“I have given complete authority over you to Mr. Barnett. You take your cues from him now, and if he don’t find you satisfying, you’re out. Understand?” Shores’ balding head shone with perspiration, and a hot breeze wafted over us from the open window down the hall.
“Perfectly.” I smiled and fluttered my lashes like Ava Gardner. “Gee Mr. Shores, you’re such a great boss—giving me this break and all. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate it.”
“I’m sending you on this job because you’re dispensable. Jules can’t be spared. I already told you that. Now, if you’d stop blinking like a cat caught in a sunbeam, I’d appreciate it.”
* * *
Mr. Barnett drew near and perched on the edge of my desk. He fiddled with the leather tassel on the clasp of my handbag. “Right-o. Shoot away. I’ll tell you all I know."
“We’re supposed to create a family paper?”
“So Mr. Shores says.”
“News, nonfiction, short stories, poetry, ads, or what?”
“A bit of it all, I suppose. A cosmopolitan paper for the family fireside, if you will.”
“Real cute.” Real sappy, I said inside. I twisted on my chair to see the time. Eight-thirty sharp. “So it doesn’t sound like Mr. Shores has much of a plan.”
Mr. Barnett laughed—it matched the elbows of his coat: shiny, worn, genuine. “Not much. The whole plan is mine, actually.”
“Yours?” That threw me for a loop. “But I thought this was one of the Post’s ventures.”
“It is. I signed a contract last month to head up a new magazine for the Post. But strictly speaking, it’s a personal venture; I wished to test a theory.”
* * *
He shifted and bent to look into my eyes. I tried to hold his gaze but it was too open and honest for me. I saw hopes written there, and dreams. I saw a soul and it troubled me. I preferred the cold glaze so much of Manhattan wore—it saved one the trouble being hurt.
* * *
“…in every person, in every soul, somewhere there is a faint, long-lost glimmer of childhood. However deep they might wish to bury it, however long it has been hidden.”
* * *
Mr. Barnett reached into the cardboard box and took out a stack of files. He glanced at the writing on each with a concentrated frown and handed it to me, smiling. I watched this play of expressions across his features and considered him. He was not eccentric—he was too pleasant and good-humored for that. He was not a crank. He was hardly even a bachelor—any more than I was an old-maid. Long ago when my first guy dumped me I determined I’d never get married and I would never be an old-maid. The two are not exactly inconclusive—I’d sorted it out in my head this way: spinster-hood is more a condition of the heart than the circumstances. I never planned to let my heart grow bony elbows and graying top-knots and I certainly never planned on wearing spectacles—unless they were the cutesy ones with the rhinestones on the side. No. I was no spinster, and Mr. Barnett was not a hermit. That being decided, I filed the remainder of the folders and pushed the drawer. It closed with the familiar crunching, rumbling sound that never failed to make me feel productive.