Professional to the End

He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her deep blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his. 

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He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her dark blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his.  He thought of just taking over, feeling her slip into his embrace and following his lead, perfectly trusting his every move.

He had never met her before face to face, they had talked a couple of times over the phone.  That was her job, customer service.  He was a client.

She was nice, pretty too, not beautiful and not athletic just pretty.  She smelled really good.

She was too nice to be up on her desk and pulling his body toward her in a less than ladylike fashion.  He wanted to stop thinking about her that way, but it was her scent, the clean, cool scent of her skin and the way she looked at him, straight on with an open smile.  He felt thin and hollow, and his heart beat deep down into his echoing stomach.

Her office was full of papers, and she was talking and working.  She was walking between her computer and the copy machine and telling him that she was always ready to help.  He needed the help, paperwork wasn’t something he was good at.  He needed her to slow down because he needed to look at her while speaking; when he got nervous, he went deaf.

Suddenly rather than thinking about fumbling with that tight-fitting slip that he knew she wore under that flowing summer dress he wished he was sitting across from some pencil pushing moron from the IRS who had no interest in helping him at all.  He felt the hot prick of sweat spread out between his shoulder blades.

She was still smiling at him and still handing him papers.  They stood side by side, and she was pointing out key and important telephone numbers, websites and email addresses that would get him through his present dilemma.  She didn’t lean in, her hands moved slowly when she talked, and the pen she used to point out what might keep him alive was tucked up nicely behind her ear when she was done.

They had not shaken hands brushed up against each other nor stopped the flow of conversation between them in any sort of meaningful way.  He was someone off the street who needed assistance, she was doing her job.

“Well, I think that should get me through.”

She was already looking at the papers on her desk.  “Don’t ever hesitate to call me.  I’ll try and help in any way I can.”

He hesitated, he had been taught never to extend his hand to a lady, but he wanted to touch her before he left.  She stood smiling totally oblivious to the fact that he had made love to her in his head during the whole damned ordeal.

He extended his hand as a sort of reward to himself.  She stepped forward smoothly placing her hand in his.  There was no spark, no electric current, only the cool, soft grip of kindness.  She was professional to the end.

It’s Not Difficult

You can enter my mind through my heart

Just so you know, staying up late is not good for me, I’m a morning person.

Weary, I’ve stepped out on to my high tower ledge and found the big dipper just overhead;

Close but not touchable.

So, I point the momentum North and ride the will to survive into the icy cold.

The bay is rocky smooth, Superior ice blue and now I feel safe away from you.

Odd, I don’t fear the scythe-man and am terrified of you.

A vulnerability is impossible to live with.

The levitation is sudden, the atmosphere heavy, ripping down my body as I move up

No nest is a temptation from this lofty spot where I see the seas spin deep frothing white.

The ghosts step along the streets their staffs diamond willows that no one but a few knows exists.

Sit down across from me and answer my questions

Answer me

Love is what you’re best at, that is obvious while I ponder the ideology of believing in death

And not God.  So answer me, what has the world come to?

To each their own, to each their own.

To the west, to the east what was once frozen has dropped upon my front door and taken

The Limberlost

No, no she has simply gone deep as the stars have gone just out of reach

Don’t be afraid, I won’t ask any questions you can answer

You can get into my mind through my heart.

Please answer my question.  It’s not difficult.

 

Photo by Alfonso Ninguno on Unsplash

Never Mind

What do I tell my children?  What do I tell my aging parents, honest in that they
Do not envy me.

How can I convey to you the heaviness of my heart?

I’m sure you’ve felt it, experienced the physical weight of sadness.

That sudden drop which suspends inside.

Lead within the quasi-weightlessness of water.

Water, wrapped in flesh, encased in a mind that cannot lift the eyes to see the horizon.

Just take the moment of temporary lightness, the mire of reality is unfair.

No one can help me, so I look to the earth for inspiration

I look to words for hope

I look to art for some sign of sympathy.

Never mind.

The earth has become paved over with concrete without thought to next week.

The words are glossed over by Freudian overtones that mankind craves.

