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The Beautiful Light
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The economic slowdown caused by George W. Bush’s arrogance, incompetence, and malfeasance threw Glenna Wolski’s work schedule at Olson’s Saab into turmoil. People weren’t buying cars, but they weren’t maintaining the ones they had, either, and Randy, the service manager, had let two mechanics go and restructured the others’ time. Fred and Alvin liked four-day weeks; Geoff wanted overtime; LaTrell and Leviticus preferred eight-hour days with a half hour for lunch. Larry and Glenna didn’t care. According to Randy’s estimate of customer satisfaction and employee efficiency, Larry was the best service technician, but Glenna was up there close, which, as the only woman, gave her bargaining power if she’d cared to use it. But she had other things on her mind. Her parents had died within four months of each other—her mother in a bicycle accident in May and her father of grief in September—and over the winter in Seattle it had rained seventy-two days out of a hundred.

She worried certainty in her hours might lead to boredom and further grieving, so she didn’t know what to ask for. She was in Randy’s office and ran a teaser comb through her frizz. “What about sporadic days?” she said. “You know, here and there, now and then, every once in a while.”

“You mean, come in when you want?” Randy asked.

“Take off when I want, maybe one day a week.”

“I’m willing to work with you,” Randy said, “but I need to plan.”

“Plan for randomness,” Glenna said. “I will, too.”

She’d worked at Olson’s on Aurora for four years and lived in a one-bedroom in Eastlake, not far from I-5. A high school friend, Vicky, lived two floors above. In the neighborhood, Mr. Kang, the grocer, knew Glenna liked halibut, broccoli, and red-leaf lettuce, that she drank 1 percent milk, mango juice, and occasionally Dr Pepper, that her apartment had plumbing issues because every few weeks she bought Drano. Janet, the counter person at Bean There, knew her because every day on her way to work Glenna ordered a regular and a cranberry muffin. Her check from Olson’s was deposited automatically at Wells Fargo, and the tellers knew her because she came in Mondays and drew out cash. Her father had told her using cash made it harder to spend.

Mostly Glenna hung out with Jimmer, though she didn’t consider Jimmer a boyfriend. They’d met standing in parallel lines at Bean There. Jimmer was tall and lanky, and had on jeans, a black knit cap, and a rust-colored pullover. That day, he was about to take his driver’s test.

“Aren’t you a little old?” Glenna had asked.

“When I was twelve, I drove on the farm,” Jimmer said, “but I never got a license. Is twenty-seven old?”

“Why bother now?”

“My mother’s eyesight is wasted, and she needs me to run errands in her Dodge.”

“So you live with your mother?”

“No, I have an apartment in the University District. What about you?”

“I’m a service tech at Olson’s Saab. Dodges are crap cars.”

“I’m not responsible for my mother’s lack of taste. What do you think I do?”

Glenna looked at him. He had blue eyes, teeth that had been fixed, a shock of threshed wheat sticking out from a Mariners cap. For a young man his face was weathered, and he had creases around his eyes from looking into glare. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Jimmer Zimmer,” he said. “James, really, but you can’t escape a nickname.”

“You’re a fisherman,” she said. “Maybe a river runner or a fugitive from justice.”

“I’m a chef,” he said. “I grew up on a farm near Sedro-Woolley, but my father had liver problems so we sold the farm machines and moved to Green Lake. He died, but my mother still lives there.”

“Green Lake is fancy-dancy.”

“The combines, windrowers, and tractors were worth a lot. My parents kept the land but bought a house here.”

“Last year my parents died...

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