“Done!” Dree leaps off the elevator and rushes toward me. She holds a copy of Freedom in her hand. She wears a long, beige dress. It is linen and opaque. Her breasts, soft and doughy half spheres capped by erect nipples – their contours evident – compete for attention against her sun-bitten glossed lips.
“This is not fair,” I say. The store’s abundant AC freezes my sweat glands instantly. My face too feels frozen at an expression between displeasure and mild happiness. “Coming in early and reading the book by yourself, is cheating.”
“Well, I’m done reading it,” she says. Her peach-pink tongue also makes a special appearance.
“Fine,” I let out a deliberately heavy sigh. It cheers me to see Dree smile. “But I’ll only pay for half of it.”
“Whatever, you lost.” She is on her way to the cash registers. “I am done,” she sings out, looping her arm around mine and drags me along.
I take the ten-dollar bill she hands me. It’s not quite half of twenty-six dollars, but a bet is a bet. And winning cheaters are still winners.
Being unemployed, reading books is a not-terrible way to pass the time. I prefer the Barnes and Noble at Union Square for reading books I never plan to buy. Lately, however, even free AC and hardcover books can’t bury the sad fact that my job prospects are dwindling. My savings are disappearing at an alarming rate. I calculated that if I can stay within a $400 food plus miscellany budget, I can pay rent and last through November. That leaves me just three months to try to find something viable, to remain dignified.
“How was your interview?” Dree asks me.
We are sitting on the floor in the “self-help” section, a litter of magazines at our feet. Freedom sits on my lap, open to page 306: Walter Berglund is ready to eat dinner. I close the book. Life is depressing enough without the insult of so-called literature.
“It wasn’t really an interview.” I say.
“When will they let you know the results?”
“Next week, I think.”
“Well, how do you feel about it?” Dree offers me some of her iced coffee, as encouragement for me to keep talking. My ego falls deeper into the quicksand of self-pity.
“Well,” I take a sip of the coffee. It is very sweet. “It’s a part-time job at Whole Foods. Nothing to write home about.”
“What’s the problem with it?”
“I will barely be able to pay my rent and eat food. It’s not an ideal situation for a someone with thousands of dollars of student loans, don’t you think?” I sound angry, and I am.
There is no respite, no good news, nothing but fake optimism as law schools and committees of established lawyers shut the door in the face of the discardable already graduated. The priority is the new class of fresh innocents ready to pay for the privilege of over-education. It is easy to blame myself if I were alone, the only loser who failed. It is more discouraging to know, to be informed by newspapers and friends, that there are thousands of people who are similarly unemployed, unemployable yet desperately searching for jobs. I am very willing to work. But willingness isn’t enough. Dree, in her beige linen dress that shows her perky-enough breasts and nipples, doesn’t understand my anger because she believes there is hope.
It is all unnecessarily grim, of course, this sinking feeling that I am finally, quietly growing into a failure.
I collect my thoughts. “No, there is no problem,” I say. “It’ll be a job, if I get it.”
Dree puts a hand on my shoulder and sighs. I close my eyes. I try to match her rhythm of breathing. “Do you want to have dinner with my dad and me tonight?” she says.
T. J. Clarke is the pen name of a struggling writer. She lives in Brooklyn.