Lunchtime Fandango — Catherine Moore
She was the kind of woman who brought her lunch to work in a Victoria’s Secret bag. Its pink and white stripes perched sex next to the other refrigerator sandwiches. She was also the type to re-use the lacy tissue paper to wrap around each vittle. Every day she lifted her delicate food treats decorated like birthday gifts from this sultry sack. The last piece of crepe-like paper enfolded a tube of lipstick. The touchup, for the après repas. On Monday it was always Atomic Red. Tuesday through Thursday rambled through the Shades of Rose. Friday made special with Mauvey Night. The men watched her steady hand. Her aim—perfection. Her name—Grace.
The boss opted for holding meetings through the lunch hour, which is how the entire executive staff began following the show. A tease of luncheon snacks unwrapped little by little. The automated lights in the conference room flicked themselves off at precisely 12:06, for cost-saving measures, and the only lamp left on was an emergency LED recessed in the floor behind Grace’s seat. It cast a radiant fan of pale light across the wall, appearing as an ethereal violet haze. A backdrop for her exquisite moves. The wings of her shoulders and the shape of halo-perfect hair, silhouetted in a lavender cage. Sometimes even in the room’s brightened lights-on state and the board members saw feathery lit flutters around Grace’s face and hands, but when the room darkened this optical illusion intensified. The color flashes reminded the stenographer, Emma, of chasing fireflies at midnight in the moist Indiana air of her childhood. It reminded the boss, Mr. Sexton, of the faulty emergency lights blinking in his college dorm room where he watched Charlie’s Angels into the sign-off hours of dawn.
Yes, they had a stenographer; Mr. Sexton being old school. Old in the way of enjoying how purchasing forms sounded when hammered by a typewriter and how easy a Geritol could be swallowed with a Bloody Mary each morning. Despite his antiquated ideas, he was a lion when it came to business and getting-busy. Beneath a pelt of misanthropy, lurked, perhaps, a soft heart as Mr. Sexton often expressed his appreciation of the female form bent over his office equipment. He frequently asked for work in triplicate. Unfortunately, Grace oversaw purchasing. The stenographer took care of the morning cocktail pick-me-ups. She remained cheery to each barked “Emma” coming from the boss’s doorway. Grace found this compliance distasteful until the stenographer shared that Emma was not her real name, and she was happy to work for cash payments so no one in the office knew her particulars. In subterfuge, they were sisters.
Emma took most of the oppressive atmosphere in stride. Except for the likes of Mr. Q- who frequented gentleman clubs, though himself never gentle. Mr. Q- carried an unusually fat wallet, which he plucked with a flourish from his pocket each meeting and spent his bored moments thumbing through various cards. The tick-tick-tick flip of his handiwork distracted the stenographer’s concentration. She and Grace both grew impatient with his leering when he explained to everyone why he carried so many one-dollar bills. A tidbit he felt compelled to drop into conversation every day.
Grace’s least favorite table companion was the man of unpronounceable name who wore too much cologne and sported bolo ties. The obligatory hired consultant who drew out the title when he introduced himself as “CUN-saullll-T-annnt.” Grace nicknamed him ‘magnet man’ because his cold gray fingers moved incessantly towards her, touching her hands, reaching over and in, groping up arms and down backsides. The constant fondling made her cringe. In her younger days, Grace had been forced to love her papa’s hands. Until she’d learned the magic to escape. How concentrating hard enough on breath and pulse allowed one to hover between air and body. Between the corner of the ceiling and any violation on the floor. In this hovering space, she discovered the ripple, a strange energy where sound and light waves disappeared, and when she floated in to this void, she held the illusion of time. The sorcery of recreating history.
Following Emma’s suggestion, Grace avoided mister unpronounceable by sitting next to Mr. Sexton who spoke frank about wanting nothing to do with consultants, particularly not having to smell them. She enjoyed the advantage of being the right hand of the boss. Though, as cliché as it sounded, Grace found no other term in mind for Sexton other than fat cat. He was all hair: knuckles, nose, and neck. His scruffy hairline looked like a mane as he sat at the table’s head presiding over his lair. Sexton called his irritating mustache a soul patch and liked to stroke it during discussion times. While his dyed facial hair might help evade a casual question of his age, the orange stain on his fingers told the undeniable truth. His macho vanity seemed boundless, but at least when his tabby-cat hands brushed against hers, he gave Grace an apologetic smile.
On the first workday of the New Year, Sexton announced the lunch hour meetings would continue and stay off record. As usual, Emma was permitted to leave and Grace was left to her own fending. At the appointed six minutes past noon, the auto-lights reduced, the sultry haze rose, and breathtaking feathered shadows projected behind Grace’s presence. Almost like angel wings. Grace opened the Victoria’s Secret sack and began her lunchtime tease. Voices dropped to a murmur and soon dazed men whose mutterings eventually fizzled out filled the table. They stared in blanked expressions. Once the group completely froze, Grace fluttered toward the dark energy hovering above and entered the ripple to re-history. She pointed her finger at the clock and motioned the hour hand to rewind itself. Back in her seat, she said, “Now for my time.”
She finished the last bite of her confections and left the room with a satisfied smile. Grace moved in a muted hustle. Within this brief recess, she made fast use of the consultant’s computer to alter purchasing accounts, transfer money, and correspond with a builder regarding her condo in the Caymans. Checking the balances, she realized her slip into freedom drew close. Very close. Grace sighed, and then giggled. She heard a throat clearing, ahem, at the cubicle threshold. She turned to see Sexton, who had woken out of his trance.
“Ah, my beauty has boldness as well,” he said. Sexton moved behind the chair stopping only at close range. Grace swallowed uncomfortably when he put his stubby hand on her collarbone and she dipped her shoulder signaling his next move should be retreat. He slowly caressed the nape and stroked her hair with his paw.
“Don’t worry, we can arrange something mutually beneficial. Fulfill both our desires.” He paused and bent to whisper, “Here, come type it for me.”
Grace ducked out of the chair and aimed to ignore his intentions, but he grabbed her arms and twisted them at her back. In a swift second, Grace found herself pinned against the cubicle wall. She was startled by his strength and impressed with the fat cat’s prowess. There may have been more to his game than she assumed.
Twenty minutes later, Grace cleared her lunch tissue wrappings and smiled, remembering the final tautness in his fleshy rolls. The board members awoke and were entranced by her expression. They watched the slow slide of Atomic Red across her lips as a final touchup. The conference room was still unnaturally lavender, and quiet, when Emma ran in screaming, “Mr. Sexton!”
Hung lying down, necktie twisted in the typewriter, Sexton was pinned by the tiny metal arms on the letters “N” and “O.” His face such a shade of deep mauve, the executive staff flinched at the sight.
Emma watched Grace slip away.
Catherine Moore is the author of three chapbooks, the poetry collection Ulla! Ulla!, and Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Poetry. Her work appears in Tahoma Literary Review, Southampton Review, Mid-American Review, Broad River Review and in various anthologies. She’s been awarded Walker Percy and Hambidge fellowships; her honors also include the Yemassee Fiction Prize, the Southeast Review’s Poetry Prize, as well as Pushcart, the Best of the Net, and VERA Award nominations. Her fiction has shortlisted in several competitions and was selected for inclusion in the juried Best Small Fictions. Catherine holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and she teaches at a community college. Her upcoming collection of lyrical pieces in the voices of bog bodies is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press.