By Anne Azel <email@example.com>
Copyright, February 2012. All rights reserved.©
Edith Todd came barreling through the office door and tossed her purse onto the closet shelf, closing the door with the heel of her shoe. Edith had played sports at school and it showed. Tall for a girl, with flaming red hair cut in a pageboy style, Edith was never late for work. Never.
“Happy Valentine’s Day. Sorry I’m late. I had an appointment.”
Joyce Gernhardt looked up with interest and shock. They were best friends. Why hadn’t Edith told her about the early morning appointment? “Is everything okay?”
“Fine, fine. I’ll tell you all about it after work, okay? Gosh, I’ve got to get Mr. Gibson’s report typed for his meeting this afternoon.”
Joyce left her friend to her work and went back to filling in the form she had been asked to complete for Mr. Coates. Joyce was a few inches shorter than Edith. She wore her hair long but on business days it was pinned up with bobby pins in a bun. Her hair was brunette and wearing a brown tweed business suit, she looked every inch the business secretary she was.
They met after work at the Woolworth’s soda bar. Once settled into a red vinyl booth, Edith ordered a coffee and an oatmeal cookie. Joyce went for the vanilla milkshake. They didn’t speak much until the waitress put down a glass and a frosted metal container holding Joyce’s shake.
Joyce rooted in her purse and pulled out a box of Black Magic chocolates. “These are for you. Happy Valentines Day, Edith.”
“Thanks, Joyce. I have something for you too.” She slid an envelope across the table. Joyce frowned in puzzlement and opened the envelope. Two plane tickets for Toronto fell out on the table.
“Plane tickets! I’ve never been on a plane. Gosh, Edith, this must have cost a fortune!”
“It will be a DC8 prop. Air Canada’s newest. Joyce, we’ve been best friends all through school. We’re a team, everyone says that. Did you read that book I gave you?”
Joyce blushed and looked around before leaning forward. “Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. Yes, I read it. It was - moving.”
“Yes.” They sat in silence for a bit. Then Edith got up her courage. “About what happened the other night at your apartment ...”
Panic filled Joyce’s face. “Not here! We can’t talk about it here!”
“Okay, okay. No regrets?”
Joyce looked up and shook her head. “No regrets. You?”
“None. No guilt either. It felt right. Joyce, I’ve decided not to sell my late dad’s business in Toronto. It’s a small printing press. Mostly makes up flyers and posters and things. It does business cards too. That’s what I was doing this morning. I was at the lawyers’ signing the papers.”
Joyce’s face paled and tears welled in her eyes. “You’re leaving Ottawa?”
“We’re leaving, if you’ll accept. These are the 1950s. Women can own their own businesses. We don’t have to work for men. Come live and work with me. We can live above the shop. People could think we were cousins or something.” Edith leaned forward and whispered softly into Joyce’s ear. “I love you. Come fly away with me.”
Joyce sat quietly for a moment, head bent, fingers nervously playing with her paper napkin. Then she looked up, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Mommy and Daddy will never understand. You’re not a Catholic and you’re parents are divorced.” They laughed.
“So is it a yes?”
“Yes, Edith. Yes. I want to fly away with you.” Tears of joy rolled down Joyce’s face as she nodded her head.
“Happy Valentine’s, Joyce.”
Okay, here is the thing. I’ve been with my partner, Dot, for forty-six years. We met in a roadside café along Route 66, somewhere near Santa Fe. I’d graduated in 1965, put my college degree in my bell bottoms back pocket, slipped into my cotton peasant shirt, picked up my knapsack and headed my VW Bug out west. Now after a year of some amazing experiences, I was heading back to Boston to settle into the proverbial rut. Can’t say I was overjoyed.
The waitress wore blue jeans, a cowboy shirt and a towel over her shoulder. She was slim, blond and wore her hair long and straight. Her eyes were huge and the deepest violet.
“Coffee?” she repeated.
