Jennifer and her daughter sat on the coffee house terrace under a flowering crêpe myrtle tree. Jennifer was still trembling. Her daughter lent across the table and patted her hand, a gesture which Jennifer accepted as loving support. She smiled weakly, enjoying this moment of closeness, although she wasn’t yet ready for confidences. She looked out over the terrace hoping to see their waiter,
“I could use that cup of tea.”
“I’m sure they won’t be long.” Her daughter also scanned the terrace and soothingly continued, “Meanwhile, Mom, lean back, breathe deeply, and take in the sweet smell of crêpe myrtle blossom.”
Jennifer obeyed, and as she relaxed she heard the sounds of the city, the muffled whirr of traffic, the voices of other patrons talking to each other, and the intrusive sound of grackles squawking. These ordinary reminders of everyday life, combined with the presence of her daughter, calmed and reassured her.
By the time that their tea arrived, Jennifer had regained her self-control. She took the pot and poured. The tea was served unusually hot for America, and so they both added milk to cool it down. Instead of holding her cup by its handle, as was her norm, Jennifer cradled it in her hands as though the warmth could give her additional comfort. She sipped slowly enjoying the distinctive flavor of Rooibos with its earthy herbal aroma.
“I think that the interview went well. They are going to offer me a partnership.”
“That’s great Mom. So, why are you nervous and edgy? Didn’t you always aspire to become a principal somewhere?” She paused and stared at her mother and then continued, “But there’s something else isn’t there?”
Jennifer looked at her daughter and wondered how one so young could be so perceptive. She didn’t answer the question; instead, she evaded with additional information about the prospects.
“A partnership. Yes, you are right; I’ve always wanted to be a firm leader – it’s just marvelous! I wish that my father were still alive for this would have made him so proud!”
“So you should be elated Mom; but you’re not are you?”
A Grackle alighted on the back of a chair at an adjacent table. His feathers gleamed black/blue in the sunlight. He fanned his tail and looked at their table with his tiny eyes. Jennifer’s daughter clapped her hands, and he flew away. Jennifer took another sip of tea and dunked a cookie before continuing,
“The money is fantastic. If you include the expected annual profit distribution in conjunction with the salary, it will be double what I make now. That’s more than our family needs, but it would be nice.”
“So much money, they must think a lot of you Mom.”
“Yes, I think they do. Up until now, I have excelled at my job. I’ve always loved what I do and know that I am good at it. The problem is, they want me to go into operations, and I’m not sure that this is my forte. I might not be able to deliver what they want.”
“Oh come on Mom, aren’t you underestimating yourself?”
“Maybe…… If it were straightforward it might be okay, but I have a premonition that their corporate culture doesn’t align with mine. It seems to me that the upper management, of which I would be a part, is too remote from the rest of the staff. It’s as though the fantastic money is accomplished through shortchanging everyone else.”
“But Mom, won’t that be the challenge. Won’t that be how you will be able to help?”
“I’d like to think so, but I suspect otherwise. I’ll be the outside newcomer, thrust between a bunch of old boys who have been together for years and who love their perks and profits. In fact, they bring me in order to increase profits, and I doubt that they will see this as being accomplished by investing in higher salaries, new computers, and state-of the-art software.”
“If their corporate culture is manipulative, or you feel it to be unprofessional, then maybe you should turn down their offer.”
“Yes, I should.’ Jennifer gazed at the Grackle who had returned to the adjacent table; she sighed, “The other argument against taking the position is that it will require a weekly 200 mile commute and two residences until your father can join me. The distance apart is going to be hard. I keep wondering if the prestige and money justify it.”
Jennifer threw the Grackle a piece of cookie and watched it eat before continuing, “To put it bluntly,” she glanced around to make sure that no-one was within earshot, “if there was a devil, I’d say that he concocted this offer. It is sugarcoated in money. I know that it appeals to my greed and pride. Perhaps I am being asked to sell my soul.”
“If you feel like that Mom, DON’T DO IT!” Jennifer’s daughter clapped her hands again, and the Grackle flew off. She repeated, “Don’t do it Mom, trust your instincts!”
They finished their tea, hugged and parted. Jennifer’s daughter left to return to her classes at the University while Jennifer went to her car for her 200 mile drive home. She slipped in a Book on Tape into the player “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde. She listened to the narration and settled into an aura of peace as she watched the road peel away. At the end of the first chapter, the tape gave a hiccup and stopped. This had happened before, Jennifer knew that this time it had quit for good.
