"Yale Law Review - they all go to the Current Journals section." Carol reeled off an identifying number from the new coding system, and soon I was able to find the correct shelf. I heaved the stack of musty tomes up from off the trolley. ""Come and work for a big glamorous law firm", they said. "Do important cases and be famous" they said..." I tailed off sardonically.
"The cases we have to do are these ones..." Carol swept out her arm to indicate the rows of tall grey metal bookcases in the archive room. "... in accordance with this new system". She tapped emphatically on the manual we'd been given by Brad, our immediate boss, when he told us we'd be working together on this "vital reorganisation" of the firm's case-law collections. Carol had been here almost twenty years, but I was a new kid on the block. A lot of the people here I still only knew by sight. Including Carol, until just lately. "If you don't like it" she continued, "why don't you quit this job and finish your law studies full-time? That way, you'd start at the top. Well, the middle, anyway." "I don't have the dough. And it will look good on my resume. Always looks better for a law student to be doing the shitwork of a law firm than some grocery store..."
She flinched at this.
"Excuse me, I've been doing this... this "shitwork" since almost the time you were born..."
Oh-oh! Looks like I was in for an inter-generational telling-off! But, impetuous youth that I was, the flames got fanned with:
"Yes, how'd you put up with it for so long? I'd have been driven insane by now!"
She went quiet, then: "Sometimes it does drive me insane. But it's a job... and better than some things I could be doing..."
That made me bite my tongue. I'm no bleeding-heart liberal but you didn't have to be an Einstein to get her drift, about being a girl, and Hispanic, and growing up in the place that she did.
"So I always take this kind of thing seriously " she continued. "It's Brad's way, or the highway."
"To hell with Brad! Soon this stuff will all be on-line anyway! I'd rather be working-out, or mountain-biking... anything but this for three straight weeks!"
"Then go ride your mountain bike, so I can go ask Brad for a new assistant. One who can knuckle down, and not just be only thinking about "looking good"... if kids like that can even be found these days..."
My turn to get tetchy, about being called a "kid". At twenty-one, hadn't I just been given the keys to life, and everything? Anyway, what's wrong with looking good? Far from a sign of laziness, it'd been a career in itself developing an upper body like mine.
But the conversation here was really not that heated. Banter like this helped to pass the time, and after this exchange we lapsed into silence for a while.
Then we got on to spouses.
"So... when did she move in with you?" Carol wanted to know, having just learned about the existence of Fay.
"About three months ago. It's getting serious, I guess"
"I guess. Are you engaged?"
"Shit, no! I'm not ready for anything like that!"
"I'll bet you're not. But what about her?" Carol's probing hinted at a deeply ingrained Catholicism.
"I dunno. She hasn't said. We mostly just have a good time together."
"And what makes a "good time"?"
"You mean, lifestyle in general? Or intimate secrets?"
"You can save the intimate secrets. I meant lifestyle in general."
"Okay, I guess we have a lot in common. She's sporty. I'm sporty. We met when competing in a triathlon. I like to spend a lot of time in the gym. She does too, fortunately for me. It'd cause a problem for us if she didn't."
"I like girls with athletic bodies. She has a very athletic body. Very taut, very..."
"Hey, that's intimate!"
"No it's not. I'm just describing her figure."
"To us women, having our figure described is intimate."
"It's like being looked-at all over, but in words... oh, never mind!"
"I thought women like being looked at!"
Carol didn't dignify that with an answer. Another period of silence, punctuated only by book-moving talk.
"Anyway" I said after a while, "Enough of me, what about you? What do you think about me?"
I'd heard this line in a Bette Midler movie, but if Carol thought it witty she didn't show it.
"I got married when I finished high school, and have two sons. Miguel is smart, handsome, but shy. Anton is lazy and already a charmer with the ladies."
"Anton... that doesn't sound like a Spanish name."
"It isn't. I just happened to like it."
"And your husband?"
She was slower to answer that one.
"Anton takes after him" was all she'd say.
