Monday, January 11, 2010

Clementine, by Jon VanZile

I was in a most unlikely position: surrounded by a girl and two of her friends, in a candy-scented cloud of sweet perfume and vodka martinis. I didn't know the girl's name or where she worked, but earlier I'd watched in shock as she peeled a Clementine orange with her tongue, then smiled at me and said, "Just call me Clementine." So I did.

"C'mon," Clementine said, "I know you've got a passcard. It'll be cool!"

"I don't know," I said. "There are cameras up there. And then Mr. Steele's office, too."

"I know!" Clementine said. Her friends twittered and I became momentarily entranced by the interplay of light along the lengths of blonde hair, brunette hair, and blonde hair arranged around me. This was closer than I'd been to any female since Jane left—and the closest I'd ever been to girls like these.

I was struck with a savage, fleeting wish that Jane could see me now. She would have to eat her words.

"Please," Clementine said. "You'll have a good time. I promise."

Her friends nodded enthusiastically. I couldn't remember either of their names, if I ever knew them, because they seemed to have simply materialized by the bar earlier, when Clementine had dragged them over by their spaghetti straps.

"But I still don't understand—"

Clementine put one of her fingers to my lips, and I saw she had a ring on her pinky that matched the three earrings in her right ear. She said, "Because I have a little surprise." She rooted around in her purse and produced a thin, crooked cigarette.

"Is that marijuana?" I said.

The girls laughed again, and I felt like a fool. "Duh," said Clementine. "Wouldn't it be cool to smoke up in the board room? I wanna get high in the board room. You'll never think of board meetings the same again!"

I hadn't smoked marijuana in twenty years, and the last time I did, I had vomited all over my pants. So it wasn't the marijuana that made me nod and pull out my passkey. It was the fact that my brain had just caught up with the lingering, rounded suggestion in Clementine's words: "You'll have a good time. I promise."

I led them away from the Christmas party, through the marble lobby, and we called the executive elevator. I swiped my card to open it, and the girls went silent as they entered the clubby car.

"Wow," said the brunette. "These walls are, like, real leather."

"Hey," said Clementine's blonde friend, "how come we don't get leather walls in the PR cubes? I want leather walls."

"Uh, I guess it's too expensive," I said. "Cuts into the bottom line."

The girls burst into laugher, and I smiled along. Clementine put a hand on my chest, and it burned a small, palm-shaped hole in my shirt. I hoped she didn't feel the sudden pounding of my heart—beautiful women usually terrified me into silence, but maybe it was the alcohol tonight because it seemed like this whole thing was happening to someone else and everything I said was funny or smart. Then again, I knew how intimidating management could be, and I was management now.

I smiled.

The elevator dinged open and we exited into the hushed foyer of the executive floor. It was dim, except for pinprick lights highlighting art on the walls and potted palms. The secretary's desk was empty, and I had a sudden memory of all the times I waited in this lobby, nervously gripping some report and hoping that Mr. Steele and the others would be happy with my work. The girls had fanned out into in the foyer and were draping themselves over the furniture in the casual, thoughtlessly erotic way that beautiful girls did everything.

"You shouldn't open that," I said, alarmed, as I saw Clementine plop into Marianne's chair behind the big secretary's desk and start opening drawers. "This is the executive floor!"

"Oh, don't worry," Clementine said. "I'm not going to take anything. Besides, it's all boring old-lady stuff anyway."

"I have an idea," the blonde said to me. "Clementine can play secretary for you. You know, you'll be the big boss and she'll be your little sexretary."

"I'm sorry?" I said, my cheeks flushing red as I struggled to untangle her words. Did she say what I thought?

The girls erupted in laughter again, and Clementine got up and came toward me. "C'mon, you guys," she said over her shoulder. "Be nice. Now," she turned to me. "Can we get in?"

I nodded, hoping they didn't see how embarrassed I was. Jane and I had always made love in dark rooms, silently, like we were embarrassed of our own sounds.

I pushed the memory away and got out my passkey again, then went to the big glass door that opened into the main floor. I could picture it exactly: a hallway with doors leading to offices for senior management, ending in grand double-doors that led into the paneled boardroom. There was a map in the hall with all the countries in gold leaf and crystals showing where we did business.

I swiped my card, and reached for the door handle, but then I froze. The light, which should have turned green, stayed stubbornly red. I swiped the card again. Still red. Then again, and still red. Clementine was watching, a delighted, incredulous smile growing on her face, and her friends drifted over to watch the light stay red.

"Uh," I said. "They must have changed the passcards. I guess, um, I can't get in."

"Nice, Clementine," the blonde one said. "He can't even get in."

Now Clementine looked annoyed. "Are you for real?" she said. "You can't get in?"

"They change these every so often," I said, feeling the mood change as the girls watched me. "We could go to my office ... it's just down a few floors ... and—"

"C'mon," the brunette said to her friends, as if I suddenly didn't even exist. "I'm bored with this. I want to get out of here anyway."

"Right," Clementine said. "Bye, dude."

And as they turned, leaving me at the door, I had a final glimpse of myself reflected in Clementine's eyes, as if in a mirror: balding, fat, middle-management, divorced, and old. They didn't even look back as they rode their cloud of sweet perfume back into the elevator.

25 comments:

Erica Orloff said...

Wow . . . I mean you so effectively embodied another voice. I think the description of the girls is dead on, and . . . and this is what I love . . . MERCILESS. You don't hold back anything. Brilliantly fearless in that sense.