When she stopped for gas, a black raven flew down and sat on the gas pump. It cocked its head and eyed Jennifer. She spoke to it
“You can see that I need a new car,” she said, “I need that good pay in that new position to enable me to get one. It isn’t immoral for principals to take disproportionately high compensation out of a firm. Principals guide firms; they earn it. If I have to commute 200 miles a week, I’ll need a spiffy new car. That’s not greed that’s practicality! Is it prideful to want to succeed? No, it is a logical conclusion, a reward for hard work.”
The raven nodded its head in apparent agreement. When Jennifer reached home, she met her husband with a kiss and the words,
“They offered, and I’m going to accept.”
The devil laughed as he watched Jennifer head for several years of acute unhappiness.
And all that your eyes feast, is yours for the taking and to do as you please.
There is always a corollary to this, for we hope that what pleases is also good!
This is interesting. Because she is diving headlong into the fire, AND with the knowledge of what she is doing. She isn’t trying to be virtuous or saintly, she’s being practical, which doesn’t smack of sinfulness, yet the devil is thrown in the mix as well. It’s an interesting concoction!
The devil snuck in because she was lured in by greed and pride.
Uh-huh. A morality tale, and no mistake. I think I’ll make it Anderson’s law, that eventually everybody ends up unhappy in their work. Money has a cost. Happiness.
I’m going to have to think hard about Anderson’s law. I agree that remuneration is not a good indicator of happiness except perhaps in reverse. I wonder if the unhappiness to which you refer is a result of the Peter Principle , in which everyone is promoted to their level of incompetence. Then again I wonder if the eventual discontent of the Anderson law, if not incompetence is boredom?
I don’t believe money should affect any decisions in life. But then, I’m irresponsible – unquestionably!
I agree in principle but have to admit that both income and expenditure must influence decisions – think of Dolittle! However, money above that needed for basic necessities should not be a determinant
How well you tell this story! Always there is this tension, this push me pull me.
Have you ever read the children’s books series Doctor Dolittle, in which we meet the delightful Push-me-pull-you? (a two-head four-legged creature with gentle shy disposition). Back to my story, I agree, It is fun to examine why people make life-changing decisions which are often accompanied by many pros and cons.
One of my favorite childhood stories!
Always a tension when you are steered into a new course in life. Change affects not only the individual but all in their circle of influence. It’s also unrealistic to think one can bring about necessary changes in an organization quickly. An organization consists of different networks that have reached a state of equilibrium. Changing that takes people out of their comfort zone and change even for the better has to be managed in a slow and consultative way to avoid destroying morale and putting strategic goals on hold.
I had never thought of change in an organization in this way but now that you voice it, I know that you are right! Strange thing is that I’ve weathered a number of major company reorganizations in my time; some easy and some painful. We could have used your sage advice.
This is a fine and sensitive telling of a universal human dilemma, Jane. I usually read your stories several times and let them percolate before writing a comment, but this one is so lovely and true I want to say so. As often happens, it is your delicate treatment of detail that wins me over. ( I love rooibos tea, by the way…and cookies, which reminded me that you probably grew up with biscuits!) The bird symbolism flows like a river through this story and, I think, makes it very poetic. But when I get to the end, you introduce “the devil”..???..like a deus ex machina to explain how it all might work out. Is there some way you could leave us, instead, with one of your black, black birds to give us that ominous idea?
As usual, I savor every word of your comments and thank you. Sometimes I want to jump through the electrons and give you a hug. The strange part about this is that I’m not generally a hugger.
I’m not sure what to do about the devil in this story. When I originally read it to the Sunday afternoon writer’s group, which I attend, their feedback was that they liked the two references to the devil but encouraged me to add a dialogue to the 200 mile drive home. This prompted me to introduce the grackles and raven in an attempt to enliven the dialogue during the drive and also as demonic symbols. Now, as I reread and reconsider, I wonder whether these introductions diluted Jennifer’s premonition that the job offer had been concocted by the devil. I think that I’m going to have to leave it for a while and then when I come back rewrite the appropriate portions. I may even try the bird version on the writer’s group and see if t hey want more bird and less devil; it would be easy to fix.
Again, thank you thank you for your comments.