The next morning, I awake with a start. I impulsively call out to my mother before remembering that she had returned home the night before after delivering the edict that I was to call her if anything untoward happens. I had retorted that everything in my life these days was untoward so I would be calling her continuously. This morning, I awake with my heart pounding. I had another one of those nightmares where I can’t remember anything that happened, but I can still feel the aftermath. I stumble out of bed to get ready for work, feeling less enthusiastic about it than usual. I start thinking about changing my job. I’m almost thirty and have been a receptionist at one place or another since I graduated from college. Now, it’s fine to be a receptionist at my age if in your spare time, you’re a struggling writer or painter or musician, but not if you’re just a lazy ass who has no direction in life.
I used to derive some satisfaction for a job well done, but no longer. Each day is excruciatingly long, and my coworkers are really getting on my nerves. I see the director of the agency sit on his fat ass all day long, doing nothing more important that decide where to go for lunch. My immediate boss works hard, but she only puts in five to six hours a day. Of course, Alicia, the wonder counselor strolls into work late and is among the first to leave. It bothers me that I’m the hardest working person in the place. I know that nobody is getting paid much money, but supposedly, we’re working for a greater cause. Some of the counselors and teachers have been there for years doing the same thing year after year, sliding by. In some ways, it’s a cushy job without much pressure to improve on performance. There are no concrete objectives other than to graduate kids out of the program, which is subjectively decided, anyway. If it weren’t for the kids, I’d find the job intolerable.
I sigh. The idea of scouring the classifieds or surfing mega-job sites depresses me. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t quit my job—inertia. As frustrating as my current position is, it’s the poison I know. There’s no guarantee that a new job will be free of the corrosive office politics found at my current place of employment. Most days, this argument is enough to keep me, not happy, but complacent. I trudge to work, hunkered inside my coat. I hate San Francisco weather, though the Mission is better than the rest of the truly windy city. Other people scurry by, grim looks on their faces. San Francisco is more laid-back than NYC, but it’s slowly growing more uptight. Another reason I like the Mission—it still retains some residual funk. One such funkster holds his hand out to me, boldly staring in my eyes.
“You are truly a vision of beauty,” he beams, his dark brown eyes glowing. His frame is gaunt with his walnut-colored skin stretched tightly over his bones, as if he hasn’t eaten in days. I have a bagel in one hand, a cup of untouched coffee in the other. I thrust both at him, and he doffs his hat at me before accepting. “God will show mercy on your soul, beautiful lady,” he laughs, taking a bite out of the onion bagel smeared with cream cheese. He closes his eyes in delight as he washes down the bite with a sip of coffee. I hurry away, not wanting to be the target of his fulsome praise. I make it to work with a minute to spare.
“Did you read this?” Quinn asks, tossing the Chronicle on my desk. She hasn’t darkened my foyer since her futile attempt to procure me as a present for her ‘roommate’ but appears determined to make up for lost time. I glance at the front page, disconcerted to see Mariah’s face splashed across it.
“Second-generation Death,” the headline runs. I frown. They really need better headlines to grab people’s attention. Although, the picture of a dead Mariah clutching a rosary is more than enough to turn my stomach. I skim the beginning of the article which seems to be asking the question if death can run in a family, much like blue eyes or fat stomachs. I wrinkle my nose in disgust. There’s nothing new in the article, and it’s clear they are just capitalizing on the tragedy. I’m about to toss the paper back at Quinn when something else catches my eye—a sidebar interviewing Carol. She offers her condolences but takes pains to add that she thinks the latest death indicates there is absolutely no connection between the therapy group and the murders. She goes on in this vein for some time before sliding in the obligatory mention of her book. My mouth tightens. I can’t believe she’s done it again.
“It’s that maid’s daughter,” Quinn explains, her eyes round. I snap back to the present, pushing Carol’s comments to the back of my mind. I make a note to myself to ask Carol about the article at the next meeting and not to let her off the hook. Then I let it go. “Remember I told you about my friend who was blackmailed by that maid!” I vaguely remember the story. I wonder if Quinn has any more useful information.