"Processing Data" and "Roberta's Funeral"

(Hawthorne, CA 1984)

Processing Data

My father worked in canneries in the Azores when he was young. He and my mother emigrated to Monterey just after the First World War. I met my husband when we were teenagers.

I don’t know what I’ll do when I retire. It’ll be a big change. I’ve worked all my life. I've been with the District for twenty years, and before that I worked as a book-keeper and receptionist for a doctor for fourteen years. When the boys were little I worked part-time. I worked when I was at College and I worked in High School.

My job is data processing. I put all the student data into the computer and we have nearly three thousand students. It has to be done right. That's why I don't like too many student assistants in here. Everything has to be done just right.

It's terribly frustrating when the computer's not working right, when you send in the data and it comes back scrambled up. Instead of everything being done and finished I have to do it all again. I wish we had our own system.

There's so much to do. I'm always awake early, so I come in at six o'clock so I can get started as soon as the system goes up. I still go home at the regular time, when everybody else does.

You know, that doesn't seem fair to me, but they don't give me comp-time for any of that. They never have, and I've been here five years. I could take it in the summer, when the work is lighter, but they don't seem to... I never take a morning or an afternoon break. I just don't feel right when there's so much to do. Sometimes during the day the system will go down, and they'll still be at me to get the work done.

When I go home I have to take care of Jim. He uses a complete set of bed-linen every day. He's got prostate cancer, and now it's spread right through his system. He doesn't want to go to the hospital, ever. He doesn't want strangers looking after him. He wants to die at home. He asked me to promise him that.

I wash his sheets every day. He can't go out into the garden and do any watering or anything so I take care of that as well. Sometimes he's awake all night with the pain and I don't get any sleep. He won't take any of the medication they give him, unless he doesn’t realize what I’m doing and I can grind it up and mix it in with his food.

It's hard for Jim. He was a big man, and now he's lost so much weight his shoulders sag and it's hard for him even to sit up. He used to have his own business. He was so proud of that. He used to work sometimes eighty or a hundred hours a week. Then he got sick and had to retire on Disability.

He wants me to be there, with him. He wants me to retire. So that's why I'm retiring.

I'll have to have something to take me away from the house. I do volunteer work at the Church. Jim used to do that, too, before he got sick. I'll go on doing that. And some days, when he's well enough, we can go for a short drive in the afternoon.

I used to be more energetic.

My son Mark died a couple of years ago and I've never really got over that.

When Mark worked at the Pentagon they gave him a special medal for services to the President. He left school too young. I've always felt that. He was always a straight-A student, but sixteen's really too young. When he was in basic training he used to write to me. And, you know, it was pitiful, the loneliness of those boys. Sometimes they'd cry at night, they were so young.

Mark had done his air traffic training and was working at the airport during the air traffic controllers' strike. He and his wife Diane had just bought a house and they were going to move into it the following month. He was working ten-hour shifts and driving all that way and he wasn't getting enough sleep. One night he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and was killed.

Diane and the babies moved back East, to her parents.

Some nights I wake up and I can't get back to sleep. I hear Mark calling and calling me, and I walk up and down the hallway answering him, asking him what is the matter. I dreamed once he was at the front door, knocking and knocking, and when I opened the door the next day I found him slumped in his uniform. In the dream he told me he couldn't make anyone hear.

 

 

M. F. McAuliffe is the Australian co-founder and contributing editor for the Portland-based, multilingual magazine Gobshite Quarterly, and its offshoot, GobQ/Reprobate Books. All the stories featured here are part of the forthcoming collection, I’m Afraid of Americans (Portland, shoegaze, 2018).

 

Edited for Unlikely by dan raphael, Prose Editor
Last revised on Friday, October 20, 2017 - 22:28