Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chapter 7 / Witches

While I waited for work, on the off chance that some college an hour’s drive away would want me part-time, I said yes, I wanted to learn all about the workings of a dental office or yes, I would take a course in spreadsheets. 

But people didn’t trust me. They didn’t know what to make of me when I walked in the door, despite my sad story, which was something of a classic around here in any case: woman left stranded, needs income desperately. 

Finally the law office in Schuyler called on a Monday to ask me to come back the following Monday to meet one of the name partners. This for a job that paid $9 an hour for 20 hours a week. But I let myself dream. It would be nice to work in Schuyler, with its courthouse square and one decent restaurant. I couldn’t afford the restaurant, but maybe a lawyer had something else in mind. Maybe he needed a tax write-off and instead of gentleman farming or offshore oil drilling, he would fund a writer. It was no more preposterous than Jaime’s and my design office.

The local paper came in the mail that day and I made myself look at the classifieds again, even though I knew them practically by heart—

—and there was a new ad. The ad of my dreams. I stared at it for a long time, reading it twice. Every word. 

The newspaper itself needed a managing editor, someone who would also cover meetings and write news stories and features. That should be good for about 80 hours a week, but the pay was listed right there: $40,000. Forty thousand—more money than I had ever made in my life. 

I fired up the computer and started another resume. I had managed a chronically depressed man. I managed two insane dogs. For five years I had managed two homes, one here and one in the city, until we gave up the apartment. I could manage a couple of reporters. I left all of that out and emphasized instead my writing and editing experience. I dragged out my team spirit, bloody but unbowed. 

I put the letter and resume in an envelope and gave the dogs their watch-the-house biscuits and set out to drop off my application at the newspaper office in East Wynham, which, since we were centrally located in the middle of nowhere, was about 15 minutes away in the opposite direction from Schuyler. Then I stopped in the garage, thinking, and, confusing the dogs completely, came back inside to change my clothes. What if they decided to see me right away? Or what if they just happened to walk by the counter in the moment I was there? Every second counted. I found my suede skirt and a heather sweater that went with it. Happily, the weather was cool enough for tights—I didn’t want to go off the deep end here, with stockings—but warm enough to skip a coat, just to run into the office. 

Or to stand in the office literally six seconds, taking in one huge, two-storied room divided into three sections downstairs and with a balcony upstairs on the right that ran the length of the building, with three doors suggesting offices. 

“Thanks,” the tall, dark-haired woman at the front counter said kindly. “I’ll be sure the editor gets it.” 

“Thank you!” 

Low buzz of voices, people sitting at computers, daylight on either side of the building but not in the middle. I couldn’t pause any longer, so I left.

That night I called Jaime; she had worked there briefly as a typesetter. The production crew wasn’t a very happy group, she said, but maybe the reporters, with more interesting work, were more cheerful. Two sisters owned the paper, she reminded me—Tina, who was the editor, and Wendy, whose title was publisher. 

“You know what they’re called,” said Jaime. “The wicked witches of East Wynham.” 

“I have to try to get an interview.” 

“They’ll call you. They must be desperate, to offer so much money. Make sure you get it.”

Wendy called the next day. The witches, both of them, wanted to meet me at the diner between my house and their office for coffee on Thursday. I wondered why I didn’t just come to the office for an interview, but I would have met with them in the deep end of the high school swimming pool, if that’s what they had wanted, so I didn’t ask. 

At the diner, the witches—two slim, handsome women, whom I gauged late forties, early fifties—sat across from me in a booth.

“You have never worked as hard as you will work at the newspaper,” said Tina. 

I paused, my coffee cup at my lips. I have always been too literal. Did I have the job already? We hadn’t even been served our toasted muffins. And second—

“How do you know?” I said. 

“You won’t have time to write the opinion pieces you’ve sent in,” she said. 

“Or the fiction listed in your resumé,” said Wendy. “We have no lives but the paper, seven days a week.” 

“—You’re very tan,” I said, thinking of my pale, anxious self, seated across from these two robust blonds with awfully good tans for this time of year. 

“Well,” they said. Wendy played some golf. Tina had tried a tennis camp last month. They had their children, of course—Tina had two, Wendy three. I knew one of them was married to a lawyer, the other to a surgeon, but I could never remember which was which.

“You wrote a very good cover letter,” said Wendy. 

“And you write good presses releases,” said Tina. “That’s how we remembered you—from your releases for the library and the Central America group.” 

“You’ve also published every letter to the editor I ever wrote,” I said. 

“Well,” said Tina—a little sadly, I thought—“we publish every letter that comes in.”

“Almost,” said Wendy. 

They offered me a job, but not the one described in the ad. “We’ve decided to restructure slightly,” said Wendy. “Your title will be senior editor. One of the reporters is moving up to news editor, and the two of you will manage the reporters and the story flow, so that Tina and I can focus on long-term projects and planning. 

“The office is open every day except for major holidays,” she added proudly. 

“We rotate covering weekends,” Tina said pointedly.  

It was probably dreadful, but it didn’t sound impossible. I took a breath. “What’s the salary for the restructured position?” 

“Oh, it’s the same,” said Wendy. “Thirty thousand, cash.” 

“—The ad in the paper said forty thousand.” 

“That’s the total value of the package,” said Wendy, not missing a beat, “including benefits—health insurance, Social Security, paid vacation.” 

I gave Wendy and Tina the first of many long stares I would give them, individually and collectively, over the next couple of years, as I admired their gall, was infuriated by their boldfaced lie, protested mentally at the unfairness of it all, and felt helpless before it.  

“I have to bring my dogs to the office,” I said. 

Copyright © Debby Mayer


  1. Delightful!

  2. I love this! Very vivid. And it's a great last line -- I laughed out loud.

    P.S. The husband who died was chronically depressed?