She poured the strong, stale java into a thick, white mug. “Where you headed?”
“Yeah? These days most people are heading west.”
“Been there, man. Time for the flip side.”
A good looking trucker drops his ass onto the stool beside me. “Need a lift, sweetheart?”
I pick up my mug, get up and look out the window. “Nope. Hell hasn’t frozen over yet.”
The waitress snickers and pours the guy a coffee while she waits for his order. I saunter over to a booth and drop my last quarter into the table juke box. The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction wails out.
The waitress slips in across from me. “Can’t you?”
“Can’t I what?”
“Get any satisfaction.”
I smile. I know my kind. “I can give it.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Matches the big action.”
“I’m off at four.”
“I can wait. Ever been east?”
“Nope, always wanted to go.”
“I have a car.”
“I’ve got gas money.”
“See you at four.”
So, using Gale’s money and my car, we headed east. Gale went into nursing. I went into the family wholesale business and made myself rich. We did well, Gale and me. Raised a lot of eyebrows over the years, but what the hell?
So forty-six years later I’m standing in a mall trying to figure out what I can get my gal for Valentine’s Day. Usually I bring home flowers and take her out for dinner but this year is important. Gale is recovering from breast cancer treatment. No hair, no boob and a much wider ass than when I met her, and I still love her with all my heart. How do I say that?
Gale is sitting on the back porch when I get home and I give her a kiss on the cheek. “Hi, Sweetheart. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
She frowns. “No flowers?”
“Nope. No dinner either?”
“I was thinking today about how we met. You picked me up in a western truck stop.”
“Yeah, real romantic, wasn’t it?” She rolled her eyes.
“It was sorta, for the time anyway. Got you this.” I hand her an envelope.
“What is it?”
“Bill of sale on a 2012 VW beetle. I retired today. I got a map here the Auto Club gave me that shows where sections of the old Route 66 still are. I love you with all my heart, Gale. You want to go see if that café is still in business?”
Gale fell into my arms and cried. They were happy tears. I cried too. Me and my gal were going to hit the road again. Just the two of us, now until the end of the road.
1975 and it’s pretty well all over in ‘Nam. I’d been in the army since leaving high school. Did two tours in ‘Nam as an Intelligence Officer. A woman Intelligence Officer. I’m proud of that.
I’m far too conservative to burn my bra but I consider myself a liberated woman. Hard not to be when you went from army brat to military dyke. I’m state side now and looking for a civilian job for when my term is up. I’m looking early. These are not good times. Unemployment is running at 9% and the market is in a real slump.
I cross the large business lobby for Wilson and Wilson Enterprises and step into the elevator, pressing the button for the eighth floor. Just before the doors close, a young woman rushes in.
She is dressed in ripped blue jeans, old sneakers and an old black t-shirt that has PEACE stamped across her breasts in big white letter. She is carrying a box of chocolate Turtles. I’m dressed in my uniform and carrying a briefcase. Not a lot in common here. Fortunately, conversation in an elevator is not mandatory. She looked at the elevator panel, realized we were going to the same floor and took the farthest corner from me. We headed up.
Two floors, three, four, five then a sudden jerking stop. The lights went out. “Oh shit, now what? I thought there was supposed to be emergency lights.” A voice in the dark asks.
“There should be but back-up systems don’t always work. I suspect we will have to wait until the power comes back on.”
“Oh great, just great. I’m in a hurry.”
“I don’t suppose it will be long.” Two hours later, I’m sitting in my respective corner of the elevator when I hear the crinkle of plastic.
There is a sliding sound and a body bumps up against mine. “Sorry. I have Turtles.”
I fumble about in the dark until I find the box and take a few. “Thanks. I take it they were a Valentine’s gift for someone.”
“My father. He works here. I’ve got my girlfriend tickets to an Elton John Concert. I was supposed to be meet her an hour ago.”
