Career Day

“Well that escalated quickly,” Pri said.

She sat on the bare floor across from me in our shitty apartment, mugs in hand. We watched the cheap coffee table between us in rapt attention, where most of a law textbook had grown. Only the last inch was left, still wriggling out of the wood. The wood of the table squealed like nails on a chalkboard as the book worked itself out.

“Has your career grown in, yet?” I asked her. I didn’t mean it to come out in a whisper. Speaking any louder seemed to make the whole thing real.

“Not even a hint. I thought only prodigies and shit got their careers in their teens. Is there such a thing as a law prodigy? Oooh, are you going to be a supreme court justice?”

It started as nothing but a nub in the wood when we noticed it, something we could have polished out tomorrow morning. Maybe something that we should have polished out. The first book of my budding future had grown in before the end of our first cup of coffee. We were planning to go dancing tonight, but Pri had changed into sweats. I was still in my sequined dress, heels discarded by the door.

The textbook made a little popping sound and a bang as it settled on the table, fully formed and properly inanimate. I couldn’t touch it. I couldn’t stand to look at it but I couldn’t look anywhere else. I thought the grain of the wood beside the book wavered. Maybe it was just a shadow passing over the knot. I couldn’t get two books in one night. No one had two books grow in their first night.

Pri cocked her head ninety degrees to read the title. “‘Questions and Explanations for Civil Procedure.’ Sounds dull as fuck.”

I slammed my mug down over the knot in the wood to keep it from shifting again. “We should go out.”

“You’re not gonna read your book tonight?” Pri asked.

“I’m not even going to be a lawyer. I can’t afford to be a lawyer,” I said, getting my keys. “C’mon. If you don’t want to change then at least let’s get some food or something.”

I followed Pri’s gaze to my mug on the table. Like something out of a dinosaur film, it rattled once, twice, the dark coffee dribbling over the lip. I couldn’t move. Pri caught the mug just before it fell as a second book pushed its way out of a stupid coffee table that I’d saved from a dumpster two years ago.

I didn’t need this shit.

“I’m going,” I said.

“Where?” Pri was still mopping up coffee. My coffee, which I should have helped her with.

Somewhere without lawyers or the rule of law, if I had my choice. There had to be an island somewhere without careers. “I don’t know. I’m just going.”

“You okay, Nina?”

I had my keys, my phone, and my purse. I didn’t need anything else in my life. “I’m fine.”

I slammed the door behind me.

#

By year four of college, I had hundreds of law books piled up in my living room. I’d stopped counting somewhere in the five hundreds. I could hear them growing while I tossed and turned in bed. The “pop” of a book coming into full form would wake me up just as I fell asleep every time. I was drowning in books.

I hadn’t taken a single law course.

“No career yet?” my college adviser asked when I sat down in her office for what was supposed to be our final meeting. Professor Angie Cole. Her walls were crammed with books on education, teaching, and self-help books for mentors. I could pick out at least three books on therapy for delinquents in the corner of one shelf.

I slumped in my chair, ready to get this over with. “Not so much as a nub.”

She nodded along. Her eyes flicked from me to the self-help books on the shelf. I took some pride in the idea that I was a particularly difficult case. It took the edge off the pity in her eyes if I maintained some anger.

“You can keep taking gen ed courses, if you’d like. The government pays until your career grows in and takes over.”

“Gen ed courses. Sure. Great. Just what I need.”

Her lips formed a tight line against my bullshit as she handed me a list of available courses. “There are some gaps in your general curriculum.”

Indeed there were. I’d gone to some lengths to avoid absolutely any class that I had a book for. I’d had to skip a good deal of modern politics, history, communications, and basic computer skills. I wasn’t going to let her bully me into taking any of those courses now. “I thought I might take Irish poetry, Numerology 105, and The Art of Walking this semester.”

Professor Cole rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed. “Gen ed courses form the basis for an educated workforce in this country. We want informed citizens who can apply the basics to whatever career path they might have. We do not need more people who study Irish poetry. Besides, Numerology can only be taken if you have the book for it already. Has Numerology grown in for you?”

I handed the list of courses she’d suggested back to her. “How about Auto Repair and Maintenance, then? That has to be useful. As part of the workforce and all.”

“Nina, you understand that this is your final semester of paid college, right? After this, you have to pay for any courses the universe hands you down the road. Are you sure that you want to squander it like this?”

“I suppose I could add Archery 201, if you want me to take an extra class.”

“You should be taking this more seriously.”

I maintained my slump. I was very serious about slumping. “I know, I know. If I don’t have a career I won’t be able to get a job or have a family or whatever.”

The barest hint of kindness touched Professor Cole’s face. “You’re a late bloomer, Nina. And not the first one I’ve met. You have to believe that a career will come to you. The universe knows what it’s doing.”

If the universe knew what it was doing I would be getting typing manuals and basic office management courses by now. The universe was all messed up.

I took car repair, archery, and environmental geology my last year in college. It didn’t satisfy anyone.

#

There was a boyfriend. Jimmy. Or maybe his name was Johnny. Georgie? Something like that, not that it mattered for long. He stared at my books for hours after sex. There as always a new one growing in. Business law, family law, ethics, history of law. As each new one grew in, I stuffed them in the kitchen cabinets, the pantry, under the couch. The apartment was packed to the gills.

Joey dragged them out, including those I’d stuffed behind the pipes in the bathroom hoping they’d mold. I came out of the shower to a perfect castle wall, separated by subject.

