“Bob? Marge? Man, this is a surprise!” Hank said while ushering the couple inside his apartment.
They shuffled past Hank reluctantly. They really didn’t want to be here, but their travel options were extremely limited, and other than Hank, the prospect of anyone inviting them into their home was becoming increasingly unlikely.
“I haven’t seen you two since the New City dedication last year. How’s the advertising business?”
“We wouldn’t know since we got fired not too long afterwards.” Bob answered bitterly.
“Fired? What happened?”
Marge corrected Bob while making herself comfortable on Hank’s sofa. “We didn’t get fired, we quit.”
Taking the chair opposite her, Hank asked, “He says fired, you say quit. Which is it?”
“Quit,” she answered.
“I don’t understand the sudden change-up. You told me once that both of you were set for life with your jobs.”
“That was before.” Bob said gruffly. “Before what?” “Before Marge got pregnant.” Although he was both shocked and elated to hear about Marge’s
pregnancy, he didn’t understand the correlation. “I didn’t think you two were of the mind to have children, but
congratulations anyway. When are you due Marge?” Hank asked while visually checking Marge’s abdomen. He was surprised to see that she was barely showing.
“In June, so about three months from now.”
Hank mentally calculated the months. He smiled slightly as he realized last October had produced two extraordinary events—the opening and dedication of the New City of Tanis and Marge’s conception.
“So why didn’t you just take a leave of absence instead of quitting?”
Bob and Marge hesitated as if waiting for the other to answer Hank’s question. Finally, Marge wearily replied as if she had given this explanation many times before. “As you can imagine Hank, after last year, everything changed for us. And it wasn’t a question of them granting us a leave of absence, at that point they just wanted us out.”
“Yeah, but even if they had offered us a leave of absence, she still would have quit,” Bob quickly added. “She’s the one who said our jobs ‘weren’t conducive with raising a child because of all the time and traveling we put in,’” he said sarcastically imitating Marge.
“You know it’s not just the hours or the traveling, it’s our jobs— period!” Marge countered. “And you know we have to have this child now, because there may not be a later!”
Hank watched as the couple began verbally sparring. This was just one of their many wars he’d witnessed over the years, and although this one was relatively tame in comparison to some others, there was an underlying iniquitous tone to it. To Hank it was obvious that they really hated one another, but at the same time, it was also obvious that one couldn’t function without the other. That was simply the nature and extent of their relationship. And while they were unleashing their barrage of insults, Hank pondered what madness could have possessed them to want to bring an innocent child into such a dysfunctional environment.
Finally winding down after minutes of oral carnage, but still on the attack, Marge shouted, “Dammit Bob, your problem is you’ve never considered the consequences of any of your actions!”
“Wait, you’re trying to tell me that you actually used to think about the consequences of your job? But yet you still went to work every day doing the same thing. Please, don’t try to get all holier-than-thou Marge. You’re no better than me. In fact, you’re worse, because you knew better!”
Marge was just about to really tear into Bob when suddenly and inexplicably, she composed herself, turned to Hank and calmly said, “The truth is they wanted to fire us last year, but because I was pregnant they kept us on. We decided to get it over with, so we quit.”
Hank was taken aback by Marge’s sudden transition, but even more so by the disclosure of her employer’s intentions. “Wow, I thought the arrangement between you and your employers was almost ironclad. I didn’t think you or they would ever dissolve it.”
“So did we,” she said. “After all these years, I still can’t believe it.”
Hank was still at a loss. “Then why would they suddenly want to fire you after all this time?”
“It’s simple. They needed someone to blame for their screw-ups.” Marge said bitterly.
With obvious detest in his voice, Bob said, “No, they said it was because we were stealing from them.” Hank tried to reason out the situation.
“Stealing? Well, I guess that would be grounds for dismissal. Notwithstanding what you stole, it’s a huge violation of trust. People don’t easily get over that.”
Marge started laughing. “Violation of trust? Trust goes both ways Hank. We trusted them to take responsibility for the images they forced us to work with. But instead, for years they left us to take the blame and face the criticisms and the indifference over those images. I’m sorry, but I don’t see trust as a player anywhere in this.”
