• Broadkill Review

"Unseen Links" by Rebecca L. Monroe


“Two cents.”

Sarah looked up in surprised. “Oh, nothing. I wasn’t thinking anything.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “Really? Is that why you were looking so pissed off?”

Sarah shrugged, picking up the next box on the assembly line to examine it for defects. “I guess it’s my natural expression.” Emma was new to her line – a plumpish woman who wore thick glasses, had a pasty complexion and blondish hair. Emma had been moved to replace Trish because Trish had quit the day before. Found another job and moved on. Sarah wished she had the guts to do that.

“I don’t think it is.” Emma picked up a box of her own. “The lines in your face say you laugh quite a lot. I can tell difference, you know.”

“Tell what?”

“The difference in what you’re saying versus what you’re thinking.”

“You don’t say.”

Emma smiled, becoming almost pretty. “I do say. You’re upset about something you think is none of my business.”

“It’s not. I don’t even know you.” Sarah immediately regretted her words and tone. “I’m sorry. I’m not an open person.”

“You’re not sorry.” Emma put her box down and picked up another. Four had gone by while they talked. “I am pushy and rather strange looking and you’re right, you don’t know me. Why try to hide the truth?”

Sarah pretended to find a defect in her box. This was going to be a long night.

“Sarah, you are okay to think what you’re thinking.”

“Well, gee, thank you. I’d rather not talk anymore, Emma.”

“You don’t want my life history? It’s very interesting It would take your mind off whatever is bothering you.”

“No. I don’t want your life history and I don’t have anything bothering me!”

“Oops. Okay.”

Sarah kept working, sensing the heavy weight of anger between them. Maybe she should take a cue from Trish and quit. Tomorrow, she’d start looking for a new job.

“How long have you worked here?” Emma asked.

“Two years.”

“What do you really want to do?”

The question startled Sarah. “Excuse me?”

“What do you really want to do? For a living, I mean. It can’t be this.” Emma’s blue eyes were a bit distorted by the thickness of her glasses.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“You’re twenty?”

“Good guess,”

Emma shrugged. “Small town, no college nearby. Two years is a long time to still be thinking about it.”

“You’re pretty rude,” the words popped out before Sarah could stop them.

“No, dear. I’m direct. Not common these days. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t want to work here the rest of my life.” Sarah replied.

“Then what do you want?”

“I don’t know…a good job, a nice house,”

“What kind of job?”

“A secretary or…it would be nice to work with animals.”

“Where have you applied?” Emma examined two boxes at once, discarding one and putting the other back on the line

“Nowhere yet. I probably will this weekend, now that my friend is gone.”

Emma nodded. “Good. You can tell me where on Monday.”

After work, Sarah drove back to her apartment, head full of Emma’s voice. The woman had talked non-stop the whole of the shift. Sarah knew she should pick up some applications but she wasn’t in the mood. She would do it tomorrow. She couldn’t imagine showing up for work without having applied for at least one job somewhere.

Parking her car in the carport, Sarah climbed the steps to her apartment, unlocking the door. The wind behind her was sharp and she was thankful to get out of it. There was a message on her answering machine. She hit play. It was Trish.

“I thought we could go out tonight. Give me a call when you get off work.”

Sarah hesitated, then texted Trish. After eight hours of Emma, she needed a dose of Trish.

They met at their favorite bar which was about halfway between where they both lived.

“You look beat.” Trish said when Sarah sat down.

Trish was a slim, short haired brunette with brown eyes. Her face was narrow with high cheek bones where her own face looked like she’d come in from milking the cows, all round wholesomeness.

“Wait until I tell you about your replacement.” She launched into her tirade about Emma, the nonstop talking and rudeness.

“Wait a minute,” Trish interrupted. “Is this woman about 5’3, blondish gray curly hair, sort of chunky?”

“Yes. Wears thick glasses.”

“I like her! She’s the one who talked me into getting a different job.” Trish exclaimed.

“You like her?” The bar was dark, a candle on the table flickering light across their faces.

“Yes! I’ll admit, I didn’t at first however she grows on you. She has some good advice.”

“I can’t imagine her ever growing on me.” Sarah took a drink of her rum and coke. “How’s your job?”

“Exhausting. I’m not used to the phone, don’t know enough to be able to answer questions yet, screwed up a million times today and I love it.”

“I’m jealous. This weekend I’m going to seriously start looking for something else.”

Trish smiled. “Emma wants to know where, right?”

Sarah felt herself blush.

“Trish! Sarah!”

The voice was sharp, piercing and Sarah winced. Tonight Deidra was the last person she wanted to see.

