Venice, Florida, U.S.A.
Blogging at Murder In Paradise
I remember the first time I laid eyes on a Shannon Esposito story – how could I not?
It was amazing.
I was new to #fridayflash so I was buzzing around checking out all these different stories from writers all over the world, impressed by them and the whole process – I recall thinking, "who are all these people and how do they all know to post a story on Friday?" – and then, whap, there was The Woman Who Rusted:
Mona's brain began to rust first. She would sneeze and spray solid bits of orange into her hand. She began to forget things like where she left her car, if she fed the cat, the fact that she no longer had a cat and, on a rainy Tuesday, she forgot to slip on her pants before walking out to the mailbox.
It didn't even occur to me that maybe this was a horror story. I just assumed it was about menopause because if me and Oprah are going through it then the whole darned world must be, too. I even made a sniveling little comment, thinking how intelligent I must sound: "Hi Shannon: were you by any chance describing menopause? Cause sometimes that's how I feel, that I'm rusting away, bit by oxidized bit."
I shudder with the dweebiness of it all.
Thankfully, other people had better comments than mine. Deanna Schrayer wrote: "I know Margaret Atwood is your favorite author. I believe that shines through in your work as your style reminds me much of hers."
Atwood – is there higher praise than that? Funny enough, Shannon has a photo on Facebook of her sidled up next to Canada's most iconic female author. I saw that a while back and thought, geez, I've never run into Margaret Atwood and we both live in the same province. Shannon Esposito doesn't even live in Canada and she has met her... does anyone besides me think that is extraordinarily unfair?
Mizz Esposito just loves that picture.
"Oh yeah!" she gushes. "I went to the Miami bookfair because [Atwood] was stopping there on her Year of the Flood tour. I was a total fan-girl with squealing and all. I think I scared her, lol. She's my most favorite writer and I'm hoping one day she'll agree to adopt me. :) Seriously, though, she is very charming and funny in person. If you haven't been to one of her readings yet, I highly recommend it. Amazing experience."
The "lol" and the :) are all Shannon's. And when you see a photo of her you can't help but think, "she is beautiful." All eyes and hair. The joy comes off this woman in waves. And yet, she writes dark. She writes deep. She whittles down to the core of searing topics and leaves nothing but a heaping pile of emotional sawdust. It's tough to reconcile the face with the work.
She writes "because I have to or I get cranky."
It's a wonder she's not cranky all the time, then. Being a mother to a couple of rowdy boys puts her through her paces.
"My day job is supermom to twin four-year-old boys. Basically I can answer two different questions at once, color my toes while cooking breakfast, unload the dishwasher with my mind while driving to soccer practice and solve a biting, hitting, screaming uber-fight with the flick of a wrist.
"Tough job," she says, "but someone's got to do it. Ha! I kid. (Not really!) So, yeah, at this point my personal life is pretty amazing. I'm in a small beach town that I love, with friends, family and a golden retriever that thinks she's a real girl. I keep waiting for the meteor strike or killer bee invasion because, really, when you're this happy, there's nowhere to go but down. (Did I mention I'm a recovering pessimist?)
"That is my little bubble of happiness. Unfortunately the rest of the world is pretty hell-bent on bursting my little bubble. (Or at least drowning it in oil!)"
Even a recovering pessimist sometimes finds it hard to square her shoulders and face up to the devastation an economic recession has on her life.
She wrote the story on this page, Outsourcing, because "it was how I tried to make sense of outsourcing jobs the day it affected us personally. My husband works in IT for a large company. He was told on this particular day that he (along with a lot of others) was being replaced and he would have to start training their replacements. And the only reason? So this multi-billion dollar company could increase their profit margin by two per cent.
"I still can't wrap my brain around the level of greed in these big corporations. The frustration of American workers has reached insane levels but these corporations don't care. They've saved money, can show a profit and have made their shareholders happy. Bottom line. I truly believe that short-sighted greed of these big corporations and the fact that they hold so much pull over our government is what is killing the economic engine of our country."
When Shannon talks about this, pain shows through her happy facade.
"I'm angry, if you couldn't tell.
"We can no longer count on being able to keep a roof over our heads because jobs are really hard to come by, especially ones that can actually pay the bills. We've seen it happen to too many good people around us – neighbors, family, friends. They've lost their jobs, their savings, their homes, even their pets. It's devastating. I feel completely helpless watching – not just lives, but whole towns – crumbling around me. Our own situation is fragile, so it's hard to feel anything for the future but fear. We're just taking it one day at a time.
"That said, I still believe I live in paradise. America is an amazing place to live. We are just in serious trouble and I think we need to take a few steps back and reevaluate some things if we're going to have a future. We are notorious for helping others but, at this point, we need to help ourselves."
Shannon's idea for Outsourcing sprang from her "being sick over these corporations trading in American workers and putting them on the street for a profit.
"On a personal level, the only comparison I could come up with that was more absurd (but not much more) was trading in family members to save money. The wife [in the story] just kind of cracks when she realizes this is her new reality. I do feel bad for Bernard [the central character]. I'm sure he's now joined her in Loonieville."
I asked Shannon how she would feel if she were in Bernard's shoes. "How would I deal with it? I would go get my dog and kids back, not necessarily in that order, and then pull a Thoreau."
