A law professor gets a family and a bookstore owner offers advice.
Previously in "Par Angusta Ad Augusta":
After his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident overseas, NYU law professor Jefferson Thomas flies from his home in New York to Germany to collect his young nieces and nephew, whom he is now tasked with caring for.
The alarm rang and Monique Vasquez wearily opened her eyes. Usually, she was a morning person, but, even a morning person had some rough days.
Waving her arm around wildly, she was finally able to find her alarm clock on the nightstand and turned it off. She lay there, waiting, her eyes still half-closed.
It wasn't long before she could hear footsteps outside her bedroom. She turned and her eyes met those of a woman who was a bit older than her and wearing a white nurse's uniform.
"Morning," Monique said.
"One of these days I'm gonna get here before that alarm wakes you," The nurse, Joan Anderson, replied.
Monique was too tired to add a grin to that retort.
"You need a man," Joan muttered as she came towards the bed.
Monique rolled her eyes. The comment was well-worn.
The morning began as usual, with Joan looking Monique over to make sure she didn't have any injuries like skin tears or pressure sores. She took Monique's temperature and blood pressure and used a stethoscope to check her lungs and heart.
Once she was satisfied her patient was healthy, Joan allowed Monique to use a remote on her nightstand to raise her bed's head-end so she was sitting up. Joan didn't look it, but she was strong. Of average height and build, she used her wiry strength to lift Monique out of the bed and into a wheelchair.
Using a touchpad to control the chair with one finger, Monique maneuvered herself into the bathroom and over to the shower stall. There Joan helped her strip and get into a stationary chair that was bolted down directly beneath the stream of water.
"Holler when you're done," Joan instructed before sliding the door of the stall shut.
It took Monique a little while to get her arms to work right, but she was soon able to grab hold of the shower knob and turned the water on. As usual, the initial burst was freezing cold and the seconds seemed to pass by at a snail's pace until the temperature reached humane degrees.
Monique hummed to herself as she took her shower, glad she couldn't be heard. she didn't believe she could keep a good rhythm. When she was done, she reached out and turned the knob back. But, her arm wasn't cooperating and she could not turn it all the way. Monique devoted a moment to cursing out the stubborn thing.
"Joan!" she called.
The nurse was soon sliding open the stall's door and turned the knob the rest of the way.
"You know I don't actually mean you should 'holler', right?" she asked, pulling a large towel off the nearby rack. "The door isn't soundproof."
She wrapped the towel around Monique's shoulders and torso.
"You wanna shave today?" she asked, glancing at Monique's legs.
Monique took a moment to run her hand along her thigh. The hairs didn't feel that long.
"Maybe tomorrow," she concluded. Shaving was an arduous task and she liked to only do it when absolutely necessary.
"You need a man," Joan remarked again. "You'd be asking for a razor every day."
"I doubt that," Monique replied. "Sex isn't really a priority for me."
She paused, considering whether Joan's statement or her own words carried more truth in them.
"Just you wait," Joan said, grabbing a smaller towel to dry Monique's hair. She didn't seem to have noticed Monique's brief hesitation, or maybe she was being kind and not commenting on it.
When Monique was dry, Joan helped her out of the shower stall and back into the wheelchair.
"Anything special you want to wear today?" she asked as Monique moved towards the sink.
"No," Monique said. "Just something casual that still says that I am capable of living my life at a professional level."
This was her normal response to the daily question.
"You need a man. You wouldn't be so 'casual' about what you wear then."
Monique rolled her eyes as Joan left the bathroom and shut the door. The nurse had made such comments every day since she first began helping her eight years ago. Three times was usually the max. But Joan would always be adamant, and Monique would simply let her continue saying what she was thinking.
With the large towel still draped around her shoulders and torso to keep her warm, Monique began brushing her teeth, taming her hair, and generally grooming herself. When she finished, she looked in the mirror, where a 30 year old woman with chestnut-colored hair looked back at her, the wheelchair partially visible in the background.
Monique believed that, while she didn't belong in the fashion magazines, she was still an attractive woman. Maybe she could lose five pounds and her eyebrows seemed too bushy, but not too bad. Monique was sure that, under different circumstances, she could have snagged a man by now.
But, in the real world, many men were put off by her lifestyle, of which her chair was a clear indicator. True, she did date occasionally, but those relationships never lasted. Friends of hers sometimes set her up on blind dates, but those never went well. Monique had been stood up more than once and she was sure that, when the person came and saw her from a distance, they simply turned around and left without a word. She sometimes joked she might have better luck dating women, but she had never seriously considered such an avenue.