About the only thing for me . . . I wondered (and this is more a human wondering than a your-story wondering) if he could really delude himself . . . if somehow THAT guy (in the picture) could think they would really have fun. But maybe that's the tragic bit in here.

E

E. Flanigan said...

To me, there's a point being made here about aging. This guy is too old for these young ladies, and he should know better. But why doesn't he listen to the little voice inside of him that suspects the girls are just fooling with him? The answer: Sex.

I don't care how old or young a guy is, sex or the hope of sex or the promise of sex can be very motivating. Even when the guy should know better. I was at the gym today and watched an 80-something lady prance around the place in her leotard. She had the attention of every 80-year-old guy there. Maybe even some of the 70-year-olds! ;)

But using sex against someone, letting him think he's really all that, is cruel. You nailed the cruelty. Young ladies, in particular, can be careless that way.

I pity this guy. Good story.

Erica Orloff said...

E.:
I agree. Fearless in the depiction of cruelty. I just wondered if the GUy would be so self-aware at the end. But you know . . . he just faced a stark truth.

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

Thanks. One of the things I wanted to capture was that first awful rush of insecurity that sometimes occurs after a rejection ... who knows if this is really what Clementine thought of him, and who knows what she's carrying around herself, but right then, this is what he thinks of himself. I don't know if that makes total sense, but it sounds like the leap didn't really work for you ...

LurkerMonkey said...

E,

I've sometimes wondered if beautiful girls knew how cruel they can be ... or 80-year-olds in leotards.

Erica Orloff said...

Lurker:
I think some of it is the prompt and likely my OWN preconceived notions of how self-aware a fat, bald, "old" middle-manager white guy can be. Which goes to show for the thousandth time how readers bring their own "stuff" to a story.

Melanie Avila said...

Since we've already said how well you portrayed the cruelty of these women, I'd like to praise your imagery. Having been in offices like that (and even run around inside after hours), this really pulled me inside the story. I've known self-centered women like that, too, and I think his reactions are completely natural.

Well done.

The only thing that threw me off is in the very beginning when you say "her friends twittered", I admit I thought of the site Twitter and pictured them on their phones.

LurkerMonkey said...

Melanie,

Thanks! That's a good point about twittering ... the word has been rendered useless.

Jude Hardin said...

A couple of nitpicks: vodka doesn't really have much of a smell, and I've never heard of anyone vomiting from smoking weed...

Okay, this was well-written and I got a great sense of character here, but I was expecting more of a punch at the end. So, for me, it was sort of anti-climactic (a criticism I have of my own story this time, btw). I mean, I know that's the point (no climax), but as a story I don't think it quite delivered in the end.

LurkerMonkey said...

Jude,

In my original version, I had him machine-gunning the girls down in a haze of bloody brain tissue, but cooler heads prevailed.

Sadly, I know from firsthand experience that it's possible to throw up from smoking weed if you've been drinking enough.

Jude Hardin said...

Damn alcohol.

Jude Hardin said...

See, a haze of bloody brain tissue really wouldn't have worked either, because two of them were blondes.

Erica Orloff said...

My mother totally pukes if she has sensemillian (sp?). So . . . yeah . . . people puke from pot.

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

I must know more about this...

E. Flanigan said...

Jude, I like how you worked in a blonde joke, plus the earlier joke about no climax. You must be really "on" today! LOL

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks E. ;)

Sin semilla. It's spanish for "without seeds." Pure bud. Maybe your mother is allergic, Erica, or maybe it's an age thing. Usually marijuana has the opposite effect--it's even used as an anti-emetic for some cancer patients on chemotherapy. Something to do with an adrenaline response that directs blood flow away from the stomach and toward the skeletal muscles. But anyway, I'll accept that someone, somewhere, has at some time or another vomited from smoking marijuana. But as we know, just because something really happened doesn't mean it works in a fictional context.

Natasha Fondren said...

Sexretary? Okay, now I feel like a dork because I've never heard it, but I love it! LOL!

And I love the timing of "I smiled."

I found this piece very sad. Those petty little humiliations can be hell.

Erica Orloff said...

Jon:
Oh . . . there's a story of me finding a stash. LOL!

E

LurkerMonkey said...

Natasha,

Ha ha. Actually, I made up sexretary ... I was kinda proud of it myself, so I'm glad you liked it.

Melanie Avila said...

I disagree about vodka not having an odor. I know everyone says that but I can ALWAYS smell it.

Natasha Fondren said...

You did? Then I'm triply impressed! Man, that'd be a good title for a book. I'm bummed I never thought of it!

LurkerMonkey said...

Feel free ... the odds of me writing an MG book titled SEXRETARY are pretty thin. :)

Merry Monteleone said...

I'm thinking the title SEXRETARY might have been used in porn somewhere... but I'm not completely up on the titles :-)

You captured that moment, that split second reaction of humiliation, really well.

As far as whether beautiful girls know what they're doing - the type from your story are fully aware and there are a lot of them that wield it flawlessly... I've seen girls like this pull the same things on the same guys, over and over - you'd think the guy would learn, but it usually takes a good while before they do... and the guy will usually be a sucker for it until they get into a real relationship with another woman. Actually, I take that back - some of those types of women will actually give him what he's after just to see if she can compete with the relationship.

So yeah, as far as the women you're portraying, they know exactly what they're doing.

Beautiful women in general, not always. A lot of the ones that put more stock in character or intellect don't even realize they're that pretty.

LurkerMonkey said...

Merry,

Not up on your porn titles, huh? lol ...

Yeah, I've seen this kind of thing too with these kinds of girls. For the record, I don't think all beautiful women are this predatory.

Thanks.

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