This is said casually but there is defiance in her voice. I suppose she was waiting for me to bolt to the other end of the elevator. “I think you might be late.”
I feel her shrug. “I don’t think it’s going to last anyway. We don’t have a lot in common.”
“A bit like us, but look, we’ve been together for hours now. Opposites can attract, I suppose.” I joke.
“Funny. Since our world has been reduced to a black box, cooperation is essential. You’re a soldier?”
“That’s why the uniform. Army captain. Are you a full time protestor or do you have another occupation?”
“You are laughing at me and yes, I do have an occupation. I work here.”
“Dressed like that?”
“Well, the company prefers the Goth look but I’m a non-conformist.”
“It’s my day off. What are you doing here? I mean not in the elevator but heading for the eight floor.”
“Looking for work. I’ve decided not to re-enlist. I though...” The elevator suddenly shifted dropping at least a hundred floors before screeching to a stop.
“Oh shit!” She’s holding on to me now and I have a box of Turtles upturned in my lap.
“It’s okay. The cables are just settling, I suspect. Would you mind picking up these Turtles? We don’t want to waste what food there is and if they remain where they are I fear they might start to melt.” I light my watch and by its dim glow, the woman starts to gingerly re-box the candy that has over turned on my crotch.
She laughs. “You must be hot stuff, Captain. They are starting to soften.”
“I’ve had no complaints from the women I’ve dated. My name is Kelly. Kelly Bates.”
Her hand hesitates for a second then resumes her gathering. “Karen Wilson. There, I don’t think there are any chocolate stains on your pants.”
“I hope not. That would look rather bad, wouldn’t it?”
She laughs. “How far do you think we fell?”
“Not far. It just felt like it. Are you a Wilson of Wilson and Wilson?”
“My dad and uncle.”
“Can I have a job?” I joke.
Karen laughs. I like her laugh. “A job on our first date? I don’t think so. I don’t usually start handing out favours until at least the second date.”
“Oooh, you are a hard catch.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Did have. Sally Lucus. She left me while I was on my last tour.”
“Sally Lucus! I’m dating a Sally Lucus!”
I laugh. Then she laughs too. The two of us leaning side by side giggling like kids partly from tension and partly because of the ludicrous nature of the situation. “Watch her, I think she stole the silver cutlery on our last date.”
“You are such a liar!” Karen laughs, giving me a poke. “Sally, the gym instructor living on Harley Street?”
“That would be her.”
“This is bizarre.”
“Even awkward. As I see it there is only one thing to do.”
“And that is?”
“Dump Sally and date me. We don’t need a mediator.”
“You don’t know me.”
“I know you well enough to be spending some very private time with you on Valentine’s Day. You have been groping my crotch...”
“I was picking up Turtles!”
“Yes, Turtle groping. We must play that again sometime. In the meantime, would you care to dance?”
“It will pass the time.” I fumble for my briefcase, open it and search for my tape deck. Elton John singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. I stand, pulling Karen to her feet.
We dance close, barely moving so as not to cause the elevator to shift anymore. Karen nestles deep into my arms. “This will never work you know.”
“Sure it will. I’m the only choice in this dark universe.”
“Good point. Happy Valentines Day, Kelly.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Karen.”
Five hours later, the lights came on and a crew arrived to get us out of the elevator. We left smiling. We are still smiling. Civilian life is good. Life with Karen is better.
The Language of Flowers
The dark loam, damp with the moisture of melted snow, broke easily under Pat’s shovel. The scent of fresh earth mixed with the smells of spring, fresh grass shoots, daffodils, and tulips.
The winter had provided just the right amount of snow. A warm blanket for her garden and fields and a soothing melt to clean and wake the earth once more. Pat had a hundred acres. A small farm but one she used to the maximum. The farthest acreage she used to grow corn, hay and straw for her two horses, Gale and Storm. Then there was a strip of apple, pear and plum tress. Closer to the stables and her small green house, she had irrigated land where she grew vegetables for the local Farmers Market. But her favour area was right behind the old farm house. It was an acre of land hedged in by cedar in which Pat had created a garden wonderland.
