It was raining buckets, her soft footbed adjustable comfort sandals squeaked, and she was fairly sure the driver had it out for her. Also, is it a little drafty in here?
No matter. Nothing was going to get Ramona Geraldine Quimby cross today. She was too excited to be taking the bus to her new call center.
Ramona’s office had downsized, with most departments going overseas. Since Ramona begrudgingly agreed to work for the unequal pay that women her age, raised as they were on empowering children’s literature with strong-willed female characters, had believed would be remedied by the time they became grown-ups, she was staying on. Not only staying on, but put in charge of training all the newbies. Which meant one thing: Ramona Quimby was, at long last, going to the oldest one in the building.
As the bus bounced and bumped, Ramona noticed she’d dropped her copy of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. “Where is it?” yelped a frantic Ramona, who hoped to be just like Ms. Obama when she grew up.
When suddenly a voice behind her asked, “Looking for this?”
“Hey, give that back, Hard Grape!” she yelled, indignantly.
“Yo, relax, ma’am. I simply asked if you were looking for it. And what the heck is a ‘Hard Grape’?
“It’s a wholly noncontroversial rhyme of what I used to call people I didn’t like because, I’ll have you know, Twitter tells me what I used to say is problematic and could get me cancelled in 2021. Now give me back my book!”
“Okay, sure. Whatever.”
Ramona felt satisfied. She’d stood up for herself—and won.
No sooner than Ramona arrived at her bus stop did Beezus text her.
“R — Dad’s birthday’s called for 6:30. Don’t be late. We’re cooking, remember.”
“What does she mean ‘don’t be late?’” grumbled Ramona. Just because her older sister is in her fifties, Beezus thinks she’s so special. She’s always bragging about all the hormone replacement she gets to do, as if it’s some big deal or something. “I get hot flashes too,” Ramona groused.
Plus Ramona still lives with her parents on Klickitat Street. Where else would she be going?
But even stupid Beezus couldn’t get Ramona down. Opening the door to this new office meant a new start. A new desk from which to forward cat memes. New coworkers to notice her statement necklaces.
But then she saw it. A terrible, horrible, dreadful, awful sight: The Hard Grape from the bus.
“Oh no,” grumbled Ramona. “I have to work with him?”
Ramona took a deep breath and steeled herself. She’s not a baby entry-level employee anymore, after all. She’s middle-management now.
Ramona marched right up to Hard Grape. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
“I know this is uncomfortable for us both, but we’re going to be colleagues. So hi.”
“Oh. Do I know—?”
“The bus was weird, but—“
“Ohmigod, you’re the lady from the bus!” Ramona’s adversary said to himself, in shock. Then, to a coworker, “This is the bus lady I was telling ya about.”
She was proud she’d been discussed. “Yeah, they know who’s boss!” a self-satisfied Ramona mumbled as she walked away. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
The hours passed without incident, until one phone call changed the mood.
“Ramona, hi. Susan Kushner.”
Yuck, Susan! Ramona’s work rival.
“Listen, Ramona, I’m giving a big speech to corporate and need to use that PowerPoint deck you put together, ’kay?”
It wasn’t ’kay with Ramona.
“No! That’s my work, copycat! You can’t use it!”
“Um, Ramona, we’re on a team and—“
But Susan was too late. Ramona deleted the file in an angry rage.
“Nice, Ramona. You’ll be hearing from your supervisor about this.”
Ramona didn’t care. What do crummy supervisors know anyway?
Ramona couldn’t believe this day was turning sour—and it would only get worse when she checked the company Slack, where word of Ramona’s PowerPoint fiasco had spread.
“What a nuisance!” said one colleague.
“Show off!” declared another.
“A pest is cute at, like, eight. But what is she, fifty-one?”
“Hey!” Ramona screamed as she stamped an angry foot. “I’m forty-eight and a half!”
Ramona was seething, going to that dark place where angry thoughts live. But she couldn’t dwell. She had to get home for surprise supper.
When she arrived home to the worn sidewalks of Klickitat Street, more rotten luck. Namely, Willa Jean Kemp-Botts, Ramona’s lifelong nemesis.
“Oh hiiii, Willa Jean,” droned Ramona, sarcastically.
“Ramona,” replied Willa Jean, dispassionately, “did you need something?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know!?”
“What? Oh, no, Ramona, I’m not doing this today.”
“So you still think you’re better than me, eh Willa Jean?”
“No, Ramona. I think that I’m forty-three years old, and a mom of four. And an investment banker. And very busy, so not entertaining this weird decades-old feud you’ve created.”
“Good to see you too, Ramona.”
Still stewing from her fight with Willa Jean, Ramona entered the house on Klickitat Street to find Beezus hard at work in the kitchen.
“Ramona, you made it!”
“What do you mean ‘made it’? Do you think just because you’re older you—“
“Ramona, I’m gonna stop you right there. We have a lot to cook and don’t have time for this whole sibling rivalry thing.”
“Fine. But I’m still cross with you!”
“Cool. Grab those chicken thighs.”
The party came together and Mr. Quimby, again in-between jobs, was particularly happy to have a night away from his part-time gig as a self-checkout monitor at the ShopRite. Ramona spent much of the night teasing their neighbor, Henry Huggins.
“Beezus loves Henry. Smoochy, smoochy, smoochy.”
But Henry wasn’t having it.
“Ramona, Beezus is married. What are you even saying right now?
“She liiiiiiiiikes you, Hennnnry!”
“Ramona, we aren’t kids anymore. You can’t just insinuate things. Your words have consequences.”
But Ramona just shrugged. “Boys are weird,” she thought to herself.
Once everyone left and after she’d quarreled with her mother about whether she was too busy to sew her a dress for this weekend’s Mature Women Meet & Mingle, it was time for Ramona’s favorite part of the day: an egg face mask and Sustained Silent Reading. And a weed gummy.
It had been an up and down day, but Ramona didn’t blame herself. Being forty-eight years-old in a grownup world isn’t easy—but tomorrow she’d give it another go.
A longtime political activist, Jeremy played a role in the major LGBTQ fights of the 21st century’s first two decades. Parenthood shifting his focus, as parenthood is wont to do, Jeremy now focuses his writing on making people smile, with a particular emphasis on children’s literature.