If You Ask Me


Lucy Harrison

By Olga Dunayeva
She called this morning, Sir, to say that she was sick. She sounded okay, but how can you tell? How does a sick person sound? She didn't say what was wrong, just that she was sick and wouldn't be coming into work. I haven't seen her since the party on Friday. She seemed fine then.

She was in a real good mood in the beginning, dancing with you and everything. I know it's a pain, this being practically the biggest shopping day of the year and all, but the rest of us girls can handle it. If you ask me, she needed a break. She works like a dog -- all of us do. Not that I'm complaining, Sir. I'm glad you gave me the chance of this job.

Maybe it's the flu. There's a lot of that going around. My kid had it last week; he spent all of Wednesday and most of Thursday morning draped over the toilet like a limp rag. It's hard to leave your kids alone when they're sick, but we need the money this job brings in. He's getting to be a big boy now, almost eight. He's fine now, but that flu's been going around. You don't look any too good yourself, if you ask me. Might have a touch of it yourself.

She looked like she was having a good time at the party. It was a good idea you had, the six of us girls having a pot-luck Christmas party. Well, the six of us girls and you, Sir. But she...she looked like she was having a good time. Even though she hadn't wanted to go at first. She said she didn't have anything to wear, although that red dress she showed up in looked fine to me. Maybe a little short for this time of year -- her legs must have been one big goosebump when she went outside! And then she said her boyfriend wouldn't like it. But I don't see why not. That boy's just crazy about her, if you ask me. He'd do anything for her.

Like I said, I saw you both. Doing the Charleston, weren't you? Someone had brought a tape of that old-fashioned music you like so much, and you and her were doing that crazy dance, with your hands crossing back and forth over your knees. I don't dance myself, but it sure looked like fun. And then the next song that came on was a slow one, something dark and smoky like they used to play in that little club my old boyfriend, my college-boy one, used to take me to years back. Back before I had my kid. But the two of you dancing together to that slow song, with you in your black suit and her in that red frothy dress with her black hair hanging down her back -- well, you looked just like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. She didn't look like anything. Her face didn't look either happy or sad. How can you tell how someone feels? She looked like she knew what she was doing, dancing with your arms around her. But she didn't look up at you, did she? She looked off to the side, her head turned against your jacket. Someone to Watch Over Me, wasn't that it, Sir? It's funny, if you ask me. That's what you do, isn't it? Watch over us? Over her?

I went to get some punch, and then to call my kid. I went outside to call. I know how you feel about us using the phone for personal stuff. It was freezing outside, and the wind near ripped my breath out of my lungs. After I got out of the phone booth, that's when I saw him. He was smoking a cigarette and looking in the window. He was in his shirtsleeves, even though it was so cold and blowing so hard. I asked him why didn't he come inside, and he looked at me funny and said he didn't reckon he was invited to this particular party.

So I came back inside, and I was getting another cup of punch when I saw her coming down the hallway, the one that leads down to the restrooms and your office. She was looking kind of funny. I don't know. Just funny. Her dress was twisted a little bit, around the middle, and she straightened it out as she walked. And her face was red, from the dancing, probably. Funny, but my first thought was that she'd know. Fooling around. But then, she wasn't back there for but a minute. Just while I used the phone. Less than two minutes. And her eyes were all shiny like she was about to cry. People been fooling around don't look like that, if you ask me.

She walked right past me, and I told her that I'd seen her boyfriend outside, waiting for her, and all the red just drained out of her face and she said: When? Her dress was still crooked, and the part in her hair wasn't straight, either. She always had her hair parted perfect, straight just like a ruler. But she didn't seem to notice, she just walked over to the front doors and opened them. He was standing just outside, and when he saw her, he tossed his cigarette down on the sidewalk. It made a little shower of orange sparks, I remember, and he took a couple of steps toward her and I thought for a moment that he was going to hit her...but she stopped, and just looked at him, her arms hanging limp at her sides. She said something to him then, I didn't hear what, but he shook his head and put his arm around her shoulders and said: Don't. I've known what you were like since before I met you. And then she got in the car with him. Didn't even take her coat. That's how she got sick, if you ask me.

But I haven't seen her since then. She called this morning, and told me to tell you she wouldn't be coming in. She said she was sick, and she wouldn't be back. She said something else, too, she said: You need to make sure you don't catch sick too, Frannie. But I told her my kid already had the flu last week, and if I was going to get it, I would of then. He's fine now, thanks for asking. And that reminds me -- about what you had asked me earlier? I guess I can stay late if you really need me. Though I don't know much about computers. I can type all right. How late do you think we'll be? I'm just asking 'cause of my kid. He worries if I'm not home on time. You know, you're really not looking too good. And that scratch on your face looks like it might be infected. You should put some aloe on it, do something to make it feel better, if you ask me.

Lucy Harrison lives and works in Ft. Pierce, Florida. She has been writing fiction for almost ten years, beginning with Harry Crews' creative writing class at the University of Florida. She has been published in several print and on-line sources, including _Oyster Boy_ and _Onyx_. She was named by _eSCENE_ as one of the "World's Best On-line Fiction Writers" for both 1996 and 1997. She started work on a novel last month, but plans to continue writing short fiction also.

Lucy's E-mail---

Miss Harrison's work appears in: Oyster Boy, Onyx, and eSCENE:

Oyster Boy:
Onyx: http://www.chapman,edu/comm/english/MFA/onyx

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