All In A Day’s Work

By Dee A. Rowe

Based on two real events from my past; some locations have been altered and all characters are fictional.

Profile image of a woman with red hair in a red plaid coat overlaid with the words “All In A Day’s Work”

Chapter One – Sarah

Sarah Wilhite awoke with a start, panting and gasping for air, heart pounding so fast it seemed it might burst right out of her chest, golden-blonde hair damp and skin slick with salty, panic-induced sweat. Tearing back the blanket to expose the sheets, confusion struck when she saw they were clean and white, and not stained with pools of maroon blood as she had expected.

Shivering as the air from the oscillating fan struck her sweaty bare skin, she glanced over at her boyfriend Billy Harris, who snored drunkenly beside her. They had been “living in sin” as her mama would say for the last three years and had a daughter together. Her mama had disapproved since the beginning, but she hadn’t listened. Maybe I should’ve listened, she thought to herself as she watched him snore. His dirty-blonde curls splayed over his face, matted and sweaty in the summer heat. Was he dreaming? If so, was the dream more pleasant than hers had been? Or did he drink so much so that he didn’t dream anymore? It must have been a dream, but it had seemed so real…

When it started, she was behind the register at The Child’s Place, where she worked as an Assistant Manager selling, you guessed it, children’s clothing to WASP-y suburban moms at the local shopping mall. “That’ll be $45.97,” she said to the big-haired and long-nailed woman standing across the checkout counter from her, distracted by the bursts of pain that were intermittently shooting through her mid-section. Trying to manage a smile, she swiped the gold credit card that had been passed over and waited for it to process. A Faith Hill song was currently wafting through the overhead speakers and Sarah hummed along with “ooh, ooh, ooh, the way you love me” to distract herself from another stabbing pain. As she placed the credit card and receipt in the claw-like hand of her customer, her gray-blue eyes widened in fear that she hoped the big-haired woman did not see. Something had started running down her leg. Something warm and wet and flowing fast. Her voice shook as she called out to Jenny, the sales associate she was working with this shift, “I’m going to need you to take over here at the register for a bit”, and she tried to seem nonchalant as she shot an apologetic glance at the next customer in line, and walked at what she hoped looked like a normal pace to the stock room in the back of the store.

Once she was out of sight of the sales floor, she bolted to the restroom door, tugging at her belt as she went. The last couple steps she took before she reached the toilet made a disgusting sloshing sound, like walking through deep mud in rain boots, and she realized in horror that her khaki uniform pants were stained with a dark liquid and her black Mary Jane style shoes were overflowing with it and leaving reddish-brown footprints on the light gray speckled linoleum floor. Her head went woozy and the corners of the room seemed to go black, the darkness rushing in to crowd her until her vision was reduced to a small circle directly in front of her. Her knees buckled and she slid to the floor instead of sitting on the toilet as she had originally intended. The mystery liquid began to pool around her as she clutched at her belly and curled up in the fetal position between the cold porcelain of the toilet and the hard surface of the wall.

Its blood, she thought, realizing what the mystery liquid was, my blood. Lots of it. Too much.

“Help me!” she screamed, but it came out like a whisper, far too quiet and weak to be effective in summoning help from the sales floor. Panicking she tried again, but this time all that came out was a low moan. The circle in front of her eyes grew smaller and smaller until all went black. Then, it was as if she was drifting above her own body. She saw herself laying in a ball on the floor, surrounded by a pool of her blood, pale and white like a ghost. Her blonde hair was stained auburn where it touched met the viscous liquid and shimmered like spun gold where the overhead lights reflected on the parts that had not. Her white polo shirt and khaki work pants were ruined, that much blood would never come out. The air smelled coppery and felt thick. Higher and higher she seemed to float above, watching herself bleed out on the ugly linoleum floor until her body seemed far below her like a broken doll at the bottom of a deep well. A soft, echoing music filled her ears, and she felt her floating self turn away from her broken-doll self and towards the sound. White light emanated from the origin of the sound and she floated closer and closer to it until the light was so bright it became all there was…

and then she had awakened, gasping, heart racing, covered in sweat, and scared, so very scared. A glance at the digital alarm clock by the bed told her it was 4:45 a.m. I guess there’s no more sleep tonight. By the time I get settled down that blasted alarm will be going off. She slid out of bed, still marveling at the clean sheets and lack of bloody footprints as she made her way to the shower, hoping to wash the bad dream away.

