2014-09-21 13.33.10

The Queen of Smiles

Fall, 1996

Allison Hartman is one of those impossibly-perky-no-matter-what-the-situation sorts. For a few people the first impulse on seeing that smile is to slap her in the face. For most the impulse is to hug her.

If you can trust my judgment, it is not a very attractive face, except for the delicate conch shell ears of perfect faint pink, behind which she hooks her straw hair. The face is marred by a trace of acne over the pasty-white Northern European skin. Too much forehead, too little chin. Washed-out blue eyes set a few millimeters too close together, the glow in which hides the fault. Her lips faded to the color of her skin, except when she wears lipstick, which she seldom does, but does not need because the smile brightens her lips and your day. The smile! The ever-present smile, which glows to various degrees for various reasons. It is a God-given peacemaker. Or irritant.

On Wednesday, yesterday, the students voted her homecoming queen at the high school in the center of town. “Sometimes, Butch,” the principal tells Mr. Corcoran, the very popular history teacher, “the kids get it right.” Butch agrees. Even the principal calls Allison by the affectionate nickname which her classmates gave her in fifth grade—Mother.

As she enters the intermediate care facility where she works two afternoons a week and Saturday mornings, the manager calls Allison into her office for a brief chat, after which Allison hangs up her jacket, hooks her straw hair behind her perfect ears, gives her smile a bullpen session, and purposes herself to room 329. The 3 in 329 tells you the room is in the blue wing. The 29 tells you it is the last room on the left.

329 is the temporary home of Constantine Gekas, but then all assisted living rooms are temporary homes for their residents.

But then, may I remind you that all homes are but temporary homes. Even this very earth.

His Worldly Goods Are SUVed

Summer, 1994

You don’t need to do this,” the seventy-two-year-old man told the forty-something woman driving the large SUV, which is only half-filled with the material remains of his life. “I could have hired a taxi.”

Uncle Constantine, I do need to do this.” She turned and smiled at his strained and bony face. He was a lean and tall man, or more correctly, had once been tall. His shoulders stooped forward over his slightly rounded belly which was like a deflated beach ball. But there was still a vitality in the body. “As part of an extended Greek family, I need to drive you here today to avoid the guilt.”

Constantine stared through her smiling face. No smile showed on his face.

Huh,” he grunted.

Angie, short for Angelina, a name which fit her as well as it would fit anyone, could not interpret the grunt. She was one of three daughters of Constantine’s two older brothers. “You know that I want to, Uncle Constantine.” She stumbled over his name, afraid she would call him by his family nickname—Uncle Constant-Pain. Although the family teased him with the nickname, now was not the moment.

Two months ago, to the surprise of his extensive family, Constantine announced he was afraid to live alone. Twice, or was it three times, he had set a towel on a hot stove burner. How embarrassing it would be to burn down one of his nephew’s apartment buildings. Food grew old in his cupboards and refrigerators. He only took one medicine, but sometimes he forgot to refill it in time. His thought processes were too slow to trust himself driving. Three times, or was it more, he had been honked back to attention at a stop light. Attention? Or was it to consciousness? He had lost interest in the Twins and books. When he read, he re-read books. He did not admit to the family that he was lonely.

He knew he did not get along with people, but not getting along with people was better than not getting along with only himself. He was not ready for the move, but then who ever was? His whole life he had faced down the hard choices and made the right decision, or so it seemed at those times. He had made this right decision on his own and spared Angie and the rest of the family of making the decision against his will. After his car was sold and the apartment was emptied of everything but fice boxes, half his clothes, a chair and his bed, Angie found him the assisted living home.

After a long silence he spoke to Angie. “Once you have moved me into Death’s Halfway House, you no longer have to be my surrogate child.”

Tears formed in Angie’s eyes. “I was not complaining.”

I was not either. I was thanking you.” As she turned into the parking lot, he read the sign. “Green Acres. Did I know that is the name?”

No. I avoided telling you that.”

For the first time in several hard days, he laughed. His laugh resonated with the reeds of his body. “Well, good for you . . . It’s better than Memory Lane or Sunnyvale . . . I wonder if any of these places are ever called Sunnyside Up or Over Easy?”

