The Capital Woman

"Ira Cunningham, you bitch!"

Ira's face split into a low, pursed smirk. The smile looked almost painful, as if her face might crack in half. She was a ragged, seventy-year-old woman with a forehead pressed flat by botox, eye shadow reaching up to her brows, and a thick cake of lipstick spread over her lips. She worked for the Community First Credit Union in the mortgage department and specialized in home foreclosures and reposessions. "They should have paid their mortgage on time," she cackled back to Denise Wicklit, her friend and coworker in the department. Denise was shorter and rounder than Ira and she spoke only when spoken to. The two became friends through their opposite personas: Ira was domineering and cruel and Denise just wanted to make everyone happy. She was subdued and came to depend on Ira. Ira had never been a leader or even a capable decision maker, but she was never comfortable without a follower. The world, after all, was put there to make Ira Cunningham happy.

The pair were sitting in Ira's office on a dreary, damp day in Lima, Ohio. A drizzle streaked down the windows, dripping from the low, heavy clouds, their black bottoms stretching down toward the earth. The city was poor. It was flooded with dilapidated buildings, low brow restaurants, factories, rail roads, and broken pavement on the roads. Ira had managed to secure her own position at the credit union through her daughter who sat on the union's board of directors. She never failed to remind her colleagues of this status, particularly Denise who sat perched on the corner of her desk like a vulture, neck extended as she gulped down the story of Ira's latest foreclosure.

A couple living on the west side of the city was four months behind on their payments. Letters had been sent, then phone calls had been made. They had tried to come to an agreement on a modified payment schedule, but when an arrangement could not be made, the assignment was pushed to Ira's desk. A week prior, she had made her first visit. A police officer had escorted her, as she always insisted, and she sneered at the couple's aging vehicle and cheap furniture, waving off their pleas for an extension and serving them notice that the premises must be vacated in seven days. When the seven days had come and gone and they still had not left, Ira made her second visit. She waited in the yard while the police officer informed the couple that they must leave their home immediately and cackled as she laid out the details of the man's arrest; he had gotten desperate and took a swing at the officer and made his exit in the back of the squad car. That dull, aching smile covered her face as she reminisced every detail to Denise's encouragement. She spoke slowly, drawing out every word and savoring it, reliving every moment in her mind. Her voice cracked with her age like nails on a chalk board.

"What's on the agenda for tomorrow?" Denise asked, wobbling on the corner of Ira's desk.

"Some family living on the north side. I can't say their name. They moved here a year ago and they're six months behind. I paid them a visit almost two weeks ago so, it's time for them to go," she answered, her dim teeth flashing.

Denise opened her mouth to speak, but Ira cut her off quickly. "What time is it?" she blurted and Denise answered quickly: almost three thirty. "That late already? I have a doctor's appointment at four and I have so much to do at home. There's just not enough time in the day." Denise agreed and Ira began to gather her things. The office was open until six, but Ira never stayed until the end of the day. She never arrived at eight to open either. There was simply too much else for her to do. With a daughter on the board, what did it matter anyway? Ira was safe.

Soon thereafter, Ira was on her way to her doctor for a juviderm treatment in her lips and then heading home. She drove a silver Chevrolet Impala with a crack in the windshield and scratches in the paint. She bumped into other cars in the parking lot frequently. She had been paying for the car for the last four years. She told everyone that she had bought it after her previous husband had ruined her credit. She had impeccable credit now, she claimed, as evidenced by her eight credit cards. She was eager to get home because she knew that she had a package waiting for her: a new mink fur coat. She had charged it of course and couldn't wait to try it on. The coat was more than she could afford on her salary. Even a specialist such as herself only made forty thousand dollars a year, but Ira was supplemented by her mother. Her mother was an ailing, ninety-eight-year-old woman who had been a teacher and made fifty thousand dollars a year in retirement. She suffered from Alzheimer's and a general inability to care for herself so, Ira managed her finances and management had its fees.

Ira arrived home at three forty-five. Her husband, a toothless, uneducated man named Bentley Cunningham, was waiting for her at the door. He was seventy-four and retired. When they had met, he had been a millionaire by inheritance, but frivolous spending had drained his funds in the first few years of the marriage. Ten years later, they lived in their small two bedroom house that Ira's mother owned.

When she opened the car door, Bentley came to retrieve her bags. "How was work, baby?" he asked, his words hurried and abbreviated, crushed together in his redneck drawl.