By the time she was out of the shower, their one-year-old daughter Miley was awake and screaming in her crib. Man, that kid had a pair of lungs. She trudged down the hall, and into Miley’s bedroom at the front of the single-wide trailer she and Billy shared. After changing Miley’s diaper and slipping her into a pink cotton jumper and tiny white t-shirt with even tinier pink and yellow flowers on it, she grabbed a bib from the stack and they headed to the kitchenette for Miley’s breakfast of oatmeal and banana. Sipping on coffee, she watched the baby “eat” by spreading oatmeal all over herself and the highchair tray table and tried to get the bad dream off her mind. There was a horrible feeling of dread growing in the pit of her stomach, and she thought about calling out of work because of it. Then she looked at the trash can in the corner full of discarded green beer bottles and thought better of it. The way he drinks we need the money.

So, despite the fear gnawing at her, she cleaned Miley up, slipped into her khakis, white polo, and black Mary Janes, and tried not to shudder as she grabbed her purse and the diaper bag and they headed out the door.

Chapter Two – Deanna

“Come on kiddo, let’s go!”

Deanna Draper gave her dyed-red hair a final tease and smoothed her gray suit jacket over the curve of her hip once more before finishing off the coffee in her to-go cup and refilling it. A glance at the clock on the wall informed her that, per usual, she was running late, especially if she wanted to stop at the mall on her way into the office to grab Dixon some new blue jeans. The kid was constantly either outgrowing his or wearing the knees out, and The Child’s Place was having one of their 2 for $25 denim sales. She made decent money as the manager of a handful of condominium communities in the area, but if she wasn’t careful her darling boy would break her bank. God knew his father was not in any shape to provide for him. Dixon Draper’s daddy Conner was too high to know who he was half the time. That’s why she had packed up her’s and Dixon’s stuff a few years back and walked out the door. But, Dixon was worth it, and she tussled his brown hair adoringly as she belted him into his safety seat in the back seat of the car.

After dropping Dixon off at her Aunt Linda’s, Deanna headed to the mall to grab Dixon the jeans she had promised him before school started next week. She found a size she hoped would fit him for at least a few months, grabbed a few pairs in his favorite style, and headed to the register.

The girl behind the counter was young and pretty, although her brow was wrinkled in an expression of worry, and she had waist-length hair like spun gold and gray-blue eyes like the sea on a stormy day. Like all the employees, she wore a white polo tucked into belted khaki pants and black Mary Jane shoes. Deanna shuddered internally at the thought of having to wear such a hideous and unflattering uniform every day and smoothed her long acrylic-nailed hands over her stylish but professional gray pantsuit in relief that she was not subjected to such a fate.

The young girl’s voice cracked as she said “That will be $45.97” as if the purchase total scared her somehow. Handing over her gold credit card, Deanna wondered how four pairs of jeans at 2 for $25 had rung up to less than fifty bucks, but she decided not to say anything, and to instead make a stop by Cinnabon in the Food Court before heading to the office with the extra money. Faith Hill was crooning on and on about the way someone loved her on the store’s speakers, and Deanna gagged internally. I bet his side-chick thinks he loves her that way too. Her relationship with Connor had destroyed any belief she had in the notion of romantic love, or better-or-worse partners. Nowadays, the only love she believed in was the overwhelming and self-sacrificing love a mother has for their child. That kind of love was the stuff that kept her going every day.

The worried-looking blonde handed back her credit card and receipt, and Deanna placed it carefully into the high-quality knock-off Coach wallet she carried and headed out the door and to the food court for that Cinnabon. She had only gotten a few feet from the door before her cell phone rang, and she fished it out of her purse, putting her fantasies of sticky, buttery, cinnamon rolls aside for the moment.

“This is Deanna,” she barked into the mouthpiece, annoyed at the interruption.

