Three months of unemployment doesn’t come cheap.
You lose everything that you are. Any life in you is drained away, lost to circumstance. Unwillingly laying in a bed all day, staring at your ceiling, waiting for a phone call that will never come.
Gone without a trace.
“Hi, I’m Clara, I’m from Indianapolis, I moved here to be a Production Designer and I just left a job at—oh—shoot—sorry, well—that’s all true—what I meant to say is—a year ago—I worked at Coffee Bean for a few months a-and it was—it was really good! I learned a lot there!”
When the door slammed shut behind her, she knew what the next few days were going to look like already. Why bother to say I’ll get back to you next week when it is already very clear that you will not.
Why give false hope to the hopeless?
Holding back tears, phone stowed away in her purse, attempting to resist unloading those feelings through long text message to her busy friends who didn’t have the time to read through seas of dreary thoughts anymore. Not looking where she was going, aimlessly walking through the city streets.
Her therapist said take a walk before saying or doing something you might regret. It calms the nerves.
She didn’t see nor hear the crowd gathered before her when she waded into them, slipping between bodies. It wasn’t until everyone began screaming that she finally looked up from her feet, panic rising in her. Where was she? All she saw were people in suits, probably people on their lunch breaks.
Craning her neck upward, she saw the legendary vigilante, Nightmare, swinging through the air on her grappling hook, kicking at a flying man on rocket shoes who was screaming something about how terrible capitalism is.
A true spectacle, maybe a good distraction?
The vigilante flipped in the air, letting loose the grapple line and falling into a belly flop, hands splayed out as the wind rushed past her. Elegantly, she flipped in the air and her boots lit up, rocketing her across the sky and into the the Capitalism Guy.
His body bent over backwards, hand swinging to support his back, as she planted her two feet on a building nearby, hand already clutching onto a new grapple line, allowing her to crouch on the building at a ninety degree angle.
It was like the movies she watched, just a little scrappier.
Her hand shook. Turning her phone over, she saw the preview of a new email. She didn’t even need to read a sentence from it before it was apparent that she did not get the job. Dropping her phone into her purse, tugging out a Nutri-Grain Bar. Pushing her way through the crowd, tears fell from her eyes.
Breaking from the crowd, she turned into the nearest alleyway and threw her back against the wall, sliding down into the dust. Lip quivering, she stared at the Nutri-Grain Bar in her hand, heaving deep breaths, trying to calm down.
It was just a job rejection. For all she knew, the owner’s friend’s niece got the gig.
Or maybe the owner couldn’t stand her, thought she was worthless, knew she would screw up and get herself fired after a week, and spared himself the pain. Maybe she was such a mess that the owner wasn’t even going to hire anyone because her interview was so bad.
So stupid, she was such a loser. She couldn’t even get a job at a Taco Bell. What happened? She didn’t used to be like this.
BOOM. CRASH. THUD. SLAM.
Clara looked over to her right to see Nightmare doubled over a tipped over trashcan. All around her screaming, a stampede rushing past the alleyway, fleeing. What happened?
“Hey—“ Clara started nervously, not sure what to do or say. “U-um—a-are you okay, N-N-Nightmare?”
Nightmare gave her a thumbs up while pulling her face off a brown banana peel, wiping the schmutz off her crimson mask with her spare hand.
“You’ve done too many commercials for my liking, Nightmare!” a shrill voice called out, the Capitalism Guy landing behind Nightmare. She twisted her body for a sucker punch, but his tin foil guarded foot struck her right in the face, sending her tumbling again. “You have surrendered your heroism to capitalism; you feed corporations money and do endorsements while lives perish from your neglect!”
“Look man,“ Nightmare grunted, “Girl’s gotta pay the rent, it’s kind of hard to hold down a job when you are saving lives every day.”
The Capitalism Guy waved his finger. “Tooth paste commercials!? You disgrace the public!”
Nightmare looked over to Clara as if they were best friends, shoulders casually slack. “This is a little much, right?”