Art has become not the object but the person who renders nothing but style.

What do I tell my children?  What do I tell my aging parents, honest in that they do not envy me?

How do I keep from mourning the family given and then taken?

The lessons have stopped and I am now atop the tiny dynasty learning faith.

And even that the world insists gets in the way.

Never mind.

Into Safety

Maybe some see already that her calm life was sailing blissfully into an evil maelstrom. 

Since being alone, she has been extremely busy.

She knew a woman, friends of hers, who were the same.  Extremely busy.  They sat down after work and read historical romances or went to movies by themselves.  They lived in the city, in small apartments that didn’t cost a fortune and rode the bus to the L and the L into the city proper and didn’t complain about the early rise because they didn’t have to drive in “all that traffic.”

She was like them, just like them an introvert with a busy schedule.  She joined a knit club with other introverts, men and women alike who told her where the best coffee shops were and the best nookish bookstores.  They would go out together and drink sherry once in a while just to compare notes.

After a long while of learning how to be alone; she liked it.  She liked her satellite friends who would be coming running if there was some sort of catastrophe, like a lost cat, or a pregnant sister.  They came because the catastrophes were few and far between and usually always brief.

Like all contentment however it slips past without any sounding alarm.  One evening rather than a predictable romance, she read “Jane Eyre.” Harmless enough and her friends encouraged her in the classics.  But the classic are dangerous books.  Why?  Because of the questions they pose.  The questions weren’t harmful by themselves:

“Who was president when Jane Eyre loved Edward Fairfax Rochester?”

“How old was the United States when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth?”

“What did Freud have to say about Wuthering Heights?”

Well okay, the last one wasn’t so much a question that has much bearing on her journey but if one has some time on their hands it could make quite a dissertation.

Maybe some see already that her calm life was sailing blissfully into an evil maelstrom.  Could she have made an effort to stop?  Sure, and she did but questions beget questions.  If it was the best of times how could it be the worst?   That made no sense, on the quiet bus ride into work.    Besides if any sort of enlightenment ushers in the guillotine then perhaps we should take a closer look at the crusades.

If that makes no sense just know, the more she dug into her questions the deeper into history she sank.

Until she found him blinking up at her from the dark tunnel of conflicting sources and original sources.  The wind was howling a city of Chicago winter storm when their eyes met over thick tombs that the librarians twittered and fussed about whenever they were requested.

Her heart sank.  She had been trapped, for there he was running his fingers through his hair and with a perplexed look on his face.  She understood, the Enlightenment was sinking into anything but and that was a hard lesson.

She imagined him several times during her work day.  What if he appreciated German opera more than Italian?  What if he liked to travel to see the very place where Antoinette died and she simply wanted to take a visual tour.  What if he preferred French to Portuguese?  What happens to a man who thinks that Dickens actually wrote anything worth reading besides the “Pickwick Papers”? What if he preferred Adams over Jefferson, what then?

Her heart pound in her ears, when she realized that he would speak to her, talk to her and the quiet smiles and bumping into each other in the history sections, were done.

What happened to those nice quiet nights knitting and reading alone in snow driven Chicago?

Before he opened his mouth or give her the warm smile she had shared with him for many weeks her heart felt suddenly leaden.  She couldn’t do it again.  She couldn’t.  It wasn’t the quiet, it was the burden.  Life was too good to complicate it with true love.

She ducked quickly into the medieval histories of the Spanish.  She heard his footsteps slow and imagined his surprised face.  He walked slowly passed her and into Ancient Greece.

Hollow

She knew that going wasn’t necessarily allowed.

She could not stand another moment in her small apartment – not with the carnival going on.  The carnival had been in town for three days – tonight would be its last.  She thought, with regret, of the workers waking up on a Sunday as she walked to church, silently unhinging their mechanical rides and sweeping up the small pieces of litter that escaped the trash receptacles.  She did not want to hear the squeak and rub of peopleless rides before she had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night at the carnival.