He Chooses Siberia

That Same Day

The manager, a direct and efficient woman, was waiting for them in her office, all paneled in too-red faux mahogany. She ignored Constantine when he said, “Green Acres? Haven’t you people seen the old television show?” The papers had already been signed. The check had been written. One task remained: Constantine needed to choose one of the three vacant rooms, which the manager’s nervous energy indicated she expected him to do post-haste. He chose the one at the end of the blue wing and quickly dubbed it Siberia.

His clothing and few other personal items were soon moved in. “Why am I keeping all these suits, dress shirts, and ties, especially the ties? I do not intend to dress for dinner . . . “

Angie did not answer.

. . . but let them hang, let them be hanged.”

She knew she was being dismissed; she knew it was his gruff way of being kind to her.

At the undigestive hour of 11:30 he went to his first lunch. Tuna melt, one fresh roll, green beans, an oatmeal cookie, and vanilla pudding. In the efficient but obscure scheme of the manager, new arrivals were always assigned to eat at the first shift. Longevity moved residents to later and later shifts. He chose a seat by one of the two other men in the room. As an ice-breaker, he said to the man, “So this is Green Acres? Where’s Ava Gabor? Where’s Arnold the Pig?” The man turned to talk to the unresponsive woman on his other side. Dinner that afternoon at the indigestive hour of 4:45 was ham in scalloped potatoes. “Ah, here’s Arnold the Pig,” he announced to the table of four women. The other residents soon decided Constantine was making only a quick stop before moving through the locked green door at the end of the green wing.

Two years later he was still there. Most of the others had moved on, some to nursing homes, some through the green door, and a few out the gray back door.

The Face of a Thousand Smiles

Summer, 1995

In June, one year after Constantine moved in, Allison was hired to do light cleaning. Her job on her first Saturday morning was to clean the lounges half way down each of the three wings. In the blue lounge in a floral-patterned stuffed chair before a west window sat Constantine reading a letter. She meant to say hello, but he was transfixed by his pale mauve letter. When her vacuum came near him, without acknowledging her, he gantried his legs onto the chair underneath himself. She was surprised an old man could sit on his own legs like a teenage girl. When she bestowed a hello-I’m-harmless smile upon him, he pretended to ignore it, but his heart shivered and split into pieces. It was a vulnerable moment for him. By the time she turned off the vacuum and started dusting, he had regained his wrought iron composure.

It must be Saturday if you are vacuuming this room. Carpet Diem.”

Her smile of confusion made her look vulnerable, which confused him with its charm. To recover his equilibrium he challenged, “You’re new.”

Yah, I just started . . “

It was not a question. I know who is new and who is not. It was an overture to this question: you’re working here for the money. For what do you want the money? A car? Over-priced shoes to damage your feet? Time to grow skin cancer in the tanning parlor?”

Allison turned to him and smiled the smile that he had thought could stir him only once. This time it was an oh-calm-down smile. “For college.”

So you can escape from here, here being Northeastern Minnesota, the Arrowhead, the Iron Range.”

Her smile of mutual disarmament stood strong under his wire brush abrasion. She thought about her answer, not seeking truth; she knew that she wanted to escape, although she had not before thought of it as an escape. Allison was trying to decide how to make a friend of this creature coiled in his chair like a cobra about to strike. Truth unadorned she decided was her best bet.

Yes.” Her this-is-my-peace-treaty smile glowed even brighter. His heart, he knew, would never recover.

Your hand-lettered temporary name tag proclaims boldly in left-handed script that your name is Allison. In a swift week it will be replaced by a mechanized version that will steal your personality and fade you into the dull background in which abide all us inmates and all our handlers.”

What’s your name?”


Mr. Constantine . . .”

Not Mr. Constantine. Constantine. First name.”

Constantine, not many old men can sit like that. I didn’t know any could.”

Allison, I shall love you forever for calling me old. Old is a word we eschew here at the Gray Acres. However, you must remember that forever has a very short shelf life here. I, too, once wanted to escape the Iron Range and once did. Yet, here I abide. May your escape be forever, if you wish it to be. But whoever escapes their past?” He waved the mauve letter in the air.

Allison’s smile said she was puzzled. What was he saying about escape? After a too-long pause, she said, “I should get back to my dusting.”

So should we all attend to our dust . . . may you spray lemon scent everywhere you wander.”

As she worked her away around the lounge smiling in relaxed acquaintance with the dust, Constantine tore the three pages of the letter into long thin strips. When the strips were stacked neatly on the table, he slipped them into the pale mauve envelope, which he folded in half and placed in his shirt pocket. He set both feet back on the floor, which Allison noticed he did effortlessly, and walked out the front door, as always, not checking out at the front desk as required by his keepers.