“Hi Deanna, it’s Becky from the office, sorry to bother you…”

“What’s the problem?” Deanna asked, still striding towards the Food Court.

“Well, we just got a call from Dean at Canyon Cove, and unit 2913 is leaking into 2903 and since the water is coming from inside the walls he says it is going to be the HOA’s responsibility and to call the plumber,” Becky responded.

She sighed, rolling her eyes visibly. “He’s right, did you call out their plumber?” The office was supposed to be able to initiate work orders without her being there. Why were they bugging her with this?

“That’s the thing. Dean said last time A Plus Plumbing was out there that the tech didn’t know what he was doing and that he told you then to find them another plumber and never to let A Plus set foot on their property again, but the information sheet is not updated and we don’t know who else we should call.”

Oh yeah, I forgot all about Dean’s stupid fight with A Plus Plumbing.

“Um… why don’t you try Professional Plumbing?” she responded after giving it some thought. “Maybe Dean will be more satisfied with their techs, and they usually have someone available even on short notice.”

“Got it” Becky responded. “Will we see you soon?”

She glanced at the gold-plated watch on her wrist. 9:45 a.m. I’m only 15 minutes late. Her eyes rolled again. “Yes Becky, I am on my way in now. Just had to pull over to take this phone call.” That wasn’t quite true, but what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

She disconnected the call, shoved the cell phone back in her purse, and stepped up to the counter to order her Cinnabon, which she would eat in the car so nosey Becky wouldn’t know she had stopped by the mall before coming in.

Chapter Three – Sarah

Sarah stared after the woman with the big dyed-red hair and gray pantsuit, trying to shake off an intense feeling of deja vu. Everything about that transaction, from the purchase total of $45.97 that should have been over $50, to the Faith Hill song on the piped-in mall radio, down to the big hair and talons for nails on that customer gave her the creeps. She was even working this shift with Jenny as Sales Rep. Except that she wasn’t bleeding to death (yet – she thought, and then shoved that thought down into her subconscious), it was just like her dream. No, not a dream. It had been a nightmare.

As it had been doing off and on all afternoon, her stomach cramped up again. It was nowhere near the sharp, stabbing pains of her nightmare, but it was enough to make her wince. Nervously, she called out to Jenny “I’m going to need you to take over at the register for a bit”, smiled apologetically at the next customer in line, and walked to the back room. As she had done in the dream/nightmare, once she was past the view of the sales floor she sprinted to the bathroom. But, unlike the dream/nightmare but just like every time previous today this had happened, there was no blood. Just the God-awful cramping. She pulled her pants back up, washed her hands out of habit even though nothing had happened, and walked to the desk that was shoved up against a corner of the stock room wall.

Above the desk hung the legally required posters with employment law disclosures that no one bothered to read and the current and next week’s work schedule. She had a feeling that bordered on desperation screaming at her to call out and go home, but she was the sole key holder scheduled until the General Manager came in at 3:00 p.m. for the closing shift. There was a rule that there had to be at least one key holder and one Sales Rep in the store, but Corporate was stingy with the hours so they rarely allocated enough to schedule more than one of each at any given time. To make matters worse, each store usually had a minimum of four key holders – the General Manager, two Assistant Managers, and a Stock Room Manager, but most stores were usually understaffed and constantly trying to hire more key holders. It was an over-worked and underpaid position that few people wanted.

Flipping her long, blonde hair over her shoulder, she looked at the key holders’ availability again, hoping to see someone who could cover the rest of her shift that she had missed the last two times she checked the schedule. Third time’s a charm, she hoped. But, she was not so lucky. Casey, the Stock Manager, was out with the stomach flu, and Sarah knew that was true because she had taken over for Casey the day that he came down with it and was puking into the trash can in the back bathroom with skin that had felt like it was on fire when she had touched his arm to help him stand up. The same bathroom I die in. A shiver ran down her spine and tears welled up in her eyes, making them look more gray than usual as she kept reading. Tara was out on maternity leave having just delivered her first baby, a girl they had named Daphne, who was surprisingly ugly so far given how genetically blessed both of her parents were. Leanne from the Carson City store had said she was available to help cover shifts, but someone had spilled coffee on the paper Leanne’s number was written on so that the last two numbers were illegible, and she didn’t know Leanne well enough to have it saved in her phone.