The Capitalism Guy wailed as he fired a blast off of his Heat Gun, a searing flame strike that burned Nightmare’s chest. She clutched her breastplate, eyebrows twitching as her body crumpled inwards.
“And now Nightmare,” the Capitalism Guy announced, his red face retreating back into a pink color, only his jaw visible behind all the tinfoil. “You. Will. Die.”
Clara watched the individual flickers of movement from the Capitalism Guy: reach, steady, lean back, step forward, two handed-clutch, narrowing eyes, a smirk, a twitch. Each one like a frame of a painting, yet her journey over to him took but a snap of the fingers.
Coming at him from the side, Clara grabbed the terrorist by the shoulder, plunging the Nutri-Grain Bar into his mouth, and with both hands forced his teeth to chomp on the soft snack, making him gnaw on it until it was no longer.
“Was that strawberry flavored?” the Capitalism Guy asked politely.
“Um…u-u-uh…yeah,” Clara frowned, fingers running against each other.
“It’s good!” the Capitalism Guy decreed with hands on his hips, knocking some of the tinfoil loose. “I think my position against Capitalism is softening.”
Nightmare’s foot shot up and nailed him right in the chest, sending him careening into the dumpster across them. Still clutching her chest, Nightmare got to her feet and strolled over to the dumpster and leaned over the edge. Giggling at what she saw, she turned over to Clara.
Up close and no longer caught up in a moment, Clara noticed that the two of them were the same height. Maybe even the same age.
“Thanks for the assist, that was pretty clever,” Nightmare grinned.
“Y-yeah,” Clara grinned, a blush crawling onto her cheeks.
The two stared at each other for a long time. Nightmare’s eyes widened in the way they do when you meet someone important to you for the first time. So bubbly and searching. Clara massaged her arms nervously.
“Well,” Nightmare sighed with her arms swinging back and forth. “Guess—uh, I should get back to it, huh?”
“Yeah,” Clara said with a breath that was cut short.
Nightmare’s warm eyes looked up at the sky, scanning for a spot to fire off her next grapple line.
“Hey!” Clara shouted. Nightmare looked over, fingers hooked into her utility belt.
“What’s up?” Nightmare shot back eagerly.
“Could you write me a letter of recommendation?” Clara asked politely. Off of Nightmare’s risen eyebrow, she followed with, “I’ve been having a hard time holding a job down lately.”
“Really? You?” Nightmare considered this and nodded, “Yeah, I’ve love to. Just like—give me your email? I guess? Is that weird?”
“No! It’s cool!” Clara teared a page out of her daily planner and scribbled the email on, handing it over to the Nightmare. “I really appreciate it—um—Nightmare.”
“Nah, you just saved my butt back there, it means a lot to me,” Nightmare admitted in a steady voice, those bubbly eyes burrowing into her. “It’s weird. Helping someone else get a job with my cape & cowl when it’s killed a lot of opportunities for me. Just the other day actually, I was late to an interview at Taco Bell because of a bank robbery.”
Clara’s mouth popped open.
She was waiting for the manager to finish the lunch rush at Taco Bell so he could take the three minutes he needed for the interview; she didn’t mind waiting because after all, it wasn’t like she had anything to do that day.
A red headed girl crashed through the doors in a frenzy, drenched in sweat, her cardigan buttoned unevenly. Turned out she was about a half hour late for her interview and they ended up not even giving her the chance to talk to them. She left the Taco Bell tired and defeated over, her hunched back hiding her rattling face, but Clara could still hear the sniffles and sobs.
At the time, Clara felt for her, but was scared that if she said anything it might reflect poorly on her from the manager’s perspective; and she really needed that job.
Clara still felt for her now, looking into those bubbly emerald eyes.
“Hah, sorry,” Nightmare muttered. “Didn’t mean to—uh—I should probably go.”
“Wait a second.”
Clara wrapped her arms around the Nightmare, arms rubbing up against Kevlar. She slung her chin onto Nightmare’s shoulder and she held her for a long time. More silence between them.
A little choked up, Nightmare said, “Thank you.”