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Authors: Victoria Rexroth

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BOOK: A Wonderful Life
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THE NAME

 

It was in the summer of my second year at the company when I saw her for the first time. I didn’t know how long she had been working there, although I thought I knew the face of every attractive woman in the place. Then she came into my life, and I’ve never quite recovered.

In two years, I was on slow track to seniority in this company. Most upwardly mobile employees made their mark in the first few months, but not me. I was just coasting along. I probably should have just left and found a better job, but when I saw her, I was locked into a blindness where I could see no future but the present I was living in. I blame her, but it was really me who was at fault.

She was beautiful. There’s no getting around that. But she wasn’t gorgeous in that supermodel kind of way. No, she was divine in that innocent, I-don’t-know-I’m-beautiful state of being. She had long black hair that covered the small of her back, an impervious smile that carried her everywhere she went, and eyes that stared into you as if they could speak and always seemed to know the right thing to say. It sounds really ridiculous now, but I truly believed she was an angel sent down for reasons even she didn’t understand.

I didn’t know her name; that was the problem. I asked around the company, and everyone recognized her description, but no one actually knew who she was or where in the company she worked. Granted, it was a large company. Still, it seems strange even now that no one could ever tell me who she was.

I lived and breathed the same air as her at least twice a week. It was in the lunchroom, and she would sit in the far corner with her packed lunch. Sometimes, it would be a homemade sandwich she would unwrap from double-wrapped cellophane as she pulled at the plastic wrap slowly in what looked like a trance, the sandwich freed millimeter by millimeter as she took her sweet time releasing it. Other times it would be a Tupperware container of sushi or something like that. She would always sit alone, reading her newspaper, and she would keep to herself, almost as if there was nothing else she needed. Or anyone.

So I continued inquiring about her. I was convinced that someone had to know who she was. There were some guys in my department who had reputations for knowing who every woman in the company was, and if they didn’t know who a woman was, that meant the woman didn’t exist. So I went to them.

I guess she didn’t exist because they didn’t know her either.

Then I started to notice strange things about her. I began to notice she was never there when I was with anyone else. At first, I didn’t make the connection, but then I wanted to point her out to others, to see if they knew who she was. Whenever those moments happened, I realized that I was alone, that there wasn’t a single person in the lunchroom I knew, except for perhaps the one woman I wanted to know, yet about which I knew very little.

Yet, I couldn’t gather up the courage to just go and talk to her. Somehow, common sense tells me that I could have probably ended years of this silence had I just walked over and introduced myself to her right at the beginning. But I never did. Instead, I watched her enter the lunchroom, sit in her usual seat, and every now and then, if I were lucky, she would catch my eye and smile. My god, I lived for those special moments.

One day I came really close. I saw her sitting there at her table eating her sandwich, and I told myself that I was going to go over and talk to her, that I was going to do the one thing I hadn’t allowed myself to do, even though there should never have been anything stopping me. But when I reached her table, I sailed on by and made my way to the dessert line, grabbing a piece of apple pie and kicking myself all the way back to my own table.

There were days when I decided to give it all up. And then she would do that one thing that always pulled me right back in. She would smile. It was those moments when she would smile at me and for an instance our eyes would meet that I realized how hooked she had me. My life was practically hers, and she didn’t even know it.

I didn’t know a lot of women before her. I mean, I dated from time to time, but even after having sex, I don’t think I ever really knew any of them. This woman, however, seemed so different. Even though I knew absolutely nothing about her, and I assume she knew or cared little about me as well, I felt that she
was the first woman I truly knew everything about without having to even meet her.

I knew where she worked. I knew what she ate for lunch
every day. I even believed that I knew what her hopes and aspirations were; I could tell that by the way she would smile at me. And if you asked me to tell exactly what those hopes and aspirations were, I don’t think I could give you an answer, but were she in front of me at this moment, I would probably tell everything up front, not getting a single answer wrong.  Then again, if she was in front of me, I would probably lose all ability to speak, and the cycle would start all over again.

