Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Death by Default: Chapter 1 - Hunger Pangs

Photo courtesy of jgolby,

I should’ve stayed home.

That’s all I could think as the taxi hiccupped down University Drive in the stop-and-go Friday night traffic. Michelle wouldn’t take no for an answer, though. Michelle could never take no for an answer, which was how I found myself sharing a cab with her – a cab I could not afford – to a law school recruitment mixer I would not enjoy on a Friday night when I should have stayed home.

A sheet of rain slapped the windshield as we passed Science Hall, a dingy brick eyesore crawling with ivy. Michelle sat next to me, skipping down memory lane at every building, her face beaming from the nostalgia and the sea of stoplights surrounding the cab.

“Oh, Science Hall!” She pulled a cigarette from her purse with a chortle. “Remember that nutrition class we took there during undergrad? We were always hung over ‘cause it started so early? That professor with the lisp who kept saying ‘citruth fruit.’ I wonder what ever happened to—”

I stopped listening to her when the cab driver cranked up the music. It was something German and industrial, thumping through the vinyl seats and giving me a headache. I watched the meter tick up to twenty-two dollars. I didn’t know why I’d let her talk me into taking a cab. She said this way, we could get plowed with abandon and not have to worry about driving home. Normally that would have been fine with me, but that day I’d sent the largest check I’d ever written – sixteen hundred dollars – to Upper Peninsula Lending, knowing it hadn’t made a dent in the sixty-seven thousand more I still owed them, but telling myself that every little bit counted. That left me with less than a hundred in my checking account, which meant every penny of that cab ride was one less I could spend feeding myself for the rest of the month.

“Are they serving food at this thing?” I said, fumbling through my purse for the invitation. I’d skipped dinner to save money, visions of appetizers and a full buffet dancing in my head.

“What!” Michelle yelled over the music.

“No smoking in the cab!” the driver barked from behind the plexiglass divider, glaring at us in the rear-view mirror.

I could barely hear him. Michelle pretended not to hear him at all, and lit the cigarette, exhaling a plume of smoke before turning back to the view outside. She tapped my arm and pointed to the student union, leaning into my right ear. “I made out with – what was his name? Seth? Steph? – out back on the pier, right before he barfed into Lake Michigan!” She cocked an eyebrow, bringing the cigarette to her lips once more.

“No smoking!”

“Would you please put that thing out?” I said, cupping my hands around her ear. She ignored me and I turned back to the invitation, squinting in the darkness to try and make out the raised lettering on the gold card stock. “What does ‘light refreshments’ mean?” 

Michelle fingered her blonde bob and continued gazing at the campus whirring by. “Orientation weekend was so much fun!” She exhaled a drag and bit her lip, a disturbing thought darkening her eyes. She dropped them to the floor mat smeared with muddy shoe prints.
Photo courtesy of John Cobb,
I shoved the invitation back into my purse and eyed the meter again. Twenty-four dollars and counting. “I don’t even know why I’m going to this thing.”

“What!” Michelle said, leaning toward me.

“I said I don’t know why I’m going to this thing!”

“Oh come on, it might be ok,” she said, perking up. “Free drinks? Stimulating conversation?”

“Everyone asking me why I quit!”

She waved away my concern with a flick of her hand and nodded toward the driver. “Hey,” she said, smacking the divider.

Suddenly, we squealed to a stop at a red light and the driver punched the radio knob. A deafening silence gripped the cab. He whipped his head around, neck tattoo throbbing with rage. “If you don’t put that thing out right now—”

Michelle cocked her head to the side. “How much money do you think lawyers make?”

He grimaced, white-knuckling the steering wheel. “What?”

“How much money do you think lawyers make?”

“I don’t know. A lot. More than I do.”

Michelle smiled and cracked her window, slipping the remainder of her cigarette through the slit in conciliation. “They don’t. I’m a lawyer and I don’t make a lot of money.”

The cars behind us started beeping and he turned back toward the road.

“I do bankruptcy,” she continued as he slammed on the gas pedal. “Want to know how much I make?”

“Not really,” he muttered, turning onto Lakeside Avenue.

“Thirty thousand a year.”

“Fascinating,” he said. “I think that’s the most fascinating thing I ever heard.”

“Doesn’t it surprise you? How little I make?”

“Maybe that’s because your clients are broke.”

She smirked. “Whole country’s broke, my friend. How much do you make?”

“Not enough,” he replied, shooting her a death ray from the rear-view mirror.

“Come on,” she said, leaning in toward the divider. “Ballpark.”

He didn’t answer her, pulling to a stop in the bus lane instead before killing the meter. “Here you go.”

Michelle pulled thirty dollars from her wallet, but hesitated before handing him the money. “About as much as me, right?” He turned and held out his hand as Michelle studied him with a gleam in her eye. “That’s what I thought,” she said. “Keep the change.” Turning back to me, she smiled. “You see, Mavis?”

I rolled my eyes and glanced over her shoulder toward the law school, all ten floors of the glass fa├žade lit up, students and faculty bustling in and out of the building through the raindrops. “And just what was the point of that little exercise?” I whispered.

“I make as much as the cab driver, but he probably doesn’t owe a hundred K to CityLoan.”

Butterflies danced in my stomach and I tried to steel myself for what was to come. “What will any of that matter when people ask me why I quit?”

She wiggled out of her raincoat to shield her head with it. “We’re all on a sinking ship, Mavis. And you were smart enough to jump into a lifeboat.”

I took a deep breath and shimmied off my coat as well. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” She reached for the door handle and turned back to me. “Hey. We did have fun, didn’t we? Orientation weekend?”

I nodded and nudged her forward. “We had fun.”

“And we don’t anymore. Have fun, I mean.”


“Why is that, Mavis?”

I just shrugged, not knowing what she wanted me to say. “I guess because there’s no one to bill it to.”

Coming up in Chapter 2: Find out what happens when Mavis has to face her fellow law school graduates at a recruitment mixer that turns deadly...


  1. Don't wait 3 years for Ch 2, I want to know what happened!

    1. Ha! I won't, I promise. Most of it's written, but I wanted to space out the posts so I wouldn't fall behind on them. :) Thank you so much for reading. It really means a lot to me!