It was here that she toiled, turning the beds and adding fertilizer for the annuals that she would plant this season. She straightened and looked around. Her farm ran in a long strip along the concession road. Two acres wide and fifty long. The south and west sides were bordered by county roads. Far to the east was the main road that led to town. To the north was a green fringe of cedar hedge that ran the length of her land. Originally planted by her grandfather as a wind and erosion barrier, it had now become a wall between her and the modern world. To the north side of the hedge was a big trophy home, a sign of the 1980s urban sprawl. Why did city folk need to live in the country and commute, filling the air with carbon dioxide and engine noise? They should stay in the city where they belong.
She bent to her task again until the flutter of the curtain in the big house directly at the end of her property caught her eye. It was the Special One. Pat had heard that she was a ballet dancer with the Winnipeg Ballet. She was beautiful, slender and graceful like a dancer. Her hair was silvery blond and cut pixie-like. She was athletic too because when she didn’t think that Pat was around, she would scale the eight foot cedar fence that surrounded the pool behind the big house and climb down through the cedar hedge into Pat’s garden. These intrusions had started last fall when the garden was at its peak of fall splendour. Brilliant red flame bushes had been offset by the deep bronzes, purples and mauves of mums and cabbage plants and decorative grasses swayed their plumes in the breeze. Bright maple leaves had floated gently down onto the pond or tumbled over the small water falls to make umbrellas for the golden carp beneath the waters. The grass was lush and green and the garden ornaments perfect accents to the natural beauty around them. The Special One would walk gracefully around, noting each change in the garden until she came to a carved wood bench that caught a warm sun beam in the later afternoons. Here she would sit and write. Pat thought she looked like a fairy queen.
It had taken all Pat’s courage but after the first week, Pat had left on the bench some cut flowers and her own book. The book was called The Language of Flowers by Pat Durran and the photos inside were all of her garden. The small bouquet was of jasmine flowers, the symbol of amiability, to let the Special One know she was welcome. The Special One took the flowers and a few days later, left on the bench for Pat, was a half dozen homemade muffins. The thank you card was signed by Eve Harrison. So that was the Special One’s name. The muffins were excellent and warm out of the oven. It had made Pat smile.
All that fall, they had communicated the way that Pat found easiest, though flowers. There had been white, delicate baby’s breath for happiness, brilliant chrysanthemums for wonderful friend, and bamboo, strong and thrusting, that she had grown in her greenhouse to represent loyalty. In return, small gifts would appear; muffins, a poem about a butterfly in her garden, a new spade or sometimes a hand painted note saying thank you.
They had met officially in November, while Pat was out raking leaves into a huge pile. She had a leaf blower but rarely used it. The beauty of the season was in the crisp air, the steady rustle of the rake drawing colourful leaves into a pile and the robin blue of the sky. Pat had put a sound system into her garden and now that fall was here, she liked to play the haunting sounds of Native American flutes. She felt perfectly relaxed and peaceful surrounded by the beauty of her garden. Suddenly, a small figure ran passed her and leaped with a laugh into the pile of gold leaves.
“I’m Eve Harrison. I couldn’t resist your pile of leaves and besides, it is time we met.”
Pat reddened. Her throat tightened and panic filled her gut. “I...I...agh.”
“Yes, I know. You stutter.” Eve got up and smiled, brushing leaves off her cream, corded sweater. “That’s okay. I talk enough for two, anyway. Your garden is beautiful. Thank you for letting me use it this fall and for talking to me with your flowers. I didn’t mean to trespass but I couldn’t help myself. It’s a paradise. I like the music. I watched you putting it in. You really are clever. Will you dance with me?