The town welcomed the carnival every year but she could never attend – the carnival was too worldly for her family – still was, but her family need not know she found the lights, the noise, the smells so fascinating. Besides she was on her own – she needed to make decisions on her own. She would be up early in the morning and get to church early, but tonight she had to know what the carnival was all about

She hesitated at the gate, five dollars was a lot of money to walk around a carnival.

“Half price, half price now until we close down.”

A sign she felt and so put her money down.

She would simply be careful with her milk and eggs – they could last the entire week.

She ducked her head shyly as a gust of wind pulled and fluttered the canopy at the entrance and the ticket taker gave her, what she thought was a wicked grin.

She hurried along the carnival grounds and listened to the sounds of young children shouting with delight as the mechanical rides twirled black against the red-orange sunset sky.  A small family of four walked ahead of her laughing and sharing pink cotton candy. She smiled at their compact and secret ways of knowing each other; the dip and sway of the candy making its way to sticky fingers all, in turn, the smiles upon each face.

She was careful to stay away from the rides but watched the Ferris-Wheel glided several times around against the then darkened sky.  The last of the summer warmth curled about her in a soft breeze that lifted her hair in a gently swaying lift that seemed to keep rhythm with the music being played.

“Do you want to ride?”

His voice was deep and directly behind her. She jumped and turned, then stepped back.  He was tall and slender and she was sure he had some sort of makeup on his face. His eyes were startling brown, golden flecked and when he smiled at her and tilted his head she thought for a moment that they turned red.

“You’ve been watching that wheel for some time. I own this little place – I’ll make sure you have a ride.”

“No thank-you.”

“Why not? This is our last night.  We’ve done very well – I don’t think we will miss the price of one Ferris-Wheel ticket.”

He glided her past smiling and paying customers and walked her up the back stairs, where weary workers, not much older than she, dressed in black and white shirts, stepped aside as they walked by. “She’s next,” and she went inside a small cage seat that swung precariously back and forth and she was lifted up into the summer night sky.

She came back down and he was still there and laughing at her frightened face. “Look straight out, not down, child.”

So she did and gasped at the sight.  Her small town was all alight. She saw the church steeple, the town square and felt she was level with the flag on the courthouse tundra. She twisted around carefully not wanting the seat on which she sat to swing too precariously – yes, just there but barely, the small farm where she was sure her family sat upon the screened in porch.

She swung down and felt her heart lift, she was sure that she could fly forward to whatever direction she chose.

He was standing there again, now smiling and she was lifted away gazing at his countenance.  This time she stopped at the very top.  She tried not to think of the small summer breeze slowly pushing the wheel backward and forward.  She closed her eyes the rest of the ride until she felt herself arrive within the well-lit exit.  A tired young man opened the gate and allowed her to step away unaided.

He was at the bottom of the steps. “Are you glad you went?”

“Yes,” she gasped and felt herself turn red to the tips of her ears and down her neck.

“Come I’ll buy you some cotton candy, looks like you could use some.”

“No, no please, I don’t really care for it. We had a cotton candy machine at church and I thought the stuff too sweet.”

He laughed aloud and she jumped, then smiled not comfortable but liking his laugh all the while.

“What’s your name,” he asked.

“Laurel,” she whispered feeling ashamed – this was no proper introduction.

“Well, Laurel, would you like to see the two-headed chickens or the trapeze act in the big top?”

She looked down and whispered no thank you and hoped he would believe her.

“Well then,” he said soft and low, “why don’t you let me make sure no one follows you home.”

She looked up into his face, somehow kind, somehow not.  He seemed without age and her heart pounded in her ears and her hands clenched around her waist.  She liked his stare and was very afraid.

“But you would be following me home.”

His face softened in the green, then yellow, then red glowing lights.  Touching his fingertip to her soft cheek, she felt a shiver deep down. He had found a hollow place within her brief existence.  She knew he would take and keep it.

Alien Maiden

I was married once and for a very short time.  I’m not sure what made me decide to get married.  I hated every moment of it.  I missed my solitude, and I hated meeting all the people that came with letting one single person into my life.

My brother-in-law was dating a dog.  I’m sorry but the girl was painful to look at and she had the personality of a soggy wool blanket.

So, I tried to befriend her.