“This is so cool.” He’d seen me but not the look on my face. Not my body language as the towel on my head slithered off my hair and fell to the floor, unleashing a Gorgon’s nest of hair.

“How did you find all of them? Jesus, that one was jammed up inside of the couch.”

“You’re lucky babe. A good career like this growing in. A good man like me. Yep. We’re set for life.” The muscles in his neck rippled as he stretched. “I don’t know why you try to hide that you’re going into the family business. If I had a books like this growing in, I’d frame them and nail ‘em to the goddamn walls.”

I left my damp towel on the floor to discolor the wood laminate and grabbed a couple of beers from the kitchen. I kicked books off the coffee table and plopped my feet up. “What about you, Jamie. What career did the universe ordain for you?”

“I’m going to be a food technologist.” He took a big swig of the beer I offered him.

“Like a cafeteria worker?” I asked.

“No.”

“Oh.”

“You’re gonna be a big fancy lawyer like your mom and you don’t even know how your food gets made?”

“I am not going to be a lawyer.” I kicked the last of the books on the coffee table harder than I meant to and sent them flying against the wall.

I let the towel wrapped around my midsection fall to the couch as I stood up. “I’m sick of these books trying to take over my life. I’m not going to be a lawyer. Or a judge. Or a Supreme Court justice. I’m not even going to be a stenographer, not that the universe gives me a choice in the matter.”

I grabbed a book to punctuate each proclamation. I shouted at Jerry as I turned on the bathtub and let it fill. I tossed each book in with a splash, filling the tub.

I let the books soak overnight until my tub was full of ink and false promises.

Jakey the food scientist and I didn’t work out.

#

Life was full of temp and part-time jobs. Most of my coworkers were regular career folks trying to earn some extra money to pay off their medical bills. I never told them that my other jobs were all part-time or temp, too. I wasn’t moonlighting. This was my regular life. But you didn’t have to declare your career unless you applied for a full-time position.

Unless your boss found you out.

I knew I shouldn’t have stayed at that fast food position so long. I did my fucking job just fine. Slap some condiments on a burger, hand it over to the customer with a smile. I didn’t need a book on how to do that. No mysterious hamburger book ever showed up while I slept. The law books had given up. I got the occasional light reading from the universe. I slept like a baby when I wasn’t trying to work three jobs.

“Why are you in such a bad mood, today?” Carey asked as the ketchup pump exploded all over my cleanest work polo.

I wiped ketchup off my face as I stared at her.

“Okay, other than the ketchup.”

“Turner’s trying to force me out.”

“So?” Carey asked.

I looked at her round, earnest face. “I need the money.”

“There are other jobs. Just move to one of them,” she said.

I didn’t know how to explain that I’d burned my way through a full sixty percent of the part-time jobs in town. I’d have to move within a year at this rate, or risk cycling through the temp jobs again. I didn’t want to answer certain questions.

“Don’t you ever just want to choose a job for yourself and stay there?” I asked.

A nervous laugh bubbled out of her before she managed to clamp down on it. “What?”

“Choose your own job,” I repeated.

“But I did choose my job. This one. And I chose my company.”

“Not your career, though,” I muttered.

“Why would you want to choose your career? What if you were bad at the one you chose? Or it wasn’t suited to you?”

The words ran out of me as I stared at her, shaking my head just a touch.

But the boss called me away and I didn’t get to answer her.

My employment file sat on his desk, flipped open to the half-true CV I’d submitted. “Hi Nina.”

I didn’t take the grimy seat across from him. “What can I do for you boss?”

“You know we’re putting in the new kiosks.”

Everyone knew. They were downsizing. So that’s what this was about.

“You’ve worked a few different part-time positions. I’ve called around. This isn’t even half of them.” He flipped the CV over to show the list he’d made. He didn’t have even a quarter of them, so far.

I didn’t say anything, just nodded.

“Paying off medical debt or student debt?” he asked. He kept his tone conversational, but there was a bite beneath it. As though he’d suddenly realized those might not be the only two reasons someone would work here.

I shrugged, hoping he might take it as an answer without having to lie.

He nodded back. I wasn’t sure what conversation we were having but I knew I had to leave.

“You didn’t declare your day career on your resume. I know we don’t usually ask, but are you interested in correcting it now while we’re considering everyone’s contracts?”

For a second I thought he might be offering me a job. His hand hovered over a pen, as though he could just fill in my answer and clear this whole thing up. Maybe if I told him.

“No career then?” he sneered.

My hope dropped into a pit in my stomach. He wasn’t fishing for a promotion, but he was fishing for something. The CV was to prove how many people he knew in town. He could blackball me with a handful of calls.

I still hadn’t said anything when he tsked at me. “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” He sounded like a deranged clock.

“No career to declare? I see. I’ve met criminals before. They always think they can hide out in these temp jobs.”

“Wait? Criminal?” I asked.

“Why else would you be here, Nina? The only people who don’t stay in their careers are criminals and fools. Are you a fool, Nina? You don’t look like one.”

“Maybe I didn’t like my career,” I offered. “Maybe it brought up bad memories.”

“Well, you can tell them to the police. I’m sure they’d like to hear all about your memories.”

I stormed out of the office before he could get out of his chair. I still had ketchup on my shirt and I didn’t bother to avoid smearing it all over Carey as I pushed past her.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Fuck this place. I should take that bastard to court,” I grumbled.

“Ooo, are you a lawyer in your day job?” she asked.

“We’ll see,” I said.

Only time will tell.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.