When young love finally arrived, she was thirty years and fifteen minutes late. Ordinarily, that last fifteen minutes would have cost the candidate the chance of a job. But this time was different. She was wearing a cobalt blue suit. Her hair was tied back and the colour of honey.
She smelled like the flowers in the lobby of the hotel where his mother had moved into after she had left his father. Looking into her eyes as she spoke, he could see the boy he had once been looking back out at him.
Her son, Lucas, had been sick with a cough that morning. She had to ask Cheryl to come over and stay with him. She didn’t have enough money for gas, so she had to take a bus downtown for the interview. On good nights, she didn’t wake up at three in the morning worrying about the rattle in her Lucas’ lungs or how to pay for next month’s rent. On good nights, she would sometimes dream that she and Lucas were sitting on top of a far away hill, holding hands, and watching golden elephants walk silently across a wide-open plain. On good nights, she didn’t cry. Last night hadn’t been one of the good ones. Sitting across the desk from the interviewer, she hoped her crows-feet didn’t show.
Thirty-words-a-minute, questionable testimonials, and outdated computer skills. A single mother, so you can count on lots of sick days. And fifteen minutes late, as well. On paper, he would never had hired her. A year ago, he would never have hired her. But a year ago, he had still been able to maintain the comfortable illusion that he cared for Leslie, and she cared for him. He shouldn’t hire this woman. And in fact, he wouldn’t have, if it hadn’t been for all those innocent days gathered together at the back of her eyes, and for the way she crossed her legs.
He was kind of creepy, but the pay was okay. Better than the last place, anyway. Fifteen years in the workforce, and she had been leered at, bullied, lied to, threatened, groped, and fired. The last waitressing job she had, the owner had come up behind her while she was doing the cash after closing. The pompous witch at the personnel agency had said that this would be a suitable position for somebody with her “limited experience.” At least in a place like this, there are proper human resources policies. She’ll take the job and look around for something better. In the meantime, she thinks, if he tries anything, I’ll blow the whistle. She’s got no time for another horny old married man with bad breath and a golf umbrella. All she wants to do is to get by, and maybe save enough money to find some place where elephants wander by.
He reaches across the desk and shakes her hand to seal the offer. He can feel the warmth of all those lost summers rising to the surface of his skin. In his mind, he can already picture them together in some blue-lit place, high above everything, watching the world passing by.