Today I Quit My Job at the Factory ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Devin was a few minutes late. Mrs. Millett, his mother, stood at the door, watching and waiting, worried that he might have been in a wreck. When his old familiar green Ford rolled into the driveway, she smiled with relief, picked up a wooden spoon to stir the spaghetti on the stove, and waited for him to come in.
She felt the little blast of cold air as the door opened and closed. She turned to greet her son, but when she did her smile faded. He wasn’t alone.
Devin smiled as he took off his hat and coat. “Mother,” he said. “This is my friend Marcus. He’s going to be staying with us for a few days.”
Marcus smiled shyly and stepped forward and shook her hand. “I hope it’s no bother,” he said.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Mrs. Millett said.
With the three of them seated at the table, she avoided looking directly at Marcus. She had developed an instant dislike for him based somehow on the set of his mouth and the unfamiliarly of his eyes but more on the fact of his being an intruder in her home. She smiled, though, because that’s what a mother is supposed to do. Smile and it will soon be over.
“Did you have an interesting day today, dear?” she asked Devin.
“More interesting than most.”
When she looked at him, the most familiar person in the world to her, he looked different somehow, animated in a strange way with a spark in his brown eyes that she hadn’t noticed before. Instead of asking what was the matter, she said, “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Devin took a deep breath and almost dropped his fork. “I quit the factory today,” he said.
“All right,” she said, “what’s the joke?”
“It’s not a joke.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I quit my job today. Do you need it in some other language?”
“Why on earth would you do that?”
“Don’t you think sixteen years in one hell hole is long enough?”
“I thought you liked your job.”
“I’ve always loathed it!”
“You never told me that!”
“Well, I suppose it was all right in the beginning, but I came to hate it after a while. I want to do something else with the rest of my life.”
“And what would that be?”
“I don’t know yet, but it’ll come to me.”
“You surprise me,” she said.
“I never did that before, did I?”
She looked at Marcus, believing he had to have something to do with it. “Did you quit the factory today, too?” she asked.
“Marcus doesn’t work at the factory, mother,” Devin said.
“Nope,” Marcus said. “I never worked in the factory.”
“What do you do, then? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Marcus doesn’t work,” Devin said.
“Can’t Marcus answer for himself?”
“No, I, uh, never found it necessary to work for a living,” Marcus said.
“Marcus is an artist,” Devin said. “Like I’ve always wanted to be.”
“He paints pictures?” she asked.
“Well, that and other things.”
She wiped her mouth and pushed her plate aside. There would be no more dinner for her.
“Did the two of you just meet?” she asked.
Devin and Marcus looked at each other and laughed. “We’ve known each other for quite a while now,” Devin said. “Why does that make any difference?”
“Well, I was only asking,” she said. “What’s got into you? Why are you laughing?”
“Maybe I’m laughing because I’m happy for a change.”
“I never knew you weren’t happy,” she said, trying to keep the hurt out of her voice.
“I’ve always kept everything to myself, mother. It’s just the way I am.”
“If there was something bothering you, you could have told me.”
“It isn’t like that.”
“Maybe we’d better not talk about this right now. What’s for dessert?”
“You never mentioned Marcus before and I just wondered where the two of you met and how long you’ve known each other.”
“Don’t worry about it, mother. It’ll all be sorted out in the end.”
“What will be sorted out?”
“Finish your dinner, Marcus,” Devin said, “and I’ll show you my room.”
Devin stacked the dishes beside the sink and he and Marcus went upstairs, closing themselves up in Devin’s room for the rest of the evening.
The next morning she was in the kitchen when Devin came down alone.
“Where’s your friend?” she asked.
“He was a little late waking up,” Devin said. “He’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“Now, I want you to tell me who he really is.”
“His name is Marcus. He’s my friend. What more do you need to know?”
“Yes, but why is he here?”
“He’s my guest.”
“You never had a guest before.”
“Does that mean I can’t have one now?”
“Of course not!”
“This is my house, too, isn’t it? Just as much as yours?”
“If you put it that way, yes, it is.”
“Well, then. What more is there to say?”
She was prevented from asking further questions by the arrival of Marcus from upstairs.
“I’ve starving,” he said, sitting down at the table.
She cooked the breakfast and set it on the table and busied herself while they ate. Devin and Marcus sat at the table and spoke quietly. They seemed to have forgotten she was in the room. It bothered her a little that she didn’t know what they were saying and it gave her the feeling they were plotting against her somehow. Her own son and his newly found friend. In her own home. Things had certainly taken an ugly turn.
“It’s almost eight-thirty,” she said in a loud voice. “You’re going to be late for work, Devin!”
“Did you forget what I told you last night at the dinner table?” Devin asked. “I quit the factory and I won’t be going there in the morning ever again.”
“Yes,” she said. “I heard you say that, but I thought you were making some kind of a joke.”
“Why would I joke about a thing like that?”
“Well, I can hardly believe you would give up your job so easily. I mean, after all the years you were there. You had seniority and security.”
“I know I would never be able to make you understand, mother, but I just couldn’t stay there any longer. It was time for a change.”
“But what will you do now?”
“I told you I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out as I go along.
“Figure what out?”
“I’m going to write a book or something, but I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.”
“A book about what?”
Devin and Marcus laughed again and she left the room, her eyes filling with tears.
When they were finished eating, they put on their coats and left. “We won’t be here for lunch,” Devin called to her. “Expect us for dinner, though.”
