"You got fired?" she screamed. The dog in the apartment next door started to howl in agony.
"I was laid off, Madeleine." I tried to respond calmly. "There's a big difference."
She was cleaning up from dinner and putting the porcelain dishes haphazardly into the sink. "No Geoffrey, there isn't a big difference. You don't have a job anymore and that's what matters. Obviously you weren't good enough at your job or they would have kept you around."
"You're not getting it. I was good at my job. We're in a bad economy right now and I work in Sales. My accounts went under and there weren't any other accounts to get. They let go of a lot of people at work today, because they just couldn't afford to keep them on at the company." I sat down at the little breakfast table in our tiny apartment kitchen and looked up at her.
"How the hell can you be so calm, Geoffrey? You have no job!" Her last sentence was deliberately staccato and condescending, like I was simpleminded. Then, to accentuate her point she launched a dinner plate into the sink with a resounding crash. I flinched as shards of porcelain soared onto the floor.
"Why are you so upset about this? It's just a job. I can get another one." I got up and the chair squeaked against the tile flooring. I went toward the closet in the corner to get cleaning supplies for the remnants of her outburst. I put on a pair of marigold dishwashing gloves so that I wouldn't cut myself.
"The unemployment rate is through the roof! You're not going to get a job anywhere decent. No fiancé of mine is going to do blue collar work. There's no way you could get a job in this economy, unless…" She paused for a couple of minutes, but it took me a little while to realize. I was too busy worrying about when we had become engaged. When had I proposed to her? Had I been drunk? When I realized that she had lapsed in thought, I was petrified. It never led to favorable consequences when Madeleine seriously evaluated something for an extended period of time. I looked up to see her smiling in such a way that her face was grotesquely distorted.
"Oh no, no I'm not going to do that. Don't you dare go there," I refused with vehemence. I backed up slowly against the wall, put my hands in the air and shook them.
"But honey, darling, sweetie." She sugar-coated her voice as she tried to snuggle herself affectionately against me. "Your parents are always so willing to help and they have such a nice company. You'd have an office to yourself with people working under you. It's everything you've always wanted."
Disgusted, I pushed her off of me and she landed on the kitchen table chair with a resounding squeak from the tile flooring. "You don't get it. I need to prove to them that I can get through life without their help. They think I can't do anything without them. As far as they're concerned, I need to call them in order to be told how to wipe my own ass. If I asked them for a job now, then I would never hear the end of it. I would be constantly in their debt and they would be in control of me forever. I think I'd rather sell my soul to WalMart, than to my family."
Madeleine flew towards me with fury like I had never seen. "You're always trying to antagonize me! You're so selfish, Geoffrey. You only think of yourself. Why can't you think of me and what I might want?"
My shoulders slumped in defeat. "I think of you all the time. I go with you to those 'hip' clubs so your girl-friends can dance in circles around each other, while I'm forced to drink stupid fruity drinks because they don't serve beer. I make sure that you're well taken care of with everything you want and a place to live. And now I have gotten laid off and have to look for a new job. You're calling me selfish, but I think you're being a little hypocritical."
"I'm twenty-three, Geoffrey. I don't want to stay at home every night, like you do, and watch TV. I want to go out with my friends. I want a fiancé with a respectable job. I need status!" She emphasized her point by throwing a wine glass, but this time it was aimed directly at me. I ducked just in time. It hit a piece of "art" that I had always found particularly hideous. It broke off at the stem and sliced straight down the cheap canvas.
"Since when are we engaged? I don't remember proposing."
"We're living together, you imbecile. Of course we're engaged." She stated it in a matter-of-fact way.
"I couldn't see myself marrying you right now. You're too immature. All you want is to party and shop with my money. If I was to marry it would be someone with whom I could see having a family. At twenty-seven, I'm ready to have a family, but unfortunately not with you."
Madeleine screamed. The dog next door started howling and barking again. Then, Madeleine opened up one of the cabinets and started propelling dishes at me with all the force she had in her tiny frame. I dove for cover under the tiny table and tried to barricade myself with the chairs. All that was protecting my arms were the rubber marigolds I put on earlier. The porcelain was aimed mainly towards me, but I was protected enough. I curled into the fetal position to protect myself and sang Christmas songs in order to block out the commotion.
When she ran out of things to throw, she stormed out of the apartment with a frustrated scream and I was able to come out of my fortress. I couldn't handle looking at it. I left without attempting to clean anything.
