Mail-Order Brit by Poppy Parkes

The Oops Club

Sage

Numbness creeps up the hand holding the opened letter like the paper itself is turning my appendage cold and dead. It climbs up my arm, my neck, down into my chest. My head buzzes, ears humming, while my heart chugs like it’s turned to lead.

I can’t even read the entire letter. I don’t have to. The important parts leap right out.

Student loan.

Non-payment.

Lawsuit.

I can’t afford a lawsuit. How the hell do they think I’m going to be able to afford a lawsuit? I can’t even pay the loan the federal government is suing me over.

“You okay, hon?” The words of Carol, my fellow waitress at The Blue Cup Cafe, chisel through the flight mode the letter threw me into.

My head’s swimming, but I force myself to nod. I’ll be okay. I have to be.

Then I look at the number of digits in the amount of money I owe and my stomach heaves.

Carol’s gaze narrows. “Why don’t you take five.” It’s not a request. Grateful, I acquiesce and, untying my apron, slip away to the bathroom.

I run the sink and splash cool water on my face, trying to steady myself. Examining myself in the mirror, it’s not a pretty picture. My skin is pallid, my brown eyes dull and tired. There are shadows beneath my eyes that never used to be there. Even my beachy blonde tresses seem exhausted, limp.

Is this what getting old is? I’m barely twenty-five.

But then I’m not sure how many twenty-five-year-olds have already defaulted on their student loans multiple times.

I bet most twenty-five-year-old don’t have their personal mail delivered to their place of work because their shady landlord refuses to pass it along either.

School was supposed to be my way out. Charlestown, Massachusetts, isn’t an easy place to grow up, and it’s an even harder place to try to make a good living. In high school, I did community service work as an elementary school tutor and discovered that I love teaching. I threw myself into learning how to be the best damn educator possible, first in undergrad and then in graduate school.

I thought the field of education was a sure thing, a guaranteed job. Sure, teaching is not a glamorous job and it doesn’t pay extravagantly, but it pays enough.

At least, I think it does. I can’t say for sure because I’ve never put my Master’s degree in elementary education to use.

That’s right. Six years of school plus multiple valedictorian awards and I’ve never been able to land a job in my field.

So I’ve stayed right where I grew up, in that part of Boston that everybody talks about like it’s got the damn plague, waitressing and babysitting to make ends meet.

I pull the letter, already crumpled, from the back pocket of my khaki skirt and stare at it. Clearly, ends aren’t meeting. At least, not anymore, if they ever were. Not by a long shot.

Something else comes out of my pocket and flutters to the floor. Bending, I retrieve a tattered business card, forgotten and run through the wash too many times. My friend’s business card.

I flip it over to its front. Magical Matches and Wicked Easy Weddings, I read at the top. Then below that, Let us find your perfect partner for love and marriage.

I remember how excited Kels was as she slid the table across The Blue Cup’s lunch counter. Like me, she was overeducated and underemployed — and sick of it. So she’d started a matchmaking business.

I’d laughed, told her that mail-order brides should stay in the seventies where they belonged.

But a year later, she’s moved from Charlestown to Cambridge — which she can afford without a roommate — and has hired an assistant for her business.

And I’m still at The Blue Cup, getting sued by the government.

Kels had asked me to let her work her magic on me, as she called it. To find me a man — or even a husband.

I’d laughed, thinking she was crazy.

Now I’m wondering if I’m the crazy one. I pick up every shift I can at the cafe, plus babysitting, and in my non-existent spare time I send out hundreds of applications for teaching jobs, nannying jobs, anything that will dig me out of the financial hole I’m in.

And for as much ass as I’m hauling, I’m not getting anywhere but deeper in trouble.

I need a way out. I can’t pay for this lawsuit. I can barely pay my heating bill.

Gazing at the letter, I sigh. I’m not too prideful to admit that I’m desperate. I’m not above selling out on my sense of self-respect if it’ll save me from this mess.

Pulling my phone from my other back pocket with a shaky hand, I dial my friend’s cell.

Her business cell.

Kels picks up immediately. “You’re not shitting me, right? This isn’t some prank? You’re really in?”

Even though she can’t see me, I nod. “Yeah,” I say, voice shaking more than my hand. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m in.”