The Party – Chapter 12: Mara Brown

Yes, this is political. I offer you trigger warnings for language and sexual and racist slurs and comments. Future episodes may also contain rape, abuse, and other unpleasant things.

Chapter 12: Mara Brown

Mara kept her face neutral. Mr. Clarke had helped her set up four job interviews. All for menial positions, most of them pool secretaries. Men didn’t seem to want that kind of job, so they were still open to women. Her current prospective employer was the nicest of the lot. At least he wasn’t leering at her chest and drooling.

“Yes. I’m available immediately, Mr. Zeeman.”

He nodded. “I’ll have to admit, this job seems a little,” he paused, “beneath your talents.”

What was she supposed to say to that? He knew women were being kicked out of anything higher paying or with more responsibility. “Um.” She shrugged. “Circumstances have changed. I needed a break.”

Ron Zeeman pressed his lips together as he nodded. “Of course.” He looked over the folder he had open on his desk. “You seem personable and efficient. Can you start Monday?”

She smiled. “Yes.” What a relief. She hadn’t wanted the job search to drag on too long. “Eight in the morning at HR?”

“See!” He grinned back at her and stood up. “Very efficient.” He held out his hand.

Mara stood and shook the offered hand. “I hope so.”

After about an hour in the company’s HR, filling out forms and receiving the in-processing plan for Monday, Mara left the building. Getting the job was a huge relief. As she walked to her car, which she was able to save from being sold by selling most of her furniture, she thought about a tiny celebration. Lunch out, she decided. She’d been pinching pennies so hard they screamed, but with an income promised, a little splurge seemed appropriate.

She stopped at a mid-range nice restaurant she’d never been in before near her new job. Mara didn’t want to run into any old neighbors, ex-co-workers, or old friends. The mix of pity, disgust, and finger-pointing she’d received since being branded nigger-lover was more than she wanted to deal with. She just wanted to relax and have a nice meal. In the restaurant, soft music playing in the background, she ordered a salad, with salmon, as her splurge and a glass of Riesling as the celebration. When the waiter brought the wine and had left, she lifted her glass to herself. Well done, Mara, girl. Well done. A job. A place to live. Away from the old life and on to the new. She sipped and sighed as she set the glass down.

Her new life. She remembered weeping the first night in her new apartment. At about five hundred square feet, there was really no living room. Her single bed sat opposite the apartment door. The walls hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades and the curtains were so dirty and dusty she’d choked as she’d tried to pull them closed at dusk.

Now, she thought as she sipped more wine. Now with a steady income, she could get new curtains, paint the walls, and perhaps get some sort of bed that tucked away so the room could be used as an actual living room. Anything to keep it from shouting “Loser”, and “Despair”, at her every time she walked into it.

The waiter brought out two fresh, hot rolls and while she didn’t normally eat bread, she indulged. Mara had just torn one in half and was slathering butter on it when she happened to see her new boss standing at the entrance. He gave her a nod.

Her heart dropped. Oh no, she thought as she watched him talk to the hostess. He nodded in her direction. The wine in her stomach turned to acid. Oh no. He’s coming over here. She put the bread down. The hostess stopped at her table.

“Ms. Brown.” Zeeman nodded to her. “I’m surprised to see you.”

“Yes.” Mara swallowed and smiled. “A little celebration. For my new job.”

“Excellent. I find people don’t celebrate their victories as often as they should. Would you mind if I join you?”

She pasted on a happy face. “No. I wouldn’t mind at all.” She nodded to the hostess. “That will be fine.”

“I’ll send the waiter right over,” the hostess said.

“Thank you,” Zeeman smiled as he took a seat opposite Mara.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve already started.”

“No problem.” He looked at her bread plate. “I love the rolls here. Enjoy.”

Feeling more than awkward, Mara tore a tiny bit of bread from the roll and put it in her mouth. What seemed so delightful a minute ago now tasted like sawdust.

The waiter hustled up and Zeeman ordered a scotch on the rocks, and his meal, the same salad that Mara had ordered. When the waiter left, Ron Zeeman explained. “My doctor is after me about cholesterol. A salad is what my wife insists I eat for lunch.”

“It’s funny,” she said. “That’s the same salad I ordered.”

Zeeman laughed. “Perfect! We’re in sync.”

While he talked about the business, and what she could expect, Mara nibbled at the bread. Then, the dreaded questions.

“My son is graduating Harvard in the spring. My wife, Lois and I are so proud of him. Any children?”

A pain filled Mara’s upper chest and throat as she fought off bursting into tears. “Two,” she decided to tell him. “A boy and a girl.”

“Oh. Lovely. How old?”

“Eight and six.’

He looked up from his rolls, realizing she was in distress. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry.”

She sipped from her water glass. “That’s all right.” She took a deep breath and told him about her husband and children. “I’ll understand if you don’t want me to work for you.” Mara folded her hands in her lap and studied the crumbs that had fallen on the tablecloth.

“Nonsense. Don’t worry about a thing.”

She looked up—tears in her eyes. Mara found a sympathetic face gazing back at her.

“Nothing to worry about at all.”

The relief hit her like an avalanche, and she cried.

Thank you for reading.

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