He left behind on the end table a book, which Allison picked up. The Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. She did not know what the title meant, but she sensed the connotation of the mere three words. It was a thick book. Wow, like a thousand pages! The cover called it a novel. Who knew novels came in such length. She put the book down and lemon-sprayed herself to another lounge in another wing.

As he had shown Allison, Constantine’s legs were still youthful. Brisk walks, and refusing to check out when he left the building and other small gestures of rebellion kept him sane. The check-out procedure made sense for some residents, but not all residents. One of his biggest issues in his brief career as a high school teacher was the mindless application of a sound rule to everyone. “Generalities do not fit all particulars,” he had once announced in a faculty meeting, which earned him the same looks from his colleagues as he now received for his pronouncements in the dining room.

Two Iron Ages

That Same Day

Constantine walked to a high city park where he could see two miles away the taconite plant standing on another hill. Someday he would tell Allison his theory on taconite. Once the miners had extracted all the hematite, the high grade iron ore which could run as high as sixty percent iron, all that remained was taconite, which was only fifteen percent iron. Waste—wars and consumerism—had exhausted all the hematite. A wasteful Twentieth Century had reduced life to the level of Taconite. Over in that plant they ground up the taconite, extracted the iron, and rolled it into uniform little balls, which were then baked hard to survive their transport to the lower end of the Great Lakes. He would tell Allison, as he had taught in his American history classes, “Iron ore is a metaphor for modern life. First came the Age of Hematite, when high-grade strong men and women sacrificed and built with a moral purpose. Not all the men and women were high-grade, of course, but enough were to raise strong second and third generations. They formed and guided communities, churches, schools, and neighborhoods. The Age of Hematite was followed by the Taconite Era. Gone was the sacrifice, gone were the communities, lost was the moral underpinning.”

Yes, Allison,” he would tell her, “life has become low grade and uniform. Schools are designed to produce little uniform low-grade pellets to roll across the stage at graduation.”

She needed to be told the truth. “One could hope another Age of Hematite would arise. History is cyclical,” he would tell Allison, giving her at least a glint of hope. But, of course, he would not tell her any of it. But if he did tell her, she would be surprised by how counter-culture he was, how rebellious he was, which is why his teaching career ended in the middle of his third year. That, and the fact that he could not control his classroom.

It was to another woman he wanted to rail against what had become of the world—Charlotte, the woman who had written the pale mauve letter folded in his pocket.

Let us not forget the letter.

Hold the Pickle, Hold the Letter

That Same Day

He walked the mile to the McDonalds with its Taconite food. He ordered a hamburger and a medium coffee. “No, I do not want it with fries,” he told the sixteen-year-old boy before he asked. The boy did not look Constantine in the eye, even when he continued, “A hamburger alone will provide sufficient bulk to accommodate my trash.”

When Constantine was handed his order, the boy said “thank you, come again” in that way that teenagers in the Taconite Era have of turning acts of civility into a mockery of politeness.

Constantine took his bag and cup outside. No tables outside, of course. The Taconite Era did not like the outdoors. He went back inside and sat in a corner. He sipped the coffee in luxury. He was not going to admit to Allison or anyone that McDonalds somehow managed to produce Hematite coffee. He read the label on the cup warning him that the contents were hot. People of the Taconite Era demanded to be taken care of, absolving them of any responsibility for themselves.

Ah, but, yes, the coffee was Hematite!

Constantine took the envelope out of his shirt pocket and laid it on the table still folded. He took the hamburger out of its wrapper, took off the top half of the bun, placed the envelope on top of the messy condiments, and replaced the top of the bun. No, wait a bit. After he collected two paper demitasses of Taconite ketchup, he poured it over the top of the envelope. He used the top of the bun to smear the ketchup evenly over the letter. He wrapped the hamburger back in its paper. The coffee drew his full attention before he checked his watch. He had been at Gray Acres long enough to eat at the second-to-last feeding, but he would have to hurry to make it on time.

He picked up the wrapped hamburger and mushed it between his hands into a sodden ball, which he dropped in the bag. On his way out he dropped the bag and cup into the trash.

So much for her! No one would ever find and read the letter inside that Taconite mess! By telling himself “so much for her” he was in truth saying so much for himself, which you would only know if you had read the letter.