Despite her bad luck with the opposite gender, Monique knew she couldn't complain. She had her health, she had her friends, and she had her store. Despite the large chains and the internet providing tough competition, she had her store and was making a decent living. No, her life was pretty good.
Using the wheelchair's armrests to support herself, Monique slid over onto the toilet to take care of that business. While she did need help getting out of bed and in and out of the shower, this was something she was able to do on her own. Knowing many people in her position didn't even have control of their bowels or bladders, this always gave her some solace. She wasn't completely dependent.
Monique was soon rolling herself back out into her bedroom, where Joan had finished laying out her clothes. The nurse pulled the towel away and began helping Monique get dressed. Once she was ready to go, Monique was moved into a larger, more elaborate looking wheelchair, where Joan strapped her in at her chest, waist, and thighs. She put shoes on her patient's feet and strapped her ankles in so her feet didn't slip out of the chair's footholds. Overall, this chair was designed so Monique could sit in it comfortably for hours on end and the straps prevented her from accidentally falling out. It was complete with a padded headrest, which Monique sometimes put to good use if she wanted to take a quick nap.
When she was settled in the chair, Monique used it's joystick to steer herself out of the bedroom and into the kitchen of her apartment. Joan had already put out a bowl of cereal. As Monique dug in, Joan prepared some coffee in a plastic tumbler, which she attached to the chair for Monique to drink through a straw.
While Monique ate, Joan went to make the bed, collect any dirty laundry, and straighten out the bathroom. She came back just as Monique was finishing up and put the dishes in the dishwasher.
"I think that's everything," she said, attaching a clean tumbler and straw to the chair for Monique to use later.
Monique nodded in agreement. they wished each other a good day before Joan left.
Now on her own and fine with that, Monique steered her wheelchair over to a set of elevator doors. Using a remote control attached to the armrest of her chair, she got them open and wheeled herself inside. As soon as the doors slid shut, the elevator began moving, taking Monique one floor down. No buttons needed to be pushed, the pressure pad on the floor taking care of indicating she was aboard. There were only two floors to choose from.
Monique emerged in the backroom of her bookstore and wheeled herself through it, stopping for a moment to unlock the door to the back office. she unlocked another door and emerged in the bookstore itself.
The store wasn't a large one, but its tall shelves were filled with books of every conceivable genre. Monique inherited it after her mother retired and left Manhattan. it was a staple of Greenwich Village for as long as anyone could remember. It's status as a staple of the community was the only reason Monique was able to continue living and working there.
As she maneuvered through the store towards the front door, Monique looked around, making sure everything was in order. So far, nothing seemed to be wrong, but she'd have one of her ambulatory employees check things out more thoroughly before they opened for the day.
Using another key kept in a small compartment on her chair, Monique was able to unlock and pull open the front door, hearing that familiar chime. It sounded as it always did the dozens of times she'd heard it every day for the past thirty-plus years, announcing the entry or exit of a customer.
A florist who was setting up an outdoor display across the street waved. Monique was somewhat able to wave back, though she couldn't recall this particular man's name at the moment. Though that store had been a neighbor for at least fifty years, it had changed hands at least a dozen times. Somehow, it was still called "Carmen's Flowers".
"Good morning!" Monique called.
"Morning!" the florist returned.
Monique smiled. Overall, her life wasn't so bad.
* * *
The store's two employees, Kathy and Frank, soon arrived to help Monique set up for the day.
Kathy Quigley was in her early seventies who had worked at the store for about as long as it had been there. Her long gray hair was pulled back in a ponytail which ran just past the collar of her red blouse. Her smile was inviting with the caveat that she would not tolerate anyone trying to deceive or insult her or anyone she cared about.
Frank Norris was a man in his early 40s who had been an employee for about seven years, holding a second, part-time job as a custodian for the New York City School District. He'd been married and divorced twice and didn't seem to be hurrying to find wife number three. His black hair was short, he wore frameless glasses, and was in good shape thanks to his routine manual labor.
Frank and Kathy both did a more thorough inspection of the store, but as Monique suspected, everything was in order. They helped her finish setting up and, like any other day, they were open for business by 8:30 a.m.