But I didn’t know her name. That bothered me for a long time. Then I realized that this was part of the allure of this woman. It wasn’t that I didn’t know her name, but I realized she wanted me to discover her name. That had to be it. It was kind of Rumpelstilzkin in reverse, except there was no threat of losing children I didn’t have if I got the answer wrong.

So I made up names for her. My first instinct was to call her Anastasia. I could see her as a Russian noblewoman, that long black mane indicating her superior status to the rest of the world. The Cossacks would hang on her every word, knowing that her choices would usher in a new Russia, and the world would remember her stories and legends for centuries if not thousands of years. She would have the name of Anastasia, but she would be too humble to be called by such a distinguished name and would ask all of her friends to call her Stasia, or perhaps Tasha, or Natashia, although Natashia would probably be just as distinguishable as Anastasia itself which would defeat her purpose, so most likely she’d go with Tasha.

Then a couple of weeks went by, and I started to realize that she didn’t really look like a Tasha, or an Anastasia for that matter. There was definite nobility to her, but it didn’t seem to be the
Holy Roman Empire type. No, I started to see her as more of an English enchantress, someone who might take the name of Elizabeth, much like the two queens of the same name. Noblemen would drop their cloaks over mud and let her walk across them for her honor and station, and she would be grateful. Her station would require that she accept such gestures, and with a woman as charming as Elizabeth how could a nobleman not surrender in such a chivalrous manner? And again, she would be too humble to be called by such a grandiose name and title, so she would probably shorten it to Liz. I could even hear her saying: “Thank you, Sir Knight, but Liz is quite fine.” It was then that I realized in the years that I’ve known Tasha, or Liz, that I’d never heard her speak.

So I started trying to sit closer to her so that I could hear her speak for the first time. It became a fetish with me, wanting to hear her voice, even if just once. I would get closer and closer to her table on the days when she would show up, although I noticed that the tables closer to her were always occupied. So I started showing up earlier and earlier, and finally, one day I was able to get a table that was right behind hers, so that if she spoke a single word, I would most definitely hear it.

That day at lunch, I listened intently, but all I heard was the rustling of her lunch bag, the unwrapping of cellophane and then the sounds of her eating with great etiquette.  I listened, and that’s all I heard.

It wasn’t hard to figure out that someone who never ate with anyone was probably not going to have a lot to say, so after those long sixty minutes, I never learned how sweet her voice might have been.

Many more months went by, and I still never had the opportunity to get any closer to her. By this time, her name was Vicky, short for Victoria Crescente Gabriella, and I was already beginning to suspect that this was not her name either. I had taken to staring at her from across the room and not eating. I couldn’t even concentrate on food whenever she was in the same room.

I guess the only reason I continued in this job that I really didn’t like was the fact that I was able to have lunch across the room with the object of my infatuation two or three times a week. It was when I finally realized that this was wrong, that I was never going to meet her, and that my whole life was being consumed by this overbearing act that I had never taken that I decided something had to be done.

I walked into my boss’s office and I asked him if there was any reason why I was remaining at this company. He stared back at me in surprise, as I had never questioned my position before. I think he figured I was always just happy to have the job. His response was less than grand, so I surprised him even further and told him that I would be quitting in the next two weeks. Before he could talk me out of it, if that would have been his intention, I left his office and went to take my lunch break.

There she was, sitting on the other side of the lunchroom. Gathering up my courage, I picked up my lunch tray and walked over to her table. Allowing my best smile, I spoke, my words practically exploding as they raced to get out of my mouth. “I know this is going to sound really strange, but I’ve been watching you over there, and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I joined you.”

She didn’t even respond. She just motioned to the seat across from her, and I sat down.

I looked around and noticed that no one I knew was in the lunchroom. It was as it always was. I was alone with her with only my memory as a witness.

I was shaking as I tried to shovel a spoonful of rice in to my mouth. Then, quickly, I spoke again. “Like I said, I know this is going to sound strange to you, but I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time.”

She just smiled and said nothing.

This was going well, but it wasn’t going as planned. For years, I had this fantasy of how this first meeting would go, and the reality paled far beneath the fantasy. “My name is Mark.”

She nodded. But again, no words.

“May I ask your name?” I said.

