I thought it was because I don't leave the toilet seat up.”
“See? Proof that I can change.”
She finished stirring the pot on the stove and turned the heat down to let it simmer a little longer. The house was starting to smell like chicken and dumplings, and it was making me hungry. She came back into the living room, sat down, and lit a cigarette. “You're not taking me seriously.”
“I am. I just don't think there's anything to worry about.”
“What did you write about this week?”
“The usual. Small town intrigue. County politics. Committee meetings. Boring shit, really.”
“So why does he want to talk to you?”
“Maybe he wants to give me a full-time job.”
She shook her head. “You wouldn't take it.”
“Probably not. But it's always nice to be asked.”
I could tell by the way she was smoking that she was getting pissed off; when she smokes when she's mad, she guns them, like she's trying to get every bit of smoke before it burns down to the filter. I didn't see any reason to worry about Sam's intentions. Sometimes he just liked to check in with his writers; Sam had the personal touch. His operation employed three full time employees not including himself, his wife Sandy, and his son David, who was the business manager. He was a politic and considerate guy, with an ocassional tendency to fly off the handle in ideological discussions. I didn't always agree with his truths, but I liked that he had them. Sam didn't always like my truths, either. But no one's perfect.
“I know you think it's a big fucking joke,” she said, “but some of do actually worry about whether or not we're going to have a roof over our heads.”
“I didn't know that was a concern at this point.”
“It's ALWAYS a “concern”,” she said, stamping out the butt of her cigarette in the small plastic ashtray sitting between on the end table between our chairs. “It's just not always YOUR concern.”
“That's unfair,” I said. “I'm working, right? It's not my fault there's shit here to do that doesn't include shoveling cow shit and farming corn. We knew it was going to be this way.”
“So it's my fault?”
“No. Who said anything about fault? It's not about fault. We moved here for your job; we discussed it, decided, and did it. I was okay with it. I'm still okay with it.”
“You were going to lose your job in Phoenix anyway.”
“Yes. I know.”
“And the problems started out the exact same way. And then one day, you get called in for “a talk”, and ...”
“I told you I wasn't going to screw this up, okay? Trust me. He just wants to talk. It'll be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I haven't done anything to piss anybody off lately.”
“Huh. How would you know?”
She had a point. “I'd know. That's all. People here are obvious.”
“No. They just don't tell you to your face.”
“So they're cowards. How is that my problem?”
“Because instead of telling YOU they tell ME.”
Sigh. And that,I thought, is the point.
“What have you heard?”
Not me. Peter.”
“Again? Doesn't that spineless bastard have anything better to gossip about?”
“He's the President of the playhouse board,” she said. “People tell him things.”
“Are they trying to threaten your job again?”
Yes. Just not directly.
“I just don't understand why you have to be so difficult.”
“I'm only as difficult as the situation demands,” I said. “If people would just behave, I wouldn't have any problems with anyone.”
She smiled. A little smile. “Maybe you're the one who needs to behave.”
“Maybe you need to teach me.”
She stood up and walked into the kitchen. “Dinner's ready,” she said.