On and off for the last 4 1/2 years, I have been writing the same piece of fiction. I started it one evening in the fall of 2008, while I was still working at TCF. Lines were slow, and I was bored and so I opened a new Word page and started writing. At first, I imagined a short story of no more than 50 or so pages. But over the years I have allowed the story to take me where it would, and the story has taken me to over 400 pages – and I am still not done! But I am close. Very close, in fact, I am almost ready to show the finished product to the world. Today, however, I will just unveil the first few pages. We’ll see how things go from there!
Introducing: Waiting for Salvation
Victor Gonzalez sat quietly as the cries of others around him nearly made him deaf. There were men in three piece suits sobbing like babies in handkerchiefs and women in flamboyant church hats fanning themselves as they wept uncontrollably as if they were in excruciating agony. Confused but obviously hurt children clung to the skirts of their mothers who were doing the fanning. But Victor didn’t know what all the commotion was for. At least not yet. The only thing more deafening than their yelling was the violent rain pounding on the stain glass windows, threatening to come in. And this was odd for December. Yet the weather seemed to match the melancholy mood of the hour.
A man dressed slightly more formerly than others stood up to speak. “Please turn in your Bible’s to John 14,” the man said. The man, whom Victor assumed was a reverend, waited until he could no longer hear the pages of the Bible ruffling. “Jesus said: ‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.’”
The wailing of the congregants surrounding Victor increased. He still was at a lost as to what was going on. And then one by one, as if on cue, people started to make their way to Victor offering their condolences. Older ladies cried on his shoulder and hugged him so tight that they smeared their lipstick and blush on his crisp, clean white shirt. Men shook his hands, trying to be strong and hold back the tears that were forming in the corners of their eyes. And Victor just stood there, unsure of what to do. Yet he was too frightened to move, too frightened to figure out what was going on, because whatever it was didn’t seem good.
The crowd around Victor soon began to dissipate and emptied out the sanctuary. Victor thought that it might be time for him to leave too. He grabbed his Bible and his coat and turned in the direction of the door. That’s when he noticed the casket. How could he have missed it before? Though fear told him not to go near, his curiosity got the best of him and he moved slowly toward the white casket surrounded by large bouquets of fragrant stargazers and white roses.
“Victor, come on. Let’s go. Everyone is waiting for you.” Victor turned around and saw a woman. Her face was familiar, but he couldn’t place her name.
“I’ll be there in just a minute,” Victor replied.
The woman noticed that Victor was heading toward the casket and called out after him. “No, Victor don’t go there. Don’t open it!”
Victor ignored her. He just had to find out. Was it his wife, Flor? Or one of his four kids? He didn’t know what he would do when he uncovered this mystery, but he had to uncover it. He had to. He kept walking.
“Victor, please. I beg of you. Don’t open the casket! Come on now, listen to me. Don’t do it.” The woman began to sprint toward him. But Victor was now only inches away from it, there was no way she would stop him. He reached toward its lid, and started to open it. To his surprise, the woman was right behind him and forced it back down.
“I have to know. I just have to know,” Victor said.
“No Victor, you don’t. Believe me, it’s better this way.” By that time, others had come back into the sanctuary, and were making their way to the casket to escort Victor out. Two men surrounded Victor, placing their arms around him as they walked him up the aisle to go out the door. Victor was too tired to fight, so he started to go with them. Then he changed his mind.
“No! No!” Victor yelled, breaking free from the men’s grip which wasn’t an easy task. He ran back toward the casket and yanked open its lid. There was nothing there.
“Leave me alone, I’m sleeping.”
“Victor, wake up! You are talking in your sleep again.”
Victor opened his eyes. The sun gleamed through the windows so brightly which made Victor want to shut them again.
“What now? Can’t you let me sleep?”
“Get up, get dressed and go look for a job.”
Victor looked to his right. There sat Flor, flipping through Cosmo while watching the morning news. He got out of bed and hit the shower because he was sweating profusely. After getting dressed, and quickly flipping through the morning paper, he was out the door. “It was only a dream,” Victor muttered as he walked a half a mile in -20° weather to the bus, which was waiting for him at the corner.
“Good morning, Victor!” the driver said.
“Morning Frank.” Victor paid the fare and sat down. He was hungry but he knew that if he had taken the time to eat before he left, Flor would have been all over him. Victor opened his wallet to see if he had any more cash to get something once he got to his destination. He had five dollars left. That was enough for a donut and a cup of coffee, at least.
Victor jumped off the bus and found a street café right away. It was one that he used to frequent every day when he worked on Wall Street, so he knew he wouldn’t be surprised by their prices.
