Copyright is held by the author.

THE MONTH’S not even half gone and they’re already broke. With car repairs and all, Edie’s cheque didn’t go as far as they thought it would. It didn’t help that Jerry went out with the boys and she went to Bingo.

She spent five bucks on one lousy card, hoping this would be it, they’d hit the jackpot. Sure, she had a nice time with the girls, but by the end of the night they were five bucks poorer. Jerry was no better, five bucks on a drink with the boys, and 10 bucks gone, just like that.

Romance novels would say that they have each other, but let’s face it. They’re broke. And honestly, she’s too old for romance novels anyway.

Jerry didn’t get the overtime he wanted, his pay’s not what it should be. If they’re careful, he’ll have enough gas to get to work and back. But that’s it. Still a couple hundred dollars short for rent. And no way of getting it any time soon.

Groaning, Edie put her feet up to rest. Glass of ice water sitting on the side table, making a puddle on the coaster. The smell of pine furniture polish hung in the air and vacuum lines were still visible on the polyester rug. Today was cleaning day. It always tired her out.

She hauled her aging frame out of an overstuffed easy chair. Her knees and back cried in protest. The doctor kept telling her to lose some weight, that it would help her joints. But no matter what she did she never lost any. Clothes bought from the discount store’s plus size section were neatly folded in a laundry basket sitting on the sofa. Waiting to be put away.

Edie strolled into the bedroom, cradling the basket against her ample belly. May as well do some work around here, there’s no point in sitting thinking about all their problems.

She can’t solve them anyway. Broke, not enough money to go around, she can’t fix that. Edie hasn’t worked outside the home for years. Long hours in a glass factory during a time of big production and little concern for safety left her with a bad cough and a bad back. The doctor says she’s lucky to be alive, breathing glass dust without a proper respirator like she did.

So it’s up to Jerry. And his overtime didn’t come through. Rumbles about cutbacks, downsizing, and cheaper labour in Mexico. She can’t believe it’s cheaper to ship stuff all the way from Mexico rather than assembling it right here. But Jerry says it’s true. All the big plants are set up in Mexico. It’s only a matter of time.

Then what?

It’s not as though the plant is going to send him down to Mexico. Though it would be nice if they did. Imagine living in one of those red roofed villas with the little balconies out front. Flowers growing all year round, fresh fruit and vegetables ripe for the picking. She could have a little garden down in Mexico, not just the patio planters she has here.

Although, the tomatoes on the balcony did pretty good. And her azaleas are nothing to sneeze at. I’d bet they’d do really well down there. Edie pressed a shirt against her bosom, lost in the daydream of sunny gardens and warm climates.

Maybe that’s it. She can sell plants, make some money on the side. Imagine a home business, like Avon, only selling plants.

And what, make five bucks a month? There’s no money in plants. Heck, you can buy a nice houseplant for two bucks from the grocery store. She turns to her African Violets, proudly blooming on the windowsill.

But still, they are nice. And she does such a good job with them, not a mite or fungal infection in sight.

Laughing at herself, it’s time to talk to the Super. Tell him they’re going to be late with rent this month. Again. God knows what next month will bring, they’re starting it behind already.

It never used to be this way.

She was so proud of Jerry when he was promoted to lead hand. Overseeing a production line of 20 guys, stepping up to the foreman’s job whenever he’s off. For a while they were on top of the world, economy booming, manufacturing industry growing, and everyone and their brother coming to Toronto for work.

Then things changed. Work slowdowns, closing suppliers in the States. Plants closing here too. Economic downturn. Some folks went out West; try their hand on the oil fields. Some went back home, hoping for jobs in untapped oil fields out East. Some just went back because they missed their families and had enough of trying to survive in a big city.

Of course, the pay hasn’t changed much over the years. It used to be good money. Now, with everything costing so much more, most months they just make ends meet. And there’s no pension in sight.

Edie ran a finger over a wooden dresser, it needed a good dusting. She watched those TV shows where old junky furniture was really worth good money. Even if she could find her way onto one of those shows, she didn’t think anyone would pay money for this stuff.

Money or not, it’s time to think about dinner. Jerry’ll be home in a couple hours, and he likes to have a hot meal waiting for him. There’s not much left in the cupboard. It’s time to call the food bank.

The last time folks from the church dropped off a donation box, her cheeks burnt with shame. A young man pressed a food voucher into her hand, and said God bless you. Set a cardboard box on her kitchen table. Mortified, she mumbled a thank you and wept tears of gratitude over tins of tuna and canned spaghetti.