Before Pat could shake her head no, Eve’s warm, slender body was in her arms. They danced on a soft bed of green, sweet grass as the golden leaves drifted down around them. They danced close, and silently and intimately. Finally with a sigh, Eve pulled back. “I have to go to rehearsal. Thank you.” Then she was gone, running lightly through the garden and then quickly scaling the hedge to drop over the other side. Pat had stood there smiling. Eve had made it so easy.
Through the fall and early winter they met often. Sometimes they would ride Gale and Storm through the fields around them. When the snow came, Pat would hitch the horses to a sled and they would take the county back roads to town and have lunch in the café. Pat found she could talk to Eve more and more smoothly. It was easier to go out as well because Eve would do the talking if she didn’t want to.
Christmas, she had joined Eve at her house for the first time. A casual affair, Eve had said, but anything that meant conversing with people was not casual for Pat. She had carefully dressed. Tailored black jeans, a black turtle necked sweater tucked in and her long dark hair tied back with a leather cord. She had looked at herself in the mirror. She was everything Eve wasn’t; tall, dark and lanky. Her hands were strong and callused from hard work. She wrote, of course, putting on paper what she couldn’t say, but somehow that didn’t seem very exciting. For a moment, she had considered phoning and saying she was sick but what if the words wouldn’t come out? What if she worried Eve? No, she’d have to go.
Eve had met her at the door and had kissed her cheek before leading her into the room with Pat’s hand in hers. “Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Pat Harrison, the author.” Eve had made it so easy for her. They had never talked about being together before. Never kissed. Eve had just made it all happen that night. The room was full of very artistic and individualistic people but no one pressured her to talk. Several people had brought books for her to sign. Eve had paved the way for her. At the end of the evening, she found herself with her arm around Eve, nodding goodbye to the guests. That night she stayed over and they had made love for the first time. They had spent Christmas together and on New Year’s Day they’d taken the chainsaw outside and at the stroke of midnight had cut through the fence and hedge to make a doorway.
Now it was February. Valentine’s Day. V Day. Pat had been practising all week. She’d cleaned house, made a special dinner for them and bought Eve flowers. She’d bought her a ring too. Now she just had to find the words.
Eve had brought a special wine. Dinner had gone well, although Pat was finding it hard to get the words out. Too much was riding on this night.
“Honey, what’s wrong? You seem so tense tonight,” Eve asked, as they sat by the fire, sipping the last of the wine.
This was it. Pat took a deep breath and let it out and then slipped down on one knee. Her mouth opened but nothing came out. She tried again. “I...will..”
Eve leaned forward and kissed her. “Yes.”
Then the words came. “W..will, you marry m..me? I l...love y..you.”
“I love you too.” Pat proudly slipped the ring on Eve’s finger.
Pat reached for one of the red roses that she had given Eve earlier. “They mean, I love y..you in the language of flowers.”
Just Business Partners
We are just business partners, Erin and I. Erin Rapetti is a five foot two dynamo, who could sell sand to an Egyptian. She’s petite, cute as a button and knows how to use all her attributes to their full advantage. I’m just the opposite. I’m five foot seven, muscular and where Erin has the dark Italian beauty, I’m the stoic Norse blond. What we share is a need for success.
This is the 1990s. The days of hanging loose and finding yourself are long gone. I’ve had an investment portfolio since my Granny Nordrum gave me a piggy bank at age five. Erin swears she had been born with a day planner in her hand. We have met with success, mainly thanks to the baby boomers who suddenly realized they had missed out on all the fun they were supposed to have. Erin and I sell motorcycles. Not the hulking rumblers that scare people off the streets and appeal to gangs but yuppie bikes. Lots of chrome, colour, saddle bags, and sound systems. Secretly, we call them menopause motors.
It being Valentine’s Day, I’d helped Erin wheel a shiny red cycle into the show window and we’d left a long stem rose on the black leather seat. She’d put on the sound system and the Spice Girls were doing Wannabe.