She answered, but not the question I had asked. Her voice was light, sweet, like a thistle bloom falling through the air without a sound, without any weight. It was even more beautiful than I had ever imagined. “I wondered how long it was going to take you to finally speak to me,” she said.

Hearing her voice was like listening to a thousand angels sing the universe’s most treasured song. I was almost too moved to speak. But I had come too far to stop now. “I put in my two weeks notice today. But I had to talk to you before leaving. This may not make sense, but meeting you was very important to me.”

She nodded in total understanding.  “My name is Anne. I’m glad we finally met.”

“Anne?” I said. “Is that short for anything?”

“No,” she replied. “That’s all there is.”

The End

SIMPLE GIRL

 

Sung-Hui stepped into the store and stomped on the rubber mat, pounding the snow from her boots.  She avoided the condescending glares from the other customers, realizing some things never change.

She was a quiet, unstylish, soft little woman.  She was attractive; her hair was simply washed and worn naturally while she dressed in hand-me down clothing from thrift stores, even though she never looked decrepit in her appearance.  From time to time, men would watch her walk down the town streets, but rarely did anyone ever approach her.  Attractive was one thing; available was another.  To everyone that knew her, and in a town of medium size, a lot of people knew her, she was left to her own devices as someone often is when people feel someone is beneath them for reasons real and unjust.

Sung-Hui was known by a great number of the people in town; yet, it was quite possible that no one ever really knew anything about her other than what people relayed during idle gossip.  And while this didn’t bother Sung-Hui any, it did set the tone for how the rest of the town felt about her.

“Why fight the storm?” she said to the clerk in the post office.  “It will just blow you over.”

The postal clerk would smile at her, take her money and then sigh to herself.  “Wind or sleet,” she replied.  “Wind or sleet.”

And Sung-Hui would just smile back at her, knowing the postal clerk would never understand.  And then, embracing the child within, she would skip home, convinced that only she truly understood the true nature of the storm.

The people of the town would often say things like: “Poor Sung-Hui.  She’s such a simple girl.” And they would feel sorry for her.  Or they would ridicule her behind her back.

As Sung-Hui left the corner convenience store, several customers and the cashier watched her leave.

“Something not right with that girl,” said Harold, a computer software salesman and long-time customer of Rick’s Convenient Store since first moving to the town from a larger city where he left to escape the used car business.

Rick just nodded and loaded Harold’s newly bought mousetrap into a plastic bag.  He was used to hearing comments and stories concerning Sung-Hui over the last couple of years since her arrival in the city, so he usually didn’t have much to add.

“She’s downright freaky,” said Rebecca, a twenty-something wannabe fashion model who worked for several of the downtown department stores.  Since junior high school, she knew she was going to be a well-paid model and, as expected, she was well on her way to achieving that goal.

Rick just nodded again.  Then he handed the plastic bag to Harold.  “Did you get those snow chains you were talking about last week?”

He nodded.  “The last ones broke near Donner’s Trail, so hopefully these will do the trick.”

Rick nodded and then glanced out the four-part window.  “It’s going to be a bad winter.”

“The worst,” interrupted Rebecca, not about to be left out of the conversation.  “It took me half an hour to start my car this afternoon.  I almost ended up walking here instead.”

“It’s too cold for walking,” said Harold.  He glanced out the window and saw Sung-Hui traversing the snow on the other side of the street.  “Poor woman should buy herself a car.”

Rebecca and Rick nodded together.

 

Sung-Hui was not oblivious to the words of those around her, but she only smiled when she heard them.

When she reached home, she unloaded her bag that she used to carry rice from the convenient store.  Rick had given up trying to give her plastic bags because she always unloaded them before she left and filled up her own bag.  It was only as she was placing the rice on the counter that she remembered she forgot to buy milk.  With a sigh, she realized she would have to return tomorrow.

Placing the bags of rice on a cupboard shelf, she walked into the living room and sat down to read a horror novel she purchased in a used bookstore on her way home from Rick’s Convenient Store.

She chose the book because of the cover rather than the blurb concerning the story.  The cover was of a dark, dreary house with an opened window and a young woman staring out the window at a full moon.  There was no violence on the cover, but from the somber, overwhelming darkness of the drawing it was obvious that something terrible was going to happen in this particular story.  That’s how she usually chose most of the books she read.