I wanted to champion her, actually.  Yes, she was ugly, and she had no charm but I simply hated the way my sisters-in-law rolled their eyes when her back was turned.  My wimp ass brother-in-law was too cowardly to dump her.

That’s when I was certain that everyone in the room hated me including my husband.  I mean he smiled when I showed up in white and he seemed happy to put a ring on my hand but he seemed unhappy that I sympathized over the girl.

I excused myself during one family gathering and went into the bathroom and looked at my face.  No, I wasn’t beautiful but I wasn’t ugly.  My hair was done and my makeup wasn’t smudged.  I heard laughter outside in the room where everyone was having fun without me.

They were a clique that’s all.  I and the ugly girl had walked into a tiny little house where everyone knew each other and we were lumps next to the guys.

When I arrived back to the party, I looked at my husband who was talking to his best friend from high school who was now dating his ex-wife.  I felt a little sick why hadn’t that bothered me before?  The room began to swim.  I excused myself for some air and wondered how many eyes rolled as I walked out into the tiny backyard.  My skin began to crawl, I wondered what it would be like to grow old and live with a cat.

I walked home. When he came into the house he was shouting and yelling at me that everyone was looking for me; they thought I had been abducted.

“By Martians?”

“What?”

“Did everyone think I was abducted by Martians?”

“Where were you hiding?”

“I want a divorce.”

I have two cats, Athena and Artemis.  We live in a different town, with a big red maple in the front yard.  I pay the local neighborhood boys to mow my lawn in the summer and shovel the walk in the winter.  I plant inpatients in the shady areas around my little house and listen to the whispers coming from the sidewalk.

“She’s someone’s mistress.”

“She screened in her porch for her cats.”

“She may have loved once, you know like one of those old dame movie stars.”

“I hope she doesn’t die in that house, she’d be the type to haunt it.  It’ll ruin the neighborhood.”

“Oh hush, she’ll hear you!”

“Do you think she’s an alien?”

“That’s enough!”

She Still Loves You, Sir Walter Scott

“The only thing I’m saying is that if you want a good example, for your class, of what an oxymoron is, use ‘nice guy.’” She felt that sinking, suffocating sensation that she always felt when around him and wondered why she wasn’t home reading.

He was seven years younger than her; tall, slender, with large amber brown eyes, and a wooly but trimmed beard. They were employed together by the Jefferson County School System. She taught freshman English as a way and means to write literary prose on her fall, winter, and summer breaks (when she was in elementary school those breaks had titles such as Halloween, Christmas and thanked God, it’s summer vacation). He taught fourth-grade with a concentration in Mathematics. They were aware of each other or rather she was aware of him because he always sat in the front row of the Teacher’s Union meetings. She sat in the back and graded papers that lead her to seek professional help.

That’s where they met. He was walking out of his therapy session with Dr. Monroe while she was walking in, deep in thought and wanting to purge the sick feeling of guilt she felt for reading Ivanhoe for the fourth time in three years. She was startled by the fourth-grade teacher’s appearance, and he smiled at her.

“Do I know you?”

She blinked and felt her nose begin to itch and the inevitable wetness that sidetracks all social discourse. Frantically she looked in her purse for a tissue, “Um no, sorry,” she sniffed. He took a tissue from the box on the receptionist desk and handed it to her. She took it gratefully and spoke over the fourth-grade teacher’s shoulder, to the receptionist. “Sorry I’m late, will she still see me?”

“Yes, Ms. Miller.”

She turned back to him who had stayed and was apparently looking her up and down. “You know,” he said, “I think you look familiar.”

“I teach at Jefferson High. Freshman English. I’ve noticed you at the Teacher’s Union Meetings.”

“Ahh, because I sit up front.” He smiled and adjusted his backpack across his shoulders. “Will you be at the freshman basketball game tonight?” She looked at him as if he had grown three heads, “No. I don’t care for basketball.” She turned around and walked toward the Doctor’s office door.

“Wait one minute Ms. Miller; Doctor is not quite ready.” She huffed at the strident demand of the receptionist. She turned, the fourth-grade teacher was still standing there. She wondered if the ‘Doctor,’ wasn’t recouping from some wild tryst with the young man in front of her.