As he strode along he realized he had made a mistake in McDonalds. He should have ordered a more elaborate Taconite hamburger, one that came in its own little Styrofoam coffin.

He made it back in time for lunch, which was ground beef steak, tater tot hot dish, and apple turnover with the usual lukewarm watery decaf coffee. The “ground beef steaks” were Taconite hamburger paddies: perfectly round, perfectly uniform circles of over-processed beef set on perfectly round perfectly non-white plates. When this plate was set before him, Constantine laughed. The one man and three women at the table ignored him. Pretty soon, now, they were sure, he would be heading through the green door.

Although the meal was not Hematite, it was better than average processed Taconite.

Shopping Lists as Social Media

That Same Day

When Allison’s four-hour shift ended at noon, she walked the thirteen blocks home, and not because she was a walking enthusiast. She had no car and was not working to buy one. She could have called home for a ride, but, as she correctly presumed, none of the three drivers at home were available. As she walked, Allison guessed it would be a month before her parents and the one older brother living at home would realize she had this job. Her guess proved to be off by one week—in the wrong direction. Are neglect and indifference the same thing?

Allison and Escape—that was the question. Is there a difference between wanting to escape and wanting to have new experiences, meet new people, meet other sorts of people, meet other sorts of personalities? Allison found Iron Rangers predictable, which made Constantine appealing. He was a curiosity of the Arrowhead. Allison, unlike most of her classmates, was not trying to escape the economic turmoil of Northeastern Minnesota. Having not experienced the turmoil in her home, she gave the economy scant attention. It was discussed in her classes, but it was never a test question. If she was not tested on it, Allison ignored it. She was a fluent people reader. Experiences and people were Allison’s classroom. She knew what each of her teachers expected and how they tested and graded, which made an A-/B+ average easy to attain. Predictability in teachers she appreciated. Predictability in her family made her life both simple and repetitive—and lonely. Despite having mostly raised herself, she was not what anyone would expect, had they known she was raising herself, which few did. Self-raised children are rarely like her—compliant, companionable, unselfish, extroverted, and lovable. Lovable is a passive word for her love-seeking and love-arousing capacity, as Constantine had learned in a only a few seconds.

And,of course, the smile! That smile! Those smiles!

As she turned up the street to her home, she guessed the number of hangovers in her house at three out of three. Her parents’ bedroom door was closed, cloistering either one or two hangovers. Her brother Trevor’s door was closed, which did not prove a hangover, except Allison knew he had gone to a pit party last night, which she knew because he had, with his smirk upon his face, invited her to attend with him. Allison was a smiler,Trevor was a smirker, and the other brother Tyler was a glummer who had transported his personal dark cloud to Chicago with his civil engineering degree, not a civility engineering degree, which Allison had acquired by home schooling.

Pit parties are a tradition of the Arrowhead. Scofflaws age fifteen to twenty-two gather at a rural gravel pit to drink, listen to music, drink, talk, drink, and practice seduction. Because pit parties are rich nostalgia of their youth, the scofflaws’ parents are aware of the parties. Because pit parties are rich nostalgia from their wild oats days, the constabulary are aware of the parties. Parents and cops consider the pit parties to be a rite of passage and a safer activity than many other things the kids get themselves up to. Out of nostalgia and a vague guilt, they do their best to ignore the pit parties. “We all did it, you know.” Parents do not want to confront the inevitable rebellion of their offspring. Teenagers were once afraid of cops; now cops are afraid of teenagers.

Allison was wounded that Trevor wanted her to come to the parties. Older brothers of Allison’s girlfriends forbade them to go, which most of the girls ignored. Her girlfriends resented the mother-henning. Allison would have liked it; she wanted to feel concern and attention from her family.

The answering machine in the hallway blinked of two messages. The first was Allison’s mother reminding her father that they were to have dinner tonight at the Novaks. Allison knew the invitation did not include her. It never had. Her mother, a tippling social worker, was out and about and not hunging-over upstairs. The second message was from her friend Austin inviting her for pizza with her family tonight, which meant to stay over, which needed not be said. Austin was the class beauty with her large dark eyes, olive skin, and long black hair. Her house was Allison’s second home, almost her first home. She spent more time with Austin’s family, where she felt loved, than her own family, where she felt provided for. Allison called. Austin said she would be over to pick her up in an hour.