“So regardless of everything you did, you still think they were wrong because they were going to fire and replace you?”
Marge avoided part of the question. “Replace us? They never wanted to replace us; they wanted to get rid of our actual jobs permanently. But you know what? Even if they wanted to, it would have been almost impossible. Have you seen how busy we’ve been? I mean this year alone they’ve worked us almost every single day, and don’t even talk about weekends or holidays. They’re the busiest times of all.”
“Well, look at it this way, without those positions they’ll be forced to place more responsibility on themselves and less in somebody who doesn’t have their best interests in mind. So it’s a good thing.” Hank said optimistically.
“We weren’t hired to think about their best interests Hank,” Marge said sourly. “We were hired to get their image out there. Their interests were exactly that—their interests, not ours. And by the way, given the circumstances and our ‘special arrangement,’ as they called it, I think we represented them very well.”
“If you’re talking about the frequency and magnitude of the publicity you’ve gotten over the years, I’d have to agree. I’ve traveled across the country quite a bit and I’ve seen your work or heard about it in just about every city I’ve been in. But if you’re talking about the quality or even the necessity of those ads, I’d definitely have to raise the flag.”
“You can raise the flag and holy hell if you want, but it won’t change a damn thing until they come clean and admit their guilt!” Bob shouted.
There was an awkward silence after that, so Hank tried to soften the mood. “Look, I know it’s been difficult these past years, and it doesn’t like it’s going to get much better. Being unemployed is hard enough, but being unemployed with a baby on the way is really going to be rough. If there’s anything I can do to help you get through it, just let me know.”
Bob didn’t respond, so Marge replied for the both of them. “Thanks Hank. I know our friendship, or whatever you want to call it, hasn’t been the best or the easiest, but you’ve always been there for us. In fact, I hate to ask, but we might need a favor from you in the near future.”
“Anytime, just let me know what and when.”
Hank took this affable moment as an opportunity to voice something that had been on his mind.
“Marge, we’ve known each other for a long time haven’t we?” “Longer than I can remember, why?” “Well, you said you knew they wanted to fire you. Why didn’t you try to see if you could arrange to change jobs or do one of those internal or lateral moves after the first New City opened up? With your tenure, if the theft charges weren’t that serious, I’m sure they would have found something else for you instead of letting you go.”
Bob was visibly irritated at Hank’s comment. “Like what? We were under contract and there were no provisions to do anything else.”
“But if you were under contract, how could you quit your jobs? You normally have to finish out the length of the contract.”
“You can’t quit under normal conditions,” Marge explained. “But if you find out you’re about to be involuntarily dismissed, you can request termination. Basically, it lets your employer release you with impunity and keeps them from having to compensate you for any contributions you might have made.”
“I don’t know if contributions is the right word for what you guys provided. And they certainly wouldn’t be compensating you for stealing.”
“Of course we contributed. How else would they be where they are now?” Marge said with sarcasm in her voice.
“And was stealing part of that contribution?” Hank asked.
Neither of them offered an answer, but Hank sought one. “Were you guys really stealing from them?”
Bob finally declared, “I don’t care what anybody says, we didn’t take anything from them!”
Hank pressed further. “Usually accusations like that don’t pop up unless there’s substantial proof of some kind Bob.”
Bob was getting really irate now. “There was no proof! Plus, they said we’d been stealing for years. If that was the case, why didn't they try to fire us before? I’ll tell you why, because they knew they wouldn’t be able to function without us! And mark my words, they’ll be begging us to come back!”
“I doubt it Bob. As much as they’ve depended on you in the past, I think now they’ve finally realized that your inaccurate representations were hurting them more than they were able to deal with, and almost more than they could recover from.”
Marge was genuinely confused. “So you really think we’re responsible for everything that’s happened to them?”
“I do. And even though you may have found some measure of enlightenment by quitting in advance of being fired, you knew how you were portraying them was wrong all along. But in your defense, the responsibility rests equally between you and your employers.”
Bob pounced on Hank’s statement. “Look, I’ll tell you again, we did what we were contracted to do! They said they wanted an image and we gave them one. They didn’t complain for years, and now all of a sudden they’re saying we misrepresented them all that time? That’s the biggest crock I ever heard! They weren’t complaining when they were getting all that media attention!”
