Monday, April 5, 2010


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet entertain company -- and an offer

The Maria Chronicles, #47

"Here we go," Jack Casey says, placing a tray with two cups of tea and a pair of scones on the wicker table on Maria's third-floor porch. It's an unaccountably warm day, and they've decided to sit outside. The buds on the trees are barely visible, and so there's still a view of the Hudson from Maria's apartment. This setup has the added advantage of having them sit side by side, rather than face each other. Maria moves her crutches to make it easier for Jack to sit down.

This is his first visit since Maria fell down a flight of stairs at school a month earlier. Jack was actually on the scene minutes after it happened, and has been a unseen powerful presence during her recuperation -- following her to the hospital, getting her car home, having food and flowers delivered. Maria has to admit it's been a shrewd approach, never asking what he can do, or giving her a chance to refuse. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say that Maria has declined to refuse. Her daughter Felicia thanked him on her behalf at the hospital, when she gave him the car keys. But Maria waited until yesterday to thank him by phone, which she realized she simply had to do. She also only thought it fair to invite him over as part of that expression of gratitude. He came bearing boxes of tea and scones that he picked up at the Tom's Bakery, around the corner.

It's turned out to be a pleasant visit. Jack has been alternately tactful, teasing, and curious. Maria realizes that in her desire to assert her independence, she's been so guarded with her children, as well as her best friend Janice, that she's been unable to unburden herself with a source of pain much greater than her ankle: the prospect of losing her job. Though she didn't intend to, she found herself explaining the situation to Jack. Maria recounted the visit of her department chair, Jen Abruzzi, five days earlier, and described the confluence of a teacher returning from leave, declining enrollments, and budget cuts that have imperiled Maria's future. Jack listened intently, nodding throughout. When she was done, he said, "I want to process this for a minute. Can I make us some tea?" And so he did, and so he's back.

"Well, Maria," he now says as he reaches for his mug, "you can't make them keep you. But you could certainly sue the school for a pretty penny."

"Sue them? Over what?"

"Your fall, of course. That's one dangerous staircase, even without that errant potato chip bag you slipped on."

"Jack! I would never!"

"Well, don't be so sure. For one thing, it's not entirely under your control. I can assure you that your health insurance company will be going after the school and that the school has a policy for just this kind of contingency. But you may also be able to net something for yourself. Do you have an attorney?"

"No I do not. And I won't be needing one, either."

"Can you really afford not to, Maria? Especially given this job situation?"

This is where Maria would like to say, "Fuck you, Jack." Instead she says, "I don't think I want to continue this line of discussion." She picks up her own tea, which allows her to cover her mouth.

Jack puts his own mug down and gets up, suddenly restless. He takes a few steps toward the balcony and turns around to face her.

"That's fair enough. I won't press that point. But I do have a proposal for you, Maria."

Oh no, Maria thinks.

"No, not that kind of proposal," he says, laughing as he reads her face. "Really, Maria. Give me a little credit here. No, what I'm talking about is strictly professional. You remember what I was telling you awhile back about my work with some folks down in the mayor's office?"

Maria nods. Jack is apparently deeply involved in the charter schools movement, trying to launch progressive schools using a Ted Sizer approach to challenge the Knowledge-Is-Power model.

"Well, after a couple years of planning, it looks like we're going to get our first charter going this fall. It'll be downtown. We're just getting going on the recruiting end, and I think you'd be a perfect addition. I'm thinking department chair."

"So you're working for the city after all?"

"No, no. Not for pay, anyway. But this is my life now. I've got some connections and the wherewithal to start things, and while I have no official paid role, I do think it's fair to say that I'm a part of this undertaking."

"Which is to say you're helping to underwrite it."

"Well, yes."

"That's great, Jack. But I don't think it would be right for me." Maria put her hand on her knees and looks down. This whole conversation is leaving a bad taste in her mouth.

"Look, Maria. I've long since figured out that you know my story -- the rough outlines of it anyway -- and I know you don't approve of it. That's fine. I'm not going to try to talk you out of your disapproval. But that's not because I feel I can't, but because I don't think there's anything I have to apologize for. Not to you, anyway."

Maria looks up. "Jack, I don't want --"

He holds his hand up to stop her. "Listen to me for a second. I'm not going to tell you that I'm proud of what I did in my years on Wall Street. I'm not. But I didn't do anything illegal, either, regardless of what you may have heard or read. My life since I left, my life since my wife died, has been about the degree to which you can really start over, to what degree you can put your past -- the part you don't like, anyway -- behind you. It's been a fascinating, ongoing experiment. And I'll be honest: I've regarded you as part of that experiment. Not in a clinical way, though it's required some discipline on my part. More as a process of discovery. About myself no less than you."

Maria is looking down again, not sure what to say, or how she feels.

"Anyway, the job is really something you should think about, because you wouldn't be working for me. I'd help you get it, of course, but that's it. I know it isn't ideal, and I wouldn't be bringing it up except for the fact that you're suddenly in this difficult situation with your current job. I wouldn't expect you to say yes right away, or at all. But don't say no now. Think about it and see how things play out at school. You're going back next week?"

"Yes. I probably could have gone back last week, but I wasn't ready to be limping around on crutches and living with the day-to-day ambiguity."

"I don't blame you." Jack looks at his watch. "Well, look, I better get going. Thanks for having me, Maria. I know this hasn't been easy for you. And I know I haven't been easy for you. Weirdly enough, that's kinda why I've kept at it."

"Well you've played your cards pretty well," she says, smiling.

"I am a pretty good card player," he says, picking up the tray and leaving her behind. "The real trick is what you do with your winnings. That's a game I'm still trying to figure out."