Barbara gets about a bit
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Fancy Tea, Fancy Box by KJ Hannah Greenberg


Barbara had to adjust to Tony’s newly acquired wealth. Up until that point, she had defined herself as a scholar married to an owner of a neighborhood bar and grill. Tony, however, had morphed into the major stock holder of a big corporation. His deep fried apple rings, which he had served, for years, with Worcestershire sauce, recently had been tasted and then promoted by men “with connections.” In selling the rights to his recipe, Tony had wanted to establish a retirement fund, but had found himself, instead, transformed into a corporate figurehead.

Barbara sighed as she regarded her fingernails and then glanced out her kitchen window onto her snow-covered lawn. It had been nice of the conglomerate to have endowed an academic chair in her husband’s name, but it had been outrageous that immediately thereafter Tony had insisted that she retire. None of the perks she and Tony were receiving through his accidental good fortune quenched her ongoing existential questions.

She was hardly the sort of woman who found sublime happiness in those moments when children correctly sorted the laundry or wiped all the mud off of their feet. While it was nice not to have to worry about covering the mortgage and while it was a luxury to have time to mop carpets, diaper doll bottoms, and chop beans, she was not and never would be family-oriented. In short, Barbara missed the excitement found only in her once perpetual pursuit of exacting footnotes.

Hence, hiding behind drugstore eyeglasses and a faded head kerchief, Barbara applied for a position on the assembly line of the West Hadley Tea and Coffee Company. There were many means by which to study American corporations.

Sociology of Work had been one of the courses she most enjoyed teaching. To boot, her books, Cash Register Economics and The Punk Financial Revolution, had earned her tenure. In both pedagogy and scholarship, Barbara had posited that social significance could be found in institutional roles. By working at West Hadley Tea and Coffee, she meant to prove her thesis.

Initially, Barbara worked the ten to four shift, the span that most closely matched her kids’ school hours. It had cost her only a small bribe to the scheduling foreman to gain that valued schedule.

Her work did not progress as expected, though. After weeks of stuffing individually portioned tea, sealed in slender foil packets, into cardboard boxes emblazoned with a single palette of graphics, fresh clogs formed in Barbara’s brain. For all of the bravado she had manifest in taking her blue collar job, seemingly endless days of sorting and of filling had made her envious not only of her lost position, but also of the positions of her former lackey graduate assistants. In addition, she missed having the comfort of pampering herself in preparation for work; head covering was needed at West Hadley, but heels and makeup were optional. Jewelry was entirely disallowed.

To compensate, Barbara tried pet adoption. Unfortunately, the python she had secretly sheltered died from an overfull intestinal track after eating two of her family’s yappy dogs.

Next, Barbara experimented with farming. She bought a share in a local community-based agricultural effort, but became hysterical during tomato season when asked to process an overwhelming number of bushels of red fruit. In the end, Barbara had been urged, by the farm’s governance committee, to accept a buyout for the remainder of her stake.

After that, she volunteered at a local halfway house, believing that her research on addiction’s impact on social strata would make her a boon to such a community. All the same, less than a fortnight after her arrival, the facility’s director asked her to leave, labeling her, in front of the residents, a “seagull,” i.e. a woman prone to flying overhead, opening up, and dropping waste.

Barbara begged to be allowed to return to the tea and coffee factory. As comeuppance for earlier deserting her post without notice, she was hired back at a reduced wage. What’s more, she was assigned the graveyard shift and had had to fabricate reasons why, weekly, she could not be home for two consecutive nights.

During daylight hours, Barbara tried to lose her bitterness in books. Her brother’s apartment, a favorite haunt of hers, was lined with shelf upon shelf of “self-improvement” materials. There, Barbara discovered Book of the Month Club Civil War histories, paperbacks with covers featuring naked women, and outdated encyclopedia crammed full of data on sea urchins, Australian grasses, and variegated ducks.

Barbara signed up for a water aerobics class, too. Unfortunately, during the first class meeting, she argued with her instructor. The second time she showed up, ever so reluctantly, she experienced worse results; she had arrived at the wrong hour. Instead of a smarmy teacher half her age, she was greeted by the local gay men’s synchronized swimming team.

