OFFICE LIFE WAS AS CHAOTIC as it had always been. Frantic one minute, dull the next. And, as always, accompanied by the usual assortment of zoo personalities; clashing, creeping, manipulating and gossiping. It was only lunchtime on her first day and already Kate knew there was talk about her, behind her back. Some things never changed.
She had a small team of three and wondered how she was ever going to get along with any of them. They were three aliens who had landed that morning in her office, from another planet. They spoke another language, looked at her as if she were a dinosaur. Which, in truth, she was. And worse, they were not above sniggering to her face at her seeming ignorance. She so wanted to stick it to them; but, she was only hours into the job.
Kate hadn’t been on the book side of publishing for sometime, not since leaving New York back in the late 80s. Twenty years was a long time, maybe too long. Comics, magazines and publishing technical manuals were just not the same. All the contacts she had once amassed had long since moved on. She faced an almost insurmountable uphill struggle. And yet, here she was.
What had she been thinking? And more, what had HC been thinking when they’d said yes to her and hired her on the spot? They must have been desperate.
Just how desperate was she, she wondered.
Things had changed, as her first morning had proven. And even though it was up to the three aliens to help her adapt, they weren’t too eager to make the transition easy. Her life was a little like Lipton Chicken Noodle soup right now. Thin, watery, with little, if anything, in the way of real substance or sustenance.
Surrounded by a sea of strangers, Kate sat in a coffee shop down the road from the office. The lunchtime rush was as different as it could be to the one she’d been familiar with while living and working in Montreal. And, in fact, Melbourne and New York. Whatever the city, people were people. They all wanted their coffee and sandwich like NOW, in big caps. And all without so much as a please or a respectable thank-you.
Where had politeness gone?
The way of dinosaurs, like her, she surmised, heading for the bone-yard. She was a forty something holding a well-thumbed paperback, who sat alone in a corner. All the while surveying a generation that lived on speed dial. Speed Dial and text messaging. She doubted anyone in there knew what a book was, let alone spent valuable time reading them. What was worse, she had the same feeling about the three aliens assigned to her desk.
The thin emaciated waif’s voice of the trio rang in her ear.
“Don’t you know it’s all about the marketing, look at the Da Vinci Code—”
Code? It was a damn enigma.
Kate sighed and leaned back. She eyed her overpriced plain black coffee and tuna wrap with all the enthusiasm of one eating their last meal. They received not even a second glance as her appetite escaped her. She opened her book, Glory Road, to read it for what seemed like the millionth time, or was that the twentieth?
She ate out of necessity. But neither the food nor the book could distract her from stray thoughts that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe even on the wrong continent, or the wrong planet. She dropped Heinlein on the table and apologised to the man staring up at her from the back cover.
“Not today good sir,” she nodded at his genial face, “even you cannot take me where I want to go.”
Out the corner of her eye, hung on the wall just behind her, Kate spied a rack of local and international newspapers. She smiled. The owners were Arabic and, as were their want the world over, always provided their customers with an impressive selection of newspapers.
Arm outstretched she snagged a crumpled copy of the daily Guardian. And, sitting, did something that again made her almost laugh out loud. She turned to the pullout section marked jobs.
“Okay, Susan’s right, I’m in need of some serious therapy.” She mused, talking to herself.
She reached back up and stuffed the paper where she had found it and spotted two other familiar titles two rows up. She grabbed them both. One was a copy of the New York Post, dated the previous Thursday. The other a copy of the international version of the Herald Tribune, also dated the previous week. Here was something she could read and, although neither would take her away from herself, would at least give her a smile. If London was a well-ordered zoo, then New York was the wild safari park. One the daily Post delighted in letting you know about with every sordid little detail they could dig up on the residents’ lives.
In a world of her own, blocking out the noise, Kate flicked through the pages. She scanned headlines and absorbed snippets of old news while she ate. A slow process on both counts. As twice, while reading the Post, she all but choked on a dry piece of wrap when laughing at something that had caught her eye. The Tribune was a little more conservative in content. It covered news stories from across the world’s stage. She had always liked the international Tribune for getting that other point of view on world events. Especially when she had worked in New York. It had supplemented her daily read of the English papers she bought on the walk into work from the subway.
Having scanned some of the headlines, Kate turned to the back pages and looked up Births, Deaths & Marriages. She scanned the handful of announcements. It wasn’t like the Daily Telegraph were they announced what the Royal Family’s plans for the coming week were. Or which society ball or function was taking place. This was more mundane. Nothing as sizzling as the ads that had run in the now defunct Private Eye magazine. Where people in debt to the tune of seventy thousand were willing and able to do anything, anything, to pay off said debt.
Kate had always wondered just who these people were and if those ads had been for real. It was a little scary what some people would do for money. Just what would they do for love? And just how far was she willing to go?
Roving over a column her eyes stopped on a box-ad near the bottom. Her heart skipped a beat.
‘Dear Soulmate,’ the ad began, ‘I’m sorry I missed you. Truly I am. But life was ever complicated…’
In small neat 8 pt type, the ad announced to the reader that the Poster had watched them from afar. Watched everyday, at roughly the same time, at the same place and, lacking the courage, had never approached them. Now, time having passed as life had, and with only this one regret, the Poster would like to meet.
Written beneath was the familiar address for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, followed by a date and time. The date was this coming Sunday, March 12th. Her birthday, Kate noted with surprise. Twelve-noon till closing it said. She assumed the Poster meant they would wait that length of time. Wait and then—well. She knew how that went.
Kate swallowed hard on the tight little constriction in her throat. How sad, she thought, and then realised this person could be her. Another lost soul reaching out for that one person in a sea of humanity.
Okay, and how gullible am I? She thought.
Standing, Kate folded the paper and shoved it up under her arm as she left the cafe. She was already late for work.