There’s still some tuna left, she can mix it with breadcrumbs and fry it in patties. Jerry likes that. It’s almost like burgers. Add some leftover Kraft dinner and they’d eat like kings. For tonight.

She’ll need to call the church again. Humiliating phone call, spelling her name, giving her address, asking for food. Put it on her list of chores. Glancing at her watch, may as well talk to the Super now. Catch him during the afternoon quiet, before everyone comes home from work. Don’t need an audience for this.

Edie grabbed keys off their hook and marched out the door. Carefully locking it behind her. You never know who’s around nowadays.

Walking to the elevator, she waved at a young man in baggy trousers. Jonny from across the hall, lives in a two bedroom unit with his girlfriend. Lovely view. They can see the CN Tower from their balcony. Jonny’s carrying a large cardboard box with open flaps.

“Hello, how are you today, m’dear?” Edie sails into conversation. Jonny is a nice young man, even if his friends are a bit dodgy. They all have baggy pants, tattoos, and strange piercings. Lots of them coming and going. But Jonny and Sara are a polite young couple.

“Fine, thanks. How are your tomatoes? The last ones you brought over were fantastic. Thank you so much. Sara loved them.”

“Oh, no problem at all. I always get so many, they just keep growing on the balcony. It’s a sunny spot that most plants love.”

“Yeah, funny weather we’re having lately, eh?” Jonny replied.

“Oh, I don’t know, it’s sunny enough,” Edie always has an eye to the skies, if only to watch over her tomato plants. One freak hailstorm and they’d be done for.

“I suppose. I just can’t keep these damned things alive,” Jonny nods at the box.

Edie peers inside the box. Greenish yellow plant fronds wiggle. “Oh, the poor things. They’re starved for sunlight.”

“I know. My side of the building’s too dark for them. Balcony’s shaded by ten a.m.”

Edie leaned closer. “Oh, what are they? A type of fern?”

Jonny smiled. “Yeah, they’re my mom’s. I’m watching them for her. She’ll flip if they die. They’re one of her favourites, a fern from South America. She has orchids too.”

“Oh, I never had orchids,” Edie says wistfully. Eyeing the exotic ferns, wondering if she can ask for a cutting.

Jonny smiles at Edie, “Can you take care of them for me?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she began.

“I can pay you.”

Edie looked closer at the plants. Long fronds wiggle forlornly. They just need some sunlight and fertilizer. Why, she had just the right plant food under her kitchen sink. It wouldn’t be any trouble at all. But if they died, oh, his poor mother.

“I don’t know.”

“Please, I really need your help. I can’t let them die, they’re too valuable. She’d kill me.” Jonny pleaded. “I can pay you for your time.”

“What were you thinking?” Edie asked cautiously.

“I can give you 200 bucks a month, starting this month.”

Edie’s mouth hung open. “I couldn’t . . .”

Jonny smiled, ever the charmer, “I’d have to, my mom will kill me if they died. They’re really important to her. She can’t take care of them where she is now, in the hospital you know. Don’t know when she’ll get out.” His voice drops to a whisper, “The doctor’s talking about a home for her.”

“Oh my.” Horrified, Edie’s hand goes up to her mouth.

“She’s got a very valuable plant collection, and she’d be beside herself if anything died.” Jonny continued. “Why don’t you take them for a while, see what you can do with them. See if they come back to life. It’s so sad for them to be like this, you know, she used to have ones nearly six feet tall.”

“Well I never.” Imaging frothy fronds waving on her balcony, giving the place a real tropical feel. Almost like Mexico.

“Here,” Jonny pressed the box to her. “Why don’t you see what you can do and I’ll give you 200 bucks at the end of the month?”

“Well, OK, just for this month,” Edie wrapped her arms around the box. “I’d hate for anything happen to them.” Edie turned back to her apartment, carrying a cardboard box with two dozen marijuana plants inside.

  1. Haha, good ‘twist’! Well written, and a reflection of what is happening to a good chunk of people here in the UK too. Though not everyone would use this particular solution.

  2. Whoa! I did NOT see that coming. Guess I’m as naive as Edie! I thought, “That’s ridiculous, $200 a month to take care of plants! They’re PLANTS, not a pet!” And then I read the last line…. You got me, Angela Michalak! Especially love how she pictured the plants waving on the balcony, making her humble apartment “almost like Mexico”….Bless. 🙂

  3. Great twist Angela! Loved it!

  4. Fantastic, Angela! Loved it! Looking forward to more. 🙂

  5. I loved it! I did guess the plant though, I’m looking forward to reading more of your work!

  6. […] Friday we re-post a favourite story or poem from the CommuterLit archives today we post the story, “Broke,” by Angela Michalak. Click on the link to […]

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