Deidra pulled a chair out and slid into it. Short, plump, just this side of fat, she had black hair and heavy makeup. She’d always dressed to exaggerate her attributes but in the last year the tightness of her clothes no longer flattered her. “I haven’t seen you two in forever. What have you been up to?”

“Working.” They said in unison.

“I keep telling you, you should get married like I did. Then you don’t have to work.”

Sarah was careful not to look at Trish. Deidra’s wedding vows were loosely worn and most people in town knew it.

‘I’d be bored,” said Trish. “Besides, who wants to be tied down? I can pack up and go to another city tomorrow if I want. I like the freedom of that.”

Deidra’s smile sharpened. “You haven’t though. You still work at the box factory for minimum wage.”

“Actually I don’t. I got a job with Ren and Associates. Next month they’re sending me to Detroit for training.”

“You dog!” Sarah said. “You didn’t tell me.”

Deidra feigned a shudder. “Ick. I don’t like big cities. They’re dangerous too. You’re not going alone, are you?”’

“Yes. It’ll be exciting.”

“What about you, Sarah? Do you have a different job now too?”

“Not yet. I’m looking though.”

“Well good luck. Jobs are few and far between.”

Sarah bit back her ‘thank you for staying out of the market then’. She’d never much cared for Deidra, even when they’d played together in grade school. As they’d gotten older the division between positive and negative got wider.

“I’d better get going. I have a tough day of shopping ahead of me tomorrow.”

Trish rolled her eyes after Deidra left.

“Are you really going to Detroit?”

“Yes? Want to come?”

Sarah felt a thrill of excitement mixed with fear. “Yes, if I can get off work, and if I can afford it.”

The next morning Sarah got up early to go through the want ads in the paper. Deidra hadn’t been joking. The jobs were scarce and most menial, worse than the box factory. She had to apply somewhere! For some reason, she heard Emma saying ‘where do you WANT to work?’. That was easy, the veterinarian’s office, the flower shop, the pet store would be fun. None probably paid well but…

Then apply.

There were no ads.

Apply anyway.

Sarah sat back. But…but. Deidra and negativity. Who was she judging? She was no better. Okay, she would put in an application at every place she wanted to work. The worst they could say was no. She rose, eager to get started.

By the end of the day, she’d visited twenty businesses and received fifteen absolutely nots, four you can fill out an application however we’re not hiring and one maybe. The ‘maybe’ was at the feed store. By the time she got home her legs were tired and she had a headache but she felt content. She curled up on the couch and made a list of other places she wanted to work. Next week she would go out again.

* * *

For once Emma was silent, looking at Sarah.

“What? By the way, Trish says hi.”

The woman’s face softened as she smiled. “I liked Trish.” For a moment, Emma was almost pretty as she lost her sharp, inquisitive focus. “You are amazing. I was completely wrong about you and I’m not often wrong.” She grabbed a box. “I had you pegged for a whiner, figured we’d retire together. Instead I find I won’t get to work with you long. I never would have thought to apply to everywhere, openings or not.”

“It was your idea.”

“Mine? I never said anything other than you should apply somewhere.”

“You lit the fire…”

Emma laughed. “Honey if the spark hadn’t been there, all the gas in the world wouldn’t have started it. How is Trish? Is she happy?”

Sarah saw a box with a bad corner and snagged it. “Yes. Very.” Then she told Emma about Deidra. She’d learned Emma was actually a good listener. She just didn’t do silence. Someone had to be talking.

“That’s sad.” Emma said when Sarah was done.

“Sad? Deidra has it made. It’d be nice if she weren’t nasty about it.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty,”

“She’s living the life of a forty year old. She chose a nice padded cage of laziness. I guarantee you she’s not happy.”

“Then why doesn’t she get a job?”

“When one has chosen the easy path, getting back in the brush is not so simple. It takes will power and rarely do those who’ve made the choice in the first place have much will power. It will take a tragedy to lurch her loose. I’ve known many Deidras in my life. The other sad thing is they do their best to kill other people’s dreams as well. They had parents who derided them and so they pass it on.”

Sarah put the box back slowly. She hadn’t considered how Deidra had become the way she was. “You described Deidra’s mother.”

“What’s your mother like?”

“Busy! She worked when I was growing up so us kids shared the housework. She usually had something going on…fundraisers, food drives, you name it,”

“Do you see her much now?”

“No. We talk about once a month, do the holiday thing.” Sarah looked up in time to see Emma’s brows knit together and her face redden. “What about you? Do you have kids?”

“Tons. You, Trish, ones like you. Of my own? Not anymore. I did for a while. It didn’t work out.” Emma turned away a little, following a box down the conveyor with her gaze. The set of her shoulders, the way her arms were crossed told Sarah she wasn’t seeing the box at all.

