Craving Candy: Chapter 9A

Family feuds were funny things, Cynthia thought as she sat in her car looking at Lolly in the cafe having the desired breakdown.

You thought you were outside of them, oblivious to them. That they were products of a distant, less civilised era. That they’d been swept away in the egalitarian banality of suburbia, left in a past of feudalism and family registries and small petty wars over small petty fields.

But when Mrs Park – her friend and confidante, one of the few people she could rely on – had asked her for help. Well. Here it was. Singing in her blood, vibrating through the years. A war cry torn from the throat of her ultimate grandmother: the start of the MacDonald family tree. 

Mei’s line may have decided to forgive and forget the Chens but the giver of that name was a black sheep only two generations back. Marriage between the rebel son and an Irish woman they didn’t know linked back to her. The original MacDonald, nee Xu. She who the Chen family treated with such disregard and disrespect. 

It’s true a nice girl like Lolly didn’t deserve it.

But vengeance didn’t care about casualties. And in the end, it could even be for her own good. 

She imagined the current Grandmother Chen, a woman that seemed to replicate in every generation like cloning. The kind of soul that made her wonder if there really was reincarnation. She imagined her finding out her granddaughter was marrying into a Korean-Vietnamese family and cackled.

She actually cackled. Like an evil witch from a Sageuk. The scheming woman in the court, bent on revenge.

She would be all those things, those cliched things. The name Chen would hardly be lost to history but this branch would be. She’d see, that old woman, that vicious Chen. She’d see who was left standing at the end.

Cynthia slipped on her sunglasses, picked up her phone and made the call.

She was ready. It was time. 

Craving Candy: Chapter 9

“I’m sorry, Lolly. You’re fired.”

Laura looked at Phil for a moment unable to process what she was hearing.

She’d come into the club because Phil wanted to talk to her. She didn’t know what she’d been expecting but it wasn’t this.

“I don’t understand,” she said finally, “Is this about the beer? Because you said…”

Phil waved his hand to stop her talking and had the grace to look ashamed, “I know, Lolly, I know. Everyone there said that yuppie bastard deserved it. Hell, Kelly was just in here telling me if you hadn’t done it, she would have. I don’t have a problem with the beer incident. Honestly, if you were my daughter I’d buy you a car.”

“Then what?”

Phil was a large man, one who was uncomfortable sitting for too long so Laura wasn’t surprised when he came out from behind his desk and started pacing before sitting on the desk in front of her instead.

“Lolly, the owners sold the building last week. No, I didn’t know either,” he waved his hand again to break her off. She was starting to find this annoying.

“I didn’t know until they activated the clauses in our lease contracts that said they come up for review in the case of a sale. If they don’t renew this lease then I’m…”

Phil stopped to stare blankly into the distance for a moment and Laura felt an unexpected empathy for the man. He was clearly stressed and probably over-stretched financially due to the shutdown.

“Everything’s riding on this re-opening, Lolly. Everything. And my other club can’t open at all. If I have to close again…”

“So it’s the new owners who have a problem with the beer incident?”

“I don’t even know how they found out about it. But they’re convinced it shows poor customer service or something, convinced it’s bad business. I tried to tell them he had no right to insult one of my staff and the other patrons were on your side but they just kept on with this ‘customer is always right’ nonsense. Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on with the world today. All anyone cares about anymore is money. We’re raising a generation of entitled brats.”

Phil looked so genuinely upset at this point that Laura didn’t have the heart to interrupt him. 

“Anyway, they told me it’s the lease or you. And…”

And she was a casual who did a few shifts a week. Phil had a choice between bankruptcy and firing her. Laura deflated. She couldn’t argue with him, couldn’t even rail against him. He really did have no choice.

“I’ll pay you for last night but I’m afraid that’s it. I can’t offer you any more shifts. Not if I want to keep afloat.”

“I understand, Phil.” Really it was all she could say. 

“Besides,” he said brightening a little bit, “this isn’t your only job, right? Your main job is studying. And you have other casual positions?”

Laura nodded. She did indeed have other casual positions. And study to do. But also a fast-approaching financial apocalypse of her own. Still, that wasn’t Phil’s problem and there was nothing he could do about it anyway and so she found herself wishing the man who’d just fired her good luck as she stepped out of the cool building and into the spring sunshine by the river. It was a genuinely beautiful day and the dusky rocks on the point gleamed copper in the light. She closed her eyes and tried being in the moment.

It worked until she took her phone out of her bag and saw the missed call from her manager at 7-Eleven and had a sudden sinking feeling, like the ground beneath her feet was sand and had just given away with the tide.

“Chen, it’s me.” Unlike Phil who was overly familiar, he didn’t even bother with an honorific. She was just Chen. 

“Chen, I’m not happy with your studying on your shifts. I’ve got dozens of people lining up for work, ones who will actually work. And ones who are a lot younger and cheaper than you. So you’re fired. Don’t bother showing up for another shift.”

Laura thought she might cry. Might actually cry here in public, at the steps leading down to the ferry platform. Might cry in public for the first time since she’d sprained her ankle in cross country in high school and had to be stretchered out of the reserve.

The agony.

Maybe she should drop and pretend she’d hurt herself, pretend she was in actual physical pain so she could just cry right here, right now and nobody would judge her. There had been a dam, she realised. One that was just at the base of her throat. One that she’d been using to hold back a whole river of emotions; one that was finally about to break.

I can’t handle it anymore, she thought, I don’t know what to do. It all just feels so unfair. Is it unfair? Should I expect fairness? Is it me that’s wrong? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like the world’s wrong. 

She couldn’t pay her rent now. Her parents couldn’t pay her rent. Nobody could pay her rent. She was functionally homeless suddenly, the reality of it washing over her in a sudden burst from that breaking dam. She was homeless. The world just hadn’t realised it yet. 

She needed to stop being childish and start thinking. Needed to stop lurching towards some kind of public breakdown and work her way through this. There was a path, she just needed to see it.

She had a few dollars in her wallet and she used it to buy a notebook, a cheap pen and a coffee in a small place tucked away in one of the back streets. Her secret place that nobody else seemed to have discovered. The place she went to drink espresso and study and nobody could find her.

Option 1, she wrote in confident letters in the cheap lined notebook.

Option 1 : Defer Masters, go home to Darwin, work in family business.

Pros: Roof over head, hugs, Mum’s cooking, a job, home
Cons: Roof and job are all in doubt. Grandmother Chen. I’d be a failure

She didn’t write that last one. But it was there at the base of her skull, knocking and waiting to get in. She’d been the one who wanted to stay when her parents had gone home; who had insisted she could survive well on her own. Grandmother Chen was waiting with a newly-arrived trust fund kid with a bad haircut and flashy car to marry her off. She really didn’t want option 1. Not right now. Once she got her hooks into her she’d never let go. 

Option 2: Find somewhere to doss, try to get an internship. Get money and work experience while finishing her Master’s

Pros: Money, work experience, possibility of full-time afterwards
Cons: Living in someone else’s house again, the recession. This plan is total fairyland

Option 3. Option 3. Option 3. There had to be an option 3. She just needed to see it.

Her phone rang and she remembered there might in fact be a third way, one that she’d forgotten about in all the chaos. Cynthia was calling. And she had said she had a job. So there it was. Option 3. She didn’t even know what it was yet, but at this stage she almost didn’t care.

Whatever this is, I’ll make it work, she said as she looked at her third path vibrating silently in her hand.

Whatever this is, I’ll take it.

And she picked up the phone.