Excerpt from All Decent Animals (FSG)
When Ata first came to her office Angelica declared she only hired women. “So you may be lucky one-time already. Who needs men?” She laughed, crashing bracelets and ring-heavy hands onto her desk. Her gold tooth glinted. “You know what I mean? Have a seat. And you, Mira,” she shouted to her secretary,”stop passing up and down outside my door!”
Her desk was like Ata imagined the inside of her car –a box of tissues, fresh scent potpourri, a little dog with his head on a spring sitting on a doily. Her office, like the inside of her home–gilt-framed cheap prints of stylised flowers, a pink curly vase with artificial roses and two proud photos of perfectly handsome children, in graduation hat and gown, of course.
“Your portfolio is unusual,” she said to Ata. “I mean, is good.” Closed it, jangled her hands and puffed her cleavage up and down above the desk. “But what you have here has nothing to do with what we need. I mean, you talented, I could see that. You’s a artist!” She puckered her orange lipstick, raised plucked eyebrows and blinked mascara-heavy lashes at Ata.
This is one of these women who must have slept fully made-up, with foundation, blush and all. She would wear a frilly negligee over her full-body Spanish shape, be born with long lacquered nails, and take her first steps in stilettos. Ata knew these kinds of women were born to rule. Right away, they run things.
Angelica looked at Ata trying to find some confidence and sit up straight and decided that she may be able to do the graphics Roses Advertising Agency needed. “I know you never done this but what we need most is flip cards. Is easy, you could pick it up quick. What I like is how you trying something different with yuh own kinda style. And I does give anybody trying, a chance. Yes Mira! Yuh still up and down out there. I said I would give she a chance!” she shouted to the open door.
“You called for me, Angelica?” The tall smiley secretary said as she appeared.
“No I didn’t call for you, Miss Fastness. This is Ata. She’ll be joining us soon, part-time. There we go – official.”
The girl smiled welcome at Ata. “Another female for the department.”
“Yes, I wasn’t looking for a man, I have a husband now, yuh forget?” She laughed rich and throaty and patted her piled-up hair vigorously.
Ata liked how this lady was so plum vulgar and full of herself.
She looked at Ata square and hard. “Well I giving you a chance. But is only part-time. You might get some other freelance work from stupid clients sometimes, I don’ mind. But you brave, girl–to come and live here on your own. Trinidad rough, it only looking so fancy and nice.”
Mid-morning Ata uses the gribbly lump of cow-gum waste to erase pencil lines. It is a satisfying thing, rubbing away blemishes to leave pen marks only. Clean precise ink on translucent paper. Adding the final touch – a little circle, right over the alignment cross-lines – like the target marks of a sniper. The same symbol when you look through the lens in the movies. Dead on. When all three layers of artwork line up perfect over each other, and the target marks come into focus, she feels just as complete as the marksman might feel. Perfect shot. She bends over the template relishing the rifle feel of the 0.25 steel tip, with its tiny ball, gliding round the inside of the plastic rim. So smooth and quick. Neat.
The door opens abruptly and Martina bangs in as only she does, with her ugly poker face. “A special delivery for you, Ata,” shoving a big bunch of roses wrapped in cellophane at her. She takes in Ata’s shock, raises her eyebrows and twirls thin lips in what could be a smile or a grimace of pity, then slams the door on her way out, before SC could utter a sound.
SC flies across to Ata’s desk, exclaiming and inspecting the gift before Ata can even touch it. “My word! Who they from? What a t’ing! Atalaantaah . . .”
Even Claris creeps up close.
Ata had never received flowers from an admirer before, but she guesses who this is from just as quickly as SC does, even as she opens the little card.
“Is him!” SC confirms as Ata reads to herself Can I see you tonight? Dinner? Yours, Pierre. “Who else would buy roses? And where he find so many roses here anyways?”
Claris ventures, “Er, a florist?”
“I mean, who would look to go and buy so big a bunch of roses, in the first place? A foreigner. A Frenchie at that – ooh!” She hugs Ata hard, crowding her up with her breasts and trying to get a look at the card.
“But how he knows where to find me? I didn–”
“You stupid or what? The man knows Fraser. That is what I call a hunter. Count them, I sure is a dozen. A local guy would’a send a bouquet. Or a single rose – a fake one at that.”
Ata knows what SC means by bouquet–one of those mixed-flower arrangements, with five different colours, leaves and sprigs stuck stiffly in green oasis sponge, in a white plastic dish. She’s glad it isn’t that.
Mouse sniffs to see if the flowers are real and SC demands to see the card as the rest of the office tramp in, led by boss-lady.
“Romance!” Angelica announces. “How nice! He must have got the idea from the name Roses, ha! I like the man already. Who is it?”
Some of the girls think Ata should have some privacy, while they join in the gossip-maco pressure. With SC leaning up on her, Ata has no choice.
“Is a white man she meet the otha night. He is a Frenchie-English, works with the UN.” SC accepts the nods and raised eyebrows on Ata’s behalf and turns to face her when Mother Rose asks outright what it says on the card.
This time Ata blushes, as the bunch of women squeal more ridiculously. They enjoy their Sex in the City moment of fun, while she’s dying of embarrassment, thinking about the answer. Tonight?
“Is easy of course,” SC explains after Mother Rose shooed everyone back to work. “You shouldn’t refuse. For what?”
Ata knows there was no real reason to say no. She wants to see the man. She stares at the imported flowers, peels back some of the cellophane and touches the dark-red soft petals. They fall off in her hand. A bloom ready to expire. She agrees in her head, with SC’s ever-ready advice, about accepting but not doing anything too rash, keep him courting, check him out. But she needs to know a little more before tonight. She asks her friend if she would call and take her around to see Fraser.