| Portrait of a Family |

Portrait of a Family: Chapter 12

“Maybe you did, but Devorah sure didn’t,” Tamar muttered under her breath


A rush of warm air greeted Tamar along with the distinct smell of CVS carpet cleaner. Tamar looked around and made a beeline for the counter.

“Good evening,” Tamar said, forcing a cheerful smile. “I saw your sign outside — that you’re hiring? I wanted to know more about the positions you have available.”

“Sure. One second please, I just need to page my manager.” The cashier picked up the phone at the cash register and spoke into it. “The manager says you can come to the back office. Through aisle seven and to the left,” she said, pointing the way.

Tamar traipsed to the back office and knocked lightly on the door. The door swung inward to reveal a tall, heavyset woman, her dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, with spiky bangs covering her forehead. “You’re here about the job?” the woman boomed, looking down at Tamar.

“Yes,” Tamar answered. “Can you tell me what positions you have available?”

“We need a salesperson on the floor helping customers out, and another in the pharmacy. But for the pharmacy job, you gotta be 18. You18, girl?”

“Um, no. I’m 16. Is that a problem for the other job?”

“Not a problem for workin’ on the floor.” She heaved herself around the desk and thudded down into her seat. “How about I tell you a bit about the job. Then you tell me a little about yourself, and we’ll see if it’s a good fit.”

“Okay.” Tamar smiled hesitantly. Salesgirls had to be friendly, didn’t they?

“We got two shifts with openings,” the woman began, “one from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the other from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.”

The hopeful feeling that had been bubbling inside Tamar sank and popped. She had to be at school during both those shifts. Not that I do much there anyway. I may as well be making some money instead of sitting through endless classes. But would the Weisses let her ditch school? Would the foster agency? Somehow, she doubted it. Even if she needed money way more than she needed to learn chemistry.

The manager was still rambling on about the job. “Then there’s stocking the — are you listening?” she scolded, pausing mid-sentence and staring at Tamar reprovingly.

“Uh, sorry. Um — do you have any other shifts available? Like maybe after five? The ones you mentioned aren’t that great for me,” Tamar stuttered.

“Oh.” The woman blinked. “Well then, thank you for your inquiry about the job. No, we don’t have any other shifts available. Those are the ones we need staff for. Have a nice day.” She turned back to the paperwork on her desk, completely ignoring Tamar, who, taking the hint, inched her way out of the office and closed the door gently behind her.

So much for that, Tamar thought, her bag banging against her thigh as she walked home. But the flicker inside her seemed to be getting stronger. She needed a job. Money to buy a doughnut when everyone else was going, money to get a new Shabbos outfit — from what Devorah had said, she clearly needed at least one new outfit. Maybe even her own cellphone so she wasn’t dependent on the Weiss landline. Come to think of it, she was probably the only kid in 11th grade without a phone. It had never bothered her before, but now, the more she thought about it the more it burned within her. She needed a job. Maybe not at CVS — but there were bound to be other places looking to hire. An office, perhaps, or she could try a different store. Somewhere she could work after school for an hour or two.

Tamar turned the knob and walked into the Weisses’ house.

The house was unusually quiet for — Tamar checked her watch — 6:15. “Hello?” she called into the semi-darkness. There was a light on in the hallway upstairs. And she had noticed that some of the upstairs bedrooms were lit up from the outside. They must all be upstairs, she concluded. A gentle wave of loneliness lapped inside her. “Hello,” she called out again. Maybe someone would hear her and come down. Ask about her day. Wonder why she had come home from school 45 minutes late. But no one did.

Go downstairs to her room? Alone? Her mind flicked the idea away. There must be someone who cared to talk to her. And besides, if she went straight downstairs, Mrs. Weiss wouldn’t know that she had come home.

The staircase seemed long and impossibly high. She hadn’t really gone upstairs without being invited before. “Anyone home?” she called out in a last attempt to get the attention of the family upstairs. But no one answered.

Haltingly, Tamar climbed the staircase, her footsteps muffled by the thick beige carpet. The light was on in Devorah’s room, and she could hear noise behind the door of the boys’ room. Tamar opened her mouth to call out again. But the voice coming from behind the semi-closed door to Devorah’s room stopped her from uttering a sound.

“I know,” she could hear Devorah say, “but she’s just so annoying.”

Who was Devorah talking about?

“It’s not that she does anything. It’s just… I don’t know… she’s just always here. Acting weird. Taking up my personal space.” Devorah fell silent, listening to someone on the other end of what Tamar assumed was a phone call.

She’s talking about me, Tamar concluded, that punched-in-the-gut feeling winding her. You’re the weirdo. She didn’t want to hear anymore, but her feet seemed glued to the carpet.

It took all her strength to tear herself away from the conversation. Forcing her feet to move, Tamar turned around and made her way back downstairs.

It doesn’t matter what she thinks. You’re leaving as soon as they find a place that’ll take three kids. Tamar jerked her mind away from the conversation she’d just heard the way you would rip a Band-Aid off a wound. Focus, Tamar. What were you thinking about before you overheard Devorah? Oh, right. A job. She needed to find somewhere to work.

Since upstairs was sort of off-limits, Tamar steered herself to the basement door and wrenched it open, stumbling backward when Mrs. Weiss walked through holding a laundry basket piled high with laundry.

“Tamar!” Mrs. Weiss said, surprise evident in her voice. “Thanks for opening the door.”

“I, uh…”

“No, no,” Mrs. Weiss hurriedly added, smiling. “I know you didn’t know I was on the other side. But thanks just the same.”

“No problem,” Tamar said, turning to go down the stairs.

“Oh, and,” Mrs. Weiss continued, putting the heavy laundry basket down on the floor.

Tamar made an about-face and let the basement door swing shut behind her. She looked at Mrs. Weiss expectantly.

“I was just wondering where you were during supper tonight? We missed you, by the way.”

“Maybe you did, but Devorah sure didn’t,” Tamar muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” Mrs. Weiss asked. “I didn’t hear what you said.”

“Nothing.” Tamar shook her head. “I was…” Her voice trailed off. Should she tell Mrs. Weiss about her decision to get a job? What would she do if Mrs. Weiss didn’t let? Then again, she’d never be able to get a job without the Weisses’ permission anyway. As her legal guardians, she’d need their approval. “I was looking for a job,” Tamar finished. She looked at Mrs. Weiss, trying to conceal her nerves. Would she let?

“Tamar, that’s a great idea!”


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 845)


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