The room was empty save for the two of us. It looked as if it was just going to be Frances and me. It didn’t matter. I knew immediately upon meeting her that I could count on Frances. She’d sort things out. I knew she would. Not because she’d told me, but because determination and efficiency emanated from her like the scent of her sandalwood perfume. Frances immediately impressed me when she mentioned her retinue of assistants within the first few seconds of our meeting. Assistants! Frances was obviously a female of great importance yet appreciated the value of well-trained underlings. The phone calls, the paperwork, the appointments, running Frances’s personal errands. She certainly didn’t have the time for such mundanities! (I felt in my bones that Frances could do those things if she absolutely had to and that’s what mattered.)
Although we’d just met, I felt a need to impress her with my ability and my “can do” attitude. As soon as it was clear that an error had been committed and no one else was joining us in the conference room, I sprang into action without the benefit of knowing what action was needed. (Frances seemed to expect action so action is what I provided.) Against my usual docile nature, I began dialing. My voice found an authority it had never had before and within seconds I was working my way up the chain of command, rolling my eyes at Frances to convey my contempt for the idiots with whom we were made to suffer. I made Frances’s feelings clear, our joint displeasure obvious. I was talking, but I was speaking for Frances. Her time was important; mine a trifling, a grain of sand on an expanse of beach. Her schedule could not tolerate unnecessary delays, cancellations, or interruptions. The poor sap on the other end was apologetic, embarrassed, contrite. Dopamine flooded my insular cortex. I marveled at my sudden assertiveness, riding on the contact high of someone else’s discomfort, even as I recognized this borrowed chutzpah’s transient inevitability. It felt good and I had Frances to thank for it.
I hung up and parlayed the gist of the call to Frances. After the briefest pause to frown ever-so-slightly, she got right down to business and boy, this is where she really shined. Distilling the situation to its basest parts, she broke down our options. Our options. I very nearly swooned at the phrase, but at the same time, I felt calm and sure. Just like that we became a team. Within seconds – how could a mind work so fast? – she had a plan and she had no time for small talk. She wanted to know if I was with her or not. Without hesitation I threw in my lot with hers. Frances smartly whipped out a small lined pad and thrust it at me. Confused for a moment, I hesitated before I wrote down my name and phone number in strong, clear characters. (I didn’t want her to struggle over my usually atrocious handwriting.) Feeling my face redden at the shame of having no business card to offer her in lieu of my scrawl, I slid the pad back, keeping my eyes lowered. Frances shrugged off my embarrassment almost as if she hadn’t noticed. I was grateful for her tact.
She assured me that she “had connections” and I was too impressed to inquire further. With my contact information in hand, she rose up from her chair like a battleship cresting the waves and strode past the squadron of empty folding chairs. She swept out of the room, leaving a swirling wake of sandalwood with overtones of jasmine-scented shampoo. She tossed one end of her muted paisley shawl across the opposite shoulder, hefting her large chocolate-brown Coach briefcase at the same time. The mushroom-shaped bun of loosely piled hair atop her handsome head bobbed up and down with each firm step. (I struggled momentarily to erase the image of a trotting Shih Tzu that appeared unbidden in my head.) When she crossed the threshold and passed out of the room, the lights seemed to dim just a little. I felt something like grief constrict my throat. Her dignity had briefly graced the soulless room, and now that she was gone, it looked a little more worn, a little duller. I felt rudderless.
I stumbled after her, gathering my things as I went, not wanting to appear as if I were following her, but instead had my own path, my own important places to go and a busy schedule to keep. Of course, it was a sham and Frances probably suspected as much. I took a side door out of the building as she sailed towards the front. When I stepped outside, I immediately realized I’d made a mistake, ending up in the grubby dead-end of a smokers’ alcove. I should have trusted Frances to know the way out. I twisted the handle and pulled, but the door refused to open. Pausing briefly to get my bearings, I found no alternative but to climb over a low row of spiky hedges which snagged my hose. I slid my way down a dirt path cut deeply into muddy canyons created by the runoff from the gutter above. When I finally made it to the front of the building, my black shoes coated with dust, I heard a foghorn bellow, “TAXI!” and turned in time to see the mighty Frances raising her arm – a thick gold bracelet sliding towards her elbow. A bright orange cab was just then making its way to the apex of the circular driveway in perfect timing to her steps. Without glancing back – almost as if she’d already forgotten me – she pulled the door open and slid inside. The cab sped off and I watched it make its way towards the main street, morning sunlight glinting off of the rear window and obscuring my view of Frances’s back.
Several long blocks and clogged intersections later, I waited for a bus in the baking sun, feeling it was somehow fitting that I sweated profusely while Frances rode in cool, air-conditioned comfort. In a reverie over our brief association, I wiped the moisture from my upper lip and smiled knowing she had so easily procured a taxi and was even then crossing back over the city line. She was probably making good use of the time, scanning a complicated document, or perhaps calling one lucky secretary chosen from her stable of assistants to retrieve urgent messages and to convey important instructions.
I waited all day and the next and the next for her phone call. Truthfully, I’m waiting still. Frances had promised she would call the very afternoon of our first meeting, but something must have come up. The silence in my cubicle is deafening as I anticipate the piercing call-to-battle of my ringing phone. She wouldn’t abandon me like this (would she?). No, not Frances! Something serious must have come up! Although I worry for her welfare, I have no way of contacting her. She had forgotten to give me her phone number.
Find more from Bluestem on her blog: Unrefined Vegan
and in her books: The 160: The Essential Elements of an Oklahoma Ranch and Remains: Evidence of Life & Death on the Prairie.
1 thought on “The Battleship Frances”
Stop it, fren! How did you know this happened to me?