As she made lunch, Allison heard one of the men of the house stirring on the floor above. Soon it was quiet again. She made three sandwiches, put two in the refrigerator, and ate the third. As she ate, she added seven items to the shopping list magnetized to the refrigerator. The shopping list constituted the most personal communication between daughter and mother. It was by adding to the shopping list that Allison informed her mother of her first period. “Birthday cake and candles” reminded the mother of her coming birthday or of one of her brothers. After she had a fall on her bike, “Band-Aids, gauze pads, and medical tape” did not prompt her mother to ask why she needed first aid. Allison was tempted to write “condoms” on the list to see how her mother would react. By Allison’s estimation, the odds were even that her mother would just buy them.

For larger purchases she wrote a note to her father. “I’ve outgrown my bike.” “I need school clothes.” “I would like a good stereo.” The man would open his wallet, which was always thick with cash, and count out the correct amount. How did a weekend-alcoholic judge know what cost what? Allison never asked. These exchanges were always brief because Allison timed them for Saturday, when her hung-over father was unwilling to question anything.

When Austin arrived, Allison asked her to stop at the library. When Allison started to tell Austin about Constantine, Austin interrupted to say, “He sounds like some old perv. You sure you should be hanging around him?”

You think all men are pervs because of how they stare at you, and who can blame them with your body?”

Austin laughed and shook out her hair. “Yes, Mother, that is my curse.” They had discussed this topic many times. Austin knew Allison was not jealous. Maybe that’s why the class beauty and the class Plain Jane were so close.

Allison returned to the topic. “Constantine is interesting. He’s not just another Ranger. Why would he tear a pink letter into neat pieces and put them back in the envelope?” Austin was now curious enough to listen to the whole story. “I’m guessing the letter was from an ex-wife or an old lover,” which seemed likely to Austin, who had several ex-boyfriends. Allison had no ex-boyfriends, or a current one. Some boys were nice. A few. One or two. The rest were jocks, stoners, nerds, or background noise, although all of them thought she was fond of them in her mother-like way, which, of course, she was.

Your brother Trevor was at the pit party last night.”

Bombed out of his gourd and hitting on you, right?”

This is true . . . he’s cute, when he’s not drunk.”

How much did you drink?” Allison kept her tone lemon-scented. Austin well-knew her friends deeply-hidden emotions about alcohol.

It was BYOB, not a kegger. I BYOBed my own Barq’s in a empty whiskey bottle.” Austin giggled. “The most fun is the game and making drunk jocks look like morons trying to get me in a backseat.”

Allison laughed, too. “And you think Constantine is a perv.”

In the library Allison could not find Infinite Jest under “W” in the fiction section. The librarian, Shirley, one of her mother’s friends, told her it was in the 810’s in the Dewey Decimal set. “Why would it be there?” Allison asked, smiling her I-am-so-helpless smile.

It usually means it’s old or dull, to tell you the truth.” The book was not on the shelf. “I remember now. I checked it out a couple weeks ago. An odd old man, but he is prompt about book returns.”

Allison, of course, knew who had it. “What’s the book about?”

I’ve got no idea. It’s thick and intellectual. You sure you really want to read it? I read mysteries, which are mental cotton candy. Why you interested?”

I saw it and wondered what it’s about.” She smiled her apology smile. “I probably don’t wanna read it.”

I thought you would be with your mother down shopping in Duluth today.”

Allison used her all-purposes-golden-but-tarnished-a-bit-around-the-edges smile, which she used with all adults who did not know the truth of her home. “I don’t need any clothes now. I’ll wait ’til August before school.”

Smiling absently, Shirley straightened the seam on the shoulders of Allison’s T shirt. “We have some fine teen romances. I’ll show you where they are.”

No, but thank you.” Allison smiled her daily-wear-drip-dry smile and left. Back in the car, she looked out the side window, fighting back her tears.

Austin spoke softly. “I know you’re not gonna tell me, Mother. Something your mother did. Is she in there?”

Allison shook her head no.

Okay, Let’s go watch Pretty Woman at my house.” Allison nodded and gave Austin her I-am-being-strong smile. Allison did not like the movie, the title being a part of the reason. It would be fine. They would ignore the movie as it played and scan clothing catalogs. They would pick out the ugliest outfits and laugh and drink the smoothies which Austin’s mother made. Austin’s mother did not ignore her “twin daughters,” as she called them. She gave them privacy in which Allison could recover. The woman, you see, knew how to read through Allison’s smiles. As always happened on pizza Saturdays, Allison would make the dough. It was not expected that she would. It was accepted as her offering of love.