"Just open the door, Bentley," she replied shortly, tapping her foot as he rearranged her bags in his arms to open the front door to the house. Once inside, several cats, eleven or twelve, hurried toward her, pawing at her feet. She thought herself a saint for giving them a home, but brushed them from her feet each day when she came through the door. "Bentley," she shouted, "I thought you were going to clean this place up! It smells like cat shit in here!"

"I started cleaning, baby, it'll be finished tomorrow," he replied. The house was inundated with knick-knacks and decorations Ira had collected over the years which all gathered dust and cat hair. The job of keeping it all clean was too much for one person to handle, but Bentley tried his hardest. He did whatever he could to keep Ira happy.

"Make sure that it is," she scoffed, brushing past her mother without another word and going for the kitchen. She heated herself a frozen dinner, then turned to her husband and barked, "Make mother something to eat," then turned toward her bedroom. She slammed the door shut and set her dinner down on the bedside table. There on her bed was the package containing her new coat. He shouldn't have even touched it, she thought to herself as she tenderly cut open the tape with a pair of scissors. She sighed and smiled as she pulled the coat from the box and slipped her arms in. She looked at herself in the mirror, awed at how fabulous she looked. She ignored her squalid surroundings reflected in the mirror. She had never given much thought to how she had arrived at this point in her life, but she knew that she deserved better. Ira Cunningham always deserved better.

She hung the coat in her bulging closet, then climbed into her bed. She pulled her laptop into her lap and ate her dinner as she checked the status of her other deliveries online. Two more tomorrow, one more the day after that. At least I have something to look forward to. She remained in bed for the rest of the evening. After his chores, Bentley eventually joined her, but she was already fast asleep.

***

Morning always came too early for Ira and this was no exception. She got out of bed at seven and ate her oatmeal. Bentley prepared breakfast for himself and for Mother. Afterward, she locked herself in the bathroom to get ready for the day. She checked her lips and they were fuller. She applied her eyeliner and shadow, her foundation and rouge, her crevices were buried under a thick layer of concealer. She pulled on a dark blue top and a pair of low slung jeans, then turned to look at herself in the mirror. Ira had never been a big woman, but the wrong shirt would show the bulges in her body so, she elected to add a leopard spotted blazer to the ensemble, complete with a tall pair of leopard high heels. Finally, she put on her new coat and looked in the mirror again. "You're ready," she said to herself and she headed out the door. Bentley had started her car to get it warmed up for her. She ignored him when he said goodbye.

At nine fifteen, Denise greeted Ira with a cheery good morning. Ira returned the greeting with a icy stare. "Oh, no," Denise exclaimed and followed Ira to her office. "Tell me all about it."

"I'm just so busy, Denise," Ira complained, "My husband can't do anything right. I work full time and bring in all of the money and I still have to do everything at home!"

"That's terrible, Ira! No man is good enough for you. But try to look at the bright side: you've got a great assignment today! What time are you going to see that family on the north side?"

"Oh, yes," Ira said, rolling her eyes, "I forgot I have to work. I suppose I'll go see them after I've had my coffee. Go call the department and get me an escort." Denise did as Ira commanded and, half an hour later, Ira Cunningham was on her way to the north side of the city with two squad cars in tow.

Within the hour, Ira arrived at 1485 Sandy Oaks Lane. There was no sand and no oak. The house was small and constructed of brick. It had one bedroom and no garage and the driveway was cracked and weathered. Without hesitation, Ira exited her car, the police officers right behind her, and knocked on the door.

"Yes?" an attractive, dark skinned woman asked when she answered the door.

"Miss...Aashritha?" Ira asked, stumbling over the name.

"Yes, ma'am," she responded, "How may I help you?"

Aashritha Gupta was an Indian Hindu woman who had immigrated to the United States the previous year with her husband, Rahul Gupta, and their five-year-old daughter, Idha. Rahul had gotten a job almost immediately in one of the city's factories and Aashritha had elected to stay home with their daughter until she could be enrolled in school. However, after a few months, the factory was downsized and Rahul lost his job. Prospects in the city were slim and new work had proved difficult to find.

"My name is Ira Cunningham. You may recall my visit two weeks ago informing you that you are currently late on your mortgage payments. You had until today to pay the $3,463 you currently owe or to vacate the premises. I am here to inform you that payment has not been made and you must leave this residence immediately." She looked Aashritha right in the eye as she recited the speech she had perfected over the previous years.

Aashritha took a step back, then turned. "Rahul," she called, "come help."

Rahul came to the door and stood next to his wife. "What is it, dear?" he asked, then looked at Ira. "How can I help you?"