As another cramp overtook her, this one lower in her belly than the last, a tear slipped out of her eye and slid down her freckled cheek and she contemplated calling JoyAnn to ask her to come in early, but she was afraid to. JoyAnn, despite her happy-sounding name, was emotionally unstable and you never knew what to expect from her, which made Sarah very nervous. The cramping was getting worse though, that much was undeniable, and there had been that dream

She decided to risk it and reached for the black plastic phone on the desk to dial JoyAnn, and as she did so her heart dropped as she felt that warm, sticky wetness she remembered too well begin to leak down her leg. Her fingers trembled as she dialed. The phone rang several times and then the machine kicked on with “You’ve reached the home of Steve and JoyAnn but we aren’t here right now, leave a message after the beep” in JoyAnn’s strong Arkansas accent that made everything sound like it had an extra syllable or two.

“JoyAnn, it’s Sarah. I am at the store and having a bit of a health emergency. The female kind I think maybe, but it’s bad. I… I had a dream about it last night and…well I died.” Her voice started to shake like a California earthquake. “I wanted to see if you could come in early so I can see a doctor or something. Call me. Please.” That last word sounded desperate, even to her. The wetness down her leg was getting worse so she ran to the bathroom, feeling as though her feet were stuck in the mud. Everything seemed like it was moving too fast and too slow all at once as she pulled her pants down and sat down and the toilet bowl began to fill with her blood. This is no fucking period, she thought as she stared in horror at the darkening color of the water in the bowl. At least the world hasn’t gone black yet. Tears streamed freely down her face and her heart thudded loudly in her chest as she tried to decide what to do. With Billy’s drinking habit wasting away our grocery money, we can’t afford for me to take an ambulance ride, but I don’t want to die in The fucking Child’s Place bathroom. Am I dying? What is this?

Just then, Jenny walked into the stock room and knocked on the bathroom door, which Sarah found to her surprise she had the presence of mind to shut behind her in her sprint to the toilet.”Sarah hon, are you ok?”

“Um… I… I don’t know… but I don’t think so.” She tried to swallow the lump in her throat and decided to tell Jenny what was happening without sugar-coating it. It was for some reason embarrassing, but she didn’t care anymore. “I’m bleeding, like A LOT. I think I need to see a doctor. I tried to call JoyAnn to come in early, but she didn’t answer, and there aren’t any other key holders I can call. Unless you know Leanne from Carson’s number.”

When she answered, Sarah could hear the panic in Jenny’s voice, and she felt bad for the kid. Jenny was nice and all, but she was barely seventeen and worked as a Sales Associate a few days a week for gas and spending money and to help pay for cheerleading costs because her parents had told her they sure as hell weren’t going to. Jenny had told them that when they interviewed her last summer. It had made her and JoyAnn laugh and the honesty probably helped the kid get the job, as she had no real prior work experience except babysitting her bratty younger siblings.

“I don’t have Leanna’s number. I wouldn’t really have any reason to call her.”

“Right. That makes sense.” She tried to sound calmer than she felt to soothe Jenny, which was weird to her considering she was the one hemorrhaging blood into the toilet. Once a people pleaser always a people pleaser.

“Should I call an ambulance?”

She paused. How the fuck am I supposed to know? It was weird how much of this had been in that nightmare, but not everything. It’s not coming as fast. The world isn’t going dark and then white. It hurts, but not like in the nightmare. Not like being torn apart. “No, I… I don’t think so. I can’t afford that. Just, I need you to run things for me. I can’t go out there.”

“Okay,” Jenny replied, sounding unsure. But a few seconds later she heard the stock room door swing open and shut, and Jenny announce to a customer “There weren’t any more in that size in the back, I’m sorry” and Sarah was alone with her fears and the toilet full of blood.