“The guys will think about having that last fling and the gals will think about a romance with a rebel,” Erin smiled, hands on hips, looking at the bike in the window.
“Whatever works.” I pull a spanner from my jeans pocket and head to the shop, as customizing the bikes is my job.
I stop and turn around.
“Did you ever wonder about selling the business?”
I walk back, a frown forming on my face. “Sure but one sells just after the peak of demand, not when you are riding a bull market. Why?”
Erin perched herself on a turquoise bike with white saddle bags, which for reasons beyond my imagination, is one of our biggest sellers. I leaned against the door frame. This was obviously going to be a serious conversation.
Erin bit her lip. “I’ve met someone.”
My heart went thunk. Thunk. There is no other way to describe it. Okay, Erin has had a series of boyfriends over the years but she’d never started a conversation with ‘I met someone’. It was stupid but I felt betrayed. “Met someone?”
Thunk. It was my turn to sit. I chose the edge of the window display. “A woman.” Great, I’ve been reduced to two word sentences.
“I’m a lesbian.”
“A lesbian.” I shake my head to get my vocabulary working again. “I’m the lesbian. You have never been a lesbian. Have you ever come out to Pride Week celebrations? Or dated a woman? Hell, you flirt with every guy who comes in here.”
“That’s my job. Flatter them, batter them and serve them up. Besides, flirting with men going through second childhood and flattering women seeking freedom is not why I stuck this job.”
Thunk. I think I’m going to pass out. My life’s work is unravelling. I’m great with bikes but I couldn’t sell one to save my life. “What started all this?”
“Meeting Rose for one thing but also watching people get on their bikes and head out of here like for the first time in their life they are really alive.”
I snort. “For God’s sakes, Erin, they’re menopause motors, you know that. You’re too young to be having a mid-life crisis.”
“I’m not having a mid-life crisis. I’m having a crisis with you!”
Suddenly, Erin is red in the face with anger and is standing over me. “You, you big idiot! Do you know what day it is?”
I thought hard. Her birthday was in the spring. Was it time for her mammogram and physical? She hated those days. Nope. “It’s just Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?”
She hit me with a saddle bag. “I love you, you stupid oaf!”
Thunk. That was not my heart this time. It was a rather heavy, bright red motorcycle falling on me. Erin’s announcement deserved some serious thought. I gave it none as I didn’t start to regain consciousness until the ambulance had me halfway to the hospital.
Once admitted, I saw a doctor, who was slightly blurred and sporting two heads. “So can you tell me what happened?”
“I was hit on the shoulder with a white saddle bag and on the head with a red motorcycle.” I slur.
He laughs. “Some confusion?”
“Confusion? I’ll say. My business partner just told me I’m a stupid oaf and she loves me.”
“Was she the one who ran you over with the motorbike?”
“No, she was on the end of the white saddle bag. The motorbike acted of its own free will.”
“They can be like that,” the doctor nodded sagely.
“I need to see Erin.”
“Is she the one carrying a long stem rose and a spanner?”
“That would be her.”
“You’ve got a good concussion and will have to be admitted at least over night, but I’ll give you a few minutes with your - er - business partner, if she agrees to hand over her spanner.”
The doctor disappears and a few minutes later, Erin comes around the corner of the curtain.
“I’m so sorry. The cycle just fell, honest.” She sobbed.
“I know that. You love me?”
Two blurry heads nod at me.
“I love you too.”
Erin comes over and takes my hand. “You do? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I had no idea that you swung that way.”
“Rose told me it was time to be honest with myself.”
“Who is this Rose, damn it?”
“Shhh, don’t get excited. She’s my therapist.”
“You don’t need a therapist. You need me.” I try to sit up but the world keeps spinning away.
“Lie still. Yes, that’s what Rose said. Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve and just tell her and live with the consequences.”
I smile. “Not consequences, concussions.”