I ambled down a few blocks and came across a coffee shop that I went to in the mornings on the way to my old work. Once inside, I walked to the counter and asked the woman behind it if I could have a tall black coffee. She smiled agreeably and told me the price before she left to fill the cup. I extracted my debit card from my pocket and placed it on the counter. She came back with my coffee, deposited it on the counter, grabbed my debit card, swiped it, and printed out a receipt. She handed me my coffee and receipt both in the same movement. If I could say anything at all about this young woman, I could at least say that she was efficient. She declared that I have a good day. I mumbled back for her to have one also. I jetted out the door with my head down and eyes focused on the floor.
I plopped into the nearest chair at a sidewalk table outside the coffee shop. I wanted to observe the people strolling on the pavement. I needed to be able to process everything that just happened in my life. I still had my apartment for the time being, but I needed to find myself a job. I didn't have a girlfriend anymore, but she had been bothering me for the past couple of months anyway. I had started to wonder if she started dating me because of my family and their money. However, every time I thought about breaking up with her, I remembered the months in the beginning when we first started dating and she seemed so perfect for me. She had been so sweet and never acted like money mattered. Not until recently had she seemed to have cared for status. I had been clinging to the old Madeleine and unfortunately today was proof that she would never return.
I couldn't believe I had managed to lose almost everything in my life in a day. I worked so hard at that job. I went in there every day and I put my heart and soul into my work, because I had to prove to my family that I could do something without them. Now here I was without a profession. Most likely, I was going to have to go to my parents to plead for their sympathy.
I was so frustrated with myself for letting these things happen to me. Of course, my life could be considerably worse. Sure, I still had my apartment, but how did I let this happen?
"Mista," there was a tap on my shoulder, "would you like to buy a flowa?" I turned around in my seat to see a little girl of maybe five or six-years-old carrying a basket of white daisies. She had a lisp. She was wearing an off-white dress which had quite obviously been handed down through many different family members. Her hair was a pure gold that flowed down in soft waves that framed her face. Her eyes were round, huge and as blue as a day in the country. She was everything that this city was not and I didn't see a parent hovering over her anywhere in sight.
"Oh honey, I don't have any change. I don't carry cash around in the city. It's not wise to carry around cash or else it might get stolen."
"But you have a dwink," she stated blandly.
"You're right, but I just swiped my card to buy it. That's completely different from cash." I tried to explain, but I was never very good with younger children. I pulled out my debit card to show her and she stared at the object like it was foreign to her.
"That's weiad, Mista."
I looked around to survey my surroundings and see if this little girl had a mother nearby. I saw no one who looked like they were missing or keeping track of a child. When I looked down to tell her to go find her mother, the cute little girl was missing. I shrugged my shoulders in apathy and went back to my contemplations.
I went to take a sip of my coffee and the to-go cup was heavier than it had been previously. I looked at it and there was a long stemmed, white daisy sticking out of the mouth piece. I quickly checked my pockets to make sure my debit card and my house keys were still there. I knew I was cynical for thinking that cute little girl was a pick pocket, but one had to be careful in Manhattan. Luckily, both of the items were still residing comfortably in my pants pockets.
I wondered if maybe I hadn't been the only one who was people watching. She saw her chance to make a quick buck, but when she realized I had no change did she decide she would give me the flower anyway? What a peculiar little girl.
I grabbed my coffee cup and took off the heat sleeve so that I could get a better grip on the cup itself to get the flower out. I then noticed that there was writing on the cup that read, "You should try smiling more. You're cute when you smile." How did I not notice the writing until just now? Was it from the girl behind the counter? I knew she was efficient, but I never fathomed just how much. Those thoughts flashed through my mind, as I stared questioningly at the cup. In that moment, I came up with a plan. It wasn't perfect, but at least it was something.
I walked back into the coffee shop and up to the nice girl behind the counter who liked my smile. I smiled and flirted with her for awhile and then I asked for a job application. The idea of working at a coffee shop with a cute girl was infinitely more appealing than with my family or at WalMart. I went home and put my marigolds back on and cleaned up every shard of dish in my kitchen. After I was done, I picked up the cordless receiver and dialed a locksmith. I couldn't afford to keep letting Madeleine ruin all of my dishes. I picked up the trashcan and heaved the broken painting off the wall and walked out the door.