"Mister Rahul, I have just informed your wife that you are being evicted from this residence due to non-payment. You must leave immediately. I have police standing by if you will not cooperate," she added, gesturing to the officers behind her.

"That will not be necessary," Rahul answered, looking to his wife. "We have been working with the bank to work out a new schedule."

"Sir, you are six months behind schedule. A new agreement cannot be made at this time. You must leave immediately. Get your things." Ira always got angry when people argued with her. Her gaze stayed locked on the pair and her eyes narrowed and her nostrils began to flare.

"Please, you must understand," Aashritha said, "He lost his job. We have been looking, but work has been difficult to find."

"That is not my concern. My concern is for the union's property. You must leave," Ira commanded. A strand of her platinum hair slipped from place as her body began to shake. She never even pretended to remain in control anymore.

"Please," Rahul added, but Ira interrupted him: "Get out, now! You had your chance and you blew it! Get the fuck out of this house!"

Rahul took a step back, putting his arm up in front of his wife. Ira was staring at them with her brows furrowed tightly, her cheeks filling with blood and turning flushed and red. Her fists were balled up and her gaze did not falter until Idha walked up behind her parents.

"Mommy, why are people yelling?" the small girl asked, looking up at her mother with disheveled hair and a large t-shirt, carrying a glass of chocolate milk.

Aashritha scooped her daughter up into her arms. "It's nothing, sweetheart," she whispered, glancing at her husband.

Rahul looked back at Ira and pleaded, "Please, our daughter..."

Ira raised her fists and stomped her foot down, screaming, "I have to do everything myself!" She turned to the officers in the yard and gestured, then they stepped forward, one of them pulling out a pair of handcuffs.

"No! Please!" Aashritha begged as the officers tugged Rahul's hands behind his back and locked them in place.

"Time to go," Ira said and she grabbed Aashritha's arm and pulled her from the doorway. Aashritha stumbled and Idha slipped from her arm, nearly falling to the ground before her mother's free arm caught her backside and held her. "Out," Ira commanded shortly.

Aashritha scooped Idha back up into safety and looked at Ira. "You are the devil," she said and she grabbed her daughter's chocolate milk and threw the glass.

Ira screamed as the milk spilled and splashed onto her coat, the droplets soaking into the fabric and running down the front and the side. The wet stains oozed down the fur, spreading and soaking it. Ira froze, looking down at her mink, balling her hands into fists again. "You bitch!" she exclaimed, "How dare you! Arrest her! Arrest all of them!" She turned back to her car and unlocked the doors, ranting at the top of her lungs, "You people are going to rot in prison! Everything in that house belongs to the union now! You're going to pay for this coat and then I'm going to have your family deported! You have no idea who you're dealing with, you bitch!" She threw open her door and started her car, then sped away from the house, looking in her rear view mirror to see how the police were handling it.

It was not even noon, but Ira was not going back to work. She got on the freeway and headed straight home. When she arrived, she left her car door open with the keys in the ignition, then burst into the front door, leaving it standing ajar as well. Bentley would just have to clean up after her. She stomped into the bedroom and saw him laying on the bed with the television on. "Shouldn't you be cleaning?" she yelled and slapped the power button, turning off the television.

"I've been cleaning. I was just taking a break, baby."

"Don't lie to me, Bentley! Get your ass out of bed and clean this house!"

"What's the matter, baby?" Bentley asked when Ira's rage became apparent.

"I went to evict someone and she threw chocolate milk all over my new mink. Now, get out of here so I can try to clean it up!"

Bentley stood without saying a word and headed for the door as Ira tossed off her shoes and coat and stripped off her blazer. She looked sadly at the stain on her fur as she laid it gingerly on the bed. Bentley snuck past her and his form in her periphery stirred her ire up again. "Fucking worthless," she muttered as he walked by.

"Hey!" Bentley shouted and turned around quickly, his voice sounding resolute and firm for the first time, "You don't have to talk to me like that, Ira! I do everything I can for you. I slave around this house all day long trying to make this place perfect for you, but the job is just too much for one person to handle. You are too much for a normal man to handle. And those people you evict, they slave all day, too, but a person needs a little help once in a while! Haven't you ever thought about helping somebody out, about trying to make somebody else happy for a change?"

The fire inside of Ira boiled over and crawled up her throat, dripping from her lips as she stared at her husband. Her voice could have scorched the earth: "It it everyone else's job to make me happy. Don't you ever forget that," and she slammed the bedroom door in his face.