This story is by Brodny Iveans and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mr. Stevens rapped his desk to get Jessica’s attention. “Did you hear me?” He asked, anxious to get on with his day.
“Yes sir but I… I need this job, please, I can do better.” She pleaded but her manager was unmoved.
“I understand and I’m sorry but we simply cannot wait any longer for you to get up to speed.” He said in a tone distinctly lacking understanding or empathy. She opened her mouth again to protest but was cut off before she began. “Ms. Fleming it’s time for you to leave, I wish you luck elsewhere”.
Jessica departed the office and hurried back to her cubicle. “Hey Jess, sorry”. Said the stocky security guard, voice filled with feigned compassion “So, remember a couple weeks ago when you took some stuff home to finish over the weekend and you took the stapler from your desk?”. He leaned on the cubicle wall and took a big bite of a freshly washed Granny Smith, “We’re gonna need that back”.
“I didn’t bring it today, is it really that big a deal Owen?” She said, trying to look merely annoyed and hide the devastation of getting fired with no money in the bank, a broken down car and final notices littering her kitchen counter.
“Hey, you know I don’t care, but if the stapler comes up missing when we hire a replacement then Stevens is gonna be on my ass. I’m gonna have to find a new one…it’ll just be a whole thing ya know?”
Staring at this lazy pile of boastful incompetence Jessica’s neck and cheeks burned. Inhaling deeply, a blistering verbal assault welled up from chest to throat to tongue but all that escaped was a meek “Fine. I’ll bring it by later”. Owen grinned and gave a derisive thumbs up and sauntered away lips smacking.
Jess exited the building and strode down the sidewalk with her head down. This was too much for her. The third time she’d been fired in the last seven months. It was getting difficult to not take it personally. She was up to 283 brittle brown leaves crunched underfoot when her elderly neighbor Mrs. Davenport called out to her. She was sitting on the stoop of their apartment building, affixing a grotesque spider with red, LED lit eyes to the railing. “Oh honey I’m sorry,” She said waddling over to put her arm around Jessica’s shoulders. “Would you like to talk about it?”
Jessica chuckled defensively “What do you mean?” Mrs. Davenport meant well, but a well meaning lecture was the last thing she needed right now. Her neighbor made a show of looking down at the box of personal belongings and back at Jess. “Oh this??” Jess laughed, a practiced deception that had grown entirely too believable recently “Just some odds and ends I’d been meaning to bring home. You know how they say a cluttered desk is the Devil’s playground.”
“Nobody says that dear, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Are you sure? I think they do, but no I’m fine thank you so much. I’ve gotta get upstairs and get dinner started but I’ll talk to you soon, thanks.” Jess shimmied out of Mrs. Davenport’s grasp and hurried up the stairs to her cold, cramped apartment. Once inside she popped a TV dinner in the microwave then headed to the bathroom where she sat in the empty, peeling tub and wept.
It was fairly standard for her at this point. She cried hard and as silently as possible. The walls were thin with interested ears nearby. The ding of the microwave told her it was time to stop, she got up, washed her face and ate at her rickety table for one. There was an unwelcome twist in her nightly routine though, instead of poring over gossip mags or taking a walk to the park she would read the classifieds.
Jess flipped through the pages dejectedly “Nothing for a college dropout with no discernible skills? Travesty!” She had stopped laughing at her own jokes months ago but it was the thought that counted and no one else thought to try. She found a couple temp agencies and went to grab a marker from her desk. “Ugh what the hell Jess?” she said, annoyed with herself. The drawer was disorganized. There was old mail, phone chargers, a washcloth, Owen’s stapler which she promptly threw in the trash and several high school swim medals.
She picked them up, weighed them in her hands as she flashed back to her days atop the podium “What happened to you?” she whispered before dropping the medals back into the drawer’s confused mess. The tears came again. She was doubled over the desk, eyes shut and fists clenched fighting the heavy sobs that wracked her body. There would be no call to the temp agencies tomorrow, she had enough. Jessica composed herself, grabbed her sweater from the closet and went out into the cool autumn night determined to leave this life behind.
The streets were coming to life with costumed children giggling at lit Jack O’Lanterns as parents trailed, catching up with their neighbors. Jess zipped up her hoodie and jogged the two blocks to her friend’s complex. She knocked three times and waited, going over the apartment’s layout in her head. The safe was on the wall just inside the front door, the makeshift office was past the living room and down the hall on the left. She would have plenty of time.
Cecelia freed the three locks and opened the door a crack, peering out at her long time friend. “Hey Jess, I wasn’t expecting you. What’s up?” She asked in her typically suspicious manner.
“Just came by to pick up that book you were going to loan me, figured I’d get started tonight if that’s ok.”
“Absolutely!” Cecelia said taken aback, her recommendations were generally not trusted by her small circle of friends. “Let me go grab it” she said opening the door wide and starting off towards the hall.
Jess turned to the safe on the wall and punched in the 4 digit combination. 1790, Cecelia’s birthday as always. Inside lay a black 9mm and a box of ammo. She tucked the gun into her waistband and pocketed the bullets. She had planned to leave immediately but instead scrawled “I’m sorry -Jess” on a nearby envelope and placed it in the open safe before hurrying out the door and back onto the street.
Her phone buzzed as she took her seat near the back of the bus. It was Cecelia. Jess shut it off and stared out the window, avoiding guilty thoughts that would deter her from the task at hand. Jess disembarked and walked down to the sandy shore. She had expected to be terrified at this point but the weight on her waist was a comfort.
The beach was deserted except for a few teens swimming near the pier, “their night’s about to take a turn” she said wryly. She dropped the gun and ammo to the sand and sat down on her sweater. Waves crashed in, receded and rushed in again, rhythmically assaulting the shore. Jess sat in awe. The setting sun made the ocean was dark and forbidding. She was calm and for the first time in a long time she felt in control. “Time to get on with it I suppose”.
Jess loaded the gun and sat looking around. No one was coming for her she knew, she hadn’t told anyone so how could they, but it stung all the same. Two deep breaths and she cocked the hammer, eyes closed and the muzzle was at her temple. There was a faint cry for help from her own mind she thought, but there it was again. Her eyes shot open and scanned the water. Drifting away from shore she could just make out a person flailing. They were caught in a riptide and from the looks of it they were going to die.
The gun dropped to the sand once more and Jess shimmied out of her jeans. She sprinted to the ocean and dove in ignoring her nerves’ plea for warmth. Jess swam hard, closing the distance between she and the young man struggling to stay above water. Jess dove and surfaced behind him, slipping her arms under his and holding him by the shoulders. “Just hold on, we’re gonna make it, you’re okay” Jess said repeatedly on the long swim back to shore.
His friends met her on the beach and dragged them both to dry land. They tended to the young man as Jess lay exhausted, trying to wrap her head around the fact that he was alive because of her. She made her way back to her things and picked up her phone, it rang twice before going to voice mail. “Hi Dr. Jamison it’s Jessica…Fleming, I was wondering if you’re still available Tuesdays at 6? I’d like to try again”.