Caroline Lewis is down on her luck and looking for a sign things might get better.
I sat stoically on my sofa staring at the black television screen. I held an open beer in my hand by the neck, the cool body numbing my fingers and the condensation turning the pads of my fingers into wrinkled prunes. The air conditioner blew out half cooled waves of air that made my already feverish body feel ten times worse. On the coffee table, just within eyesight, sat a stack of bills, each one more than the amount of money sitting in my bank account. Beside that lopsided stack was two neatly ordered ones, the one in the middle a stack of resumes and the other on the far side a slightly higher stack of applications for jobs way below my skill set. I was desperate and failing. Life was bleak.
I took a sip of the beer—my last one, I might add— and took a deep breath. The dingy, smoke discolored walls pressed in on me, making the once roomy apartment claustrophobic. The phone on the stand next to me rang and rang and I ignored it, listening to the stern voices over my answering machine when it picked up.
“Miss Lewis, this is Stan from County Medical. We would like to discuss your outstanding
“Miss Lewis, your utilities will be disconnected in a week’s time if we do not hear from you concerning your bill…”
“This message is for Miss Caroline Lewis. Lawyers will be contacted if we do not hear something from you concerning your outstanding bills with us…”
A single salty tear slipped down my cheek. I was tired. For months now I’ve been beating the pavement looking for work. My shoes no longer had soles I’d walked so much. I spent hours at the library using their computers trying to find work on the internet with no success. I had no one to turn to for help. I didn’t know what to do. My landlord threatened to kick me out yesterday. I was running out of options. The single tear turned into a flood and I sat staring at the television screen, my fingers frozen by my beer, and cried a flood worthy of Noah’s ark.
I must have fallen asleep because next thing I was aware of was the sweet, too cheerful singing of the birds and a bright streak of sunlight stabbing into my face. I sat up having tipped sideways at some point and rubbed my dry eyes. My phone rang again and I dragged myself to my feet, walking in the opposite direction to the bathroom. I didn’t want to hear it. Any of it. I knew I had bills to pay and no experience to qualify me for a job to pay them with. The money in my account couldn’t even keep me alive, let alone pay the growing mountain of bills on my coffee table.
I avoided looking in the mirror as I brushed my hair and teeth, dressing for another day of failure. Sure my attitude wasn’t the best, but after nearly a year of searching high and low for anything that would give me a pay check, I was running low on smiles and good humor. I walked out of the bathroom and picked up the stack of resumes and applications, hoping an eviction notice wouldn’t be on my door when I got home.
The streets were flooded with people going to work, hanging out, and looking for jobs. I passed store after store that I’d applied at and been turned away because I didn’t have enough work experience or I wasn’t quite what they were looking for at the moment. Whatever. Screw them. They weren’t what I was looking for either. I had a college degree. Doesn’t that qualify me for checking out movies and cosmetics? Besides, no one was looking for people to fill positions like that. They wanted pharmacists or photographers, professions I had no training in.
Wrong attitude once again, but I was desperate. Couldn’t someone give me a hand? Not a handout, but a job? Something I could throw myself at and build a good life on? I didn’t need a lot of money, but just enough to pay some bills, keep a roof over my head, and some food in the fridge. I wasn’t lucky enough to have family and friends to turn to. I hadn’t heard from my so called friends since we graduated and my family was all dead. I was on my own.
I found the building housing the location of my next interview, number three thousand or something like that. It was for a receptionist position. I could type and answer phones and I knew enough about computers to work one. I introduced myself with a smile and answered their questions as politely as I could, trying to keep the weariness and disheartened feeling out of my voice and demeanor. And I walked away empty handed.
I left, feeling the tears threatening to overcome me again. I walked away, throwing another set of resumes in a garbage can along with the applications. I was done. Screw the work force. Let them take what little I have. I’ll live in the alleyways and under viaducts. I’ll sleep on park benches and beg for money on street corners since I have no talents to showcase. I had nothing, and those creditors, they could take all of that that they wanted.
I went to the park and sat on one of the benches, watching children play and mothers chase them. I didn’t see them, only heard their squeals of enjoyment. Times were easy then. Growing up sucked. It left you either broke and devastated, sky high, or somewhere in the middle. I just wanted to live with some relative safety. I didn’t want the world.
This particular park as well-known for its wishing well. I watched a group of kids go with their mother and throw in a penny or something, their fingers clamped tight around the coin and their eyes squeezed tight as they wished. They threw them in, leaning slightly over the edge to try and see where their token landed. They left and I wandered over. I didn’t have anything to throw in. I stood looking at the black water in the well’s depths.
“I wish a well could solve all my problems,” I mumbled.
“Have some faith,” a voice responded.
I turned, startled, and came face to face with a young priest. He smiled, his skin pale. He held a brown paper bag in his hand, I assumed his lunch. I folded my arms and stepped back. The priest chuckled.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to convert you.”
“Wasn’t thinking that,” I answered stiffly and turned back to the well.
“Then what were you thinking?”
I shrugged. “Does God really care?”
"I believe He does. Why do you ask?”
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t a religious person. I believed in some kind of a God, but I didn’t go to church or read the Bible. I cussed regularly, had tendencies toward blasphemy, and I gave little to charity. Churches never appealed to me. I always ran the other direction when one was involved. And yet, here I stood talking to a priest.
He sighed a knowing sigh. “Down on your luck?”
I snorted. “In order to be down on your luck you have to have some.”
“Okay, so you’re feeling burdened. Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. There’s thousands of people in my position. There’s nothing to talk about. I just have to keep trying no matter how many blisters I get on my feet or how many paper cuts I get from the applications I fill out or how many times I get turned down. But I’m tired of trying. I’m just tired.”
“I can see how tired you are,” he said. “But you’ve got the right thoughts going.” He reached into his pocket and produced a couple pennies. “Here, have a wish on me.”
I glanced from the coins in his hand to his face. “You’re serious? You’re just going to hand me a penny and tell me to wish it all away?”
He smiled lightly. “Kind of, I guess I am. You don’t seem like the religious type and I don’t really have anything to tell you that you haven’t already told yourself. It sounds to me like a good wish and a little faith is all you need.”
“Faith? In God?”
“Yes, but also yourself. Something will come along.”
“I’ve heard that many times, Father,” I retorted.
“Then forgive me for sounding like an old record. Please, make a wish, and I’m sure something will come your way. I’ll leave you alone, but if you ever just want to talk to someone, I’m available. I work at the church across the street. Feel free to stop by anytime.”
“Thank you,” I said, meaning it. “Thank you for not preaching at me, too.”
“Sometimes preaching isn’t the answer. Have a good day, miss.” He bowed his head and walked away, his cassock moving about his legs in the breeze.
I gazed at the wishing well, the two pennies he pressed in my hand cool against my palm. I pinched them between my thumb and forefinger, closed my eyes, and let them drop, hoping God would help me find a little luck, a little faith, and a little stability.