Dorthea waited for the forklift operator to back the ungainly machine away from her work station—an assigned spot on the factory's concrete floor where she stood eight hours a day loading pressure cooker parts onto a pair of conveyer belts. She worked in the four feet of space between the conveyers and two large wire baskets-- one holding unfinished lids and one holding the round pots.
Even when empty, the metal baskets were heavy and required a forklift to move them. Four feet square and three feet deep, they were woven out of wire as thick as her pinkie finger. It was Dorthea's job to remove the lids and pots from the baskets and place them on the conveyers, filling any gaps. If she didn't keep the belts supplied with the required parts, the assembly department would have problems further down the line. And then she would have problems from the shift supervisor.
As soon as the forklift retreated to a safe distance, Dorthea bent over the baskets, which had been conveniently placed side-by-side, and pulled out a lid and pot. She turned around, placing them on the correct conveyer belts then turned back to retrieve more. The belts were arranged one above the other with the upper belt carrying lids and the lower carrying the cooker pots.
It was mind-numbing work and she did what she could to keep her brain focused on anything but the slow moving hands of a clock hanging on the wall several feet from her work station. She thought again of her Aunt's stubborn refusals to answer her questions; having visited Faye three more times since the futile attempt when Kimberly accompanied her. Each visit had ended with her aunt feigning exhaustion.
“There has to be a way,” Dorthea said out loud, the noise of the conveyer belts drowning out her words. While she moved from baskets to conveyers than back to the baskets in an endless cycle, she visualized different scenarios where she could force the answers from her Aunt; different ways of forming her questions; different ways of pleading with the stubborn woman. But each ended the same—her aunt rolling over and refusing to look at her; let alone, speak to her.
Lost in her thoughts, Dorthea was startled by the clanging of the shift bell. Changing her focus to her surroundings, she was surprised to see her replacement walking toward her. ‘Thank goodness,' she thought as a smile replaced the troubled look that had settled on her face during her silent deliberations. She pulled at her thick work gloves to remove them from her hands.
“You look happy to see me,” a woman in her forties shouted, nearing the work station. The commotion of the conveyers, the fork lifts, and other equipment in the factory made speaking in normal tones impossible except for each shift's half hour lunch break when the machinery was shut down for a quick inspection by the maintenance department.
“Hi, Char. I am happy to see you. But I'm happier to be hearing that bell. It snuck up on me today.”
Moving to take Dorthea's spot on the floor, Char pulled on her own pair of gloves. “Really? Usually, you watch the clock so close you've got your gloves off and are ready to leave before I even get a chance to say hello.”
“I know. But I've been thinking about something today. I guess the time just got away from me.”
Char grinned. “Oh? Want to share his name?”
Dorthea laughed. “Nothing like that.”
“Too bad. Here I was hoping you finally decided to get yourself a man. By the way, the offer to join my bowling league is still open. I know you'd fit right in with the fellas on my team.”
“Thanks, but bowling just isn't my game.”
“Okay. Guess we're stuck with my sister for another season. Good thing it's a handicap league,” Char shouted, bending over the baskets. “Geez, did they speed this thing up today?” she asked when she was unable to fill a pair of empty spots on one of the belts.
“Gladys said they added another assembly team up front. She said we're behind on some of the holiday orders.”
“The holidays? They're six months away.”
Dorthea shrugged. “You know how they are.” She reached into one of the baskets, pulling three lids out then placing them on a belt. Grinning mischievously, she told Char, “That should help you out.”
“Gee, thanks. Want to stay and help a little longer?”
“No. I'm sure you can handle it all by yourself,” Dorthea said as she walked away. “See you Monday. Have a good weekend.”
Char gave a little wave before reaching into the baskets.
Dorthea walked through the employee gate of the chain-link fence that separated the sidewalk from the factory's parking lot. Instead of walking to the street where city buses lined the curb, she stepped off to the side clearing the way for those employees behind her. Leaning against the fence, she absently chewed her lower lip while considering possible options for obtaining the information she so desperately wanted from her disobliging aunt. Then, abruptly, she pushed off the fence and walked across the sidewalk to take her place in line behind passengers waiting to board one of the buses. It took just a few minutes for it to be her to turn to climb the steps onto the bus and pay her fare. She found an available seat near the rear of the bus and slid onto the hard unpadded bench just as the bus pulled away from the curb.
