Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
What does author Jake Watterson need with a secretary? Nothing, that’s what! Until he meets Betty Ann….
Betty Ann faced the secretary pool’s main desk. She wore her best flower-print dress—her only store-bought one. “Please, Miss Johnson, I’ll work really hard. I won’t lose my next job, I promise! It really wasn’t my fault I lost the first one. You’ve got to believe me.”
She had brushed her hair till it curled neatly around her shoulders, but her face felt pinched and small, ready to dissolve into tears any minute now. She dearly hoped she wouldn’t. She knew her boss thought her far too young already.
In the background, the sound of typewriters clacking echoed from the back room. Nearby, a radio played, and the swinging sounds of big band music floated out. A telephone rang, and someone answered it. It was another busy day for the Jefferson Secretarial Agency, another busy day in 1957—for everyone but Betty Ann.
Miss Johnson, an elderly woman with her glasses attached to a beaded string, sat behind a big oak desk and answered Betty patiently. “I’m sorry, Miss Keene, but whether it was your fault or not, most of our secretarial jobs require the ability to type—and type well. I don’t know how you graduated secretarial school without that skill, but apparently you did.”
Miss Johnson adjusted her glasses and peered over them. “I don’t think I have to remind you,” she drawled, “that you don’t need to come in every day and ask for work. You were informed the agency would contact you as soon as we received a job offer for you.”
“I-I know,” faltered Betty Ann. Her voice shook. “But—” I’m not going to cry, but I’ve got to find a job! I can’t go home yet; I just can’t.
“It’s hard to be patient, I know.” Miss Johnson’s voice continued, not without sympathy. “It’s never easy waiting for a job, but maybe you shouldn’t. Take my advice, Miss Keene—go home. It’s going to be a long wait if you stay here.
“You’ve got good qualities: you’re cheerful, pretty, and apparently you know everything there is to know about peach farming. It shouldn’t be hard for you to find a husband. Why don’t you go back to the country and marry a nice farm boy, because here in the city, we don’t need— Excuse me.”
The phone rang. She broke off talking to Betty and answered it. She listened for a moment. A look of awe slowly overtook her tired features.
“Yes. Yes, Mr. Armstrong. Cheerful, you say?” Her eyes flicked up to Betty with growing wonder. “I think I have just the girl.” She wrote an address down and nodded. “I’ll send her right over. Thank you for using Jefferson Secretarial Agency.”
She hung up and looked at Betty Ann with a dazed, amazed expression.
“Well, Betty, it looks like you have a job after all. Mr. Anderson is a publisher who wants to cheer up one of his authors. Apparently the man hates winter. Mr. Anderson wants to find him a cheerful secretary.”
“Thank you!” Betty Ann clasped her hands together, a huge smile overtaking her face.
Miss Johnson gave her the address, questioned her to be sure she would know how to find it, instructed her not to be late, and with a perplexed frown growing on her face, watched Betty leave.
Betty left her coat in the agency cloakroom. It was ugly and worn and certainly wouldn’t make the best impression at her new job. She hurried to the address Miss Johnson had given her, checking the street signs, and following Miss Johnson’s instructions carefully.
On the walk, she sniffed the air, smelled the heavenly aroma of fresh baked bread. Maybe she could risk spending nearly the last of her money. She hadn’t eaten yet today, and she’d need some energy for her new job.
Her new job! Yes! She clasped her hands together and grinned up at the clear blue sky.
She stopped at a bread store, bought a day-old roll, and crunched it on the way.
Everything was going to be all right, she realized, walking with a little skip in her step, smiling up at the watercolor-blue sky.
The wind was brisk, and she shivered. But it was only a short walk to the address, and she moved quickly.
She spotted trees in the city park, their tall, empty branches making dark lines against the sky. Remembering something from her life on the farm, she headed over to them, beginning to hum happily.
* * * *
Jake Watterson shuffled out of his bathroom, bleary-eyed and scowling, one hand wrapped around a mug of orange juice, the other scratching his chin stubble. He picked up the heavy receiver on what must have been its twentieth ring and snarled, “Yes?”
“Jake, that you? Sounds like I woke you,” said his editor with unwholesome cheerfulness in his voice.
And you sound really apologetic about it. “Well you didn’t. What do you want? I’m eating.”
“Hire a cook again? Good for you. Listen, I just called to ask how your new book was com—”
With a wordless growl, Jake slammed the receiver down.
Within moments, the phone rang again. Jake ignored it for another twenty rings, by which time he had finished his orange juice and was starting to feel more human. He picked up.
“What do you want, Matt?” he asked.
“I want you to start working,” said editor Matthew Armstrong. “And I have an idea that might help.”
“Listen, don’t get mad. I’m having a secretary sent over to help you.”
“Matt—” Jake ground his teeth.
“Hey, don’t interrupt. Let me fin—”
“You know I don’t like giving dictation.”
“—ish. I know you say you don’t like doing dictation—don’t interrupt—but I also know that for the past three years you haven’t done a lick of work in the winter months. Why, you haven’t typed a single word since October!”