Art, for Pete’s Sake

Summer, 1995

On Tuesday afternoon Allison’s job was to dust mop the hallways and clean the many pictures industrially screwed into the walls. Lost in thought, Constantine was in his room sitting in his maple rocking chair, a Christmas gift from his three nieces who still lived on the Iron Range, who obviously had ignored him when he told them to escape Northeastern Minnesota. On the floor beside him was a cardboard box of books. Lying open against his chest was Brave New World. His lost thoughts were about how unwise it was for him to be re-reading anything as dark as this book, even though Huxley had such a delightful cynical point of view. Huxley, Constantine decided, would have appreciated his Taconite Era construct.

Allison crossed his range of view through his door, crossed back again, reappeared, and stopped to stare at the wall beside his doorway. If he knew she was standing there trying to catch his attention, his heart would have tipped sideways. She was still curious over his confusing words about escape. When she knew he was looking at her, she asked, “Have you ever noticed this picture?”

Cheap print of an expressionistic watercolor of a big city street in the rain at dusk done in purples, oranges, and pinks? That one? No, I have never noticed it.”

Her I-think-you’re-a-hoot smile made him repent his sarcasm, which she failed to read in is expression. “Do you like it?” she asked.

I am indifferent to its charms. And you?”

I guess I don’t get art. Why is it here? I mean, what does a big city have to do with us here? Don’t old people want to live their memories?”

Have you surveyed our one hundred-and-three works of art?”

Have you counted?” Her voice spoke of incredulity and humor. Her soft smile spoke of amusement. To amuse anyone ever again was a gift from her too-generous heart. Did Allison seek a cityscape escape? Would her smiles survive in the city? Should he be telling her to stay on the Iron Range, safe from heartbreak? A loving gentle soul like hers had never had her heart broken, he was sure of that. Hearts were broken, as he well knew, even in the boonies of Northeastern Minnesota. Certainly not her innocent heart!

Until two months ago we had one hundred-and-four. One was removed to give us an electronic bulletin board. Do electronic bulletin boards befit a community of people born in the era of World War I and its aftermath? If, as you dust mop, you survey our pictures, you will find they all relate poorly to Northeastern Minnesota. Empty ore pits and overburden piles would make poor art, I suppose, but they are our immediate landscape. Think of the forest, rivers, lakes, wildlife, trails, the North Shore of Lake Superior, the Laurentian Divide in photographs or paintings. I personally would appreciate some images of mining machinery, which I think is quite eye-catching, stolid and ethereal at the same time. Lines, shapes, shadows, rustiness . . .”

She stepped into his doorway and dropped her smile in her moment of doubt. “You weren’t a miner, then?”

He noticed her hand-written name tag had been replaced by one of the machine-cut black and dull bronze sort that all staff wore. “Why do you doubt I was a miner?”

Her Mona Lisa smile returned to make an apology. “You are too smart. You talk smart. You musta gone to college.”

I labored ten years in the mines. First to send my little sister to Duluth State Teachers College, which became the University of Minnesota Duluth while she was there. Our mother graduated from the Duluth Normal School, which is the same place. She was a teacher for awhile before becoming housebound by marriage. After sister Ruthie graduated and went to teach out west, the land of the great escape, I labored in the mines to send myself to UMD. Then I escaped.”

The building manager appeared silently over Allison’s shoulder. “Hello, Hester. Your fine new employee just helped me pull my books from under my bed. An active mind keeps one from irritating the management, does it not?”

Allison, we need you to clean up vomit down in room 113.” Allison smiled at the manager as if she had been given a treat and dashed off. Heather Gorse, Constantine could tell, was immune to Allison’s smile. Ms. Gorse wanted to remind Constantine that her name was Ms. Gorse, which would be useless, as it always was. She settled for correcting his new habit of calling her Hester. “Heather Gorse, Mr. Gekas. Not Hester.”

I do apologize, Heather. Perhaps it’s the first sign of senility that I cannot remember your name on cue.” He tried to give her an Allison smile, but his face and temperament were not suited for the task. His resulting Greeks-bearing-gifts smile faded quickly.

Heather stared at him for a moment. She straighten her business jacket, spun on her heels, and left.

Part II Coming in Seven Days

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017