Mary was getting fired again. Felcher shifted in the wooden chair behind his desk.
“I can’t have someone slowing down the crew anymore,” he said, “I warned you about talking, out loud, to yourself while with the group. I couldn’t believe the complaints these past weeks, quite frankly, but everyone with the crew came to me separately.”
Two big tears rolled down her cheeks. Felcher stared nervously at the ceiling as he handed her the pay packet across his blotter. God it was so hard working with all women sometimes.
“Isn’t there someone you could talk to about, ahem, who you’re talking to? He asked.
“Why would I want to do that? It’s nobody’s business but mine. I’ve told them not to talk to me at work. Besides, the other girls talk to each other. I don’t see the difference.”
She shook her head, put the envelope in her voluminous purse and made her way to the door.
Felcher silently defined the difference to himself. Mary didn’t talk to the other workers. She talked and argued with invisible entities.
Mary passed the first floor of office the still employed women were beginning to clean. At least it was Friday and there should be at least four shifts of pay enclosed. She hoped Tina would try to find her at home tonight.
“She never finds me at home” she said in a whisper to herself.
Mary knew why Tina avoided the old apartment. It was what had killed her. To that day Mary couldn’t understand how the three rooms she kept shiny clean and free of roaches had made her Tina sick.
She had tried to talk about that illness at the job she had back then. They laughed at her when she told them her daughter had caught “plastic” anemia. There was more laughter when Mary said it was because she kept their place too clean. Insisting that the doctors had told her she did too much and that caused her child’s death. When Tina and John found her at work that was the first time she ever got canned.
“They all were wrong,” Mary said as she walked home, “I never argued with Tina, just with John. He was the one that wanted me to keep the roaches out at all cost. Tina would find me first then John’s judging would come after.”
She stopped in front of Maple’s Toy Store. Old Mr. Maple could be seen through the display window struggling with a bucket and mop. Guessing he was trying to mop the inevitable foot prints from the rainy day, she decided to go in and help.
“Oh Mary,” he said, “They didn’t let you go at the Anderson Building?”
Mary tensed her face to keep her eyes from welling up again. She gently took the mop from Maple and went to cleaning the hard wood floor of the century old shop. The proprietor thanked her and made his way to his flat upstairs.
Tina found her.
“Mama,” she said, “this place is so adorable, why don’t you work here from now on?”
“Now Tina, “Mary replied, “Mr. Maple can’t afford to pay me. The city is taking his building soon under Emmet Domay, who ever that is.”
“I’d really like to stay here, with the toys. That’s why Dad always came to get me because I hated the computers and phones where you usually work. I could never stay there.”
“Please don’t argue with me tonight Tina, I’m tired. I want to get home before your Dad finds me.”
Mary figured out that the slop sink was in the basement. Maybe the old man used the bathroom but Mary always did housekeeping to the utmost. She stumbled from the bottom step. Careening across cement floor she didn’t stop until she hit an old wooden hutch. A beautiful turquoise ginger jar toppled from the top and shattered.
Mary carefully pulled the yellowed folded paper from the shards. She could tell it was a legal document with lots of “whereas and here to fore” The building was listed as built fifty years before the date on the corner stone. It also said the original owner was the Civil War general who had been the city’s first mayor. The mayor who had leased the entire brick edifice to the Maple family in perpetuity.
“Mama,” Tina said, “Looks like we can stay here forever. They can’t make Mr. Maple leave now.”
Mr. Maple was so sorry Mary was gone but glad of the paper found clutched in her hand. It was enough to get his grandson to come back. He also relented and stocked some video and electronic games. There was no explanation for the dolls having different dresses on each morning. Neither was there any reason why he never had to mop the floor after it rained.