Note: As always, any character details have to be pastiched around with great care for everybody’s sake. A white Spitz might be borrowed from Chekhov, and might really be a red Pomeranian. Who knows? That sort of thing. If any beautiful woman of distinction in her seventies or eighties should read this now — please rest assured. There’s good reason why it’s not about you.
She was one more face in the crowd at the publishers’ media show.
The expo center was acres of jostle and hubbub, wares and swag, raised voices and microphone feedback, motorcarts beeping around. Warren and Jancie and Glimm and I staffed our booth with publications, posters and banners, sign-up sheets, cash box and coin rolls, receipt pads and pens, catalogues, business cards, logo fridge magnets and pins, first aid kit, and hot Schlegel’s Bagels with cream cheeses and lox. For Friday’s display I brought autumn leaves, toffee in gem-tone wrappers, and appealing stuffed animals (wolf, hedgehog, bunny, hawk). At first, the men put up a fuss over those plush huggies. But they were impressed when time and again some customer or other with evasive manners and a cat-got tongue would step up to pet the animals, jiggle them around to make it look like they’re walking, and then sign up for our mailing list and take a catalogue. Seeing that would attract more people to come ask for a band-aid or tissues or a toffee or change for the pay phone, or for the rest rooms, water fountain, elevator, parking garage; then they’d sign up too.
Plenty of convention visitors just needed to talk. Hearing their stories in a welcoming way was my job, while minding the inventory and receipts. That way the men could work in peace. Warren consulted with business owners who wanted our services: tape and dictaphone transcription, proofreading, typesetting, advertising layout, list fulfillment, mass mailing, book packaging and binding. Glimm and Jancie toted merchandise, moved the van, made bank and coffee runs, assembled the display and broke it down, and caught a smoke break now and then. On Friday an hour before closing, we were working away when something new made us stop and look around.
In the house of merchandise, a shadowed hush came rippling in our direction. The hush materialized as deferential space around one young woman in motion. Everywhere she set foot, people looked twice and turned away, silent as she floated past booth after booth. Their riveted attention did not extend to giving her a single neighborly word or nod of acknowledgment.
I was all smiles at sight of her. She was altogether lovely. She was years older than I was, perhaps thirty or so, or even more; but I couldn’t tell. What other image of timeless beauty might compare? Possibly heroine Elise McKenna from “Somewhere In Time,” strolling Mackinac Island with pompadoured hair and a parasol. Here in this venue with no animals allowed, the lady had two snowy Spitz dogs, perfectly matched and groomed, in step at her heels and gazing up for orders. Her style was flowing and modest from high collar to cuffs to hem. She wore a long creme dress with a wide shawl in tints from lavender to sea green, and turquoise jewelry. She had long fair hair piled high, pale cameo features, languid eyes lashing off into some middle distance. They looked remote or weary, or perhaps weighed down by the press of the crowd.
But her expression flickered with a hint of animation at sight of our plush menagerie. Pausing at our table she arced a turquoised hand at the catalogues in her reach. She asked me for one in a cultured whisper, beckoning with palm up and grasping the shawl high as if to warm her throat and protect her voice. Eager to assist, I pounced on a catalogue and offered it with both hands. She took the copy and skimmed right past the men as if they were nobody and nothing. Her silence trailed after with the two white shadows gliding at her heels. The men just stood there, looking uncharacteristically subdued and at a loss for words.
“Isn’t she beautiful,” I said with a sigh. Any appearance of fresh wholesome old-fashioned purity always earned my respect and admiration. I sighed again, looking down at my layers of sturdy denim and sneakers for a day of loading cartons in rough weather. “I hope that she’s all right. She looks delicate and shy.”
Glimm spluttered into a coughing fit. Warren gave him an amiable pounding on the back.
“What is She doing? Here in town?” Jancie burst out, then backed off and examined the floor.
“Bank run.” Warren announced. He counted the cash, filled out a deposit slip, and handed the envelope to Glimm. “And load up these three boxes. We’ll make do with the rest for an hour.”
“It’s only an hour. We could all just go then,” Jancie reasoned.
“Or you could just go now.” Warren handed Jancie another twenty. “Put some gas in the van. Have a cigarette. Have two. Freight dock at five.”
Glimm pocketed the envelope, hanging his head. “I kinda figured she’d be taller,” he said softly.
“It’s in the contract,” Warren explained. “No men over five foot six.”
“Whoa. What?” Jancie looked from one of them to the other. “What else is in the contract?”
Warren threw the van keys at his chest.
The crowd was thinning out. I packed up the plush animals and toffee, and in the relative quiet heard a rush and drumming up on the glass roof. “Gee, it’s pouring! The fellas will get soaked!”
“It’ll do them good,” Warren handed me the thermos of tea. “We’ll let ’em have their guy talk.”
“Do you think she’ll be back tomorrow?” Her regal poignant fragile look haunted my sympathy and spirits.
“I don’t.” He swallowed some cold thermos coffee. “Pumpernickel, sesame, onion, or raisin?”
“Sesame. Oh Warren. She’s everything I’m not. I’m just one of the guys, huh? Men don’t notice me like that. Like ever.”
Warren put down his pumpernickel bagel and lox, and took a deep breath. Then he quietly explained that our guest was a movie star.
“Wow! In anything I’ve –?”
Warren shook his head and started over. He explained in brief tasteful terms about films in a parallel universe. Listening to him called to mind our video store, and a dim awareness of seeing a back alcove where customers could step in, like a confessional, and browse a rack of videos displayed behind a curtain. I listened in awe, about our guest’s formidable acting charisma, but also her astute knack for finance and negotiation and promotion and self-maintenance. In fact, that might explain her appearance at the media fair. Like the rest of us she’d probably heard about modem communications from one mainframe computer to another. Not many of us pictured ourselves accessing these capabilities, on small computers right in the home. It’s possible that she saw far ahead of the curve how this might have implications for her own industry.
I sat there with my sesame bagel, looking at the wilting autumn leaves on the table, trying dimly to imagine being so attractive, and also having all that awareness and influence over one’s profession and career (and in an industry by and for men! That had to be difficult.). So she really was everything that I was not, after all. Still, what was it like for her, that day, to walk among so many fans and see no sign of outright welcome from anybody? That sounded a little lonesome. And though she was older, it made me want to do something friendly and motherly and comforting for her. I should have given her my hedgehog, toffees, magnets for her fridge. I still wish it now when she walks through my memory; I always ask God to please protect and keep her safe and well.
“Warren?” We were folding up the chairs. “She didn’t have an umbrella or little coats for the dogs. I sure hope somebody was planning to pick her up at the freight dock.”
Outside my apartment, Glimm and Jancie gave me grippy shoulder pats while I hopped out of the van. Warren saluted goodbye. “Rest up, Mare. And in the morning, we’ll be right here for you.”