So, today, I'm sharing the first chapter of THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB, a novel I pitched, but never sold. I really loved this character and the idea of the book-- it's about a woman who unknowingly starts a big anti-love movement-- but no editors did. Which is sort of a problem if you want to sell something. Anyway, this one still holds a special place in my heart, so here goes:
THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB
By Brenda Janowitz
Money for nothing
“Jo, you’re fired,” he says. Just like that. Fired. And I’m utterly shocked. I know that no one ever expects to be fired, but I really didn’t see this coming. I find myself with my mouth wide open, just staring back at him.
“Fired?” is all I can choke out. The room begins to spin. That may be because I was out until sunrise last night drinking vodka tonics at an underground club in Williamsburg, but I’m pretty sure that it’s the news that’s doing it to me, not the hangover.
“Yes, I’m sorry, Jo, but it’s not working out here,” he says. His skin is gleaming when he says it. His skin always gleams. He’s a dermatologist, so it has to gleam in order for him to stay in business. My skin doesn’t ever gleam. At the very most, it shines and turns red when I get hot or embarrassed. I feel it beginning to shine and my hand immediately flies to my cheek, which, of course, only makes it get hotter.
We are in his office when he tells me and he is sitting at his desk, his head framed by his many diplomas and awards that are hung on the wall behind him. They are, as they are always, shining brightly as if they’d been dusted and cleaned that very morning. I look at the picture that he keeps framed at the edge of his desk—a photograph of his family taken at a New Year’s Eve party for the year 2000, framed in a sterling silver picture frame that his wife lovingly picked out for their thirtieth wedding anniversary—and then look back up at him.
“You can’t fire me,” I say, which I wholeheartedly believe. I really didn’t think that he ever would or could fire me.
“I can,” he says, “and I am.” He begins to toy with one of the pens sitting on his desk.
“I’m your best employee!” I plead.
“You wore a ‘Save CBGBs’ T shirt to work,” he says.
“CBGBs was a New York institution,” I say. He gives me a blank stare. I shrug in response. Is it my fault that this man has no sense of culture? Of history? “What does it matter what I wear under my assistant’s coat anyway?”
“People can see the prints on your T shirts right through the fabric,” he says. “And sometimes you wear ones with dirty words on them,” he continues, whispering the ‘dirty words’ part as if his grandmother is somehow listening from up above and would be appalled by this particular bit of information. “Jo, it’s not just the T shirts. You’ve called in the wrong prescriptions for my patients more times than I’d like to admit.”
“Some of those drugs have very complicated names,” I say in my own defense. And for the record, they do.
“That doesn’t mean you can give a patient a more pronounceable drug without consulting me first.”
“Then maybe you and your colleagues should start prescribing more pronounceable drugs,” I argue. He furrows his brow in response. “But, I’m your favorite employee!” I plead.
“You balanced the company checkbook wrong the last three out of four quarters.”
“You know that I’m not an accountant.” When he hired me for the job two years ago, I knew that there would be some accounting involved. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I would have to be quite so specific with the numbers. Which is a challenge for me seeing as I’m really more of a right brain kind of person.
“But, you know how to balance your own checkbook, don’t you?” he says.
For the record, I don’t.
“Of course I know how to balance my own checkbook,” I laugh, as if to say, ‘Doesn’t everybody?’ “A business checkbook is much, much different than a personal checkbook,” I explain.
For the record, it’s not.
“I’m your most loyal employee,” I say. My last resort. I find myself alternating between staring into his solid gold monogrammed Tiffany belt buckle and his shellacked black hair because I can’t meet his eyes.
“This is difficult for me, too, you know,” he says, even though I know that it’s not.
“Do you realize how embarrassing this is going to be for me?” I say as my last resort.
“I thought you don’t get embarrassed,” he replies, looking into my eyes, challenging me.
“I don’t,” I say, frowning like a little girl who hasn’t gotten the piece of candy that she wanted.
“Don’t take this personally, Pumpkin.”
“You can’t call me Pumpkin when you’re firing me, Daddy.”
#Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed Chapter One. If you'd like to read more, I've got Chapter Two up on my blog today.