“Can I have a small cup of your house blend and an apple pastry,” Victor requested. He used to order a large white chocolate mocha made with soy milk and extra whip cream. But times were different now.
“Five dollars,” the vendor said.
“Perfect!” Victor handed the vendor his bill.
‘No, the coffee is five dollars. The pastry is two.”
“Wait, a small cup of coffee costs five dollars? It used to cost three.”
“Prices have gone up,” the vendor said. “We are in a recession, man.”
Victor was colder than he was hungry. And he knew that he would be out for a few hours looking for work and needed to keep as warm as possible. So he decided to go with the coffee alone, and prayed that he wouldn’t get a headache from not eating.
Prayer. Lately it was the only thing that kept Victor from losing his mind. Ever since he lost his job six months ago, his entire world had been turned upside down. The conversation with his boss was still so cemented in his memory as if it happened yesterday.
“Victor, can you come into my office please?”
“Sure thing, Alex.” A few weeks ago, Alex informed him that he was in the running for a promotion in the firm. Victor was ecstatic but knew that there was one other guy, James, who was being considered as well. But Victor wasn’t worried. He just knew that he would get the job. He had been on the job longer; in fact he even trained James when he first came aboard. On top of that, he earned the firm billions of dollars more per year than his protégé.
Victor walked into the office and saw two men and a woman who he did not recognize seated on the couch. All of the confidence that he had in securing the promotion left at this point, as the expressions on their faces weren’t very friendly or hospitable. Victor quietly took his seat opposite them.
“Victor, thanks for coming in today” Alex started. “We just want to let you know how much we have appreciated all of the work that you have done over the last seven years. You have proven that you are a man of excellence, of diligence and for that we are extremely grateful. But unfortunately we decided to go with James for the job. He is just a little bit stronger than you, I hope that you can understand.”
Victor was stunned; he could not believe his ears. James was not stronger than Victor in any area at all. In fact, Victor was the one to mentor James over the last few years, offering advice in closing deals when James was still timid and unsuccessful. He knew all too well what their decision really meant; they were choosing a white man over someone who was colored. They didn’t need to say anything, it was crystal clear! Though frustrated, he tried not to let his emotions show.
“I was not expecting that one,” Victor spoke. “I thought that I had really made a positive impression around here. Well, I suppose I can live with it. Thanks for considering me in the first place.” With that, Victor stood to leave, assuming that there was not anything else that needed to be discussed.
“Wait, hang on a minute Victor!” Alex said. “There’s more. As you know the economy just has not been what it used to be. It is really affecting us so that we are going to have to make some changes around here.”
“Ok, what kind of changes?”
“Well, Victor” one of the men on the couch started, “we are going to have to lay some people off. Unfortunately, you are among one of three who is going to be let go. We are sorry to have to tell you this, but we are sure that you will find something in no time. And if not, hopefully this economic downturn is only a momentary one. Perhaps we can have you back in six months to one year’s time after things smooth out.”
Victor was at a loss for words, he did not know what to say. How could things be so perfect in his life at one moment and then in the next, be so drastically different? What did he do to deserve such a shift, what could he have done differently? He knew that if he was white and perhaps not an immigrant that he would still have a job, but how could he say that without appearing like the angry latino man playing the race card? Sure he could pursue the matter legally but knew that it would be as useless as chasing a rabbit down a rabbit hole; useless and tiring in the end!
“Victor, I hope there are no hard feelings,” Alex said.
“Hard feelings? Why should there be?” Victor asked. “You only passed me up for someone who is less competent and who has less experience than me because he is white and I am not. Hard feelings? No. Angry, upset, and frustrated feelings? Yes.”
“You know, you people are all the same,” Alex said. “You always want to play the race card when things aren’t going your way. Maybe you didn’t know this, but racism has ended. We as a people have all evolved to a much better place of acceptance and tolerance. Hey, we even have a black guy running for president. So our firing you has nothing do with race, and everything to do with ability. And let’s just be honest Victor, your ability just can’t compare to that of James.
“Are you serious?” asked Victor. “Let’s go get the records over the last three years. Right now. That’s where the proof is.”
“There isn’t any need to do that. We’ve made our decision,” said the woman who was sitting across from Alex.
“Let me not waste anymore of your time. If you do not mind, I will be on my way now.” At that, he stood up to leave.
“Oh, and just one other thing,” said Alex matter-of-factly. “Don’t pursue this legally. If you do, you can kiss your unemployment check goodbye.” Victor couldn’t believe that this was happening. And he doubted that his being laid off had anything to do with the economy as Alex suggested. He wondered if they were only looking for a way to get rid of him. It wouldn’t be the first time.