“When there is nothing else to say, say nothing.”--Cleo Gore
I whirled through the glass doors into the vaulted, wood-paneled lobby of WIPE. My mind shuddered.
In a split second, a half-man, half-gargoyle like image flashed before my eyes. My mind shuttered. Zoomed in. Zoomed out. Went out of focus, then into a vortex. Rather than set foot on the black and brown marbled lobby flooring, I imagined myself making a 360-degree revolution. A full speed circle. A blur that moved so quickly I would have gone undetected and Invisible Man. Out. In. Out. I made it only halfway.
Old man Woodcock Wilson Jr. had personally appointed himself the welcoming committee. Again. He stood sternly, skulking in the lobby. Scowling. Taking attendance like some strict schoolmarm in an inner-city elementary school detention class where children were taught to neither be seen nor heard. Ruining days before they began.
“Good morning, Mr. Wilson Jr.,” I stammered, failing in my forced attempt to sound cheerful and glad to see him.
Old man Wilson Jr. sniffed and scowled. He tugged on the thick gold chain dangling from his viridian green vest pocket and then yanked out his fat, glistening gold antique pocket watch. He flipped up the monogrammed cover, studied the Roman numerals on the watch face, and then looked up at the clock married to the rich mahogany wood on the rear wall in the lobby. The clock’s face and frame was a custom-built hanging version of Big Ben. Then Mr. Wilson Jr. glared at me. “Morning? Morning? Why it’s racing towards noon.”
Not quite. It’s two hours and 59 minutes before noon. And for two hundred and fifty-nine bucks, I’ll be happy to take the time to teach you how to tell the time, I wanted to say. Instead I said: “I’m almost done with that story I’m working on. David should have it before noon.”
“That’s strange,” he said, sniffing.
He sniffed a lot. Since he was a child, Mr. Wilson Jr. suffered chronically bad sinuses. “David told me he expected the DuPuis Motors story by 10 sharp. And, I expect…” his head jerked to the right as his sentence trailed off, a tardier employee was bolting through the revolving doors.
It was 9:02. I used that diversion to make my getaway. I skipped taking the elevator for fear that the door wouldn’t open soon enough, leaving me stranded for another lecture about time. I dashed up the two flights of stairs and scrambled to my desk.
“Late again, Pierce?” David said, eyeballing the antique grandfather clock standing guard opposite the third-story stairwell before giving me the once over. I avoided David’s eyes, choosing instead to look at the clock’s second hand as if I wondered if it had skipped a couple of notches ahead of where it should be.
There were clocks all over the place at WIPE. One in every office and another three or four strategically situated on every floor. “There will be no excuse for Colored People’s Time in the Wilson International Publishing Enterprises Building,” Mr. Wilson Jr. periodically pronounced. “We’re as good as Greenwich.”
“Where’s the DuPuis piece?” David asked.
I pulled a slim stack of papers out of my black leather Samsonite briefcase. “You have it for me?” David was surprised.
“Almost done,” I said, waving a fistful of loose papers as if they were a white flag. “I have to polish it up a bit. Bevel it here. Sand it there. Add a little stain. Apply a little varnish. I should have it to you around………noon.”
“Noon? I thought I told you I wanted that on my desk by...”
“Mr. Wilson Jr.’s on the phone,” Barbara Mitchell, David’s secretary, interrupted.
David literally leaped to his office. I lit another Marlboro and stuck another clean sheet of paper into the mahogany IBM Selectric, exhaling a long stream of smoke as I retyped my lead for about the 69th time. I was suffering from a crippling case of writer’s block. I had stayed at the office until nearly eight Friday night working on the DuPuis story. I still hadn’t, to my satisfaction, gotten past the first sentence. “When it comes to making sure an office hits on all cylinders, there’s no one better than Doris Goodfellow.”
The second sentence kept evolving and revolving. Going all over the map but taking me nowhere. By the time I got to the third sentence, the piece had already revealed itself for what it was. Bullshit. The story was stupid, boring. I had worked on it some more at home over the weekend.
The story was a curse. Allison and I had had a tiff about it. I sat at my gray Selectric in our den, retyping the same page. The same few lines, really. Over and over again. Chain smoking Winstons. Twisting strands of my Afro with my fingers. Shooting wads of half-blank pages at the wastebasket.
“How’s it going?” Allison asked.