birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Charlotte/Sheila

One was Charlotte. The other Sheila. I quit them both. I was pregnant with my first child.

Charlotte F, was the first woman's name. She was of Atlanta. She offered me nine dollars an hour to organize her files. A boy named Joe got me the job. Joe was gay, and he and Charlotte discussed lime green color schemes. I was tongue-tied around them.

I adored Joe, but he became someone different around Charlotte. Sophisticated in his Knoxville boy way, he wanted to impress the old Atlanta woman and her money. Joe was a wonderful actor, but he was focused on assisting Charlotte.

He had come to Atlanta to act but wasn't acting. I had come to Atlanta because my father was coaching for the Falcons, and my new husband and I needed a place to live pre-China and post-China.

That's another story.

Did Joe call her Charlotte? I imagine we both called her Mrs. F. to her face and Charlotte behind her back, but in my mind I hear Joe calling her Charlotte. I think he did he call her Charlotte. I only called her Mrs. F.

Mrs. F. spoke of devoting much time and money to the Jimmy Carter Center. She was always going to the Carter Center for something. I liked Jimmy Carter, but I didn't like Mrs. F.

For some reason, she didn't want to pay me. I can't recall why. I'm sure it's because I had no idea how to organize her files. In my mind, she waved a hand at them, but I didn't know where or how to begin.

She didn't either of that I am sure, and I say this looking at my own files today. It's overwhelming.

Anyway, I was newly pregnant and hoping to move to LA soon with my husband. We were going to Hollywood. We were going to get out of my parents' basement and so what if we were pregnant without insurance. We'd find a midwife and have the baby in LA.

Why did I take the job with Charlotte?

Money.

Anyway, I quit after a week.

And this is what I remember. She wasn't kind. She wanted me to understand from the beginning who was boss, but I would have understood. It was her unkindness that I didn't understand. There was no need to be a bully. She was a bully about her money.

The day she hired me, she said, "How much do you charge?"

I said, "Nine or ten an hour."

She said "Then we'll start with the former and see how you do."

I didn't do well and I gave notice. I didn't work more than a week. It was skull-numbing to be in her home, the rain falling outside, listening to conversations of lime-green color schemes and Joe knowing just what to say.

Joe wasn't hired to file. He seemed to be hired to listen Charlotte. Did he drive her places? Why in the world did she need two assistants?

After I quit, the check didn't come. Weeks went by. Charlotte ignored messages. I had worked for a full week or was it just two days? I think it was a week, but it's long ago now. It may have been just a few days.

The check was for something like $160.00

It wasn't much. So I must have just worked a few days.

That's right - I was on trial. Maybe Joe was training me to be his replacement? Either way, it wasn't going to work.

So I wrote Charlotte a letter when my check didn't arrive. It was definitely a letter full of judgment demanding my money. I may have told her she was a bully. I have the letter somewhere. I can't remember what I said exactly, but her next assistant, Margaret, who also had trouble getting paid, told me, "I just made the old bitch pay me. I didn't send psychologically disturbing letters."

But I had an MFA in Playwriting, and Charlotte, Mrs. F, was something out of THE LITTLE FOXES or some other Lillian Hellman play. So was Joe.

Margaret was another actor who'd moved to Atlanta to act but didn't.

I wanted to show Charlotte she couldn't treat underlings that way.

To her, I was an underling.

To me, I was an underling.

She never once looked at me with kindness. She never offered a thing to eat or drink at her home. I remember she and Joe drank iced tea and spoke of those cool lime color schemes and Joe knew what to say to make her feel as if the two of them understand everything in the whole world.

He laughed at her comments, which weren't jokes. Ha, ha, ha. She wasn't funny, but he answered something in her, and they understood each other.

In reflection, I am sure I was offered iced tea, too, but I remember looking at that tea and thinking - how can I make it last so I won't be hungry.

I was so hungry at times being newly pregnant - never sick - just hungry. And I didn't know enough to bring snacks. Joe and Charlotte never knew I was pregnant.

I wouldn't have told them for the world.

Joe died a few years ago in Miami.

I am sure Charlotte is long dead.

Now it just makes me sad. She didn't know how not to be a bully. Maybe somebody bullied her. I bullied her wanting my money.

I don't do that anymore, but I remember the bullies. Sometimes they come to me in dreams.

Now am I older, but I am careful with young people. I look at their faces and listen to their stories in our workshops together, and I tell them how good they are - some are not even that good but I tell them they are good because who knows, maybe they will be good, and they will definitely get better if they work at it. I tell them this too.

And it's hard enough.

They will meet bullies along the way.

I'll write about Sheila another time.

Ice Cream on the Moon

Gold Star Lady