Animals in the Clouds – Chapter 7

Chapter 7: A Vacation from Reason

It’ll be two years Tuesday. That’s 8,320 working hours–all sold to Charlie. Unbeknownst to the latter, Simon daily redirects large chunks of this time into his own private account. A subtle form of embezzlement to be sure, but it is all that funds his study of the public relations girls in the building across the street. There was one in particular–a pretty blonde, fond of wearing snug fitting tank tops and spandex midriffs. She had breasts, which was enough, but she also had delicate arms and an endearing way of tucking her hair behind her ears.

Twenty-eighth of October; 9:08am EST. On that fateful day, at that tragic hour, Simon peered with his usual feline intensity into the tank of glass and steel across the street… and there, in place of his angelfish, sat a shapeless, featureless, unnecessary man. Simon figured the man a technician. He was just there fixing her computer, he thought. But the man appeared again the next day, and again the next. It was a month before Simon would willingly concede that the shapeless, featureless, unnecessary man was not in her office, but his own. She was gone.

Today, however, is a good day. A girl came in today–Simon thought sure to sell something–but Charlie greeted her with a familiarity that suggested more. The two have since been meeting behind closed doors. Simon knows this thanks to a series of fruitless reconnaissance missions–his last to get a cup of coffee. Simon doesn’t drink coffee. He dumps it into the pot of a dead plant. He tries to sit still, but can’t. He decides it a priority to Xerox the Kissimmee Cobras’ baseball schedule, but just as he gets up to do so, there comes a knock upon his door.

Before he answers, in comes the girl, followed by Charlie. Simon studies her: black flats; navy stockings; blouse–dusk blue, sharp collared; hair–chestnut, laced gold; eyes–ocean deep and just as blue; hawkish brows; ears–punctured by the stems of silver flowers, pink pearls set in the cups; lower lip–puffed and pouty; a mischievous smile.

“Stella–Simon Littlefield,” says Charlie. “Simon, this is Stella Minesinger. She’s won the vacant position on our sales team. Simon here pretty much runs things in our Marketing Department–also handles Personnel.”

“Sounds busy,” says Stella, smiling.

Smile incites tilt of head to the right. “Nice to meet you,” he says. Hand–moist but not clammy.

“Hope you don’t mind me going over your head,” says Charlie, “but she seemed….”

“No,” says Simon.

“…darn well… so…. She’s from Chicago.”

“Hear it’s windy,” says Simon.

“Can be,” says Stella–her smile conciliatory.

“Perhaps you should give her a quick interview yourself though,” says Charlie, “you know, just to make sure she’s Mother Board stuff.”

What kinda stuff? thinks Simon. Windy, he answers himself.

Turning to leave, Charlie gives Simon a knowing look.

Simon is less obvious, but sure in reciprocating. He offers Stella a seat. “Well, given that you’re hired, an interview seems a little stupid,” he says, “though I’d love to hear your weaknesses.”

Stella doesn’t answer but with an uncomfortable smile. Simon shrinks. She’d taken the questions the wrong way–and was, of course, right to–but Simon is determined not to let her be right in the wrong way again. He gives her a detailed job description, a packet to study, and a list of companies to call. The ease with which she takes instruction makes clear that she isn’t “Mother Board stuff” after all. Simon is happy for it, he thinks. In his opinion, the last thing the Mother Board needs is more “Mother Board stuff.”

When finished, Simon sits ogling Stella until he becomes conscious of it. To avoid rightly being taken the wrong way, he darts his eyes to the window.

“What?” says Stella, turning.

“Nothing,” he says, feet bobbing, chair squeaking, neurons firing like xenophobic soldiers besieged by jabbering peasants.

“Thought somebody fell.”

“No. It was nothing. Thought it was, but it wasn’t….” Simon takes a breath to gather himself. “That’s ah… ’bout it, I guess,” he says.

Stella frowns, straightens her skirt, then almost apologetically says, “Pizza and beer.”


“My weaknesses,” she says, still messing with her skirt. “Can’t believe I wore wool. There a mall round here?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t… shop.”

“I see.”

Trying to determine what she sees, Simon scrutinizes his attire.

“Didn’t mean it as an insult,” she says. “Who was the lady doing the exercises?–the one with the weird hair.”

“Fay,” says Simon. “Hair just tops off the weirdness. It runs to the bone with her.”

“I like weird people.”

“Me too. Wasn’t an insult. I just….”

“You ever go out to that haunted house–the one on Route 13?”

“No, why?”

Stella shrugs. “Drove past it the other day. Seemed like a big deal.”

“Welcome to Mauschwitz,” says Simon.

“Don’t be a cynic. It looked fun. …Shrunken heads, real electric chair… and the kicker for me–sign said they had a genuine Fiji mermaid.”

“Oh, they do all right,” says Simon. “Poor thing–tanked up the way she is…. Little whale-tailed woman has to breach like Shamoo just to get her fish sticks.”

Stella smirks.

“I…. Love to go sometime. We can picket.”

“Not really the season yet,” she says. “…Anyway, I better get my office put together.”

Stella gone, Simon sits derelict, almost delirious, in the faint traces of her perfume. Honeysuckle, and something slightly pungent with autumn rot. The scent unlocks memories: dusk, late summer, bare feet, that shaky bridge of adolescence, All this opening, the senses yawning, all this from no more than a bottled scent, he thinks, as he stares at a bulletin board, at a list of things to do–staring not seeing–recognizing nothing that is in front of him.

With the collapse of his forearms, Simon’s head topples to his desk like a defective keystone. A string of drool escapes his mouth. Prudence demands that he right himself, which he does. He shuts the door, picks up some papers, and reseats himself. He then swivels around, props his feet on the ventilation unit, and nods off with the papers in his hands and his hands in his lap.

The door flies open. Shocked upright, Simon shuffles the papers in effort to look like he’s collating more than himself.

“Some piece of work, eh Simon?” says Charlie.

“Not bad, I guess.”

“Well, don’t say I never did anything for ya.”

Simon stares back dumb as a dog, either blind to what is happening, or pretending blindness so that it can happen. New love is a foreign land, full of alien tongues and strange currencies. Like a tourist on holiday, Simon wants to trust the natives, enjoy the scenery. Yet somewhere inside, a meter is ticking, the fare building, as this girl with the wild ocean eyes and Cheshire smile prepares to take him for a very expensive ride.