Half an hour later, the bus stopped in front of a three story brick building. Dorthea exited through the rear door then hurried across the sidewalk to a flight of stairs half as wide as the building itself. She forced her aching legs up the wide steps to the building's entry. Not hesitating when she reached the landing, she walked to the massive oak doors and pulled one open.
Dorthea was familiar with the layout of the building, having been a regular visitor since she was a child. As she walked purposely across the carpeted lobby, her face crinkled up as the expected unpleasant aroma of old books and stagnated air assailed her nose. Laughing at herself, she reached up to rub her nose and rid it of the ever present odor that permeated the Rapid Falls public library. ‘ You'd think I'd be used to that obnoxious smell. After all, I've been coming to this old place since I was a child.' A frown quickly replaced the smile. ‘ How young was I? ‘Let me see… I remember coming here when I was… in second grade? Yes, Mrs. Marigold was my teacher that year. That would have made me… six? No, seven. Hmmm. What about before then?'
“Good afternoon, Dorthea.” A woman sitting behind a long oak desk asked, startling Dorthea out of her thoughts. “Looking for something for the weekend?”
“Um… What? Oh, yes… I mean, no.” Dorthea pressed her lips together to stop her unintelligent stuttering. She sucked in a deep breath and released it slowly to give herself time to gather her wits. “Sorry, Jo,” she said with an apologetic smile. “I was lost in thought. Let me try again. I was wondering… Well, this may be an odd request but I was hoping that the library might have some information on tornados.”
“Of course. We have lots of books in the science—”
“No. I'm sorry, I should have said on specific tornados.”
“A recent event?”
“This one happened around nineteen thirty eight in the southern part of the state.”
“Goodness. Why do you want to know about something that long ago?”
“I read an article recently and I... Well, I would like to learn more.”
“Let me think… I believe we do have the Rapid Falls Herald from back then. Isn't that right, Audry?” Jo asked a woman standing a few feet away.
Audry marked her place in the catalog drawer she had been looking through and pulled open another drawer. Her fingers walked across the top of the drawer's three by five note cards, flipping them forward as she sought the proper section. Her fingers stopped and she withdrew a card from the drawer. “Yes. We have the daily issues back to nineteen twenty-nine.” She replaced the card and pushed the drawer shut. “They're in the archive room.”
“That would be a good place to start,” Jo told Dorthea, who nodded approvingly. “Let me get the key and I'll meet you at the door. While you go through those, I'll see what else I can dig up.”
“Thanks, Jo. I appreciate that.”
The librarian smiled. “That's what we're here for. I'll be there in a jif.”
Kimberly twisted in her chair just enough to see the clock on the far side of the room. “Thank goodness. Ten more minutes and I'll be out of here. Is it just me or has this been a long day?” she asked the other secretary in the office, keeping her eyes focused on a sheet of paper resting on a typing stand beside her keyboard.
“It's not just you. I feel like it's been forever since lunch. I can't wait to get out of these damn high heels.”
“You're not the only one.”
“Wonder what the chances of Mrs. Kapin being too busy to come back before five?”
Kimberly laughed. “Oh, Marge,” she said. “Does a snow ball's chance in hell answer that question?”
Marge chuckled. “Yes. I suppose it would be too much to think we could end a day without her telling us it was time to leave.”
The women shared an office with the company president's administrative assistant. Officially, their positions were secretaries for the pair of vice-presidents but, in truth, they did the biding of the other woman who spent a good deal of her time acting important while Kimberly and Marge did her job.
Marge caught movement in the hallway outside the office door. “Watch out. Kapin is headed this way.”
Kimberly saved the document she had been working on then hit the print button. She stood to retrieve the printed copy from the dot-matrix printer in the corner of the room.
A woman dressed in an efficient business suit of matching skirt and jacket walked into the room carrying a file folder. “Miss Chadwick, I know it's late but Mr. Martin has requested that this be typed as quickly as possible,” she said placing the folder on Kimberly's desk.
Frowning, Kimberly returned to her desk. Sitting down, she pulled a pen out of her desk drawer and wrote on a note on the copy. Only then did she pick up the new folder. “Mrs. Kapin, it's almost five,” she said as she opened the folder. “Can't he have someone from his own department type this?”
