Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hard Work

Today’s story is a continuation of last week’s flash fiction, and if you haven’t already read about how Chris got a job with FGM, Sparkle, Inc., you'll want to read Help Wanted now!

Hard Work
Fairy godmothering is a lot harder than it looks. Sure, you get a sparkly tiara, which gives you a magical case review before you meet with your client, provides near instantaneous transportation, and enhances your natural gifts for creative thinking, intuition, and good judgment. Yep, you also get a sparkly magic wand, which allows you to grant wishes, transmute matter, and trick even the most fractious client into good behavior, but sparkle, magic, and trickery can only take you so far when you’re trying to genuinely transform someone’s life. The job really comes down to teaching clients about making choices and facing consequences. Every wave of the wand comes with a life lesson, and every bibbity, bobbity incantation is uttered with the knowledge that Cinderella will stay at the ball too late, that Pinochio will lie, and that Sleeping Beauty will prick her finger and fall into an enchanted slumber.
Fairy godmothering is a lot harder than it looks, and that’s why three months after my job interview with FGM Sparkle, Inc. I’d only just finished their extensive training and shadowing program, and finally been released to work in the field without a chaperone. By Wednesday of my second week as a full-fledged fairy godmother, I’d already met with sixteen clients. After the weeks of role playing, rehearsal, and carefully supervised interventions, I was giddy to be on my own.
“Have you had your first adult client yet?” Glenda asked me when we ran into each other in the break room.
“No, just kids so far. We’re all just overgrown kids though, right?”
 Glenda laughed and a small fleet of butterflies rose from her golden ringlets. “Oh, Chris, you’re such a neophyte.” She brushed a kiss across my cheek and swept out of the break room with a rustle of satin skirts, calling back, “It’s the grown-up clients who separate the real fairy godmothers from the light weights.”
“What was that all about?” I asked Viridian, who didn’t look old enough to drive a car, but had been a fairy godmother for over two decades.
“I’ve been telling her for years that she needs to stop that nonsense.” Viridian half-filled her mug with coffee, then dumped half a dozen sugar cubes into the tarry depths, gave the mixture a quick stir, and downed it all in one swift gulp. “Ahhh,” she said, then belched. “One of these days, someone’s going to file sexual harassment charges against Glenda, and then where will she be?”
“But what did she mean about adult clients? The trainers never said anything about there being a difference.” I surreptitiously wiped my cheek with the back of my hand. Glenda reminded me of my great aunt. They were both wet kissers.
“Phhht,” Viridian said, curling her lip. “Don’t pay Glenda any mind. She’s just trying to get under your skin. You’ll do fine with adults.”
I wasn’t some fresh faced kid right out of grad school, and I knew enough about human nature (and by extension fairy godmother nature) to know that Glenda was, indeed, trying to get under my skin. I also knew that Viridian’s casual dismissal of Glenda’s taunt was just a touch too casual. Something was up, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what it was. Over the next few weeks, I tried broaching the subject with several other experienced fairy godmothers, and each time, the topic was adeptly avoided with a kind of conversational jujitsu that I admired but couldn’t outmaneuver. That, of course, lent credence to Glenda’s words and I spent more than a few nights tossing and turning while I worried about whether I’d measure up when I had my first adult client.
When the time finally arrived, it was four-thirty on a Friday afternoon. These sorts of things always arrive at the end of a Friday shift, it’s a law of nature. I’d been clock-watching for the last hour, yawning, and working on my paperwork when my tiara vibrated, giving me the usual two minute warning that I was about to be transported to a client meeting. The case details flashed into my mind and I grabbed the terry cloth towel I kept in my top desk drawer. The information download was still giving me sweats and I’d begun to suspect that the gals in IT weren’t really trying to fix the problem. Every time I complained, they fussed and puttered over my tiara for a few hours, all the while telling me horror stories about their own night sweats, hot flashes, cold flashes, insomnia, and mood swings. All three of the ladies in that department were in their fifties, and I was half convinced that they’d deliberately engineered my uncomfortable “information sweats”.
I reached under my shirt and wiped the sudden streams of sweat off my torso, then took off my glasses and mopped my face with the mostly dry corner of the towel. My next client, Andrew was in the midst of a tantrum. After a complicated pregnancy, his wife had just given birth to twins. One of the twins had a heart defect and was rushed into surgery immediately after she was delivered via C-section. The surgery had gone well but Andrew’s wife and daughters were scheduled to remain in the hospital for the next week, and a week alone in an empty house can be tough on a new dad. A dripping kitchen sink, two leaky bathroom sinks, and a toilet that kept backing up into the bathtub weren’t making matters any better.
At the moment that I was transported into Andrew’s life, he was under the bathroom sink cussing a blue streak about his “worthless piece of crap historic house”.
