TITLE: On the flip side 03.28.2015
By Trace Pezzali
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I’m sicka being treated like garbage. Lenny spat on the sidewalk, just missing the retreating heels of the businessman who didn’t even acknowledge bumping into him. “What am I? Invisible?” he shouted. The man walked on without a backward glance.
Lenny’s shoulders slumped further on reaching the welfare office. Great. Further humiliation. The bell over the door tinkled, mockingly jovial. A few impassive faces looked up, before returning to the flick-through of tattered magazines or the hypnotic reverie of carpet inspection. Lenny reported to the young receptionist before dropping heavily into a chair. The air was thick with the pitiful stench of the wretched.
Lenny looked around the open-plan office. Hard-faced case managers cross-examined the recipients of government assistance: good-for-nothings, migrants, unemployed, the mentally and physically handicapped. All us dole bludgers.
He slouched forward, elbows on knees, face in cupped hands, forced to wait for his own third-degree grilling.
“Lenny Evans?” A stunning woman stood near reception. He sprang up. “I’m Gloria,” she said, holding out a slender hand which he shook wordlessly. The scent of roses left a path in her wake. He admired her swaying form.
Once they were both seated at her corner desk, Gloria’s grey eyes fixed on Lenny. She smoothed back one wayward blonde lock. Fluorescent light gleamed off the small cross at her neck. Self-conscious, Lenny slicked back his wavy hair, and rubbed sweaty palms over his jeans. One leg began its habitual jiggle.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said.
“Yeh sure,” Lenny cleared his throat. “Where’s Melanie?”
“She resigned. It’s not easy trying to help, when people don’t want to be.” Her smile, enhanced by dimples, disarmed him. He found he could not take offense.
He blurted out, “I’ve tried, y’know, betterin’ meself. It gets harder, every time yer knocked back.”
A slight frown creased her forehead. She tapped a manila file with a manicured finger. “I see you’ve been in and out of employment.”
“Short contracts,” he muttered.
“You’ve got a police record for assault.”
The rhythm in Lenny’s leg increased tempo. His face grew hot. “You won’t believe me if I tell yuh why.”
“Try me,” Gloria replied softly. It seemed she really wanted to know.
Avoiding eye contact, Lenny explained for the umpteenth time: “Straight outa school I worked for a gard’ner who did the big homes in Dalkeith, for snobs who thought they was better than us. One time I was shovellin’ mulch. This sour-faced cow was at me about how tuh do me job. I answered back. She went off ‘er nut. I walked away to put the shovel in the trailer, and she followed me.” Lenny thrust up his chin and looked at Gloria. “I didn’t know she was so close. When I turned around the shovel hit her knees. At court she said I threatened ‘er and bashed her deliberate. No-one cared about my side of the story. Lost me job. Did community service. Been held against me ever since.”
Gloria leaned forward, elbows supported by the desk. Lenny squirmed under the narrowed eyes of her assessment.
Her face cleared. “Do you want another chance, Lenny?”
Huh? He searched her face and found only honest enquiry. So… do I? Lately he’d stopped trying: safe, though miserable, in the dehumanising system he hated. Somehow he’d been born on the flip-side; one of the delegated ‘least’ among the ruling proud. Am I up for another round, even if it means bein’ knocked flat on me face?
“Yes,” he croaked, feeling on the edge of something: insanity, or hope.
“We’ve got an employer on our books who’s been burned a number of times, but he’s giving us one more chance to find him a suitable employee. It’s hard work, but he’s a good boss.”
“Manual labour for a small concreting company. He’ll pay accordingly as you become more skilled. Three months’ probation, then fixed employment.”
Encouraged by opportunity, the snuffled aspirations of his youth flared back to life.
“I’ll do it, no problem,” Lenny stated emphatically, feeling lighter than he had in a long time.
Gloria grinned and wrote down the details. Before he left she called out, “Please don’t let my uncle down. He’s trusting me to find the right man.”
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