After I'd digested this, my mind went back to what she'd said about describing a woman's body. I'd just tried to describe Fay to Carol - so how would I describe Carol to Fay? Not that I made a point of letting on to Fay that I noticed other women's figures - quite the opposite. But I did notice. I noticed lots and lots and lots. Especially Brad's personal secretary with the legs that went on forever, and the junior clerk in Accounts who sometimes wore a tight stretchy miniskirt, and...
... so why hadn't I particularly noticed Carol before?
She's not from an age group I was attuned to noticing, perhaps.
I regarded her surreptitiously, or so I thought.
Her face was pretty, with smooth olive skin, though some lines here and there. A strong face, with heavy eyebrows if left unplucked. Nice full lips. Dark hair that fell in heavy curls about her shoulders. Dark eyes, usually with a warmth in them but sometimes guarded and sometimes with a trace of sadness.
Figure... a lot more rounded than his own past dates or preferences to date. Her frame was petite, and a little padded now with the passage of time. A narrow waist that flared out to her hips, a blouse front that swelled promisingly, and a gorgeous backside under that tailored skirt. She could look good - could put to shame some girls half her age. But the packaging... she always dressed conservatively. Demurely. Dressed down, you could say. In a way that always lessened rather than increased attention toward her... ahem... "assets".
She looked up sharply and caught me "regarding".
"What are you looking at?"
"Nice outfit!" I volunteered.
"Thanks" she said, but gave me a funny look.
A few more days passed, in the same old boring tasks. I couldn't wait to get back to my usual desk, doing my usual paperwork while surreptitiously surfing the net. The only upside of my present task was working with Carol, who was loosening up a bit and becoming easier company. Though I got the impression that at times I irritated the hell out of her.
"Have there been many other girlfriends before Fay?" Carol wanted to know one day.
"A few. In fact, several. I lost my virginity when I was fifteen."
I was being deliberately provocative here, and expected censure for it, but there was none so I followed with "How 'bout you?"
"Eighteen. On my wedding night" she said primly. One point to her, in the morality stakes. But a milestone had just been passed. We were now talking about intimacies.
"To have had so many girlfriends already, you must change them like library books. How do you do it?" she wanted to know.
"Same way you'd change a boyfriend, I guess".
"Which is... ?"
"You mean, you don't know?"
"I've only ever had the one. I married him."
"Weird! Try before you buy, I always say! It pays to shop around."
She allowed a silence which obviously did not indicate assent, then "Well... ?"
"Well, it's usually obvious if we're, like, drifting apart. We'll see each other less and less, phone each other less and less, then one of us finds someone else that we want to see more, and then... we say "It's over. Bye-bye!""
"As easy as that?"
"As easy as that. Unless, you've just met someone really hot, and you want to be free of complications real quick, then it can get heavy."
"So, what do you do?"
"Just tell her."
"Tell her what?"
"That I don't want to see her anymore."
"How does she take it?"
"Not well. Lots of waterworks, maybe things thrown. A stuffed toy once got disemboweled with a bread knife. Very symbolic. But hey, to make an omelette you gotta break some eggs!"
She didn't approve, I could tell. But then, she'd asked a straight question and I'd given a straight answer!
She got back to asking about Fay.
"What's the main thing that first attracted you?"
"Her body. In a two-piece Lycra triathlon suit, she looked so hot. I had to ask her out, the minute I saw her."
"What was so great about the triathlon suit?"
"The way it clung. And what it was clinging to. And the fact that she was dressed like that in front of 300 other entrants, mostly male."
"Is she big... y'know, in front?"
"Nah! Fried-eggs! And just as well, if you're an athlete."
"Do you still allow her to dress like that in front of other men?"
"Sure. I get a kick out of it. She does too."
CRASH! Carol's grip on a pile of folders momentarily faltered, and most of them ended up on the floor. We scooped them back up. While we were bent down on the floor, I took the opportunity to glance down her blouse. Only a brief glimpse of a deep cleft, but enough to confirm the presence of certain attributes that would render her seriously triathlon-challenged.
"How do you know she gets a kick out of it?" Carol finally brought herself to ask.
.... There is more of this story ...