Finally, lying that she was going to spend a fortnight at her sister’s in California, Barbara made plans to attend a Chicago Fur Meet. According to her sources, Furries constituted an interesting subculture. Barbara might not have an office, but she was still a researcher. Besides, fidelity was overrated. Maybe transforming into a cougar was what she lacked.

A nasty-looked, blue and green bipedal snake of apparent great appetite greeted her ever so lecherously at sign-in. Coughing, Barbara pulled her hand and credit card away from its limb. She imagined that through its mask, the reptile was sneering at her.

When Barbara called home from the hotel lobby, her housekeeper answered and asked if the flight had been uneventful. As the woman was hanging up the phone, Barbara heard her whisper to someone else, perhaps the family’s chauffer, that Barbara might be upset if she learned that the children’s whereabouts were uncertain.

Barbara smacked a palm to her face. As she shed tears, a pink and yellow tom cat growled appreciably. The woman next to him, ostensibly holding his carrier, kicked him.

Nonetheless, the tabby insisted that their new acquaintance join them for drinks.

Whereas beer chasers and stale pretzels did nothing to mollify Barbara, she was comforted by the couples’ longwinded espousal of why she ought to leave home permanently and work in technical theatre. A few tipsy hours later, she pocketed their business card. She declined their invitation to share their evening’s intimacy.

En route home, Barbara detoured through North Carolina. From her perch on a plastic woven chair in front of a motel unit, in a sleepy town east of Durham, she watched a grown man pull the legs off of a living toad. Barbara looked away from that slimy perversion and contemplated her own inability to defend herself against the whims of the world.

She thought, as well, about her grade school friend, who had been quoted in a national newspaper. That girl had spit poison about Barbara’s people and about their history and then had continued to babble on regarding some other things that she “recalled.” At the time, after ripping that article into shreds, Barbara had lined her canaries’ cage with it.

Interestingly, that friend had shared Barbara’s ethnicity and house of worship. No wonder neither southern bars or Midwest Fur Meets had made Barbara happier. Then, as now, there was little use in assuming guises.

For a long time, Barbara had masked herself. Beginning as a young adolescent, she had invested her resources in attaining rank. She found her niche in high school social studies classes and went on to major in criminology. Although the closest she had ever got to a felon was a TV screen, her college papers were regarded as so promising that she was invited to an elite graduate program in social psychology. There, her emphasis became the nexus of social cognition and self-regulation. Later, after receiving a temporary position, marrying, gestating, and then divorcing her children’s father, she met Tony.

Tony came equipped with commonsense coping methods, a ken for relationship formation, and both intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation. So inspirational was that man that Barbara authored her two tomes after moving her family in with him (that the formalizing of their union lagged behind her domestic address by a few years hardly mattered; Tony was the better practicing sociologist). Tony delighted in their marital union’s bliss. All he ever wanted was a wife and children. That he received the entire package in one negotiation was his special miracle.

His acquiring a fortune rotted, nevertheless. Tony might have been sufficiently evolved to distance himself from external points of validation, but Barbara was not. She had begun to have nightmares involving tea bags and shipping boxes, yet had found no better substitute for academic life. Still, she paid the surcharge for returning home early. Neither her husband nor her kids, who were eventually found at a neighbor’s house, were any the wiser abut her ill-fated adventures.

She returned to the tea and coffee factory, too.

One night, when Barbara’s shift was nearly over, she looked up from her cell phone to notice a coworker looming over her. Despite the fact that the man had noticed the ring on her hand, he reached to pat her anyway. His touch caused Barbara’s firewalls to crumble; she patted his hand in response.

As soon as she got to the employees’ parking lot, though, Barbara ran for her car. Her colleague had anticipated her; he was waiting by her driver side door. He joked that he was sleuthing out ways to make money from the needs of federal yes men and that he supposed she might be some kind of agent.

Drinks did not follow. Barbara sped home. The next morning, she called in to permanently quit her position on the assembly line. No additional communication from her foreman or from her associate was forthcoming.

Watching one of her family’s cats yammer at a bird nesting beyond her window, Barbara considered new options. Maybe she ought to write a book of poetry. If even a single of her verses helped others gain clarity about their lives, her work would be useful. Action control and goal-pursuit were areas in which she needed to develop further prowesses.



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