Fortunately for her family, the kid-trading idea is just fiction. See, that's the problem when you're the offspring of a writer – you just never know which direction Mommie Dearest's mindset might be headed in.
"My four-year-olds were asked what mommy does a few weeks ago and they said, 'mommy works on the couch.' That cracked me up. I also have a 20-year-old daughter who is very supportive, reads my stuff, forces her friends to read it and tells me when it's crap.
"But I'm sure that she secretly wishes I was good at nuclear fusion or real estate sales or pole dancing ... something that I could have actually made money at while she was growing up. She never complains, though. She knows if she does, I'll write about it."
As a writer Shannon is, of course, also a reader. Choosing a favourite American-authored book isn't easy.
"There are so many American writers I love. Ray Bradbury, Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov. I could go on forever, but I'm having a hard time coming up with one that sums up my current feelings towards America. Unfortunately, the one I can think of that sums up my fears is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. We don't need our government coming in with increasing controls and handouts, which is the direction I feel we're going. We need them to get out of our way so we can take care of ourselves.
"The American dream was never meant to be about material things. At its heart it's about freedom and that's what I hope survives our current situation. Our love and respect for freedom."
by Shannon Esposito
Bernard Smith lowered his suitcase quietly onto the porch he had lovingly repainted this summer. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to his family. Nothing had changed on the outside of his life. The sun hung dutifully behind their house, birds chirped, a slight chill let him know Fall had arrived. Nothing could stop the flow of time, the changing of the seasons. The world would go on. But he knew inside the cozy Cape Cod, in the world he and his wife built for their family, everything was at a full stop. There would be no more Friday paychecks. No more security.
He was back from training his replacement and his job was over. Hell, his career was over. He had spent the last month posting and reposting his resume on Monsterjobs, Dice, I.T.-Jobs-R-Freakin’-Us. Fifteen years of experience and no calls.
“Hi, Honey.” He forced a tired smile, “I’m back.”
She was stirring oatmeal at the stove, staring out the window. She turned slightly and let him kiss her warm cheek. He wanted to slide his arms around her, bury his face in her dark, almond-scented hair, but he knew this would only scare her, make her worry.
He was going to try to squeeze out something sunny and hopeful, but he suddenly realized something didn’t seem right. He looked around the kitchen and it hit him. His entrance had been way too quiet.
“Honey, where’s the dog?”
“Oh,” she said, briefly smiling. “Duke required so much money for you know…food, vet care, grooming.” She turned back to stirring the oatmeal. “I got rid of him. We now have a fish.”
Bernard stared at the back of his wife’s head in disbelief. “But…but fish can’t bark when someone’s at the door…or…play with the kids…and you can’t pet a fish to relieve stress.”
“We have to think of the bottom line, Bernie. Fish are cheaper.”
A tall, skinny teenager wandered into the kitchen. “Hey, Mom. Breakfast ready?” He glanced at Bernard.
“Say hi to your father, Dear.”
Bernard walked across the kitchen and stood next to his wife with his arms folded.“Honey?”
“Who is that?”
“Mitchell, our son.”
Bernard tried not to yell or shake his wife. There had to be some explanation for all this madness. “Okay, Honey. Eleanor, when I left two weeks ago, we had one son and one daughter. Our son, Mitchell, was only nine months old. This is not our son.”
“Well, of course not, silly. He couldn’t have grown up that fast. But I replaced him. This way, we skip all the cost of diapers, baby food, doctor visits.” She turned suddenly, flinging oatmeal as she waved the spoon at him. “Do you know they say it costs a million dollars to raise a child? A million dollars! Mitchell is almost seventeen. Do you know how much money we’ve saved?”
“But he’s not our child! Our responsibility is to OUR child! This boy has his own parents…” Bernard began to look around the room for a hidden camera. “Oh, I get it.” He smiled at Mitchell. “Right.” He decided to play along. “The bottom line.” That did sound like a good name for one of those hidden camera shows.
He peered around the corner into the living room, where their four year old daughter is usually playing on the couch with her dolls. “And Lilly? I suppose you replaced her, too? Seeing as how she would require so much more money to raise than say…a hamster?” He chuckled to himself, wiping the sweat from his brow with a dishtowel.
His wife turned to stare at him. “I didn’t even think of a hamster!” Just then, a fuzzy ball of fur with mischievous blue eyes sauntered in and rubbed itself on his pant leg. “No, no, I went with a kitten like the Jacobson’s next door. We have to stay competitive in these times, right Bernie.”
Bernard began to tremble as he studied his wife’s face for the first time: the permanent smile, the vacant stare that reminded him of a waveless ocean. Yep, Eleanor had left the building.
He reached out and gently took both her hands, turning her toward him. “Eleanor. Where are our children?”
The teenaged Mitchell was nodding from behind Eleanor. He stuck a finger in the oatmeal and popped it in his mouth. “Sacrificed on the altar of the bottom line, dude…I mean, Dad.”
An image of his children strapped down to his corporate boss’s desk was the last image in his mind before his wife’s smile blurred and his head hit the tile floor.
Thank you, Shannon. This one's for you –