Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In September, we're reading Emiko Jean's Mika In Real Life, a heartwarming, beautifully told novel about a woman who tells the daughter she placed for adoption that her life has gone to plan...when it definitely hasn't. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
Mika blinked. “I’m sorry, what?” she asked Greg, in his shoebox of an office. In fact, it wasn’t really an office. It was a cubicle carved out of the large copy room at Kennedy, Smith & McDougal Law. But Greg wielded the tiny space like a corner office on the 30th floor. He’d even decorated it—a bonsai tree in the corner of his desk, a cheap samurai sword tacked crookedly to the wall. Greg was white and a self-described Japanophile. On more than one occasion, he’d tried to converse with Mika in Japanese, and she’d demurred—she was fluent, she just wasn’t fluent for him. So yeah, that guy.
Greg leaned back in his chair. “This shouldn’t come as a surprise,” he said, steepling his fingers together and placing them under his hairless chin. “I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors.”
Mika nodded vacantly. A senior partner, a rainmaker, had recently departed for another firm. Profit shares were down. She opened her hands. “But I make twenty dollars an hour.” A pittance compared to the other salaried employees. Did the powers that be think laying off a copy assistant would make a dent in their financial woes?
Greg waved a hand. “I get it,” he said. “But you know how these things go, last in the pecking order...” He trailed off.
“Please.” She hated begging, especially to Greg. “I need this job.” She liked it at Kennedy, Smith & McDougal. The work was easy. The pay was good. Enough for her to make rent and utilities every month with a little left over to buy groceries, mostly of the soft cheese variety. Plus, the building was located near the museum. She went there on her lunch break, letting her food digest while gazing at Monets and strolling through the antiquities section, her soul at rest. “What about Stephanie?” She’d been hired after Mika.
“Stephanie has more paralegal experience than you. The decision came down to who was a better asset for the company. Look, I’m sure you’ll find something else. Unfortunately, you won’t qualify for severance since you’ve been here for less than a year, but I’ll give you a great recommendation.” Greg started to stand. End of discussion.
“I’ll take a pay cut,” Mika blurted. Her gaze landed on the floor, near where her pride was. She couldn’t handle it. Tears threatened to spill. Thirty-five and fired from another job. Again.
Greg shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mika. It’s no use. Today is your last day.”
The faint scent of stale popcorn. The emotionally healing candles on clearance. What was it about this particular store that sucked Mika in? She stood in the home section, examining a pillow embroidered with the saying MONEY CAN BUY A HOUSE, BUT NOT A HOME. On the phone, Hana laughed. “So, let me get this straight. He asked you out at the same time he was firing you?”
“Directly after,” Mika corrected. Greg had escorted her to her desk, watched while she packed up her stuff, and then asked if she’d like to see a movie later or maybe attend the Cherry Blossom Festival at the university next weekend. The angry humiliation ran deep.
Hana snorted another laugh.
Mika’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Please don’t. I’m in a very vulnerable place right now.”
“You’re in a Target,” Hana pointed out.
Mika tilted her head, contemplating the pillow. It was designed by a couple who had become filthy rich making new houses look old. It was all about the shiplap. The pillow could be hers for $29.99. “I never thought I’d be laid off and sexually harassed all in the same day. It’s a new first.” Mika bypassed the pillow and went on to the wine section. Her pocketbook was lighter, but a five-dollar bottle of wine was a necessity.
Hana made a sympathetic noise. “It could be worse. Remember the time you were fired from that donut shop for keeping a box of maple bars in the freezer and eating them between filling orders?”
“That was in college.” Mika tucked the phone between her ear and shoulder. Finished choosing wine, she was in the food aisle now, filling her basket with Cheez-Its. Class all the way.
“Or that nanny job for showing the kids The Shining?”
“They said they wanted a ghost story,” she defended.
“How about when you wrote X-rated Predator fan fiction, then left it open on your work computer?”
Confusion rippled across her face. “That never happened.” Hana laughed again. Mika rubbed her forehead, feeling as if she’d fallen from an unlucky tree, hitting every branch on the way down, then landing in a pit of snakes and bears. “What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know. But you’re in good company. I found out this morning Pearl Jam chose Garrett for their summer tour.” Hana was an ASL interpreter for bands, and Garrett, having recently crossed over from the Christian alt-rock circuit, had edged into Hana’s territory. “I’m probably going to have to do a bunch of Earth, Wind & Fire gigs now. Fucking Garrett. Come home. We’ll eat and drink our feelings together.”
“Will do.” Mika hung up and dropped her phone in her purse. A minute passed. Mika wandered. Her phone rang. Might be Hana again. Or her mother—Hiromi had already left a message that morning. I just stopped by the church and met the new congregant. His name is Hayato, and he works for Nike. I gave him your number.
Her phone rang again. Sometimes Hiromi called two, three times in a row, inducing panic. Last time Mika answered breathless, reaching for her keys, ready to head to the hospital. What’s the matter?
Hiromi replied, Nothing. Why do you sound so winded? I wanted to tell you Fred Meyer is having a sale on chicken...
Mika listened, temper rising. You can’t call so many times. I thought something was wrong, she said. To which Hiromi scoffed, I’m sorry I’m not more dead for you. The ringing continued. Mika fished the phone from her purse and peered at the screen. A blocked number.
Curious, she swiped to answer. “Hello?” she said, brows knitting together. Shit, she thought too late. It could be the new congregant, Hayato. Quickly, she cycled through possible excuses. My phone is dying. I’m dying.
“Oh, wow! You picked up! I wasn’t sure if you would!” a hyper-positive young voice said. The connection became muffled, as though a hand had been placed over the phone’s speaker. “She picked up. What do I do?” the voice said to someone in the background.
“Hello?” Mika spoke louder.
“Sorry, my friend Sophie is here. You know, for moral support? Is this Mika Suzuki?”
“It is.” Mika set the basket down at her feet. “Who is this?”
“This is Penny. Penelope Calvin. I think I’m your daughter.”
From MIKA IN REAL LIFE by Emiko Jean, published by imprint. Copyright © 2022 by Emiko Jean. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers
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Jenny is the Digital Director at Marie Claire. Originally from London, she moved to New York in 2012 to attend the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and never left. Prior to Marie Claire, she spent five years at Bustle building out its news and politics coverage. She loves, in order: her dog, goldfish crackers, and arguing about why umbrellas are fundamentally useless. Her first novel, EVERYONE WHO CAN FORGIVE ME IS DEAD, will be published by Minotaur Books on February 6, 2024.
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