“I’m sorry. We can talk about something else.”

“No. It’s fine. Rose left home when she was eighteen. You two would have been in the same class. She did fairly well her first year, had a good job at Costco in Grand Rapids, had plans to attend night school to get her degree. Then she began behaving strangely. She lost weight. She would come home once a week or so and I began to notice things missing.”

Sarah took another box off the line. It was crushed on one end so she put it in her reject pile.

“It took me a long time to admit I was seeing an addict. I confronted her. She broke down. She’d become addicted to opiates. We had a horrible fight, made up, and got things straight. I helped her get into a rehab program. She moved back home. Costco was wonderful – let her keep her job. They have their own program for drug abuse. That lasted about two months. Then she disappeared.”

Sarah searched for something to say. “Is she still missing?”

“Yes. It’s been two years next April. I doubt she’s still alive.”

“I’ll bet she is. To people our age, two years is nothing.”

Emma turned back, face pink, eyes bright. “Thank you dear, but I doubt it.”

“There is nothing wrong with hope. If it’d been ten I’d say she’s probably gone but,”

“You’re going to go far, Sarah.” Emma resumed watching the boxes flow by.

“How’s that?”

“You listen with your heart."

* * *

“You want to go to a party?” Trish was on the phone.

Sarah looked at her dirty apartment. Cleaning it was on her list of things to do for the evening. “You bet. When and where?”

“Deidra’s at seven. I’ll pick you up.”

“Deidra’s? Really? Why would you want to go to a party of hers?” Suddenly cleaning the apartment looked more attractive.

“She’s got this cousin in town. I haven’t actually seen him but Patty says he’s drop dead gorgeous.”

“I don’t know, Trish. I don’t think any guy is worth an evening with Deidra.”

“There will be tons of people there so you won’t have to talk to her.”

“Okay. I’ll meet you there though. In case I want to leave early,”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you in an hour, in front of Deidra’s.”

Sarah ended the call and went to take a shower, chuckling. Trish had been chasing drop dead gorgeous for years. She never seemed to remember it usually meant the three S’s: Stuck-up, Shallow and Selfish. Sarah liked her guys a little plump, a little shy. They were much nicer. It was even better if they’d been dropped a time or two. It taught them respect.

She parked behind Trish’s little compact, surprised at the number of cars along the curbs in the subdivision. “You look drop dead yourself,”

Trish gave a small curtsy. “Why, thank you. Any luck on the job hunting?”

“No. Work isn’t so bad now though. Emma has turned out to be okay.”

“She is, isn’t she.”

They walked toward the house, an older two story built in colonial style.

“What’s the occasion, anyway?” Sarah asked.

“Oh, you don’t know? Deidra’s getting a divorce.”

“You’re kidding. I thought she liked married.”

“She did. Her husband didn’t.”

Sarah felt a stab of worry for Deidra. Her future was probably not going to be easy.

They entered the house directly into a large living room, people standing in clumps with drinks in their hands, trying to talk over the music.

“Where’s the cousin?” Sarah asked in Trish’s ear.

“I don’t see him. You go that way. I’ll go the other. Wave to me if you find him.”

“Subtle,”

Trish flashed her a grin and started wading through people.

Sarah wandered. She liked parties when she didn’t know people. It let her watch without being cornered by any one person. She spotted a man who was probably the cousin; Latin looking, longish hair, smoldering eyes, surrounded by females. She looked for Trish but didn’t see her.

Sarah felt a hand grab her arm and turned. Deidra.

“Wow! What are you doing here? How’d you like the party? Awesome, isn’t it? Half of these people are from out of town. I can’t believe they came. I thought they all liked Bob and not me. Now I’m finding out it was always me they liked! Did you hear I’m getting divorced? Bob couldn’t take a wife who stood up to him, the wimp”

Sarah found herself smiling stiffly. “You sound happy about it.”

“I’m delighted! Bob was so boring. Now I can be free to grow. Kara! Kara! What are you doing here?” Deidra hurried after a tall blonde, drink spilling over her fingers as she stumbled.

Pity waved through Sarah. The look in Deidra’s eyes had not been delight. Sarah had seen the same look in a dog who had been hit without understanding why.

Trish appeared at her elbow. “Did you see him?”

“Yes. Didn’t you?”

“Well, yes, but I’m not a good swimmer and the ocean of women was deep.”

“I’m sure he’s shallow and self-centered.”

“Oh, I’m sure. However one can overlook much with such a view.”

“I’m beat. I think I’ll head home.”