A Step Up

by Sandra Hunter

Originally published in The Snake Nation Review

Listen to the intro read by Ann-Marie Lariccia:

The storm funneled across the sky smearing the last light across a birds flight of cirrus clouds at the horizon. A plastic Vons bag lifted and snatched at the swinging red traffic light. In a Honda, the red-head (natural) ran her nails over the fraying seams in the leather steering wheel cover.
She said, “Ghosts are out.”

The wraith bag hovered above the traffic lights and hit a telephone pole, spilling the ghost groceries into the arms of the Joshua Trees. The morning wind would trail the lingering ghost-dinner smells through Yucca Valley; roasted vegetables and slow-cooked, juice-steeped meat. Tired truckers would sniff the air and stop at Grüdchen’s for thick bacon and thicker coffee.
Fuller said, “I’m hungry. Let’s get something.”

“Not here.”

She didn’t like the look of the trucks lined up like sentries at Grüdchen’s. She imagined walking in and having those truckers eyes skinny her out of her jeans and shirt, put her on a table with a feather boa between her legs.

The light turned green. Twenty-five winding miles to the freeway and civilization. Palm Springs: golf, spas, stores where the t-shirts didn’t say, “Save a species; hump a climber.” Fuller leaned over and put a hand on the steering wheel. “C’mon. Let’s eat.”

“It’s twenty minutes to Palm Springs. Can’t you wait twenty minutes?” She hi-beamed a smile and arched her back a little, accentuating those promising curves beneath her t-shirt. As usual, his eyes dropped to the challenge.

“No.” He pushed the steering wheel hard and she over-corrected. As the tires hit the gravel on the side of the road, she glimpsed a white Adirondack chair leaning down towards the road from a high-angled patch of weeds. Where did they come from, these kitchen, cushioned, or plastic lounge chairs; hauled down slopes, thrown into empty lots with their faces peeling into the wind? She braked, checked her mirror, eased the car back onto the road.

He said, “What’s with you? It’s just a restaurant.” He rubbed her thigh.
She thought about arguing. Saturday night. He wanted to get in the back and fuck. Perhaps it reminded him of being a student, but the Honda wasn’t a car for fucking and Kelley Artunian wasn’t a student.

At thirty-three, she’d worked as a supervisor for five years in a law office. It was her job to absorb the frustrations of staff presented with conflicting requests, missed discovery deadlines, or yet another 4:45p.m. project. Sometimes she felt the anger swarming after her as she trod the corridor again to Alex DeGrace’s office to argue for the impossible: more reasonable attorney-staff relationships.

Alex DeGrace, managing director, was a small man with barely-there hair gel and a beautiful mouth at odds with his concise, particular language. In his credenza there was a Smarter Image Petite Telescope. On the 18th floor at 626 Grand, four women leaned against the window at lunch times; he liked their cello symmetry, their warm, playable backs. On intermittent Wednesday afternoons, he refocused the telescope to the 34th floor of 500 Grand where a young woman, blouse unbuttoned, stood for two minutes with her chest pressed against the window. It was as though she wished to press herself out of the building, falling breast-first to the earth. Her bra, her chest, were flattened; a two-dimensional tease. Alex loved this act of angry sexuality. His office door was shut for those two, holy minutes. The rumors rumbled between secretaries, provoking witticisms which remained at desk level.

At a level closer to gutter, a different kind of tension ran between himself and Kelley. She was hired while he was on vacation after her predecessor, Lauren Barberi, flexed her dragon-tattooed biceps and emptied a printer cartridge and three files of carefully-worded memos—flex-time, a crêche, sympathetic leave for working mothers—on Alex’s desk and stalked out.

While Kelley seemed dragon and alcohol-free, Alex was distant with her. He didn’t appear to notice as she walked, arms crossed, between his credenza, desk, armchairs, and coffee table and talked at him about staff problems. His ironic stare was stared down.

 

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