Elaine’s boss, Lenny, approached her desk, walking fast and frowning, like a detective coming to arrest her. He tossed a CD in its case onto her desk. It clacked down and skittered toward her, forcing Elaine to stop it like a hockey goalie.
“Accounts in arrears,” he said. “Print those invoices. Send them out to those sons of bitches before you leave today.” Sweat clung to the dark stubble of his upper lip.
“But Mr. Peters wants…” Elaine began, but Lenny held up his hand.
“Miss Simmons, I hire people like you to work for me. Not to argue with me.”
He walked away, a swatch of brown packing tape stuck to his ass. Elaine thought again what an odious little man he was. “People like you” — meaning what? Doormats? Morons?
“Come stay with us,” her sister in San Diego had urged her repeatedly, her sister with a toddler and a six-week-old baby. “Be my nanny while you look for work.”
She’d been tempted, had imagined herself a dove flying over the cornfields and wheatfields of the Midwest, the snowy summits of the Rockies, the cactus and red rock of the Southwest, then gliding down into San Diego. What a joyous dove she’d be! A risky flight, though. So much uncertainty. And then there was Colin.
She wished he were at work. She’d go to his cubicle and they could bitch and laugh. “I won’t be in till late tomorrow,” Colin had told her yesterday, “but I’ll have something important to say to you.” She checked her watch: three-thirty.
A shiver of nervousness passed over her. Was it remotely possible he was making a plan — a life plan — for the two of them? He’d been so sweet to her. Besides the laughing cameraderie of their bitch sessions, they’d gone out for lunch three times. One time, when she’d told him she was an ordinary person who didn’t expect anything but an ordinary life, he’d become mad at her, in a kind way.
“Ordinary people have a right to happiness,” he’d said. “You don’t have to be Matt Damon or Kate Winslet. Anyway, under their pretty skin they’re just ordinary people.”
Colin was a broad-shouldered Irishman, clear, pale skin, vivid blue eyes, reddish-brown hair and thick mustache. Countless times she’d dressed him in a leather vest, six-gun, and dusty, broad-brimmed hat, made him the cowboy in her favorite fantasy: riding their Appaloosas hard across a meadow, under blue Montana skies, to a grove of trees beside a rushing creek. There he’d make love to her with a rough, insistent passion, and she’d answer with her own frenzied hunger, matching him stroke for stroke, digging her fingernails into his back and urging him on. Such an embarrassing fantasy — until she’d read in Cosmopolitan that thirty-eight percent of American women sometimes had sexual fantasies involving a cowboy.
A moment later her cowboy appeared. He grinned at her from the door to the hallway and beckoned to her. “Follow me,” he said, when she joined him.
In the elevator he punched the button for the thirty-eighth floor, the observation deck with its fabulous view looking west over Boston. A romantic setting for a life-changing moment. Elaine’s heart throbbed so hard it interfered with her breathing.
Out on the observation deck Colin grabbed both her hands. “Elaine,” he said, “I did it.”
“Let me guess,” Elaine said. “You robbed a bank!”
He laughed, seeming almost giddy. “I got a new job! Dallas, Texas, here I come.”
“Oh, my god,” Elaine said.
“I wanted you to be the first to know. We’ve helped each other survive here. But maybe you should think about moving on now, too. Lenny rides you so hard.”
Elaine shook her head and put her hands to her cheeks. Her face felt hot.
“You okay?” Colin asked.
“I’m fine. I’m thrilled for you, Colin.” She wanted to smile, but couldn’t. She walked to the wall that surrounded the deck.
Colin came over beside her. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh — I thought you might ask me to go along,” Elaine said. “My little romantic fantasy.”
“You thought we’d be, like — a couple?”
Elaine nodded. “Silly, I know.”
“You’re a wonderful woman, Elaine. I’ve just never thought of you that way.”
“It’s okay, Colin.”
“Elaine, I wish…”
Elaine spun toward him and thrust out her upraised index finger, stopping just short of touching his lips. “Shush,” she said. “No need to explain, cowboy.”
Back at her desk, Elaine picked up the CD Lenny had flung at her. She felt vaguely tearful, but tired mostly. Bone weary.
Now what? she wondered. With Colin she’d had one thread of hope and connection. Now that was gone. What was there to hold her here? She’d been living in fear for so long. Fear of Lenny, of winding up destitute, with no health care. Real enough fears. In her mind’s eye, though, she saw the view from the observation deck again, the continent stretching west thousands of miles to another ocean.
San Diego — imagine! Beaches. Warm sunshine. A different job, a new life. With some sun on her skin maybe she’d look a little less ordinary.
She loaded the CD, opened the “Arrears” file, clicked “Print.” Three hundred twenty-four invoices printed out. It was already ten past four, her workday over at four-thirty.
No way, she thought. God almighty, I’ll be here till midnight.
She picked up the CD and the stack of invoices. Out in the hallway she dropped the CD down the garbage chute, then headed for the elevator. From the observation deck she flung invoices over the edge, handful after handful, grimly at first, laughing by the end, watching them flutter and swoop in the wind, sailing away over Boston like joyous doves.
“You sent those invoices already?” Lenny asked when she passed his office on the ground floor.
“They’re on their way,” Elaine said. And so am I, she thought.
She headed for the door and the sunlit sidewalks waiting for her feet.
Douglas Campbell‘s fiction has appeared online and in print, in publications such as Many Mountains Moving, Every Day Fiction, The Northville Review, Vestal Review, and Short Story America. Douglas lives and writes in southwestern Pennsylvania.