Erin kisses my lips gently. Thunk. Now that was my heart. “That’s the best Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever had. As soon as I’m out of here, I’m going to ask you for a date, Erin Rapetti. I don’t mind at all that you are burred and have two heads.
The recession of 2012 had left me a graduate of one of the finest Ivy League schools, weighed down with a hefty student loan and without any job prospects. My girlfriend had left me for a job in California and I’d spent the last few months putting sticky plasters on my broken heart and sending out what seemed like thousands of resumes. So far no dates and no interviews. Now I was in the Employment office looking for a summer job to tide me over, for a few months anyway.
“What education do you have-“ The clerk hesitates while she checks the form for a name -“Lynne Koff?”
“I have a PhD in astro physics.”
The clerk looks up with a puzzled smile. “What’s that?”
“The study of the upper atmosphere of earth.”
“Oh. Well, not a large employment field, I’m afraid. I don’t think I have anything listed for an astro physicist.”
“I was hoping for a summer job of some sort to tide me over while I continue to apply to academic institutions.”
“Oh, I see. Do you have any useful skills?”
I grind my teeth. “I’ve had lots of summer experience. Short order cook, park maintenance, delivery truck driver, life guard, that sort of thing.”
“Yes, yes, but those sorts of jobs we usual try to place people with real life skills or young students looking for summer experience.”
“I need the money,” I state bluntly.
“Yes, yes, of course, everyone here needs an income, Ms. Koff.”
“Dr. Koff.” Now I’m not only mad at her but myself. I have never felt the need to use my doctorate title. My ego was taking a bruising.
“There is something in your line of work, I recall now. I don’t know if the job is still available. It was some months ago we got the request.” She disappears behind her computer screen for some time mumbling away to herself. No doubt they were chants to the sacred god of the employed.
“Yes, yes, here it is. Wanted: astro physicist! Let me just send an email with your resume attached and see if they still have an opening. Can you call back tomorrow?”
“Sure, sure.” I stumbled out on the street in wonder. A job. Perhaps I should consider joining the Church of the Holy Employment Data Base. A job, in my field! It seemed too much to comprehend after all these months of searching. Then a wave of realism washed over me.
The chances of the job still being open and me getting it were highly unlikely. Still, as soon as the Employment Office was open the next morning, I was there.
“Dr Koff! You can have that job. You’ll have to leave right away, I’m afraid. They are on a very tight time line. Someone will meet you at the airport.”
“What job? Where?”
The clerk looked annoyed. “Dr Koff, I found you a job. It’s not like you are trained for anything practical.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll pack. Just give me the information.”
Thus, two hours later, I found myself at the airport standing under the Air Canada sign, waiting for someone to meet me as instructed. It was a tall woman who appeared. She probably had a few inches on me, making her close to six feet. She had sandy hair braided at the back and was very sexy, fit and tanned. Men turned to give her a second look as she walked by but she didn’t seem to notice. I tried not to pant. My hair is brunette and I wear it cut short. Years, of academia has left me pale and on the scrawny side.
“Dr Koff? I’m Dr. Rae Gordon. Welcome to the team.”
“Thanks. I’m Lynne. What team?”
Rae stops dead and looks at me. Then laughs. “They didn’t tell you? No wonder you agreed so quickly.”
“Tell me what?”
“You’re going to Antarctica.”
A week later, I found myself wearing a bright yellow immersion survival suit as a group of us plow through the frigid waters of Antarctic in a zodiac. Adelie penguins skip across the water happily, as if they are in their right minds, and we pass leopard seals taking a break on ice sheets from the daily grind of mangling sea life.
Rae nudges me in the ribs. “Over there,” she points. “A couple of hunchback whales.” Sure enough, a massive finned back arched and dived again below the water. What is all this marvellous life doing in this god forsaken wilderness?
“They don’t bother zodiacs, do they?” I ask, yelling over the sound of the outboard motor.
“No. The Orca whales and great white sharks can be a problem though.”