“Mr. Martin may be in the Sales Department but a client requires it by six and you are the fastest typist in the office.”
“I'm sorry, I just can't—”
“I assured Mr. Martin that it would be done. He has authorized overtime.”
Kimberly looked at the clock while she mentally calculated the amount of extra pay. “All right. Let me finish this,” she said dropping the folder onto her desk. “Some of the numbers don't balance and I need to ask Mr. Jackson about it.”
“That can wait for Monday.” Mrs. Kapin said, leaning across the desk and tapping the folder. “This can't,” Kimberly sighed and nodded causing Mrs. Kapin to smile. “Put it on Mr. Martin's desk when you're finished.” She crossed the room to her desk. After shutting down her computer, she pulled her purse from the bottom drawer then locked the desk. “Remember to place your unfinished projects in your desk drawers,” she said as she turned for the door. “Good night.”
“Bitch,” Marge muttered after the haughty woman had left the office. “Hey, don't you have a date tonight?”
“Yes. And I'm not looking forward to explaining why I'm late.”
“You could have said no and let her type it herself. I'm sure she probably told Mr. Martin she would.”
“I know. But I really can't say no to the extra money.”
“That, my dear, is why you need a husband.”
“You sound like Robert.”
“So, say yes to him and you can become a kept woman.”
“Right… house, picket fence, two point five children…”
“Except he thinks I should keep working.”
Marge rolled her eyes. “Typical.”
Kimberly glanced at the clock and sighed. “I better get busy if I plan to get out of here tonight.”
Marge smiled sympathetically. “Sorry, kiddo. I hope it doesn't take too long,” she said locking her desk then standing. “At least, you still have the weekend. Try to do something fun.”
“Thanks. See you Monday.” Kimberly pulled the papers out of the folder and placed them onto the typing stand. She adjusted the stand so she could more easily read the poorly scripted writing. “I wish they'd send Mr. Martin to a penmanship class,” she muttered as she opened a new WordPerfect file and began typing.
Dorthea stood in front of the door to the library's archival records. Fidgeting, she shifted from one foot to the other as she impatiently waited for the librarian to join her. She stilled when she saw Jo walk around the end of a row of bookshelves and head toward her carrying a shoelace looped through the notch in the top of a key. The ends of the shoelace were knotted together to keep the key from slipping free. “Okay, let's see what we can find,” Jo said, inserting the key into the door's lock. Pushing the door open, she reached for the light switch.
Dorthea followed the librarian, squinting against the harsh overhead lights that filled the room. The room was rectangular with specially built shelves and cabinets lining each of the walls. The center of the room was occupied by a table four feet wide and ten feet long; and a pair of chairs were tucked under the ends of the table.
“Let's see… what year was it?”
“Nineteen thirty eight.” Dorthea watched as Jo ran her hand along a series of narrow doors in one of the cabinets. “This should be it,” she said pulling one of the doors open. Carefully, she slid out a wooden rack consisting of several dowels spaced two inches apart and secured to sturdy end sections. Issues of the Rapid Falls Herald hung from the dowels. “The papers weren't very big back then so each dowel holds a full week of issues,” Jo explained. “They're in order… January in here and December here,” she said pointing to the adjoining door. “Please keep them that way.” When Dorthea nodded, she continued. “Then I'll leave you to it. I'll check back in an hour if I don't see you before then.”
“I hope you find what you're looking for.”
“So do I,” Dorthea said as Jo walked out of the room. Then she turned to face the rack of newspapers. “Let's see, April… May…,” she murmured lifting a group of papers off a dowel near the bottom of the rack. She carried the papers to the table and laid them out flat. Then she pulled a chair around from the end of the table and sat down. “Let's hope you're more informative than Auntie Faye,” she whispered, her eyes already scanning down the front page of the top issue before she had settled on the chair.
Kimberly slipped into Mr. Martin's office. ‘Good, he's not here. Probably went for coffee,' she thought as she hurried across the office to the desk pushed against the wall of floor to ceiling windows. ‘Now, if I can just get out of here before he gets back and starts asking for revisions.' She placed the folder with the original handwritten pages and the new typed copy on the desk. Then she set the floppy disk on top of the folder and turned to retrace her steps to the door. She had already turned off her computer and locked her desk so all she needed to make a clean getaway was get out the door, down the hallway, and onto the elevator.
