"If youre fond of sand dunes and salty
" The door to the small gift shop opened, letting
in a burst of cold air and a bundled figure. Stomping the snow off her
feet, Marion picked up an enamel lighthouse lapel pin.
"Is this new?" she called to the back of the
shop. "It looks like the Round Island lighthouse." Taking
a few steps further she paused in front of a painting of The Old Mackinac
Point Light. Pulling off her multi-colored hat while admiring the talent
of her reticent friend, she spoke a little louder. "Such an incredible
talent and you have to survive the winter months painting schlock for
some greeting card company nobody ever heard of!" She shook her
head, and snickered at the music playing through the small shelf stereo
system. "...quaint little villages here and there
Enough was enough. She didn't like being ignored. "Oh
c'mon, Claire. I mean, can the Patti Pagearooni already!" She
wound her way through the aisles of the cluttered store and made her
way to the small studio in the back. A tall dark haired woman stood
holding a portfolio in one hand and an overnight bag in the other, looking
harried and not at all pleased at her friend's arrival.
youre sure to love Old Cape Cod."
Marion's teasing continued at a rapid clip.
"I hate to be the one to break it to you, Van Gogh, but Mackinaw
Island sure as hell aint Cape Cod. The only sand dunes 'round
here are 200 miles away, down on Lake Michigan. And the only time theres
salt in the air is when Joe tosses some over his shoulder to keep the
bad juju away when he accidentally spills it."
Claire turned her blue eyes to her friend and frowned.
"I'll bad juju you. I like Patti, she reminds me of summer and
lucrative times." When Marion sighed and crossed her arms, she too crossed
her arms and stared her down with disapproval. "You're late, which is
nothing new." She squinted and stared hard at her friend. "You were
probably racing that sled of yours over the Mangrove's front lawn again,
taking the short cut here, weren't you? Huh? You did, didnt you?
Ripping up poor Mrs. Mangrove's precious frozen azaleas. You're going
to have a hundred threatening phone messages on your machine when you
get home. Nice knowing you." She reached and flipped off the stereo
while giving the shop a final once over. Glancing at the desk near her
easel, she quickly picked up a piece of paper, and slipped it carefully
into her portfolio, smiling to herself with quiet satisfaction. "Okay,
Miss Marion Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I think Ive got everything. Are
you parked out front?"
"Yep, the sleds all warmed up and ready to
go. I promise no short cuts." Marion grinned and added, "This time."
Motorized land vehicles were illegal on the island during
the summer tourist season, and now, during the frigid snow covered winter
months, the year-round residents of the island got around on foot and
Claire, the tall and lithe owner of the shop, grimaced
at the mention of the sled. As long as she had lived on the island,
she adamantly refused to buy one, and she did everything she could to
avoid being a passenger. All of her needs were within walking distance
and she saw no reason to get one of the earsplitting, snow and turf
chewing beasts. Between whining, sputtering jet skis in the summer and
growling, churning snowmobiles in the winter, it was a toss up over
which vehicle she hated more. They were noisy, they stunk, they were
hell on the environment and she just flat out thought they were uncomfortable
to ride. She had memories of blackened, bruised thighs from trying the
evil machines at weaker moments. But she was practical enough to realize
that riding on the back end of a dreaded snowmobile was a necessary
evil if she wanted to get to the dock and catch the ferry for the trip
across the strait to the mainland. Thankfully, she had enough friends
like Marion who were ready at a moment's notice to offer her a lift.
A fast, scary and teeth rattling lift of course, but probably not unlike
some taxi rides in much larger cities.
"How long are you going to be on the mainland?"
Marion asked as they walked toward the front of the shop. She put her
knitted hat back on, tying it under her ample chin.
Claire looked at her friend and swallowed back a laugh,
for the wild, homemade hat looked exactly like she'd plopped a multi-colored
octopus on her head. The bohemian artist in her appreciated the wild
juxtaposition of colors it contained, so she chuckled instead. "Just
a day or two. Ive got to submit a stack of new prints to them
and go to some meeting or something. How would I know? I've never really
met them face to face. It shouldnt take too long." At
least I hope not.
Marion looked at her with wonder, "You've worked for them,
what, for two years now as their principal artist, and you've never
gone to meet them? No schmoozing, no long lunches on their expense account?
That's what those mainlanders do, or so I'm told. That clinches it,
Claire Long of Bones, you are a bonafide hermit!"
Claire shrugged her shoulders and finished locking up
the shop. She climbed gingerly onto the back of the sled, wrapping her
long arms around her friend, getting a good tight grip. She certainly
didnt need the warning when Marion called back to her as she gunned
the sled's engine. "Hang on, kiddo!" The front skis lifted
off the ground as they sped off down the middle of Main Street in the
direction of the docks.
The artist buried her face in the back of her laughing
friend. "And everyone around here who drives these things thinks
they have only one speed
"Roses are red, violets are blue, I write like a
hack and this doesn't rhyme!" The speaker of this truly bad poetry
was a blonde woman who was swaying back and forth in her chair as she
hit the delete button repeatedly in a staccato rhythm on her computer
keyboard. Erasing forever what she considered to be insipid, maddeningly
pedantic prose, she looked around her office and spotted a pile of greeting
cards on the corner of her desk. Each one had one of her short, flowery
poems inside and she detested every last one of them
with a passion.
Standing up, she grabbed her trashcan and positioned it
carefully by her office door. She took the time to line it up just so
and then walked the few short steps back to her desk and picked up the
top card in the stack. Reading it with a disdainful eye, she gleefully
crumpled it into a tight rounded wad and precisely shut one eye as she
drew her hand out and back in front of her face, aiming her shot. Throwing
it forward with a dramatic follow through, it landed perfectly in the
trashcan. "Nothing but net! Garbage!" She picked another one
up and read it aloud in an exaggerated nasal voice before crunching
it up in her hands and tossing it. "Another three pointer! Crapola!"
she shouted as it landed with a muted thunk in the can. With the next
one she announced her intentions as she spun her chair around so her
back was to the can. "Lets make this interesting! More interesting
than this bullshit I write!" She flipped it over her head. "Slam
dunk, not really! Sell out!" As she spun in her chair to judge
her free throw, she was embarrassed to find the company's only salesman,
Mitchell Marshall, standing in the doorway holding the crumpled card
in his hand.
He flattened the card on his leg as he looked skeptically
at the companys top writer. "Lee Moore. I'm shocked and appalled.
Mostly appalled. Tell me, please tell me, I didnt just walk in
here to see you desecrating perfectly good company property."
"Okay. Mitch, you didnt just walk in here to
see me desecrating perfectly good company property. Does that work for
you?" Lee remained comfortably in her chair and pulled herself
back over to the remaining cards on her desk. Picking up yet another,
she crunched it with flair and used her free hand to impatiently motion
him to the side. "Now move your butt out of the way. Youre
screwing up my artistic flow."
Mitchell took a wide step to the side and watched, bemused,
as she arced her shot into the trash. "Foul shot! Poor excuse for
a writer!" She cheered as it hit home.
Mitchell reached into the can to retrieve the latest free
throw, and tossed it between his hands. "For the last time Lee,
its Mitchell not 'Mitch'. And stop trashing your work.
Every store that takes these cards tells me they go faster than coffee
at an AA meeting. Your stuff strikes a chord with people, so why cant
you just be happy with that?"
Knowing he really didn't expect a reply, Lee rolled her
eyes and took a deep breath. Her displeasure with her work for the company
was a long standing argument between the two of them and she pondered
for a moment the idea of recording this particular chat for posterity.
That way she could just play it back when he came in her office and
save her the time it took to repeat herself. "Because, Mitch -
hell. This is just a way to pay the bills until I sell one of
my stories, my plays, my
well, anything but this trite crap!"
He returned the eye roll and smirked at her, and she spun
around, turning her back to him, and swore under her breath.
Mitchell stuffed his hands into his pockets and stared
at her back. He knew very well that Lee had been writing stories and
poetry since the first time she picked up a crayon in kindergarten.
As the years rolled by, every literary effort was more dramatic and
imaginative than the last.
In her senior year at Harbor Spring High School, Lee wrote
a play for the Christmas follies, and the critical thought afterwards
was that the suicide hotline ought to think about soliciting more volunteers
to man the phones after each performance. Patrons left heavy hearted
and depressed. The writing wasnt all that bad but the storyline
made Dickens read like Disney. The lead character spent the bulk of
her time searching for the love of her life only to lose her lover in
a terrible accident. The lead character then decided to follow her lover
into the afterlife. Not exactly uplifting, holiday faire.
Mitchell sat down in the empty chair near the desk, and
ran his hand through the greeting cards there. "I hate to repeat
myself, but I have to. You have a talent for this. Why is that
so hard for you to appreciate?"
Lee spun her chair 180 degrees so she faced him again.
"Talent? You call what I do talent?" She pointed at
the beige wall adjacent to her desk where she had hung a framed original
drawing. "Thats talent. That's heart. Thats
imagination. Thats original."
The drawing was of an angel, abstract with primary colors
wildly abundant. "Look at that, and tell me thats not true,
mind blowing talent. Im just a hack, writing glib rhymes for the
sentimental set. Just shoot me now."
Mitchell rose from his chair and studied the painting,
and then back at his friend who was lost for a moment, gazing at the
art with a wistful look on her face. Looking from her to the picture,
he realized he hadnt seen this artwork before. "Where'd you get
Lee started to fidget and actually blushed slightly as
she answered, "I saw it propped up in the art department and, well,
I snagged it for myself before anyone could ruin it, even me, with some
sort of hokey prose." Mitchell looked at her wide-eyed, and she averted
her eyes, and spoke in a low voice. "Theres something about it...
It just touches me and well, I didnt feel like sharing it with
Mitchell gave her a stern look although he really didn't
mean it. Lee immediately got defensive. "Dont give me that
look. Those college clowns have so much artwork lying around down there;
theyll never even miss it."
The stern look continued, although Mitchell was hard pressed
not to laugh aloud, because Lee was still speaking so earnestly about
the art. "I was planning on contacting the artist to offer to buy it."
She then emphasized her point by sticking her tongue out at him.
"Seriously, Mitch." She picked up a card from her desk
and read the gooey, bland sentiment inside. "God, this is just
so awful! And I'm the one to blame for it!" She held it up so he
could see the front of it. "Look at this! Why do we have to put
a sunset on the front of two thirds of our cards? Are sunsets the only
romantic things in the world? "
Rifling through them, she reiterated, "Look. How
original, a painting of a sunset with a silhouette of a female couple
looking at the water." Another card flashed at him. "Oh wait,
this is different. A drawing of a sunset with a silhouette of a male
couple looking at the mountains." Reaching back to the pile
she held up another, "A watercolor of a sunset with a silhouette
of a family looking at a cloud. Gag a maggot. And I have to write the
sludge that goes inside!"
Mitchell tugged at his bolo tie and shrugged off her disgust.
"Lee. Lee. Lee. All I know is that your words go perfectly with
those paintings. And our card buying customers eat it up like whipped
cream on a Tom Cruise sundae. Did Sue tell you that the No Boundaries
book chain made us an offer to pick up our line?" Lee turned in
her chair and gave him a semi-bored, semi-interested look. "Yep,
you heard me right. The No Boundaries bookstore chain. Now folks can
peruse our cards while they suck on their lattes. Now tell me again
about what a hack you are. Your so called lame stuff is what got us
this majorly huge contract. With the bonus I'll be getting, I may even
get to go to Disney this year for Gay Days. And you're coming with me.
We gotta get you a woman. You do remember what a woman is, don't you?"
As was her nature, Lee was loathe to admit her interest
in the possibility of selling the cards she helped to create through
a major book chain. Instead, she opted to draw the conversation away
from herself, and especially her social life. Giving her friend a visual
once over, she leaned back and put her feet up on her desk. Folding
her arms behind her head, she smiled up at him. "You know, I think
youre the only gay man on the planet who has no sense of fashion,
whatsoever. Who dresses you, Pee Wee Herman?" She gestured to his
feet with a nod of her head. "What exactly do you have on your
feet? Bowling shoes? There must be twenty inches of snow on the ground
and youre walking around in bowling shoes. Trying to pick up a
The salesman looked down at his feet, and then pointed
to Lees, which were still propped up on her desk. "Like I
would take footwear advice from you, Queen of the Hush Puppies.
Do you own any other brand of shoes? Keds? How about a nice pair of
Chuck Taylor's? Buster Browns?"
Lee pulled her feet off her desk and stood. "Nope,
nothin but Puppies for my dogs. I treat my feet well and in turn
they treat me well, Mitch -E- Double Toothpicks. Now get out of my office.
I feel a foul mood coming on."
"And this is new how, exactly?"
Lee picked up a CD and scooted past him. "Mitch L,
do me a teeny weeny favor will ya? I just remembered I have to run this
copy over to the layout department and yak with them about it. And cross
your fingers for me, Im expecting a call from a publisher about
one of my short stories today. Will you sit here and answer my phone
until I get back? Pretty please?"
Mitchell walked around the back of her desk and propped
his feet up, and mimicked her position from a few moments ago. Folding
his hands behind his head he flexed and wiggled his bowling shoe clad
feet at her. "Sure, Lee baby, Id be happy to play secretary
for you. I'm just going to sit back, close my eyes, and think happy
thoughts about sunsets. Sunsets and mountains. Sunsets and softly lapping
waves. Sunsets and the lovely, meaningful sentiments that the rest of
us poor slobs depend on you to write for us."
Since his eyes were shut, he never saw the crumpled up
greeting card sailing his way that bonked him squarely in the nose.
Claire sat in the back of the cab checking her portfolio
one last time before she arrived at the card company. Satisfied that
her work was ready for public consumption she prepared to zip it closed
as they arrived at the front of the building. Before closing it, her
eye caught the paper she had slipped inside just before leaving her
shop. The card company always sent her samples of the poems and greetings
that would go with her artwork, to give her an idea of the type of cards
they were creating. One particular verse stood out from all the others
they had sent her. It was different, heartfelt, and made her heart soar.
In my dream, the angel shrugged and said,
If we fail this time,
it will be a failure of imagination
and then she placed the world gently in the palm of
She read it several times over before she replaced it
carefully in her portfolio. Her mind turned back to the subject of her
trip, and how odd it was for her to travel off the small island she
called home. It would have been far simpler for her to mail her art
as she had done in the past. The reason she chose to deliver her work
in person this time was to see if she could catch a glimpse of the person
who wrote this verse that was so different from the standard and rather
banal faire the company usually used. When she told Sue that she would
be coming to the mainland, the owner/CEO said that she was anxious to
meet her and shed like her to sit in on a company meeting that
they would be having later that day.
She paid the driver, gathered her things and stood in
front of the building for a moment. The shy, gawky artist felt out of
her element as she peeked inside the bay window of the three story brownstone
building. It was not like her to put herself in the position of meeting
new people. She much preferred to paint quietly in her shop on the island
where her contact with strangers was limited to the summer tourists
who came into her shop and snapped up her many lighthouse depictions.
Steeling her nerves, she pulled the door open and stepped in out of
the cold. The hair twirling and gum chewing teenager, who Claire assumed
was the receptionist for the small company, greeted her by looking up
from her magazine and blowing an impressive bubble with her gum.
Claire introduced herself and said she had a meeting with
the owner. The girl gave her directions to an office and went back to
her article. Walking down the hallway, Claire noticed the plates on
closed doors indicating the Art Department, Layout, Design and Sales.
Next to the sales office she noticed the nameplate next to the open
door of a rather untidy office. Lead Writer: Lee Moore.
She took a moment to smooth her hair and bangs before she glanced inside
the office. The figure at the desk was too preoccupied with the
papers in front of him to notice the tall brunette standing just outside
of the door. She noticed his feet sticking out from the bottom of the
desk. Two tone bowling shoes were topped off by fluorescent pink socks,
and around his collar was a turquoise and silver bolo tie. His hair,
is that a mullet? Pulled into a ponytail? I know I'm from the sticks,
but even I know mullets are bad news. Her thoughts were interrupted
by the sound of someone calling her name.
"Claire? Hey. Yeah, you. Are you Claire Foster?"
Claire turned to face a woman who was actually taller
than she was, a rare thing in her limited world. The shock must have
shown on her face. The short haired woman stuck her hand out to the
artist and introduced herself. "Its a pleasure to finally
meet you, Im Sue Zawodna, owner of this little mess we call Greetings
and Salutations, Ink. Did my idiot niece show you around? She
stopped by to bum a twenty off me, and I told her if she wanted to borrow
money from me, she could work for it by answering the phone until I
got back from the deli. No way would I have that girl around here on
a permanent basis. Shed be hitting me up for advances on her paycheck
like there was no tomorrow."
Claire shook her head. Then nodded. Then decided to keep
it still, because she wasnt sure which sentence she was reacting
to and didnt want to give the President of the company she moonlighted
for the impression she couldnt keep up, even if she was a bit
Sue grabbed her by the arm, and led her down a short hallway
into a very tiny office. Boxes were strewn everywhere, and the taller
woman merely shoved a few off a chair in front of a desk, and took the
seat behind the desk. Artwork was propped everywhere, and Claire smiled
as she sat down because the majority of it was hers.
Reaching into the grease stained bag with the words 'GastroGlory'
imprinted on the front, Sue unwrapped what may or may not have been
a hamburger. Taking a hearty bite, she finally remembered her manners.
Between chews, she held the sandwich up to Claires eye level,
"Would you like some?" She dug fitfully through the papers
on her desk as she took in another large mouthful. "Ive got
a knife around here somewhere. I could split it with you if you havent
had lunch yet. I haven't, I'm starved."
Claires stomach rumbled on cue. She was certain
it wasnt from hunger but more of a protest warning her that it
would be instant heartburn if she had one bite of the greasy sandwich
being offered to her. Her anxiety hadnt allowed her to eat that
morning, but she declined the offer as gracefully as she could.
Licking her fingers before she spoke, Sue got down to
business. "I cant tell you how pleased I am to finally meet
you. Your artwork is what really grabs the public, which is really the
reason I wanted you to be here for our staff meeting today. I want you
to meet the folks who owe part of their living to you."
Sues compliments where cut short as she heard a
scream and the sounds of a door slamming down the hallway. A small,
very irate blonde woman stormed into the office, exclaiming, "Sue,
that ancient piece of shit copy machine just ate my transcript and now
it wont shut off." Her hands punched the air. "And you
expect me to be creative working in these conditions. Only thing I could
create around here is a headache." As she started to leave she
noticed Claire sitting there, quietly watching her. She stilled, and
forgot her rant for a moment as she locked eyes with the bashful woman.
She immediately went red-faced, and as she turned to make a hasty escape,
she unfortunately mis-aimed for the first time that day and smacked
into the doorframe instead. She left holding her head in her hands in
mock pain. It was just a ploy to keep the office visitor from seeing
the embarrassed flush that came to her cheeks.
Sue stood up and yelled out after her retreating form.
"Listen, Edna, you shouldnt be complaining about the poor
working conditions when I let you do your personal stuff on company
Turning to Claire she softened her tone and smiled an
apology. "Artistic temperament runs rampant around here. With that
one especially. Come on, you can keep me company while I fix the copier.
Weve still got a bit of time before the company pow-wow."
Claire followed Sue down the hall curious to see the inner workings
of the small company. After a short walk, they came to a door marked
Sue opened the door and instead of the hustle and bustle
Claire expected, the room was a case study in haphazard organization.
The copy machine was barely visible under the pile of boxes placed on
top of it. Sue reached through a pile of card stock and retrieved a
rubber mallet, speaking over her shoulder to Claire as she walked to
the back of the machine. "Youll have to excuse the mess.
This whole building serves as a warehouse and Im running out of
room to put it all." After inspecting the machine she picked the
mallet up as she ran her hand across the back of the machine as if feeling
for a heartbeat. "Ah ha, here we go!" Raising the tool up,
she gave the machine a hardy thump. It immediately shut off. She gave
Claire a triumphant whack on the back that nearly loosened her molars.
"Who says you cant use the wrong tool for the right job?
Look at that, good as new. Come on, let me get you a cup of espresso
and show you the Art Department."
Lee returned to her office to prepare for the meeting.
In Lees case that meant refilling her coffee cup and picking donut
crumbs off her linen jacket. Stepping inside, she found that it was
empty. "Dammit Bitchelle, where are you? So help me, if the publishing
company called while you were out Im gonna cut your ponytail off."
Peering down at her desk, she noticed that her files where out of order.
"Salesmen are without a doubt the ballsiest people on the planet."
She plopped down behind her desk and put her forehead on the desktop.
"Im having a full fledged conversation with myself. If thats
not a sign that I need a new job, I sure as hell dont know what
is." After another moment's thought, she questioned aloud, "And
who was the woman in Sue's office? She must think I'm a maniac."
Just as the words left her mouth Mitchell reappeared.
"Is this a private crazy conversation or can any psycho join in?"
Lee raised her head up, as well as her middle finger.
"I thought I asked you to phone sit for me. Where in the hell did
you run off to?"
"I had to feed the meter. My car's parked out front again."
He gave her a sad look, and then continued, "Listen, Lee, the publisher
called and ..."
She could tell by the look on his face that he didn't
want to finish his sentence. She lifted a hand to halt him. "Say
no more. They said no, didn't they?"
He nodded, and then tried to give her an encouraging smile.
"C'mon, Lee, one of these days some publisher will wake up ..."
She stood up, and sighed. "No, Mitchell, one of these
days, I'll wake up and ...well, never mind. Let's get to the meeting."
They walked silently down the hall together, and Mitchell
nearly laid a comforting hand upon her shoulder, but thought better
of it. He wasn't sure how she'd react.
Claire's emotions were bouncing back and forth between
feeling exhilarated and confused. When Sue said she wanted to get her
a cup of espresso and show her the Art Department, she meant it literally.
The room housing the Art Department was in fact a clever
disguise for a makeshift cafeteria. There was indeed artwork strewn
about, piled on top of unused drafting tables and leaning against empty
easels. There was a large computer and a few scanners too. Intermixed
with the equipment and art were a small fridge, microwave, an espresso
machine and what looked like a rather sticky cotton candy maker. And
somewhere amongst all of the mayhem, two worker bees were toiling away,
no doubt overdosed on caffeine and sugar to the max.
Claire was flattered by the remarks of the two college
interns when Sue introduced them to her, but the boss kept up a running
monologue throughout the tour, and Claire had little time to respond.
The long legged CEO quickly explained how the company started as a print
shop that started producing their own cards for local shops. One day
while trying to find a suitable card for her partners birthday
she decided the gay and lesbian market was virtually untapped. After
a bit of research she decided to move in that direction and now the
lines they created were exclusively for same sex couples and families.
Although not highly profitable, they were increasingly in demand. The
one small problem is that most of their target market didnt know
the company existed. Now with the interest of a major bookstore chain,
that problem might soon be resolved.
Sue did interrupt her monologue long enough to explain
the doorplate on the Design Department. She opened the door to reveal
a unisex bathroom. "This is where I do most of my deep thinking."
Claire couldn't tell if Sue was being serious or not,
so she just nodded sagely in understanding. Sue was a few steps ahead
of her, and stopped long enough to motion her to yet another doorway,
this one adorned with the title, 'Conference'. Not knowing what to expect,
she took a deep breath and followed her in.
It was a real conference room, at least what would pass
for one in this bewildering building. There was an honest to goodness
long and polished wood table with antique mahogany chairs around it,
and Claire smiled shyly at the few people who stopped their chatting
long enough to notice her presence. She sat in an empty seat next to
Sue, and tried to tamp down her nerves. She thought briefly about getting
up and excusing herself to make a quick trip to the 'Design Department',
but Sue had already brought the meeting to order, and was introducing
her to the small staff of eight. Claire had to smile when she noticed
Sue's niece parked comfortably with her feet under her, still raptly
perusing her magazine and studiously ignoring what her aunt was saying.
She also noted the presence of the blonde woman who had
made the brief but memorable ranting appearance in Sue's office earlier.
She was seated across from her. Right now, she looked rather unhappy
and subdued, but when their eyes met, she gave Claire just enough of
a smile that it made Claire blush. They both looked away, pretending
to listen to what the CEO was talking about. But again their eyes drifted
to one another, and Claire felt a tingle all the way down to her toes
before the glance was ended.
The day was already catching up with Claire. She'd gotten
up long before dawn, her nervous apprehension keeping her from getting
much sleep the night before. The snowmobile ride, the trip on the ferry,
the bus and then the cab ride from the bus station were all spent wide
awake and in a state of nervous flux. Her quiet existence over the years
on the small, familial island did nothing to prepare her for what she
considered a pretty big deal - that of going to a business meeting,
even if the staff was smaller than the crew at the island's Shipshape
Diner. This was Claire's 'big time', and she couldn't help but feel
as though she was sitting in on a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At least that's how her stomach was reacting. Even with the pleasant
jolt of feeling she got from the short eye contact with the blonde woman,
her mind kept centering on plans for making a quick escape to the Design
But her plotting was soon interrupted, and her attention
was brought back to the meeting at hand. To be exact, it was brought
back by yet another outburst from the same blonde who had earlier inelegantly
made her presence known.
The blonde noisily shoved her chair away from the table,
a pile of cards in her hands. She was pointing to them, and frowning
and saying the most ... uncomplimentary things.
"And another thing. I was just mentioning this to Mitchell
this morning. For the billionth time. What's up with all the goddamned
sunsets?" She pitched a few cards onto the table top, and the staff
all stared at them stupidly, including Claire. "I never get to see a
damned sunset. The view from my apartment building is of the Starbucks
across the street, and their parking lot. Can we interject a little
realism into the artwork of these cards or something? Sunsets, my ass.
How am I supposed to come up with something remotely interesting if
all I get for artwork is these damned rosy-butt sunsets? Get real!"
Claire's mind disengaged from thinking about her need
for a restroom, and got her mouth working instead. Much to her own chagrin,
she found herself saying, quite haughtily, "Well, some of us see those
kinds of sunsets every night. I can't help it if your imagination is
limited by the sight of neon signs and parking meters. Some of us really
live like that, seeing the sun set every night, or would like
to. Or, excuse me, some of the people out there may have really spent
an evening like that, one romantic evening with their loved one, and
they want to relive it, if only in a greeting card." The room remained
quiet, and since Claire's frayed nerves were driving her mouth, she
continued, picking up the same cards that Lee had tossed onto the table,
opening one up to the verse inside. "And if we're discussing artistic
merit here, can I just say that these sentiments inside could use a
little tweaking themselves? I mean, cmon, listen to this!"
And she read aloud to the rapt audience of virtual strangers,
pointing her words directly at the offensive blonde who had so recently
dissed her artwork.
I see all the colors of the rainbow
When I look into your eyes
The lights of the heavens
The hues of the sunrise ...
She stopped there, because the blonde was staring at her
with what looked like a death glare. Perhaps Claire had overstepped
her bounds. She clamped her mouth shut, and returned the challenging
The small contingent of staffers and CEO alike looked
from woman to woman, waiting for one of them to speak. Even Sue's niece
looked up from her magazine and stopped her gum chewing.
The two women fidgeted in their own way, looking away
from each other. The fidgeting was contagious each staff person adjusting
uncomfortably in their chair, picking at paperwork, shooting quick glances
at each other.
Finally, a male voice cut through the haze. "I'll be right
back." Mitchell announced, and he scooted through the doorway before
Lee could call him a yellow-bellied traitor for leaving her alone in
the thick of her battle with this arrogant yet undeniably attractive
Although immensely critical of her own work, no sunset
aficionado was going to put down the crap that Lee spewed out into these
greeting cards. No, that privilege was allowed only to her and her alone.
Them there were fightin' words in Lee's book, and the recent disappointment
from yet another dismissal from even the most obscure of publishers
fueled her ire and disdain.
She outright challenged her new nemesis. "Are you calling
me a hack? Is that what you're saying? I'm a hack writer?"
A gas bubble lurched around in Claire's stomach, but she
didn't back down. "You're the writer? Well, if you're accusing
me of creating art suitable for hanging in cheap motels, well, yeah,
then I suppose I am suggesting that your work could use some improvement.
Like maybe a rhyming dictionary?"
Lee scowled at her. "And I suppose you could use a little
different inspiration, too, maybe get a different view of the world
other than your perch from your coconut tree on Gilligan's Island?"
More glares, more silence.
Finally, the CEO remembered she was supposed to be in
charge of something, so she spoke up. And she stood up to get the attention
of her staff. "Now wait a minute. Whoa. If you two find these cards
lacking, well, don't blame it on each other, blame it on me. I'm just
doing what sells. I've been pressing Claire for these sunset images
all along, she must get bored doing them, but hey, they sell and I'm
of the mind that what sells is good for our bottom line."
She looked directly at Lee, and chided her. "And you,
Miss Edna St. Vincent Millay wannabe. I know you feel a little stifled
by these simple little rhyming verses, but simplicity also sells. So,
the both of you artistes, knock off insulting each other's egos
a minute, and blame the whole thing on me. You were both producing what
I asked for, and even if you hate it
well, look at where it's
got us, in the green for once. I can finally stop using my inheritance
from Aunt Betty to supplement your incomes. We have a contract pending,
a lucrative one with No Boundaries now, and well, maybe the sunsets
have to go, or something
I don't know. Thats why we're having
this meeting. Not for our principal contributing artists to take potshots
at each other's work."
More glares, more silence.
Sue stood up even taller, and rapped on the table. "So,
here's why we're here. To toss around a few ideas for our stuff for
No Boundaries. We need something fresh, something unique for them. I
don't think they're so hot on the sunsets and Hallmark rhymes either.
We need something a little
I dunno ... quirky maybe? Something
that is solely ours? I need some ideas so we can throw together a package
for them. If they like it, it could mean not only greeting cards, but
coffee cups and calendars. We can really make an impact in the gay and
lesbian market if y'all come up with something fresh." She looked from
Claire to Lee and back again. "You two just imagine your art and words
on bookmarks, t-shirts and even boxer shorts if all this works out.
I need you two to put your heads together, not bang them against each
They both blinked at Sue, and tried to downplay their
discomfort. Neither one was in the habit of losing their temper; much
less with people they just met, so they both felt a little self-conscious
about their poor behavior. But each time Claire tried to apologize to
Lee with her eyes, Lee quickly looked away.
Claire was at a loss. Her first big corporate meeting,
and she'd made an ass of herself, which was not her style. Her style
was quiet evenings spent in front of an easel or on the couch with a
sketch pad and her colored pens. It was true she was abysmally tired
of composing sunsets, but the writer's assertions about her work and
her sheltered life on the little island on the coast of Lake Huron were
patently untrue. Although she was upset with the blonde, and her stomach
was upset with her, she couldn't help but admire the woman's outspokenness,
if not her rudeness.
It was time to make amends, not only to salvage her future
working relationship with the writer, but so she could make a hasty
retreat to the ladies' room.
She was struck by a two-cups-of-espresso-fueled good idea.
She reached for her portfolio, and rummaged around until she found what
she was looking for. She cleared her throat to gain everyone's attention,
and once Sue's niece had silenced the popping of her gum, she said,
"Well, here's something that inspired me recently. It was with
some of the other verses that were sent to me. I like it so much; I
can't even begin to tell you. I even did a drawing for it, just a little
bright trifle, but I guess Sue didn't like it. I was hoping you'd reconsider;
I can try other art to go with it. I don't know which one of you wrote
it, but it's ... quirky, like Sue wants, and at the same time, very
She read it aloud, her voice laced with emotion:
In my dream, the angel shrugged and said,
If we fail this time,
it will be a failure of imagination
and then she placed the world gently in the palm of
Claire, a little flushed from being so assertive, sat
back down again and waited for some reaction. There were quiet murmurings
at the table as the piece of paper was handed from person to person,
and they reread it and pondered it to themselves. When the paper reached
Lee, she didn't even look at it, she kept her eyes steadily on Claire,
an unreadable look on her face, and passed it on to Sue's niece, who
read it several times, cracked her gum and a huge smile, and pronounced
Sue looked it over, and puzzled a moment. "This is good.
Different. I like it. But I don't know who wrote it. Nobody here. I've
never seen it."
Claire couldn't hide her disappointment. "But, well, I,
well ... it's just something I really liked, and I ... thought maybe
I could do something different with my art for it. If you didn't like
what I sent you
Well, maybe it's a bad idea. It was just a thought.
I wish Id kept a copy of the original I drew. I guess I just assumed
it would be here ..."
Mitchell made a breathless reappearance in the room, a
framed piece of art in his hands. "How about this, was this like what
you were talking about?"
Claire was shocked to see the drawing she was talking
about in Mitch's hands. So beautifully framed too. She looked at him
questioningly, and he grinned at her, holding up the picture for the
whole room to see. He winked at Lee, who was sitting open mouthed, and
said, "I heard you reading that verse as I was coming down the hall.
It sounds vaguely reminiscent," he looked pointedly at Lee, "of
a certain hack writer's meanderings ... stuff she jots down on napkins
... at Starbucks ... when I can get her out of her house ..."
Claire and Lee looked at each other. It was hard to tell
whose eyes were bigger as they realized how they had treated each other,
some faceless person they had both secretly admired from afar.
"You wrote that?"
"You drew that?"
They said it almost simultaneously. And the smiles they
exchanged were bright and inspired and tinged with a promise of a multitude
of previously unimagined possibilities.
Months later, when the hundreds of No Boundaries Bookstores
were busily setting up large displays from their newest vendor, Greetings
and Salutations, Ink, two artists of varied dispositions were adjusting
to life commuting between two shared households. One on a small island
sadly lacking of coconut trees but rife with snowmobiles, and the other
directly across the street from the comfy and welcoming neon sunset
glow of a Starbucks, readily supplied with a mountain of white napkins
for the jottings and doodling of a proud hack writer and her artist
Happy Valentine's Day from LA and Julie, 2003.
Lee's angel verse is the very clever work of Brian Andreas,
who indeed has some very inspiring artwork and verse for sale out there.
For quirk and romance fans, he's the ticket.
The hack verse is attributed to the bad taste and terrible
imagination of the writers of the story.
Patti Page sang Old Cape Cod. With any luck, the song
will now be running through your head for hours and hours.
Apologies to Katherine Fugate, who wrote one of the best,
if not the best 'Xena' episodes ever, for our bastardization
of the title of that episode to name this story.
Thanks to Sara, our very valued beta reader, for getting
this done at the last minute.
And a disclaimer: Neither harm nor foul was meant towards
sunsets. We like 'em.
Feedback gratefully accepted at Julie
Baker. We'll both read and respond.
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