[???=I totally didn't steal the title from a David Bowie song]The Width of a Circle[/???]
Quick notes: I've been sitting on and playing with this for a while. I don't imagine it will get longer that, say, two more parts, but then intentions are only worth the paper they're written on. I don't know what I'd rate this, but it's no higher than PG-13 and probably not even close to that.
A fair warning before you read: it's only flirting with anything remotely to do with pokémon at this point so if that's not your cup of tea then switch to coffee.
The lunch hour train rolled to a stop and the doors spread open with a hydraulic hiss. Commuters poured out. Somewhere nearby a man in an immaculate blue uniform blew a whistle, drowning out for a moment the recorded message announcing the arrival of the 12:10 express. A woman in grey jostled her way through the crowd while a scrawny, bespectacled man in a black suit with a briefcase under his arm did likewise, and as people in a rush are want to notice their surroundings they collided on the platform. The man fell to the ground and the suitcase flew open, scattering pokéballs across the station. The woman stumbled backward into the arms of another dark suited man who clumsily caught her while keeping his own balance and that of his paper cup coffee. Her purse slipped from her arm and scattered its own contents including one white pokéball which landed amid the dozen others.
The woman picked up her purse and pokéball and, looking away from the flustered man scrambling to collect his property, made a quick apology before rushing into the crowding by the escalators. Taking a moment to breathe she pulled out a compact to check her hair and makeup, and discretely deposited her new possessions in the purse. The hapless man would find he had fewer balls when he collected them all, but by then she would have left the station and disappeared into the world.
Kim Applewhite was a forgettable young woman. Her hair was dull and flat, her height slightly below average, and her expression a masterpiece of indifference. The business suit she wore, simple and tasteful, would have made her feel uncomfortably conspicuous, but in the mass of assistants rushing coffee to their bosses between the ranks of phone-gabbing bankers and lawyers it made fitting in easier than she would have expected. It was the innocuously casual person who stood out. She would have liked to test the limits this unexpected anonymity had given her, but she had a more important reason to play dress-up today. In less than an hour she needed to be in the office of a man whose business card she had received by mail one week ago and she had no hope of impressing him if she didn’t look the part or showed up late.
The address on the card directed her to the heart of the business district, a hub of police officers and security cameras as much as one of glass towers and three piece suits. She had always avoided this part of town because she had feared it too difficult to blend in, but she was amazed at how easily she moved without question. She even bought lunch on credit in a swanky cafe, thanks to the kindly man who had caught her fall at the station, without the cashier asking her for identification. It was too easy. Everyone trusted the suit.
She found an empty table in a corner and brooded over a raspberry pastry. It crumbled as she tried to eat it and a drop of jam fell in her lap. If she got this job she would have to move, she thought as she wiped away the jam. She would not be able to stay in the home she had known for years. Kim checked the time. If she left now she could make it back in just under a few hours. The clock began to reset. The hours turned back and Kim stood again on the dirt path before that garish yellow house with the cracked chimney and broken windows, its personality still just a façade, its secrets still waiting.
The prospects of the offer were good. She knew well they were too good - suspiciously good – but life is a gamble and nobody wins without taking a risk. A deal this lucrative happened once in a lifetime and there was only one decision a woman in her position could make and that was to take it by the hand and hold so tightly she squeezed the life out of it. It would be worth the sacrifice. There would more money in her pockets, far more than she had even had or had hoped of having. She promised herself that if she could, whatever happened she would return home when she had the time.
Kim found the address on a tall building with a polished stone facade. She entered through the revolving doors and into the silence where every step she took resounded like a clap of thunder. The man’s name, Rudolph Dandy, was listed on a large directory hanging in the lobby along with several others holding offices on the seventeenth floor. She walked past the security guard at the front desk to the back of the lobby and the elevators. Some only went to the upper floors, presumably so the important people with the best views would not have to spend half their day getting to and from the office. Seventeen sat somewhat above halfway up the building. Did that make this Dandy man half as important as the most important person here or, because his office had the longest commute, the least important person?
A couple of suits waited for the elevator with her. A bell chimed and one set of doors expelled its passengers. She stepped in and pressed the button for the seventeenth floor. The doors shut. Their chrome surface reflected Kim’s tense posture like a funhouse mirror, and, she was surprised to see, a guilty expression across her face. She had long stopped feeling guilt over the things she did, but with every passage she stepped through, even door that closed behind her, she felt regret closing in like a predator and it disturbed her.