The topic of discussion that day was the open position, recently vacated by Finley Matheson, a college graduate who had worked at the store for three years while he lived with his parents in Chelsea. He had accepted a job offer Silicon Valley and they were now a man short.
"You've got an interview scheduled for 9:00 today," Kathy said, consulting a day planner by the register.
Monique nodded and headed back to her office in the back room. She couldn't recall why she'd insisted a day planner be kept by the register, but she didn't care to remember why either at that moment.
While her mother had always wanted to keep the store old-fashioned, Monique had put a few 21st century touches to it. These included an up-to-date cash register which had left Kathy stumped for a month, a newer telephone, and a computer to better track the inventory and manage its finances. Since she did not have full control of her arms, Monique was cursed with a horrific script and preferred to use a keyboard.
Though she had poor control of her arms, Monique did have almost perfect control over her hands and fingers, allowing her to type quickly and efficiently. All she had to do was rest her arms into specially designed cushions that were attached to her desk and were identical to the ones on the armrests of her wheelchair. These cushions were grooved to keep her arms from flaying around while she used her hands for various tasks, such as typing and controlling her chair.
While waiting for her computer to start up, Monique put on a headset which enabled her to verbally control the cursor on the screen. She was soon able to pull up the application for the prospective employee who was coming in for his interview. She also confirmed the appointment on Outlook, her mind again straying to the question of why a physical day planner was even needed anymore.
The applicant's name was Samuel Bridges. He was 23 years old and had majored in Business at Fordham University. He seemed to have trouble finding a job and was taking this position just to make some money for the time being, a fact Monique could infer from the information in the application. What fresh college graduate would want to spend a lot of time working at a bookstore for twenty dollars an hour?
Samuel Bridges did have retail experience, having worked in a couple of different stores and boutiques during his high school and college years. Monique thought his resume looked good, but she would wait to meet the person before she jumped to judge.
When she'd posted the position on various job boards, she hadn't written "Note: The owner is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair. Don't shy away from the job because of this." People generally learned about this fact when they came in for their interviews. But unfortunately, not unlike Monique's luck with men, people tended to slink away from the job after meeting her.
When she first took over the store, Frank, who had been working there for a year, seriously considered quitting, but a stern lecture from Kathy kept him around. Finley Matheson had been the nephew of a friend of Monique's mother, which was the main reason he got the job and didn't look at Monique like she had three heads.
Monique knew she would have to look in the real world for employees from time to time, and it had not been an easy quest. Still, she was working to remain optimistic. Her experience told her that, if she found someone who would take the job, she could get them to treat her more like a human being later.
At precisely 9:00, there was a knock on the office door.
"Come in," Monique said just loud enough to hear.
A young man dressed in a blue button-down shirt, beige pants, and a yellow and blue tie stepped in. He had been wearing a jacket earlier, but it was now draped over one arm while his hand held what seemed to be a copy of his resume.
Samuel Bridges stopped in surprise when he saw Monique, like so many before him. His eyes seemed momentarily transfixed on her and the chair, headset, and arm cushions. Behind him, Frank slipped away without a word.
"Good morning," Monique said, trying to get the young man to focus on his reason for being there.
"Oh ... yeah ... good morning," Samuel Bridges said, seeming surprised to discover she was capable of human speech.
Deciding to move things forward, Monique raised her hand across the desk to shake his. It took the young man a second or so, but he finally seemed to decide that, despite the fact her arm was shaking slightly, she wasn't carrying some deadly virus. He shook her hand.
"Have a seat," Monique invited, taking the copy of his resume.
Samuel Bridges sat across the desk from her and set his jacket on his lap.
"I'll just be blunt," Monique said. "What makes you a good choice to work here in this bookstore?"
"Well," Samuel Bridges said, still clearly nervous to be sitting across from this wheelchair-bound woman, "I've worked in a lot of different stores and I've met a lot of different people. I generally get along with everyone and my bosses always liked me. And ... if you'd let me, I'd be able to share some ideas. I've done that at some of my other jobs and, well, some of them worked."
He fell silent, probably wondering if he had offended her.
Monique was also silent. She wasn't offended. This young man had just assumed she ran the store and therefore considered her to be his potential boss. Not many came to that conclusion, assuming she was just HR. Flattered, Monique couldn't hide a slight smile.
"Well," she said, focusing again. "We'll see about that. For now, let's get this out of the way. Did you leave all of these jobs for academic obligations?"
She gestured at the resume.