“…have to be a professional plumber to make this place…” Andrew mumbled, and the rest of his words faded into a low grumble followed by more swearing as he snaked his arm out from under the sink and reached blindly for his tool belt, which I helpfully nudged closer with the toe of my boot until his hand fell on his pipe wrench. The arm and pipe wrench disappeared under the sink and more grumbling followed, then I heard a loud clang accompanied by a yowl and a string of the most creative expletives I’d heard since my ex-wife’s father died. When Andrew ran out of breath, I decided it was time to move things along.
“Looks like you could use a hand with tha—”
Andrew shot out from under the sink like I’d goosed him, bumping his head on the way, and jarring free another string of obscenities.
“What the…” I exclaimed and took a step back. None of my training had prepared me for this. Nobody had told me that I might show up to be someone’s fairy godmother and find that I knew them! This wasn’t some anonymous Andrew I’d never met before, this was Andy, my ex-kid-brother-in-law!
“Chris? What are you doing here? How’d you get in my house?” Andy gave me a once over, then added, “What’s up with the princess get-up?”
“Long story,” I managed to get out before the backs of my knees hit the edge of the raised claw bathtub and I tumbled into it, taking out the shower curtain as I went.
Twenty minutes later, I sat at Andy’s kitchen table holding an ice pack against the back of my head and sipping a cup of coffee. Andy had already offered, three times, to call someone to come pick me up, but he also kept asking questions about the tiara and wand. I could tell he was wondering if I’d finally lost my marbles.
“You need to talk to her, Andy. You guys are a team.” I tried, again, to steer the conversation towards a solution for Andy, so I could wind up this appointment. He was understandably upset about medical bills, and also worried that his wife would take their babies and go stay with her mom if she knew that the toilet had been backing up into the tub.
“So, what happens if you take the tiara off?” Andy asked. He’d always been hard to talk sense to, but it seemed impolite for him to be asking so many avid questions about something he clearly didn’t believe in.
“Forget about the tiara, Andy. Look, man, you have to tell your wife about the plumbing. You can’t just keep it a secret and try to fix everything while she’s in the hospital. She needs you there at the hospital right now, you know?”
“You haven’t met her, Chris. Her family’s got money. She’s like a princess. There’s no way she’ll come back to this place if she knows.”
“I think you should give her a chance. Besides, if her family has that much money, maybe they can help you rustle up the cash to get a plumber in here.”
Andy shook his head and reached across the table to touch my magic wand. I pulled the wand back out of his reach and sighed. It was time to wrap this visit up.
“Watch this.” I set down the ice pack and turned sideways in my chair so I could face the dripping kitchen sink. I glanced at Andy to make sure I had his attention, then began to wave my wand.
“Bibbity, bobbity, boo!” My wand shot bright glitter like a sparkler and the kitchen faucet stopped dripping.
Andy was momentarily speechless, which was a nice change and I grinned as he jumped up to go turn the faucet on and off. Satisfied that I’d actually fixed the drip he turned back to me, face eager.
“Can you fix the rest of it? Please, Chris?”
I gave Andy a stern look and lowered my voice to lend gravity to my words. “I can’t fix any of it permanently, but I can patch it up and make it last for a month.” Andy pumped his fist in victorious joy, but I held up a hand to stop him.
“There are conditions, Chris. You have to talk to your wife instead of trying to solve all these problems alone.” I watched a shadow fall across Andy’s face. “I’m serious. You have to tell her today. Go to the hospital, spend time with her there every day, and work together to make a plan to get a plumber in here. Will you do that?”
It’s not nice to see a grown man pout, but Andy tried it for about five seconds. I stared him down, keeping my expression as stern as I could manage. “Yeah, fine. Whatever,” Andy acquiesced.
I nodded, stood up, and twirled my wand in a wide circle raising a wind that swirled through the house. “BIBBITY. BOBBITY. BOO!” I roared, and there was a sound like a clap of thunder. A moment later, the wind died down and I sank into my chair while Andy ran through the house checking all the leaks and drips. When he returned, he wore an expression of awe.
“I can’t believe it, Chris. I mean, I do believe it, obviously, but I’m just amazed! I never knew that magic really existed! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. I’m happy to help. But remember, you need to tell your wife everything. If she comes home and you haven’t  been straight with her, my magic won’t hold. Things will start to drip and leak again. The longer you wait, the more my patches will fail, and before you know it, that toilet is going to be backing up in the tub again. You don’t want that, do you?”
Andy had already thrown his coat on and was on his way out the door. “Will do, Chris, will do,” he called back to me.
I shook my head and let my tiara take me back to the office. Glenda was right. Adult clients were a lot tougher than the kids.
That weekend I changed my phone number. There was no sense waiting around for Andy to get my number from my ex-wife so he could call and complain when his toilet backed up into his bathtub again.

Happy flash fiction Friday and thank you for reading! I’m working on some blog related changes (fun things, I promise) and won’t be publishing flash fiction next week (March 25, 2016). I’ll be back again on April 1st, however, and will update you then about the changes I have in mind. Meanwhile, have a marvelous Spring Equinox and Happy Easter!