“Maybe not, but thankfully they’ve seen those images for what they were really worth and now they’re making the necessary changes to correct themselves.”
Bob waved his hand in disagreement. “You don’t know what you’re talking about Hank. They talk all that nonsense, but they’ll never change. In a year or two, they’ll be doing the same old thing and we’ll be back!”
Marge was lost in thought during Bob and Hank’s exchange and was relegating her attention mostly to Hank’s plush carpet. Finally she looked up and said, “Maybe you’re right Hank,” she conceded. “And despite Bob’s continued stubbornness to admit the truth, I know that even if we aren’t totally responsible for their problems, our jobs had transitioned into something totally superfluous and harmful to everyone around us. So quitting and moving away isn’t a ‘measure of enlightenment’ as you say Hank, it was absolutely necessary to set things right.”
Bob threw up his hands in disgust and walked over to the living room window. “Here we go,” he said under his breath.
Hank was surprised again by her latest declaration. “You’re moving? Where to?”
Once again, Both Bob and Marge seemed reluctant to say anything further. Finally, Bob abandoned his window gazing and almost hissed the answer. “The New Cities.”
“The New Cities? When did you decide this?” Hank asked bolting up in his chair.
“Ask her!” Bob yelled.
“We decided yesterday.”
“No, you decided yesterday! I didn’t decide crap!” Bob said angrily.
Slightly above a whisper, Marge said to Hank, “As you can see, Bob really hasn’t changed much. He’s still just as hotheaded as ever. And as usual, he’s got no real reason to be mad or anyone in particular to be mad at. He says the job made him the way he is. Maybe my job made me the way I am too. Maybe it’s the other way around, I don’t know. But regardless, we can’t raise a child like this. We have to think about what’s best for her, so moving to the New Cities is the right choice.”
With the mention of the child again, Hank was glad to drift away from Bob and Marge’s discontented discourse. “So it’s a girl? Do you have a name for her already?
“As a matter of fact I do. I’m going to name her Rose,” Marge said proudly.
Hank considered the name. “Rose? Not too many girls with that name nowadays. What made you choose it?"
She looked over to the still very heated Bob and seemed to weigh something in her mind. “There needs to be a balance.”
Hank regarded the pair and nodded his understanding.
Bob heard Marge’s remark and blew up. “That’s bull and you know it!” he bellowed as he started towards the front door. Then he abruptly stopped and barked out an order to Marge. “Tell him the rest!”
“Rest of what?” Hank asked.
“The reason why she wants to move to the New Cities.” Bob said coldly.
Hank was confused. “I thought you just said it was because of the baby.”
Marge replied, “It is. I may be many things, some not so good, but I’m also an expectant mother and I want to make sure she’s brought up by caring people in good surroundings.
“Tell him the rest!” Bob repeated.
Slowly and grudgingly Marge said, “For the past few months I’ve been getting terrible dreams. Now they’ve even started to repeat themselves.”
“Dreams about what?” “About Bob and I dying.” “We all get dreams like that Marge. I imagine it’s pretty common, especially if you’re under some sort of stress. Maybe it’s because of your pregnancy.”
There was a hint of fear in her voice. “You don’t understand Hank, I said dreams, but I meant premonitions. And you can try to explain it any way you want, but I know that as soon as we step foot in any one of the New Cities, we are going to die!”
“And yet she still wants us to go. Incredible.” Bob said vigorously shaking his head.
“We don’t have a choice Bob!” she said crossly emphasizing each word.
Hank saw they were about to start on each other again and he quickly intervened. “What makes you think you’ll die in the New Cities Marge? They’re the most protected places on the planet. No weapons, drugs, or anything harmful.”
“No Hank, it won’t be bullets or bongs that will end it for us,” she said still eyeing Bob irritably. “It’s our relevancy in this world that will kill us.”
Hank tried to make light of her comment. “Relevancy? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone dying from relevancy poisoning or anything like that.”
But Marge was not amused. “You’ve never heard of CEO’s or military leaders who die within months or weeks after retiring from a long career? What about spouses who die right after the other passes on?”
