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Animals in the Clouds – Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Fay and the Perfect First Day

Beautiful out. Perfect first day. Like Chinese lanterns, those clouds, lit up so pretty. Charlie is excited. His new executive swivel chair is an expensive lesson in luxury. He spins, thinking, Shame it is the way one grand investment seems to beg the purchase of equally grand accessories.

With his first applicant fifteen minutes overdue, Charlie laces his fingers and chastens an empty chair, “I hope you understand that if, if I decide to hire you, I’ll expect much more in the way of punctuality.” Yes, do it like that. …Comfortable as a Cadillac, this chair. …And that leathery smell–some old carnality satisfied by it.

There is a knock at the door, followed by several more. Charlie swipes his hands down the flanks of his beige poplin suit, and hurries to the reception area. Irked by his applicant’s tardiness, he pauses just long enough to feel petty before swinging wide the door. It’s like ripping the blinds on a brilliant morning. Her hair–a perfect match for the flamed grain of his Italian oak desk. What fire! “Fay…? Come in.”

“Can’t,” says the woman.

Charlie gets out of the way. “Was about to give up on you,” he says.

“You and me both,” she says, making a strange shooing motion with her hands. “Thought the bus driver’d just pick up the entire world before gettin’ me where I needed to go.”

“Bus drivers will do that,” notes Charlie. He escorts Fay through a gray maze of cubicles, and into the big office. “You know, we have a policy here about lateness.”

“I bet,” says Fay. “Wow! Nifty red. And the desk–very Presidential.”

“Thanks. Have a seat. …You bring a resume?”

Fay nods, burrows through her carryall, and then produces the document like a rabbit from a hat.

Charlie stares at the childish script. Fay A. Zickafoose is scrawled across the top in blue pencil, her assets below in black ink.

“You can type?”

“Like wild fire,” she says–her hands shooing away doubt.

Look like wild fire, thinks Charlie. “How many words a minute?”

“Don’t know. …Many as I think up.”

“And shorthand?”

“I can do it, more or less.”

“With shorthand, less is more. But you can do it–make less of more?”

“One of the things I’m best at,” assures Fay.

Brow furrowed, Charlie studies Fay–her attentions fixed on a pink swoosh come partially unstitched from her sneaker. As if trying to train or trick the swoosh, she pushes it back in place, holds it there, then tries to sneak her fingers away. The swoosh flops down. Miffed, she frowns a frown that no sooner rebounds to a smile of dim fascination.

“So I see here,” says Charlie, “that you’re living in Sherwood Forest?”

“Yep,” replies Fay. “Brother up in Bithlo kicked me out once he got hitched. Kinda soured our relations. Anyway, to make things right, he fixed me up at Sherwood. Soil’s great for my sunflowers. Some get big as them dishes, I swear,” she says, pointing to the neighboring rooftop. “Only problem’s the Camelot Water Reclaiming Factory–but we all petitioned and they say they’re gonna build a big new fence to make our environment more ergonimical they say.”

“Teamwork,” says Charlie. “I like it. That’s very important to us here at The Mother Board.”

Fay looks about as if to find the rest of ‘us,’ then says, “Yeah, well I was hoping we’d get the good treatment like them airport folks in Kentucky. Hell, govment they say’s gonna move their whole city to a better….”

“You worked at the library?” interrupts Charlie. “Tell me about that.”

“Huh? Yes–two years.”

“And you left because…?”

“Well, we had that fire in the children’s wing; kid dropped an M-80 in the book drop slot–fried Dr. Seuss’s eggs, and everything from E-S.”

“That’s terrible,” says Charlie. Her hair could’ve been responsible. Wouldn’t be surprised if the chief hosed her down.

“Anyway, a lot of what we thought got ruined was just out; they don’t have overdue fines there, you know. What gets me is what happened to the donations to replace what got burnt. See, the library big shots were set on going high tech–finger touch sensitive screens–the whole kit and caboodle.” Fay flaps her hands in effort to display a caboodle through pure gesture. “Had big banners saying: KISSIMMEE PUBLIC LIBRARY: LEADING THE CHARGE IN THE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION. Hogwash. All the cards fit in one cabinet. What they needed was more books to find, not new ways to find ’em. She places her hands palms down on Charlie’s desk, lowers an accusatory eye, and whispers, “Don’t know this for sure, but I swear them disaster relief donations were in real reality spent on computers.”

“Not very fair to the children,” says Charlie.

“That’s what I said. Said it right to the face of the library administrator–or anyway I said it to Connie, but that creep Dan heard me, and his look had guilty typed all over it.”

“So you quit.” Like a burning bush. You almost want to warn her of what’s going on up there. “A noble gesture to risk your only source of income for the children.”

“Well, rumor was heads were gonna roll, and Connie has kids, and I don’t, and I just thought, Well hell, so I said to Dan, ‘I’m gonna get canned, right?’ and he says, ‘Yeah,’ and that was that really.”

“Wow,” says Charlie. “Be nice to have that kind of spirit around here.”

“I’m hired?” she gasps. “Neat. How much am I makin’? Yer ad didn’t say.”

Charlie leans forward, “Well, I don’t often do this. I mean, you have no real secretarial references. But fact is, I think you’ll fit in. Gonna start you at sixteen.”

Like a fallen swoosh, Fay’s expression goes from excited to slighted, “Thousand or an hour?”

“Thousand.”

“I made more at the library.”

“Yes, well, what I meant was that… you know, once you’ve proven your skills over a short trial–and I don’t doubt that you will–that that… that that salary will go up handsomely.”

“How short and how handsome?”

“Eighteen. Nineteen… low twenties ‘fore too long, with annual raises based on company profits.”

“Humph,” says Fay. “Well, better’n nothin’.”

“That’s the spirit. Welcome aboard The Mother Board! Nice to have you… aboard.” Even while groping for her hand, Charlie shies from eye contact, in part because of his verbal goof, and in part because–having sat across from this woman for near fifteen minutes–Fay, with that wild blaze of orange hair–well, his eyes are already beginning to ache from the sight of her.

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