Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Free Souls, Chapter 1

" . . . 't is a knavish piece of work: but what o' that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung."
--Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2

        SHE WAS GLAD Eric was out when he came.
      The man stood in the doorway, barely a step inside the one-room office, but undeniably within it. He said nothing, only looked at her.
    "What is he waiting for, the Cleveland Orchestra?" Sandy Beichten wondered. Controlling her annoyance, she rose from her drafting table and greeted the visitor.  "May I help you, sir?"
        "Eric Baumann isn't here?" It was an accusation rather than an inquiry.
      "No, sir, he's out right now." And hadn't been in all day, she thought with some frustration.  But that was no business of this stranger's.
       "When will he be in?"
       Sandy couldn't figure it out. The man had dropped in unannounced.  Why should he be offended that Eric hadn’t foreseen his coming?

       "I can't really say, sir. He has appointments . . . "
       Who was this guy? she wondered. If he were a salesman, he'd never sell a thing sending out those signals. The man, of remarkably common features and build, seemed to take possession of their little office like a conquistador planting his flag on the shores of a particularly abhorrent country. His eyes raked over and rejected everything in the room, herself included, as if he owned the right of rejection. His eyes, there was something not quite right about his eyes . . . They were as if some agent, not human, sat in the room behind their windows and controlled their darting by the machinery of an alien world.
       "Be sensible," Sandy admonished herself. "You're a Christian, remember?" She smiled politely. "If I may take your name and your business--"  Why did it seem such effrontery to ask?  "--Mr. Baumann can arrange to see you another time."
       "I'll be back," the man announced curtly, then disappeared as precipitously as he had come.
       "Beeee-zarre!" Sandy exclaimed in a low whistle of surprised relief. He couldn't have been a sales representative; at least, he'd had no briefcase nor samples with him; she seriously doubted he was a personal friend of Eric's-- "Good grief, what if he's a potential client?"
       She fervently hoped not: he was a first class jerk.
       Seated again at her drawing board, she reflected that the strange visitor wasn't the only one who would've welcomed Eric Baumann's presence in his architectural office that afternoon. She had been working on the same construction drawing since Tuesday and while it was going well enough, she wanted to hear him say so.
       It was panning out pretty well, this little office of theirs, and though less than fifteen months old had a busy handful of prestigious if not highly-lucrative commissions remodelling, and in one case building, houses for some of the local gentry.

         Eric liked to say how risky they were taking it, starting out on no capital.  But she knew, if he didn't, that their greatest operating resource was Eric himself, especially when it came to his personal charm. That, and his imposing appearance. The female clients were conscious of it, she was sure. He need say nothing, only look askance at someone's favorite architectural horror or assume that little-boy pleading look, and out it all went, the old garish moldings and mirrors, the awkward fixtures and the broken-up little rooms, and like clean air in came the coherent plans, the fine, well-proportioned detailing, in fine, the fulfillment of all their houses were meant to be.
       He was tall, with a judiciously-cut dark beard, but to call him handsome, Sandy considered . . . no, that would be an insult. "Talldarkandhandsome."  It sounded like a store mannequin or a slicked-back '40s matinee idol. 
       "No," she decided, warming to the thought, "He is fair; fair as--" As what?  As-- as-- Chartres Cathedral.  That might be going a bit too far, she allowed, but the similarities were there. Like Chartres, which gloriously blended its disparate elements from the kings at the portals to the gargoyles on the spires, Eric's physical appearance combined features which, taken individually, might be thought disagreeing and disagreeable, but which together made up, in her opinion, a solid fact of splendor.
       "Satis! enough!" she shook herself out of her reverie. "'Si diligitis me, mandata mea servate.'-- 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments'."
       And she again applied herself to detailing the laundry room tile work for the Weisman plans.
By Catrin Lewis, written 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)

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