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Burning Bays of Vieques (Part 3) by Sean E. O’Connor

April 17, 2013

The next morning, neither Pamela nor Angela woke up with any more anxiety than usual for a workday Monday, but as last night’s episode came back to the surface, a unfamiliar silence enveloped the apartment. The radio was not even on. Pamela cooked up some of her Spanish home fries, along with scrambled eggs and tomatoes. They sat eating quietly for a while, until Angela broke the silence.

“So are you working on any more letters to the editor, Mom?”

With a laugh, flavored with relief, Pamela answered: “No, silly. I have to wait until someone adds their opinion, or I have another episode with one of those rude people.”

“Just promise me, Mom, that you are not heading out today looking for trouble, something to write about.”

“And you, honey, how are you feeling this morning?” Pamela asked after a long pause.

“Actually, I’m feeling pretty normal.”

“Well, maybe it has passed.”

“But what if it hasn’t?”

“Well, angel, do you have Dr. Emanuel’s phone number in your cell phone thingie?”

“Yes, I do.” Angela said, adding a solid laugh. “You know, Mom, there are many good things to be said for cell phones. In fact, we should get you one. I would worry about you less if you had one.” Glad to take the focus off herself, Angela continued, “You should at least stop calling them ‘thingies.’” Pamela just huffed and sipped some coffee, as she studied her daughter one more time, looking for signs of stress or illness.

“Well, here goes nothing, I hope. I’m off to work! It’s always hard to go back to working in the office after field work, but today I am looking forward to a normal boring day.”

Angela’s short trip to work was uneventful, though she did have to remind herself to breathe once in a while. She couldn’t remember the last time she was so glad to be at work. Surely she had many such days back when she first got the job here at the science building of EPA’s Northeast Regional Office. In fact, she would always appreciate getting this job after nearly a year of searching, more like hunting, for a position in her field of study, Environmental Science. She knew a few of her classmates from City College who had to accept jobs only remotely connected to their majors, if related at all, and heard of others who were still searching for a career start. Her diligent work in her lab courses is what got her here; all those dateless weekends paid off after all. She was glad it did not involve some racial quota scenario—not that she would turn down such a job. She did believe “hard knocks” should count for something, but since it had no part in the outcome, she definitely resented her boss, Richard’s, subtle suggestions otherwise. At least that’s how she took some of his comments, and she never thought herself paranoid on this issue. Yet he was such a two-faced phony, who knew what his game was half the time—rather, all the time?

Once at work, Angela and Chuck went right to analyzing the samples they collected in Vieques. It did not take long for Chuck to determine, unofficially anyway, that the test results showed nothing out of the ordinary, that is nothing but what would be expected from the seas surrounding Puerto Rico. It did surprise him that Angela just would not accept these initial findings.

“It can’t be, Chuck. I know there’s something going on down there.”

With a puzzled brow he asked flatly, “Why?”—only to see a combination of anxiety and puzzlement in her eyes. “What do you see? Where do you see that, Angela?”

“I just know it, Chuck,” Angela answered, realizing immediately how crazy that must sound to her by-the-book lab partner. In fact, only a week ago she was not that much different from him when it came to lab work; they both stuck with the “scientific method.”

Chuck, still feeling tired from the trip and ready to go home, shrugged and said, “Well, we have till tomorrow afternoon to present our findings to the boss man.” Glad that he did not press her, Angela agreed to leave it till tomorrow morning. They cleaned up their lab stations, and then worked on paperwork.

Pamela’s day, on the other hand, was going much better. She was a little hesitant to open the morning paper at first, but quickly decided that was silly. It had been two days since her letter was printed, just enough time for responses to show up, if any, so let it rip, she thought to herself. Where did I pick up that expression? I guess I really have become a New Yorker.

Not only was there a follow-up letter on her topic, but there were three. Two very supportive letters, and one very short one suggesting she “get with it,” and calling her old and behind the times.

How does he know I’m old? Probably some e-texter.

Pamela felt excited and complimented, especially because English was not her first language. With that done, it was time to get back to earth, and vacuum some before her Novellas came on. It was almost ten o’clock when the phone rang.

“Ola.”

“Mrs. Lopez? This is Loretta Gavin from the Metro newspaper, the Life Section editor.”

“Si.”

“Well, your letter really seems to have touched a nerve. We only printed a few of the follow-up letters, but we received many more.”

“Do the others want me to ‘get with it’ too?”

Loretta responded, “Get with it? No, many were quite positive—really! Anyway, the reason I called is to encourage you to write again on this topic of New Age rudeness, as often as you like. This all has inspired me to go ahead with an old idea of mine to start a regular ‘Lady Manners’ column, probably on a weekly basis. I’m not sure about the title, but you get the idea.”

“Si.”

“So you’ll write again?”

“I’ll try.”

