Her mother plucked her real name out of a soap opera but to me she’s always Blythe, the insouciant cool-girl manic-pixie made flesh. She wears off-the-shoulder sportswear to the office, drinks with the guys without teetering on her stilettos, suggests splitting the bill in half when only she’s been drinking, dances until two and goes for a five-mile run at six – the one who swears she needs no man.
Except, presumably, the married one she’s dating.
I didn’t pry. I didn’t even ask.
In my version of the story, I am the tortoise, and she the hare. Today, especially today.
She blows into the office on the day of the interviews, fourteen minutes late, hugging Carla and Jasmine and joking with the cleaning staff in fluid Spanish. She manifests in a heaven-cloud of orange blossom tinged with mocha – and beams at me. As ever. “Good morning, sunshine!”
“Ray was looking for you,” I reply. My computer reflection’s hair looks stringy.
“He’s… oh God, that’s today?” she cries, sweeping her elegantly mascaraed eyelashes and nearly tipping her brand-name to-go coffee onto my files. She deposits her purse and jacket on my chair, calling, “I’ll be right back!” from halfway across the cube maze.
I remember sitting on my grandmother’s lap while she read me Aesop’s ‘The Fox and the Mask’ and her sudden vehemence during this tale. A fox finds an actor’s mask, and observes that it is full of beauty. And empty of brains.
Blythe is gone for nearly an hour, during which Anne collapses atop the abandoned accessories to vent, Steve asks me a question I already answered – twice – yesterday, and Ramón initiates a three-minute brainstorming session that, in retrospect, I will identify as a high point. Then Blythe flounces back in to my cube. “Ray’s so cute,” she says. Her cup has left a pale chocolate-colored ring on my desk.
I return my attention to nine new emails. Ray is every John Hughes hero, twenty years later, never having gotten the girl.
“He said he’s ready for you,” she adds.
I step into Ray’s office. His gaze doesn’t flicker over my Ann Taylor suit. “Tell me why you’re the best candidate to become my new deputy.”
Tyrone, Ray’s previous amanuensis, exited to pursue greener pastures last week.
I describe my successes in streamlining our procedures, reducing customer complaints, and conserving resources for future-year use. (Like the ant, intones my dead grandmother’s voice.)
I blink. No words emerge. And now I’m scrambling to imagine how Blythe, with her cosmological carelessness, would answer.
She, no doubt, would laugh.
“And… I think I’m the most qualified person,” I conclude.
Ray nods. As the conversation trudges onward, I recall Grandma’s expression when my tailbone started to dig into her thigh. “Thank you for coming in,” he says.
I stumble toward my desk – “I’m sure you did great!” calls Blythe.
Just before lunch, Ray calls everyone together for a stand-up meeting outside his office. I grip my phone as silence descends. “I’m delighted to announce,” he smiles, “that Blythe will be our new deputy!”
The grasshopper wins. In Ray’s version, Blythe’s story, the grasshopper fucking wins.
“Her rapport with customers, attention to morale, and team focus…”
I smile fixedly, glancing at my screen. Carla, Ray’s executive assistant, has produced a a tray of crackers and cheese and a bottle of sparkling cider. She offers me a cup.
In Aesop’s tale, the fox leapt upward, but could never reach the tantalizing grapes above. So he declared that he never wanted them anyway.
My right thumb launches my updated résumé into cyberspace.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over fifty literary magazines, including Drunk Monkeys, STORGY, and Newfound.