“Okay, I’ve heard of those cases, but what’s that got to do with you two? You don’t fit in either one of those categories.”
“It’s relevancy Hank. If a person no longer feels relevant in this world, it really is enough to kill him or her. So you tell me, will we still be relevant when more of those cities open up next year? How about in five years?”
“Probably not.” “Exactly.” “If you really believe you’re going to die in the New Cities, why bother going?” “Thank you!” Bob said throwing up his hands.
She gave Hank a pathetic look and said, “Staying here would only prolong the inevitable. But like I told Bob a minute ago, we really don’t have a choice. No matter what happens, our visibility, our influence, and our very existence will diminish with each passing day. They’ll see to that.”
Hank thought hard on what Marge had just said. Was it possible that she and Bob could actually die from being irrelevant? Certainly their services wouldn’t be required in the New Cities, but would that be enough to cause them to expire also?
“Let’s hope that’s not the case. You might still be able to get work with someone else, but with that stealing accusation on record, it’ll be tough. Speaking of which, if I may ask Marge, what were you and Bob accused of stealing? You don’t have to tell me of course, but I’m curious.”
Marge hesitated for a moment, and then she sat up and stared into Hank’s eyes so intently that he almost retreated back into his chair.
She smiled and said, “They said we were stealing their souls.”
It took Hank the better part of a minute to respond. “Their souls? They were speaking metaphorically of course, right?”
“Were they?” she asked while retaining her rigid gaze.
Morose curiosity made Hank ask Marge the question he really didn’t want an answer to. “Is it true?”
She merely shrugged her shoulders and said, “I am what I am Hank. What else would you have expected of me?”
Hank didn’t answer but was relieved when she let out a sigh and finally released him from her visual intrusion. Then she stood and walked over to the front door where Bob was still waiting. Hank slowly followed.
“We’re leaving now Hank. I don’t expect we’ll ever see each other after today,” she said extending her hand. “That offer you made earlier? If it’s still available . . .”
Still thinking about their previous unsettling conversation, Hank cautiously took her hand. “Uh, sure, what is it you need?”
“You’ll be receiving something from us in a few months. You’ll know what to do with it.”
“Is it something I need to forward to you later?”
She gave him a pained look. “No, it’s better if it stays here with you.”
Hank was confused at first, but as he released her hand, the meaning came home. “I won’t let you down.”
With her typical sarcasm, Marge said, “It’s not us you have to worry about letting down Hank.”
Hank then held out his hand to Bob. Bob ignored the gesture and reached for the doorknob instead. Marge passed through the doorway, and just before he stepped through, Bob turned and nodded his goodbye to Hank. Hank reciprocated, but also let out a heartfelt verbal goodbye that went unanswered by the couple.
The way Bob and Marge conducted their farewells made Hank believe this really might be the last time he saw either one of them. As he watched them walk down the long, dimly lit hallway, he considered that incredible possibility.
Hank realized that Bob and Marge had long burned their images into the mind of every American. For decades, they were the face of Black America. The abandonment of their longtime practices and influences, along with Marge’s prediction of their upcoming demise meant a significant but positive turn of events was about to unfold in this country. More importantly, it meant something else for African-Americans— closure—closure to the practice of ambiguous brotherhood, of insecure feelings and inadequate choices and actions. It meant true FREEDOM!
Hank closed the door and locked it. As he was about to step away, he paused and thought about what he had just done. Was this merely a simple act of security, or was it metaphorically symbolic of the changes that were rapidly enveloping the country? Was he really forever shutting and locking out Bob and Marge and their oppressive representations? He thought about his previous conversation with Marge. She was right about one thing; they did provide a significant albeit singular contribution to the world. For without their imperfect union, the hope for all African- Americans would never have been born.
Hank walked over to his window and smiled as he watched the frenzied routines of the people below. He thought about their future, our future—Rose.
Bob - Black On Black crime and violence
Marge - Misprojection of personal failure, Apathy, Redirected anger, Greed, Envy
Hank - Healer, Achiever, Nurturer, Kindred
Rose - Resurrection Of Self-Empowerment
Causes Don Hammond Supports
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