“Good; whenever the mood hits you, no pressure. Do you have a computer to send it by email?”

“My daughter does.”

“If she can help you, that’s great, but write any way you want. The email address is in the paper below my name.”

“Okay, bye now.” And with that Loretta heard a click, followed by the dial tone. Boy not much of a talker, for a letter writer. Then with a shake of her head, and a sigh she mused: Loretta’s Letters . . . Lady Manners . . . Manners Data; that has a more modern sound to it; a compute- age sound to it. Okay, Manners Data it is. With a title in place, Loretta set her mind to putting her proposal together, even though she did not get the jolt of exuberance she expected from the phone call to Mrs. Lopez. I’m not even sure why I felt the need to call a reader about it. She wasn’t always the confident bulldozer editor her persona projected.

Angela’s hope for a ride home as uneventful as the one into work was soon dashed. She did try to avoid any interactions with others, mindful of her experience on the Airport Shuttle. Unfortunately, the A train was slow tonight, and therefore packed, and one “gentleman” was pressing his crotch against her rear. He was thirtyish, a little taller than her, and thinking low-life thoughts despite his shirt and tie, and his poker face; his head bobbed slightly, apparently in response to the music in his iPod.

Angela used her elbow a couple of times, which worked momentarily each time, but he was persistent. The sleaze ball had a partner in crime, who soon joined in.

Well, that was all it took; in a split second the two perverts’ heads were tied with their own ear pod wires to the center pole in such a way that they were practically kissing. Just then the subway doors opened, and before anyone could put together what they saw, Angela stepped out the door and onto the platform. It was not her stop, but it would do. She was not even slightly remorseful or self-conscience about reverting to her new-found talent. Stepping up and out of the subway staircase Angela took a deep breath in an effort to clear her mind of the unpleasant subway experience, determined to enjoy the extra walk from this subway stop.

“Buenas tardes, Angela.”

The voice was familiar, so Angela softened just a little before turning her head left toward the male voice. It was a childhood friend from middle school .

“Oh, hello, Marty. Yes, good evening. It’s been a while.”

“Yes, too long. You out for a stroll, Bella? I’d ask if you were slumming, but there’s not that much difference in our neighborhoods.”

“You’re right there. No, I decided to walk some, so I got off a stop early.” Angela doesn’t mind saying hello to Marty Riaz—he always was pleasant to her as a kid—but she did not intend to linger, since the last she heard, he was helping some thugs strip cars, probably in exchange for marijuana or worse. He looked the part too, with small tube earrings inserted in his ear lobes, a small ring in his nose, a shaved head, and tattoos everywhere. Though he did look a lot healthier since the last time she saw him, stoned out at a party.

With a chuckle Marty said: “You know Angela, it was never hard to read your mind, ‘cause it’s usually printed all over your face.”

“Oh yeah,” Angela responded, raising her chin up in a look of amused defiance.

“Yes, it reads something like: Let me get away from this loser quick!”

Before Angela could respond, Marty continued, raising his hand in a “stop” gesture: “Don’t worry, I understand, but you should know that I’ve cleaned up my act a lot since I saw you last. Not only do I have a real job, but I’ve been completely sober for more than a year now.”

Duly impressed, Angela responded while stepping back to get a new view of this guy, “Is that so? And where is this ‘job’?” adding a little mock sarcasm.

“I’m working full time at a Monroe Muffler on Fordham Avenue.”

Angela was actually happy to hear all this and told Marty as much. Before they parted, Marty charmed her into giving him her new cell phone number. As she walked away she thought to herself: Maybe there’s hope for Male-kind after all.

Still, she could not get to her mother’s apartment soon enough. Recently she had decided to start thinking of her long-time home that way, in order to help her develop the mindset that would lead her to getting her own place, sooner rather than later. It’s time! She thought again, though this whole luminescence thing gave her some doubts about this being the time.

Once at home the two women went right to sharing each other’s day, even before preparing dinner. They conspired to write up Angela’s “Dumb & Dumber” subway incident immediately, and send it to Loretta Gavin for her new manners column by email. So as Pamela got busy in the kitchen, her daughter started typing on her computer with gusto.

(To be continued, but not necessarily in this venue)

Copyright 2013 by Sean E. O’Connor

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2 Comments
  1. heathermarsten04 permalink

    I love the humor in the story. The characters are varied and fun. Two things come to mind. In dialogue, most people don’t talk in complete sentences. Might want to cut some words out of dialogue. There was one place in the middle – a huge paragraph, that tells a lot of back story. That might be better split up and only a few things here and there said. I found myself skipping over that to get to the rest of the story. I’m curious how the Dumb and Dumber post will be written.

    • Sean O'Connor permalink

      Hi Heather,
      Thanks so much for your feedback, I will definitely edit those areas you mentioned.
      but
      I did not write Dumb & Dumber
      Take care & keep reading!

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