Chapter Four – Deanna

Deanna and Becky were walking around Summer Woods Condominiums with clipboards in hand, trying to act like sweat wasn’t pouring down their backs and soaking their blouses in the mid-day heat. Deanna was taking notes on work orders to send to the landscape and maintenance crews for exterior repairs, and Becky was updating the log of outstanding rule violations and taking notes about new violations like trash being kept on patios or decorations being installed on the outside of the building without having gone through the process for permission. Even in her sensible but cute flats, Deanna’s feet were swollen and ached.

“So what do you think about Lisa getting Ryer’s Ranch?” Becky asked, looking for a juicy bit of office gossip.

She paused. Ryer’s Ranch was a large community, so large that it had a manager dedicated to it. The position was coveted because it came with more money even though you had fewer late-night Board of Directors meetings and associated management report packets to prepare for those meetings. When the previous manager, Kate, had announced that she was moving out of state and giving up the position she had held for almost a decade, it had seemed like Deanna was the obvious choice. Then, a week before Kate’s last day, the company announced the closure of the satellite office in Spanish Springs, and instead of laying off the Spanish Springs employees, they were “blending” them into the Reno office “family”. She had wanted to gag then, but when they announced that one of the Spanish Springs employees, Lisa Davison, was being given Ryer’s Ranch instead of Deanna, she had actually lost her lunch in the bathroom stall. She had worked towards that position for years and was devasted. But, she knew that office politics were a brutal game, and so she hesitated to let her real feelings be known.

“Lisa seems nice, and I guess she must be better qualified than I am if they gave her the position. I really wanted it though.” There, that was honest enough but not so honest as to get her in trouble.

For a split second, she could see the disappointment flash across Becky’s face. Becky had wanted something she could tell the other assistants in the breakroom or over the cubicle walls in the morning when the managers had not yet made their way into the office. She had purposely given her nothing of interest. “She’s divorced and her boyfriend is like ten years younger than her though” she added, tossing Becky a bone to pick over later with the girls. That much was public Facebook knowledge, so that bit of gossip could have easily originated without her, which meant it was safe to share.

They had almost finished inspecting the 250 townhouses that made up Summer Woods when men in bulletproof vests with guns that seemed as long as they were tall seemed to materialize out of thin air. The letters “SWAT” were emblazoned on their chests in gold letters, and at that moment she could feel her heartbeat thudding in between her ears, making her feel dizzy.

“Get out of here!” one of them shouted at them, and she began sprinting away from the direction the Officers were headed, hearing Becky panting and cursing right behind her. When they got to Deanna’s light blue Toyota Camry they flung the doors open and jumped inside, and she sped out of the community, passing a black Honda Accord that was crashed into one of the community’s entrance monument light poles on the way out. Police vehicles with flashing lights were everywhere, and from the sound of sirens in the air, more were on the way. She floored it the ten miles back to the block the office was on before she realized she was far too rattled to sit at a desk.

“Do you want some lunch or something?” she asked Becky, who had been silent in her seat for the entire ride, looking like she’d seen a ghost. Becky nodded, and so she pulled into the Italian restaurant down the street instead of the office parking lot. A glass or two of wine and some pasta would do them good after that. Human Resources doesn’t need to know about the wine.

Chapter Five – Sarah

JoyAnn had never called back. Somehow she made it through to the end of the shift. By the time she did, the bleeding had slowed. When JoyAnn finally breezed through the door, all smiles, Sarah layered a couple of maxi pads in her underwear, clocked out, and headed home where she hoped to find that Billy had picked up Miley. She was in luck. She told him about her nightmare of a day with pale skin and bags under his eyes, but he was already a few beers in and refused to drive her to the urgent care or hospital because “doctors are dumb fools who get paid a lot of money to make guesses”. She curled up with a heating pad after she got Miley fed, bathed, and in bed, and cried herself to sleep in the bedroom while Billy Harris watched the tv and drank himself to sleep in the living room.

When the sun peaked through the blinds the next morning, the bleeding had stopped but the cramping was worse. She had the day off, so she packed Miley into the car while Billy was out laying tile with his dad and uncle and she drove herself to her lady doctor. He listened to her, did some tests, asked her a bunch of questions about her cycle and birth control habits, and told her that she had been pregnant and had suffered an early-term miscarriage, which he reassured her was common. She knew it was supposed to make her feel better, but she wasn’t sure why knowing that other women had gone through that horror was supposed to have that effect. It did not make her feel any better to have that knowledge.

