Tuesday, February 13, 2007

License - Chapter Two

I could hear her breathing, the breeze of it in and out of her nose, imagined her breasts lifting and falling. The sack of light bulbs rattled a little in her hand. I wanted to think of a reason to take it from her, but she said no several times.

“They’re thin pieces of glass filled with vacuums,” she whispered. “I’ll manage.”

We heard the cart wheel onto the elevator and the final shut of the doors as the maid left.

“We’re up,” I said.

I had conceived the mission for this week. The email exchange went like this:

“This Friday will be a true challenge. You must conserve your strength and sleep well in preparation.”

“Intriguing. Shall my training begin today?”

“The faithful will take the remainder of the week off to reverse one’s sleep schedule and accustom themselves to the pall of night.”

“I have no sleep schedule and indeed do move in the dark hours with ease.”

“Then you will need no training. I require only a Hefty bag and the leave of your judgment.”

“It will be done.”

“Take heart. It is for humanity that we make this mission.”

“The meek shall humble the corrupt.”

We came out from the storage room and turned on the lights, each of us wheeling office chairs and bravely standing on them. I’d provided screwdrivers and gloves for the bulbs this time. We worked methodically, quietly, though there was no need to be quiet. We worked until it was dark again.

I watched her, genuinely concerned about the chairs falling out from under her, but staring really, at this woman I was so in love with, the way her thigh curved so slightly at her hip, the drape of denim on her jeans over her ass. She’d been a model, though not in the way you might think. She took some stock photos for Corbis. She had the look they wanted, sophisticated, in-charge, confident, but not too pretty. Pretty, but not threatening or bimboish. This is how she told it to me. It takes a different kind of woman to be so flippant about how other people look at her. It added another level of muck to my heart. To me, of course, she was stunning.

This floor done, we went one more down. This was the hard part, the risky part. We had to get onto every floor without the maid finding us and wait somewhere quiet, somewhere without any wastebaskets to empty. The storage room on this floor, my floor, was a particular risk to get to. The cubicles here were low and you had to enter the main room to get to the door. I peeked around the glass doors until I found the maid. She wheeled the cart around with speed, masterfully whipping up and replacing trash cans.

“We’ll have to wait for the vacuum,” Emma said. I didn’t see that the vacuum would make any difference, but agreed with her. Her shoulder was against my back. She could have insisted that all dinosaurs were blue and I would have admired her for her sagacity.

It’s funny, the Corbis thing. I’ll be flipping through a magazine on an airplane or an office supply catalog when I’ll be assaulted by a picture of Emma. Here’s Emma making a well timed teleconference to the London office, angled for drama. Here’s Emma, putting a pen down with satisfaction as she signs off on the deal that will put her company on top of them all. Here’s Emma looking right at the camera, her glasses in hand. She knows more than you do. She’s sized you up and made you a new challenge.

In real life, Emma works at a corporate travel agency. There are very few well timed teleconferences with the London office.

The vacuum came on and she lead the way, her timing, as usual, perfect. We danced and blocked and ducked our way around the sightlines of the maid, including our reflections in the windows, and made it to the storage room, Emma’s hand turning the knob and shutting the door softly. We laughed. I looked at her, even though there was nothing to see but black void. I inched up a little, inch by inch, dangerously testing how close I could get to her without her knowing. Shift, toe forward, shift, fingers out just in front of me, other toe forward.

The day before, I’d gotten a call from her ex, my best friend. He’d flipped a piece of mail from a foreign language school for execs and found Emma staring right at him, a smile just barely denting her lips.

“I was just standing out in the hallway and there she was,” he said, “again.”

“I know.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

I could smell her. Troy didn’t know that I was in a dark room, smelling his ex-wife. She smelled like grapefruit and peaches and smoke. The vacuum shut off and I stood back before she could hear me breathing so close to her. We waited, my hands as useless as they always are, on my sides, until it was time.

“We’re up,” she said.

We started our work, dropping light bulbs gently into the Hefty bag, the lights left on in this office, bulbs removed in the next, the entire center of the floor gutted of bulbs. The two of us were up in chairs, our hearts beating fast, when we heard the hallway door swing open. I leapt off of my chair and ran to Emma. She tried to leap too, but her chair spun, and she lost her balance. I caught her, what I’ve wanted to do for years if only she would ever fall, and, spying the vacuum cleaner attachment that the maid was undoubtedly coming back for, pulled her under a desk, my desk, the one my knees bang into every day.

There was only just enough room for the two of us, stretched out so that we were out of the light, lying down. I held her close to me, my back against the wall, felt her chest expand and contract with her breaths, as we watched, our eyes pinned on the trapezoidal attachment about ten feet in front of us, praying the maid had myopia. I put my nose in Emma’s hair and closed my eyes.

When the door shut and it was safe to come out, Emma exhaled hard and I continued to hold her, seeing how long I could get away with it.

“Fuck me, that was scary,” she said, and with a squeeze of the hand, broke free, the smell of grapefruit and peaches and smoke lingering in my nose.

When we were done, after a final descent down one flight of fire escape, we crossed the street to look at our work, the bag of lightbulbs, now heavy even with voids, stretched between us.

“Wheee!” the building read in office lights. She beamed at it, kissed me on the cheek, and we walked on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your stories amuse me; your phrasing delights me. Thankyou.