As she read, the shutters on her living room windows started to shake and then opened and closed in a very slow, monotonous manner.  For a moment, Sung-Hui was startled by the continuous banging sound, causing an eerie disposition no doubt enhanced by the horrific story she was reading.  And then she smiled.  “It’s just the shutters,” she said as she went back to her book.

Half an hour later, she began to feel cold.  Glancing at the fireplace, she determined there was enough firewood stacked next to the flaming log.  She knew she would not have to gather any more from the pile stacked outside the back door.

As she read further, she heard trees start to pound against the side of her house, swaying the wrong way in the wind.  A wind whistle intensified and quickly the snowflakes that fell outside her window turned to chunks of snow and hail that started to descend from the heavens.  As she reached the halfway point of her novel, the snow could be heard as it pounded on the roof, compacting itself as the temperature continued to drop to lower and lower levels.

Sung-Hui stood up and went to the window, staring out into the dreary whiteness that enveloped the outside world.  She wasn’t a fan of the snow or the cold, but she respected its power.  Many storms had passed her way in the years before this one, although she had to admit that the intensity of this particular storm was stronger than any she remembered.

Tossing another log onto the dying flame, she moved her recliner closer to the fireplace and continued reading.  Half an hour later, she fell asleep with her book and woke up in the early morning just in time to re-feed the fire with more wood.

After dressing and eating a small breakfast of cold cereal without milk because she had forgotten to get milk the day before, Sung-Hui walked back to the convenience store to finish her shopping.  As she walked down the snowed-over street, she steadied herself over slippery sheets of black ice and took it slowly; she only had to fall once to know how dangerous black ice could be.  But she only made it around the next corner when she came across a mass of white in the middle of the street that covered what was obviously a car.  Curiosity getting the better of her, she walked slowly to the hulking mass and brushed off the powdery snow from the windshield to reveal hardened ice underneath.  She wondered how someone could just leave his or her car in the middle of the street and not even realize it.

She stared at the white, caked snow and ice and figured that she had come this far, having crossed into the middle of the street where the car was, so she pulled a hanging, broken branch from a tree and used it to scrape away at the windshield’s ice until she could see underneath it.  Her eyes opened wide as she looked through the windshield and saw the lifeless face of Rebecca staring up in almost disbelief at nothing in particular.  The dead woman’s right hand was still clutching the ice-cold key in the ignition.  Her left hand was on the door handle in what looked to Sung-Hui to be the upper position to open the door, even though the door was sealed by ice that probably froze quickly during the previous evening’s storm.

“Oh my,” was all Sung-Hui could think of to say, even though she felt the situation demanded more words from her.  She turned to continue her trek to the convenience store.  There was a phone there that could be used to call someone.

A block later, she came across a mass of people hovering around an ambulance that still had its red lights flashing, throwing red shadows across the snow and then disappearing for an instant before causing the shadows again in a mood of morbid, disco fascination.  Sung-Hui moved closer to contact one of the paramedics about Rebecca, but as she did, she could hear people talking.

“Such a shame, too,” said one woman.  “He was so young.”

“I thought he had tire chains on,” said an unknown voice.

“He did,” replied another voice with much sadness.  “That was the problem.  The chains broke and wrapped around the axle.  They say it was instantaneous.  He was probably dead before he even realized he hit the parked car.”

Sung-Hui walked over to the ambulance and found one of the paramedics.  He took one look at her and motioned for her to keep moving.  “Sung-Hui,” he said, knowing her from the many stories told around the station house about the poor, simple girl everyone was told to look out for, “this is no place for you.”

Sung-Hui nodded.  “Sir, there’s a car up the street with a dead woman in it.  I think she froze during the night.”

The paramedic nodded and went for his radio microphone.  After thanking Sung-Hui for reporting the information, he watched her leave, continuing her journey towards the convenience store.

“Who was that?” said a woman who overheard the conversation.

“Just a simple girl,” said the paramedic as he turned back to the radio.

“Poor girl,” was the woman’s response.

 

THE END

BOOK: A Wonderful Life
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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