Word Count: 982
Prompt: “The printer’s out of ink.”
A/N: Written for musemuggers. Challenge #536, Option #3.
The printer is out of ink. Again.
Jess stares at the pages that are as blank as her idea of what to do next. The cartridge, she thinks. Something with a cartridge. She looks for a panel to pull open or flip up on the outside of the machine, but it is encased in sleek black plastic. Derek had insisted on upgrading everything, and she would have better luck piloting a mission to Mars than she would figuring out the overly-complex system he arranged for something as simple as the application of ink to paper. The familiar mix of frustration and unfairness wells in her eyes and threatens to spill over, but she blinks the moisture away and considers the problem before her.
“I need it tomorrow,” Garrett had said this morning around a mouthful of cereal. “The teacher said I have to have it.”
Jess had frowned, the lines wearing what must be by now a permanent trench in her forehead. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I don’t know how to do any of this stuff. Your dad had all that set up. Why don’t you ask Grandpa to help? He’d be happy to come over.” Jess swallowed the lie with a sip of coffee.
“No, Mom!” Garrett had pulled down the brim his hat to cover his eyes. “I told you about the report two weeks ago. You said okay.”
“I did?” Jess looked again the assignment sheet, but it didn’t jog loose any memories of talks involving the Pleistocene Era.
“Yes.” Garrett wiped the milk from his mouth with the back of his hand. “I need it tomorrow. Please.”
Jess sighs now and studies the unobliging box, as if by sheer force of observation it will divulge its secrets. How hard can it be? she wonders. She sees a little yellow light blinking a code she cannot, maybe will never, understand. Jess picks up the phone.
Her father answers on the first ring. “What’s up?”
“Hey, Dad. How are you?” Jess asks.
“Good, good.” Her dad clears his throat. “I meant to ask you if you got the alternator replaced on your car yet.”
“I think it was just the battery. I got a new one and it seems to be fine,” Jess says. “Listen, I wanted to ask you about—”
“But that wasn’t what we talked about last week. You said you were losing power to the radio. That’s the alternator, pure and simple.”
Her dad continues. “Well, then I think you’re looking at replacing the part. You’re past one hundred twenty thou on that car. I told you not to buy that junker in the first place. You’re gonna end up stranded again if you don’t take care of things.”
Jess swallows. “I am taking care of things. I talked to the guy at the shop and he suggested a new battery. But that’s not why I’ m—”
“Oh, the guy at the shop? The guy at the shop doesn’t know jack!” her dad yells, his voice too loud through the receiver. “I looked at it last week and I told you what the problem was. Either fix it or don’t. It’s up to you. But I’m telling you you’re gonna be by the side of the road again. You want to be sitting there with Garrett, waiting for whoever comes along to jump you? I told you to get it looked at. Jesus God, I hope you didn’t take it into Smitty’s. That guy’s a crook. I’m always telling your mother that. Tell me you didn’t take it to Smitty’s just for a damn battery.”
“No, Dad, I didn’t.” Jess massages her temple. “I’ll take it in this week to get the alternator replaced, okay?”
“Take it in today. You don’t want to drive it like that,” her dad says. “Take it to Wilson’s. That guy’s all right.”
“Yes, I will. Thanks.” Jess sighs. “Okay, well, I guess I’ll talk to you later.”
Her dad hangs up without saying goodbye.
Jess doesn’t want to cry. She won’t cry, she tells herself. She digs her fingernails into her palm until she thinks her knuckles might break loose at the joints and she holds her breath and she stares at that little yellow light that just keeps blinking its unfathomable coded message. She stands over the machine for what feels like an eternity. She thinks of all the things that have gone wrong, all the little things that add up to this moment in which she can’t interpret the meaning of a single light. She thinks of chasing the dog from the kitchen this morning after he ate her breakfast off the counter. She remembers the first time she dropped a handful of bills into a pile of slush from the boots that Garrett left by the door. She glances out the window to see the half-plowed driveway. The snow shovel is still lying somewhere in the front yard where she’d abandoned it as an impossible task. She thinks that she should go finish the job but she can’t seem to care that her front path is impassable from millions of flakes turned icy by neglect.
These problems have always been there, but Jess has never been alone before. Now they are her problems. She starts to think that she can’t do it. The printer is too complicated, and she imagines that it will sit, broken, on the shelf above the computer forever.
Then she takes a breath. And another.
“Power,” she reads in the fine print that finally catches her attention. She pushes the almost-invisible button, and the yellow light changes to a code she can understand. Green for: go. Green for: good. Green for: it’s going to be all right, just keep breathing. Just keep breathing.
As line after line fills up the blank space on the page, she finally lets herself cry.