As Dorthea walked along the sidewalk toward her apartment building, her hand dropped to the pocket of her purse where she had carefully tucked the pages of copies made at the library. Assured that the papers had not dislodged and fallen free, she patted her purse and quickened her steps. Reaching the gate, she unlatched it then pushed it open. After closing the gate and making sure it was securely latched, she turned around to walk along the path to the front entrance. She was surprised to see Thomas sitting on a bench in the shadows cast by a tall cedar tree.
“Good evening, Dorthea,” Thomas greeted her forlornly.
“Evening, Thomas. I thought you and Kimberly were going out,” Dorthea remarked stopping beside the bench.
“So did I. She's not here.”
“Mrs. Kaplan probably came up with another last minute project for her to do. Come on in. I need a cup of coffee and you look like you could use one too.” Thomas stood and followed Dorthea toward the building's entrance. He jogged up the steps, reaching them before Dorthea and pulled open the door into the lobby. “Thank you,” she said, smiling at her roommate's unofficial fiancée show of chivalry.
They walked in uncomfortable silence across the lobby and down the hallway to the apartment door. Dorthea slipped the key into the lock and turned the knob. “Something on your mind, Thomas?” she asked the obviously downhearted man.
Thomas waited until they had entered the apartment before responding. “I don't think Kimmy wants to marry me.”
“Sit down.” While Thomas collapsed onto the couch with an audible thud, Dorthea, not too surprised by his comment, continued into her bedroom and tossed her purse onto her bed. She took the time to remove her shoes before heading back into the sitting room. “Let me put the water on. Or, would you prefer something stronger?”
“Be right back.” Dorthea glanced at the clock as she entered the kitchen and frowned seeing it was almost two hours later than Kimberly normally arrived home from work. Opening the refrigerator, she retrieved the can of drip coffee. She made short work of filling the pot with cold water and measuring the correct amount of grounds into the filter before plugging in the pot and leaving it to brew. Opening a cupboard above the stove top, she pulled out a box. She thought about using a plate but decided it wasn't necessary and left the kitchen. “Sorry, but I'm starving,” she said dropping onto the couch and popping a cookie into her mouth. She offered the cookies to Thomas. “Help yourself,” she mumbled around a mouthful of cookie.
Thomas took one of the lemon sandwich cookies and bit off half of it. “Well?” he said after swallowing.
“I don't know what to tell you,” Dorthea said, setting the box of cookies on the couch between them.
“You're her best friend. She must have said something to you.”
Dorthea nibbled on another cookie. “I'm sorry, Thomas, but she hasn't.” She popped the remaining part of the cookie into her mouth and chewed.
“Okay. Then give me your gut feeling.”
“Are you sure?”
“Coffee's ready. Give me a sec.” Thomas grabbed a handful of cookies as Dorthea disappeared into the kitchen. He was reaching for a second handful when she reappeared carrying the coffee pot and two cups. “Maybe I should get another box of those,” she said as she sat on the edge of the couch and filled the cups.
“No. I can't eat any more. I still have to take Kimmy to dinner,” Thomas said, dipping a cookie into his coffee. “So, what's wrong with me?”
“Obviously, there must be. What does she want that I'm not giving her?”
“Really, I don't think there is.”
“Then why won't she give me an answer?”
Dorthea sipped from her cup. “I don't think she knows.”
“Kimberly is looking for something. And, no, I don't know what it is,” Dorthea said before Thomas could ask. “But the problem is that I don't think she knows either. I think she's still searching—”
“That doesn't make sense. Kimmy's a little old to be trying to find herself, don't you think?”
Dorthea took a moment to study Thomas. His face was contorted into a scowl that conveyed both anger and hurt. “I think Kimberly does love you, Thomas. And I can't say that about most of her past boyfriends. But, I just don't believe that's enough for her. I think she wants more.”
“More? What more can she want besides love?”
“Maybe for you to respect her… as a person.”
“I do respect her.”
“Then why do you insist on calling her Kimmy? You know she doesn't like it.”
Thomas looked surprised by the declaration. “It's just a nickname,” he muttered, shrugging his shoulders.
Dorthea turned to the door when she heard the knob turn. She felt Thomas shifting positions as he prepared to stand and she reached out placing her hand on his arm. “Pick another one,” she said turning back to face him. “If you love her, give her that much.”
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