She hadn’t even known she was pregnant. Her last period had been less than 28 days ago, the doctor said she had lost it only a couple of days into the pregnancy. That didn’t make her feel any better, either. She and Billy had not been trying for another child; hell she wasn’t even sure they could handle another child with his drinking habit ruling their lives. Still, her heart felt heavy as she drove to the park and sat and watched Miley play in the sandbox with another little boy whose mama looked as tired as she felt. A tear slid down her cheek as she grieved silently in the park for the loss of the child she didn’t even know she had been carrying. She wondered what it would have been like if it had been allowed to grow up, even though the doctor had told her not to think of it as a real baby but rather a non-viable collection of cells. A non-viable collection of cells that had tried to warn her of the impending danger. The thought sprang to mind, unbidden, and refused to leave. Sarah half-smiled to herself at the bittersweet thought of her unborn, soon-to-be miscarried fetus sending her a warning. It was beautiful in its sad way. Then, she stood and joined Miley on the playground.

Chapter Six – Deanna

When they got back to the office, the others exploded into activity like a beehive disturbed by a hungry bear. Questions surrounded them, “Are you two ok?”, “Were you there? Were you there when it happened?”, “Did you see the criminals?” “Was it scary? Oh, I bet it was scary!”

“It was scary, but we don’t know what happened.” Deanna tried to explain. “All we know is we were sweating in the sun inspecting buildings and landscaping and writing people up for daring to act like the property is their home and then there were SWAT Officers and guns pointed at us so we bailed. What the hell happened out there today?”

Sheila, Vice President of the office, took over in her quiet but confident voice. “There was a high-speed chase today that ended in a crash at your Summer Woods. The suspects survived the crash and continued to evade the Officers on foot. They were hiding in a backyard until the dogs sniffed them out. The backyard they were hiding in was next door to your Board President’s, so Bernard’s yard was overtaken by the SWAT team. Scared the poor guy half to death when he couldn’t get ahold of you.”

“We saw the SWAT guys, and their guns were pointed right at us!” Becky became the center of attention as she went on. “I almost fainted, I was so scared, and I have never seen Deanna move so fast in my life. They told us to get and she was gone! I couldn’t keep up, even though I was scared for my life too!.”

Deanna blushed, even though there was nothing to be embarrassed about. A strong survival instinct is a valuable life skill. I’m not ashamed of it. I have a boy I’m raising into a man to get home to, unlike Becky, who just has her wine and her cats. Outwardly, she smiled, and countered, “It seemed like you were keeping up pretty good to me, and I am certain you were in the car faster than I was, even though it was my car”, which made Becky blush this time.

That night, after working overtime to try and catch up with all the emails that had come in while she was out of the office at Summer Woods and then at the Italian place soothing their nerves, she picked Dixon up from Aunt Linda’s and took him for ice cream on the way home, even though it was almost his bedtime and sugar rots the teeth. She couldn’t stop looking at his angelic little boy face and thinking everything he said was extra clever tonight. After, once teeth had been brushed and a chapter from the story about a wizard and some hobbits they were working on was read, and she was tucking Dixon into the fuzzy blue blanket he preferred to sleep with over a comforter, she thought about what life would have been like if she hadn’t had him. The pregnancy had not been easy. She had been on bed rest for almost half of it and spotted the last couple of months all the same. He was her miracle baby, the only good thing to come from her time with Connor. She squeezed him closer, smelling the No More Tears shampoo in his hair and underneath that the scent of a freshly scrubbed boy. A tear of gratitude for the gift she had been given slid down her cheek. “Goodnight, bubs, sleep tight.” She whispered.

“Goodnight mama” he whispered back, eyes already drifting shut. “I love you”. With that, her heart overflowed with joy, and she closed the door softly, crept into her room, and cried happily in the dark until she too fell asleep.


2 responses to “All In A Day’s Work”

  1. Debbie and Burnell Waite Avatar
    Debbie and Burnell Waite

    You drew me in and I had to read it all. Nice intertwining; the contrasts yet similarities of the two women are intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

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