She turned out to be a killer woman in more ways than one, from the waist up. That is, I had no idea, when I first met her in her office that she would have a body, oh, kind of on the large side. She wasn’t pregnant. She had a disproportionately large rump, extremely thick legs. You see, when I met her in her office, she sat behind her desk and smiled. She was a knockout. A burned-out knockout, mind you, but, from a behind-the-desk perspective, unarguably a knockout. Stunning brown eyes. Chocolate hair with a lovely flow, a smooth, stylish, Oriental cut. A fashion model’s smile.
She was, also unarguably, a difficult person, but I’m sure it was her job that made her that way. She was too nice to be so mean.
And there was something between us from the start. An arguing thing.
Dot dot dot.
I never had any luck with girls, until Gracie.
Junior high and high school was one long quest for romance. I had lots of it in my own mind; none in real life. I had a few dates, a few kisses, and that was it. Lots of quiet suffering. Thinking back, I’m sure I could have done as well as anyone else, just didn’t know how it was supposed to be done. Some things came naturally, some didn’t. Girls didn’t. I made friends with them in school, I was just too afraid to ask them out for dates.
One girl, Wendy Blanksberg, was the object of my desire for many moons. She lived close by, and I secretly familiarized myself with her driving-around-town habits. So, I drove around accordingly, met her on the roads, beeping the car horn and waving. Thus was my fun, my contact.
She was a senior, and I was a junior. Finally, I got the nerve to ask her for a date to one of the school dances – a major triumph of my youth. As I told you before, I hated dancing, didn’t know how that was done either. I gave it my best shot with Wendy. Then I took her home after the dance, walked her to the door, and stood there with her for a minute.
“Do I get a kiss?” I asked.
What are you supposed to say?
“Sure, I’m not a prude,” she said.
We kissed, and I’ll never forget it. The kiss lasted about one second, but it was the real thing.
I never asked her out again. She was a year older than me; she left for college and never came back.
These inept feelings began to change, late in my high school career, when I started drinking and smoking pot. These new infatuations with la la land swept the other, painful stuff under the carpet; at the same time they made me less inhibited about getting physically tangled with a female, something that was always on my mind. It came to this: the only time I ever had fun with a girl was at the beach, or at a party, or in a foreign country, with a girl I hardly knew, after both of us had reached stage four in the Hierarchy of Beer Drinking Adolescent Needs. More than once, I spent drunken evenings in discos locking lips with a girl I had never spoken to – one time with a girl who didn’t speak a word of English. God, I was fucked up, warped. After all, girls liked me! If I had had a little normality to work with upstairs, things could have been very, very pleasant. I could have had a girlfriend, a concept that totally baffled me. It was this concept, regardless of what I said and thought I thought, that actually put me into ongoing therapy. Yep, with a little normality, the good ol’ days could have actually been good. I had everything it took and didn’t know it – except the normality. Thankfully, though, therapy came along – a weekly session with a hip psychologist at the college’s counselling center – and then Gracie came into the picture. This put the whole aspect into a different realm, ended one set of frustrations and began another.
“I have the children’s home, the YMCA, the homeless shelter. This is a very busy office,” she said. “I have a lot of community service workers all over the place. How about the children’s home?”
“Cleaning. You know, sweeping, mopping, sorting clothes. Whatever they tell you to do.”
“Oh. I thought you meant working with the children.”
“I could teach ’em how to play tennis.”
“Really, one thing that’s very rare is a good orphan tennis player. I was a good player. I know how to teach it.”
“I’m sure you do. That won’t qualify.”
“I could pile a few of them in the car and take them fishing.”
I didn’t know how to fish, but I thought I would throw that one out, see if she bit.
“Sorry,” she said. “Anyhow, I thought it said here…” She looked down at my paperwork. “You don’t drive.”
“I can drive perfectly well. I don’t have my license. And I don’t have a car. But they’ve got vans out there. This is the courthouse. Maybe you could work something out for me.”
“This is a very busy office,” she said. “Whatever you do has to be signed-off by the person supervising your work, and by me. You don’t get my signature, you do time.”
As she delivered that little warning, the phone rang.
She picked it up, spoke quickly as she stared at the papers on her desk. She had a pile of them there, stacked neatly. She had another section of desk with papers all spread around. She had three Rolodexes.
How did she end up in a place like this? Where could she possibly be on her way to? What makes people do what they do with their lives, and do they realize what they’re doing?
As she spoke on that phone, I had my chance to stare at her face. A work of art requires time for quiet contemplation. Beauty, when described, broken down into parts and features, becomes less. After all, it’s the indescribable coming together as a whole that does it. This woman’s appearance – and these were not superficial, fixed-up good looks; this was a deep, raw beauty, instantly available to all lookers, undoubtedly well-known by the lookee, the kind of beauty that made you feel sorry for the person because it was unnatural, it made everybody act funny, hampered communication – did not jive at all with her stern actions. How incongruous. How bipolar. Thus, she made for a hell of a flirt; that is, for as long as I could pull it off without getting really stung.
When she got off the phone, she smiled, but it wasn’t friendly. It was impatient.
“We need to get this thing settled.”
“What else have you got?” I asked.
“I’ve got the senior citizens center, this building, the courthouse, the Ag center, a few schools, I mentioned the Y, the homeless shelter, the Templetown Players. Okay, I’m going to put you in the homeless shelter.”
“Wait,” I said. “The Templetown Players?”
“Yeah, the theater renovation.”
“So it’s not working on a play?”
“It’s working on the building. Cleaning it for the renovation. Cleaning, painting, weed-whacking
“Wait. How about if I come up with my own project?”
“I’ll think of something. Real community service. I’ll organize something. Something to help kids, or poor people.”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“I’ll call you back when I think of it.”
“Either you choose or I’ll make the assignment. Sometimes I don’t give people a choice. You’ve got ten seconds.”
“I’ll take the theater. But if I think of something better, can I call you?”
She scribbled a name and number on a note card, handed it to me.
“Here. Call Jerry Baker, the director. I’ll call and tell him you’ve got forty-eight hours. He’ll sign-off on you.”
“If I could organize a fundraiser,” I said.
She stood up. There she was. A remarkable face. Sexy neck. She wore a spiffy navy dress with a red collar and a low V in the front. Wonderful breasts, narrow waist, yet those wide, wide hips. An extra thirty pounds down there. Flirtatious and mean. She pointed at the door, shook her finger.
“Work it out with Jerry,” she said. “When he signs-off, I’ll testify on your behalf in court, according to what he says about you.”
I paused at the door for another look. She was back in her seat now, looking at her desk. She shot me a look. I think she batted her eyes. God dammit, she twitched, and I think that twitch contained a hint of a smile!