“I teach fourth grade, with a concentration in mathematics.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that in the meetings.”

“And you’ve remembered.”

She felt herself reddening slightly. She wasn’t sure if he was referring to her age and therefore her weakening faculty of mind or if he thought that he had made an impression on her. So, she only smiled without meaning it and said, ‘yes,’ in a long drawn out breath.

Her rudeness didn’t seem to cause any self-examination regarding his manners. “Well, we should have coffee together sometime and compare notes.”

“Ms. Miller, the Doctor is ready for you.”

“Sure, we should do that.”

She didn’t realize that she had committed herself. On the afternoon, just before the long winter break (that would be spent preparing, for the principal and three vice principals another plan for teaching freshman English and a dissertation on why grades were so low), she looked up to see him standing at her classroom door.

“Hi!”

“Hello.”

Did you receive my emails?”

She thought for a moment that she would feign complete ignorance and check her spam, but she was too tired and only said: “Yes, I did.” Annoyed at having to confess her remissness she thought wildly of asking him why he didn’t ask for her kerchief or go gallantly out in her name to right wrongs.

“Didn’t want to answer me huh?” He looked a bit crestfallen, and guilt crept along her neck and wisped about her ankles in a cold little chill.

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been kind of busy.”

“Yeah, the rumor is that you really do try and teach Freshman English. That must be burdensome. Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee? We can go to the teacher’s lounge…”

“No.” her disdain was evident in one word, and she rose from her desk as if she was rising to command Nelson’s ship Victory.

“Excellent then let’s go over to a nice little coffee shop I know.”

She looked outside, the clouds were low, and it had begun to snow in earnest. She felt tired and longed for her little apartment uptown above the yoga center. The landlord had made a deal with her on the rent three years ago, because of the late hours and the weird music that came up from the old furnace vents. She didn’t mind because she kept her classical music plugged in and the heat low – it helped her write.

“Why don’t you come to my apartment and I’ll make us coffee.” She was hoping he would refuse, but he readily agreed.

They had coffee. He left in time for her to order a medium plain pizza with cheese in which she ate three-quarters and then made herself sick. Something she hadn’t done since she was a teenager and had fallen in love with Sir Walter Scott of Waverly fame. She tested transcendentalism in hopes of eventually uniting with her writing icon which sent her parents running back to their Catholic faith.

She was looking at him now wondering what and who a ‘nice guy,’ really was and if he had married someone else and was tripping over kids and wondering what happened to her.

“Do you think we should start a relationship?” he asked.

“What?” She shook her head; she wondered if she had been falling asleep.

“I spoke to Dr. Monroe about the two of us, and he said an older woman (not too much older, mind you) might be a good experience for me.”

“An experience.” She said, deadpan and weary.

“You never know,” he said shyly and smiled, “it might last.”

She took a deep breath, letting herself for a moment breathe in his perceived freedom and open minded aura and felt within her throat and lungs the sharp pain deception.

“’Nice guy,’ young man, is not an oxymoron. I’m too old to be your girlfriend is not an oxymoron, and I’m not going back to that shrink who agrees with you that everyone on has a commodity status…”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I didn’t…”

“You didn’t ask me out for a cup of coffee so that you could lose your virginity, I know. You are so predictable you know, despite being told all your life that you are unique.

“So is Sir Walter Scott,” he said hotly.

“No, we just haven’t come up with anything original since. We’ve only managed to redefine words, concepts, and morals to appease our insecurities. We’ve done it until we’ve come up with a human like you, who believes there is no such thing as an oxymoron. You don’t, you know, you don’t even know enough to be honestly self-deprecating.”

He sat and stared at her for a moment. She could see he was struggling. He stood, “Well, I’ll just take care of this bill and when you feel like you can speak to me with some respect, let me know.”

She gave him no reply while he hesitated and then left. She ordered another strong coffee and felt cold. Perhaps a priest would understand her love for a dead novelist and poet better than a psychologist. Sipping her coffee and watching the fourth-grade teacher walk away.