What a relief. Maybe I won’t freeze to death. I can be slowly digested instead. It was sure to be warmer. A happy thought to keep my mind off this cold, precarious boat ride.
Rae is still yelling valuable, unwanted information in my ear. “We have a rule down here. You have to stay within a mile of the research centre. Within a mile, if something goes wrong, you are talking a rescue operation. Over a mile and it’s most likely a recovery operation.”
“How far to the research centre?”
“About two miles now.”
Shit. Not what I needed to hear. I hunker lower into the rubber raft and curse silently the Church of the Holy Employment Data Base.
The research station is small. During the summer months, which they tell me I was enjoying, there are forty researchers on site. In winter it drops to ten. It seems I’m expected to be one of the ten. My contract is for two years’ service with a six week leave for good behaviour. I’m bunking in with Rae in a room that barely meets the Geneva Convention requirements. Food comes out of bags and cans but they assure me that during the summer, the occasional cruise ship would drop off fresh produce in exchange for a lecture or two. It’s good to know that scurvy would not be a danger until the winter months.
My job was to hike with Rae out beyond the compound area and then struggle in high winds and snow to launch a high attitude balloon into the upper atmosphere. If we survived this daily brush with death, we hiked back to the station and read and analyse the data that came in. While working on my degree, I’d often made used of this vital information without having any idea that there were actual humans risking death by skidding on penguin waste or freezing to a rising helium balloon in the daily gathering process.
Rae is a lesbian and is quite open about it. Her half of our monk’s cell reflects a strong interest in music, women, literature and women. I’m fascinated but maintaining a stoic silence on the subject. Okay, I do admit sneaking peeks while she is romantically slipping out of her thermal underwear but she is my boss, after all, and I needed this job. My half of the cell reflects the fact that I had no time to pack and had no idea where I was going. I’m reduced to mooching for old equipment and clothes that often smell like a seal might have died inside them some years ago.
Rae finds me funny. I find myself pathetically out of my league compared to her. She can hike for miles, scale ice mountains, command a boat and do some amazing research. She is even the table tennis champion of the research centre. She is also incredibly beautiful when she’s not wrapped up like a hot dog in layers of winter gear. I, on the other hand, can barely hike the half mile to the lift site and have yet to win a game of table tennis.
Some months after my arrival, when our company has been reduced to the winter maintenance crew, I was sitting on the edge of my bunk, musing deeply over my morning cup of instant beverage, yet to be identified, when Rae sat down beside me.
“I like you, you know. We’ve worked well together over the summer. Unless I’m way off the target, you’re a lesbian too. Carl said he’s made three passes and got stonewalled and Hans, our resident stud, said you cut him dead.”
I nod. “Yes, I’m gay. No, I’m not interested. I had a bad experience in grade school and decided to dedicate my life to science. Besides, you are my boss.” I joke.
“Just for the record, I’m the senior researcher, not your boss. We’re colleagues working on the same study. Shit, that grade school romance must have really burned your tail feathers to want to give up sex.” Rae chuckles.
I look at her and raise an eyebrow. “I haven’t given up sex, just the need for a partner.”
“Ohhh, the hands on sort. What it I kiss you?”
I look up in surprise. In fact, parts of my anatomy might have been awakening from a long, cold hiatus and exploding into a red hot lava flow. “A winter affair?”
“Maybe, maybe something a lot more. You know what day this is, Koff?”
“Antarctica has days? How can you tell? I’ts either light all the time or dark all the time. There are only two days, summer and winter.”
She laughs. “It’s Valentine’s Day. I’ve got you a gift.”
“You have? For me? What is it?”
She leaned forward and kissed me. It was a good kiss. Well, beyond friendly yet not all the way to obscene. Just a promise of passion. There are times when a job is just not as important as a good kisser. Besides, my lava was definitely overflowing.
“I got you the same gift.” I leaned forward and return the favour. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rae.”
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