All day her nerves were on edge, wondering what, exactly, was wrong with Devin. He was always such a good boy, so steady and reliable; never did anything erratic or impulsive. After high school graduation, he went to work in the factory and never uttered a word of complaint. She thought she knew him all those years, but now it was painfully clear she didn’t know all there was to know.
She went upstairs to Devin’s room with the intention of tidying up, but everything was perfect. The bed was neatly made, the clothes all hanging in the closet, the shoes aligned side by side. The dresser and chest of drawers were straight and neat, not a sign of dust or clutter anywhere.
Feeling old and unneeded, she sat down on the bed and ran her hands over the beautiful light-green chenille bedspread that Devin had picked out on his own. She thought of the two of them, Devin and Marcus, sleeping in the bed together. What does it mean when two grown men sleep in the same bed? She was aware of what a sheltered life she had led; there were lots of things, so many things, she didn’t know.
She fixed fried chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, Devin’s favorite. She hoped that when he came home he’d be alone. At a few minutes before six, the time Devin would have arrived home from work if he had gone to work, the two of them came into the house, talking and laughing.
“Hello, mother,” Devin said.
“Good evening, Mrs. Millett,” Marcus said.
“Did you go to the factory after all, Devin?” she asked.
He gave her a sad look and shook his head. “You still don’t believe I quit, do you?”
“Where did you go all day if you didn’t go to the factory?”
“This morning we went to a museum. Then we had lunch in a restaurant and after that we went to a movie. Then we did some shopping.”
“I’m exhausted,” Marcus said, collapsing onto the chair. “This son of yours has a lot more energy than I do!”
“Is that what you plan on doing every day for the rest of your life?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Devin said. “I haven’t thought about it.”
That evening they left again without telling her where they were going or when they’d be back. To keep from having disturbing thoughts, she took a sleeping pill and went to bed early.
She slept until nine o’clock the next morning and when she awoke and went downstairs, Devin and Marcus were in the kitchen, putting away the groceries they had just bought.
“What’s all this?” she asked, pointing to the bags on the table.
“It was Marcus’s idea,” Devin said. “He has some notion that he needs to contribute.”
“I can’t take without giving,” Marcus said.
“Isn’t that just too sweet?” Devin said, laughing.
She wanted to object but could find nothing to object to. Without speaking, she set the water on the stove for tea and set about cooking breakfast.
After two weeks of Marcus in the house, she decided it was time to confront Devin. Marcus was taking a bath and would be out of earshot at least for a few minutes.
“How much longer is he going to be here?” she asked.
“Who, mother? Who are you talking about?”
“How much longer is Marcus going to be here?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t discussed it.”
“Doesn’t he have home of his own to go to?”
“He does, but now he’s here.”
“I want this to end.”
“You want what to end, mother?”
“I want us back the way we were before he came here.”
“What are you saying, mother? Are you saying you want Marcus to leave?”
“I don’t want to have to force him to leave. There must be a tactful way to handle it.”
“You can’t stand to see me happy, can you?” Devin asked.
“He makes you happy? How does he make you happy in a way you weren’t happy before?”
“Taking control of my own life is what has made me happy.”
“I thought we were happy before,” she said.
“Maybe you were.”
“If something was bothering you, you could have talked to me about it. I’m your mother. What exactly is he to you?”
“I know I would never be able to make you understand, mother. People grow up and change. It wasn’t possible for me to always remain an adolescent.”
“I always gave you the space I thought you needed. I kept house for you and cooked your food and kept your clothes clean. I thought you had all you needed and wanted in life. I hoped, of course, you’d find a nice young woman one day and get married and have children, but I accepted a long time ago that you weren’t inclined in that direction.”
“Oh, please, mother! You’re giving me a headache!”
The next morning Devin and Marcus loaded suitcases into the car. Marcus shook Mrs. Millett’s hand, thanked her for her hospitality and went out the door, leaving a hundred-dollar bill on the kitchen counter under the sugar canister.
“Where will you go?” Mrs. Millett asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Devin said. “I’ll let you know when I get there.”
She watched the car until it was out of sight and then she sat down at the table and had breakfast. He’ll be back, she thought, and when he comes back he will be alone. It’s not that easy to leave your life behind and the only home you’ve ever known. He will choose his mother over his friend every time. I’m certain of it. And when he comes back, we’ll make some plans. We’ll fix up his room, buy some new furniture and get a new rug for the floor. And there’ll be some good times. Just you wait and see. I know of at least two lovely young women who would love to meet him. And when it comes to his job at the factory, he can get it back simply by asking for it. As Devin himself said, everything will sort itself out.
Weeks went by and she heard nothing. She thought about Devin all the time and wondered where he was and how he was faring. She blamed herself for his sudden change and for his leaving. She sat and pondered over his picture for hours and wondered where she had gone wrong. Had she been too smothering, too possessive, or had she been too lax in letting him have his own way? She didn’t know what she was. People rarely see themselves as they are.
She thought how alike Devin and Marcus were. How had she failed to see it before? They were the same age, height, coloring and build. They even walked alike and spoke in the same way. After a while they became indistinguishable in her mind. When she thought of her beloved Devin, she thought of Marcus and the thought of Marcus no longer aroused the hatred in her that it once did, because hating Marcus was hating Devin. When she closed her eyes and sometimes when her eyes were open she saw them together, side my side, two parts of the same person. They’re not two. They’re one. Two become one.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp