I am taking you now to the first chapter of The Wailings - my book in progress - as it is easier to use this to describe the upcoming events in my life and it also helps define some quotes I will be using in later posts. Please note that this will be done in two different parts as it is a little long. Also, please note that the event I first describe has not happened. It is fiction.
She sat there quietly staring at the jumble of paperwork on the desk in front of her. Her attention was elsewhere, her eyes distant and shuttered. To the people who browsed through the multicolored apparel displayed in the showroom that fronted on her office, it was a day like all the rest in their lives. But to the woman who sat at the desk, it was a day she had long expected and dreaded.
The phone sprang into life and jerked her back to her position at the desk.
“Fashion Gallery,” she answered.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” hissed a voice into her ear.
“I already told you that I wouldn’t be there,” she replied quietly.
The voice coming through the phone was a strange mixture of sorrow and ice.
“I’ve been saying for a long time now that there’s something wrong with you, and look what you’re doing to prove it!”
There was a moment’s hesitation as the woman at the desk pictured in her mind the person on the other end of the line. For as long as she could remember, her mother had always looked the same. She was barely five feet tall and quite stout. Her hair was a silvery white and fine, like her own. She had blue eyes that seemed suited to a kindly grandmother and belied the nerve and fervor with which she had conducted her life. She hid those traits behind large glasses that had become a part of her face in her early years. At nearly 70, her mother was a small immovable mountain.
“Look Mom. Jerome-or-Dad--he died for me a long time ago and I buried him then. I won’t be there today to watch him be buried again.”
“Well I hope you’re happy with the way you’re acting! You’re just like you’re father you know!”
Guilt resonated in her ear and Ani’s mouth tightened as she put down the phone. She glared at the myriad pieces of paper thumb tacked to the wall in front of her and strewn across her desk. With a sigh, she picked up a stack of invoices and removed the bull-clip that held them together at the top. With a practiced eye she skimmed each detailed item for receiving and costs as she quickly double-checked figures against her own calculator’s printout. The steady click of the keys and turning pages came to a sudden halt as Ani stared at the ink scrawled across the purchase order in front of her. Angrily she seized the stack of invoices and flung them into the air, watching as they floated like large white petals to the green carpet. From the floor, her father’s signature stared up at her accusingly.
“Will I never be free of that man?” she screamed.
A distinct hush fell over the salesclerks and shoppers in the showroom as everyone waited for something to follow. When it was obvious that no further entertainment was forthcoming, they turned away; some faces betraying their acute disappointment. In the silence Ani could feel them out there; like spectators at a car race, waiting for the big crash. They just want some juicy gossip to take home with them, she thought. At that moment, one of the clerks came through the small door between the office and the showroom. Ani’s back stiffened slightly as the salesgirl came over and gently touched her shoulder.
“You okay Ani?” Mare asked softly.
“Just a momentary slip--that’s all,” Ani answered back. A look of steely determination crossed her face as she turned to gather the papers up. Mare crouched quickly to pick up the remaining invoices scattered on the floor. Straightening them into a neat pile, she stood and handed them to Ani.
“Why don’t you go home?” she asked quietly.
Slowly Ani swiveled in her chair and stared at the now self-conscious salesclerk.
“What for?” she questioned coolly.
Mare refused to back down from the ice she saw in the green eyes before her. Her fingers involuntarily started to count the pearl buttons that edged the cuffs of the black shirtwaist she had neatly tucked into a matching skirt. Her mourning outfit set off the red shoulder length hair that now swung over her face as she briefly ducked the look in Ani’s eyes. If her boss had any hint of how scared Mare was, she didn’t show it. Nothing moved on Ani’s pale face. Her eyes were the only indication of her own life, and they glittered now like frozen emeralds.
Ani’s “Well?” stopped Mare short of what she was about to say.
Glancing away from the look on Ani’s face she silently begged to come away unscathed. She had already experienced a few confrontations with her boss and she didn’t want to antagonize her today. She liked her job, although working for a family business such as this one was demanding both mentally and emotionally. Still, she liked Ani. Her boss was not like anyone she knew.
Known for her untraditional manner, Ani stood out from Mare’s crowd, and most, for that matter, like a sore thumb. Her traditional attire was black; accentuated by silver everywhere. It wound around her throat and peeked out of her blonde hair. Silver rings covered every finger on each hand except one. Silver laced up her arm in bracelets piled one atop the other, another of her untraditional marks. Although of average height and build, at 40 Ani’s presence caught your eye and lingered even after she was gone. Mare could not pinpoint what it was about her employer that affected people so much. Ani was certainly not on the list of “beautiful” people. In fact, she was still single and drew only a scattering of male admirers.
Maybe she scares them off too, Mare thought quickly. Whatever it was, Ani wasn’t someone to take lightly. Refusing to back down from the ice she saw in the green eyes before her, she took a deep breath and blurted out, “Most people go to their father’s funeral Ani.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew she had overstepped the line that Ani kept drawn tightly around herself.
“I’m not most people Mare,” Ani said smoothly into the empty space between them, then turned back to her desk. The stricken salesclerk raised a trembling hand to her own mouth, and then hurried back to the showroom, rebuking herself for what she had just done.
When her shift ended at five o’clock, Mare collected her purse and coat and started past Ani working silently at her desk. She had almost reached the showroom door when Ani’s quiet “Mare” stopped her short. Slowly she turned to face her employer, a look of fear starting to cross her pretty face.
“I won’t keep you long Mare.”
Mare searched the other’s face. It was tight with concentration and something undefinable. She tensed, certain now that she was about to be fired. Ani’s “I’m sorry,” didn’t even register the first time around. Mare heard her the second time when her boss reached out and touched her hand.
“I’m sorry for this afternoon Mare. I know you were just trying to help.”
Mare blinked. Too astonished for words, she stood staring at Ani.
“It’s okay,” she blurted, and immediately felt like a fool. Ani’s father had just died and here she was apologizing to her. She wanted to hug the woman, but her arms hung loosely at her sides, memories of earlier confrontations racing through her mind. Instead, she smiled and quietly bade Ani goodnight.
Ani sat for a minute after Mare had left, staring straight ahead. She didn’t notice the garments hanging silently around her in the stockroom where her desk sat wedged into a corner. A screen flickered beside her as the camera recorded the salesgirl’s departure out the front door of the store. In a backroom beyond the stockroom, sewing machines and mannequins sat stationary; the workers having left an hour earlier.
Gathering her personal belongings, she rose then and made her way through the small door and into the showroom. Winding her way past garment racks and the main counter, she quickly checked the day’s tallies and that the cash register was open and empty, ready for the next day’s business. Then she made her way to the front of the store, turning out the lights as she went, leaving only the chandeliers burning behind her. Without thinking, she automatically set the alarm and locked the door.
As she glanced briefly up at the store name over the door, the neon lights reflected off her eyes and flashed a brilliant green. Then she turned abruptly and strode into the night.