The elevator reached her floor. It was brightly lit, clean, and the air smelled of sawdust and paper. Hallways down the left and right were lined with closed office doors and directly opposite the elevator sat a small, mousy woman in a pink blouse behind a plain wooden desk. Another closed door stood behind her. She held a telephone to her ear and spoke softly into it. She gestured with her other hand for Kim to come forward.
“Yes,” she spoke into the phone. “I have all the materials here.”
Kim looked for a place to sit, but the area was empty of furnishings save those for the receptionist. A copy machine sat in one corner beside boxes of paper and one which looked to contain toner. There was nothing else in the lounge, not even a plastic office plant or water cooler.
The woman covered the receiver and asked Kim if she didn’t mind waiting a moment. Kim could hear the person on the other end of the line continue to talk so she nodded quickly. She must have let some of the tension slip through her response because the woman seemed to think Kim was nervous and tried to reassure her.
“Relax. You’ll do fine.” She smiled, showing her laugh lines and perfectly white teeth. Kim began to worry that when she stepped through that door her own teeth would seem somehow unclean and that that lack of cleanliness would spread to the rest of her like an infection and eat away at the calm exterior she was trying to project.
The receptionist hung up the phone. “Go right in. Mr. Dandy is expecting you.”
Mr. Dandy was standing in front of his desk when she came in. He was only a hair taller than she and like a mound of earth after a rainstorm looked to have grown more around the middle and less on top in recent years. His suit was tweed, a little faded, and seemed uncharacteristic of the man she was expecting to meet, but perfect for the one before her.
“So good of you to be here early,” he began in a singsong voice. “I’ve had so little to do this morning I found myself wishing I’d asked you to come right after breakfast. Or during breakfast. There’s no sense in whiling the day away on busy work when one could be pursuing one’s hobbies. But you’re here now.” Mr. Dandy slid a folder across his desk with one finger. “This is your assignment.”
This man was quickly relieving Kim of all her preconceptions. “You’re just going to give it to me?”
“I know you were expecting an interview. That’s typical, but I am anything if not atypical! Unlike my peers I find the best way to see if you’re good for the job is to have you do it. I also find it helps build loyalty among my employees if I show them I trust them.”
Trust has a funny way of slipping up behind you like an assassin, Mr. Dandy. You don't know the blade is in your back until you feel it twist in your heart. The man smiled and handed the folder to her. It contained a single page outlying the man she would be working under and the company he in turn worked for.
“My secretary will give you everything else you need.”
Kim turned to go, but on the edge of her vision she saw Mr. Dandy reaching for something from below his desk. She should have kept moving and not bothered to look, but something in her gut told her she needed to. A dark hand lunged from below and grabbed Mr. Dandy’s arm. Black smoke oozed and wrapped around him like a million tiny flies drawn to the smell of death. Kim closed her eyes and inside her mind screamed.
“Are you all right, dear? You look a little pale.” Kim opened her eyes. There was no shadowy hand. “Thirsty?” He had pulled out a bottle of energy drink from his desk drawer. “I have another if you’d like. Nothing like a quick sip to keep the system healthy.”
“No, thank you.” Kim closed the door behind her and hoped she would never have to open it again.
“I told you you’d do fine,” the secretary said as she handed Kim an envelope. Kim did not want to disagree. She opened the envelope which contained various forms she had to sign and her new ID badge. Kim Applewhite, Clerical Staff Grade II. It already had her picture on it. She rubbed her thumb across it.
“If anyone asks tell them you’ve been with us for the past two months,” the secretary told her. “They wouldn’t like to hear that we let someone we just met have free access to their office. No one would complain, of course, but it’s still the way the game is played. You start tomorrow so enjoy your afternoon in the city.”
Kim walked back to the station and took the next train out of the city. When she got home she threw her suit and purse onto her bed and changed into more casual clothes, a wrinkled skirt and top, to feel comfortable in her skin again. Night came and she went to wash up and have a few moments to herself before turning in. The closet she used as her private washroom had a small sink and a milky mirror crusted over with time. If she wished, as she did now, she could lock herself in and pretend the rest of the world did not exist. She pulled the cord and brought a dim orange light to her ghostly grey face. The mirror warped her features and made her look pale and hollow. What had happened to her? Composure was her greatest skill and today it had failed her utterly.
After brushing she turned the tap and rinsed her toothbrush under a trickle of icy water. Behind the door, in the room where she slept, the vestiges of the day and its ups and downs still lay on the bed. In the silence of the night Kim thought she heard a quiet cry slip through the gap under the washroom door. She spat into the foggy reflection.