by Clare Riley Whitfield
Hers was a low hum. Fluctuating up and down in a syncopated rhythm. Some people’s vibrations resonate that low they’re on a different frequency — low enough to shake right through you. Hers were like that: round and bottomless.
When she walked through the office she dragged the atmosphere with her. The door sent a rush of air through the office unsettling loose papers and made the posters on the board ripple.
“This time VOTE like your whole world depends on it.” And back in 1968 it really did seem that our world might implode.
Young America had low inflation and cost of living but we lived in fear of nuclear war, assassinations, the draft, protests. We’d all moved too far away from God to be his children anymore. Our spirituality began with The Bomb.
She had been sent from the agency as an assistant for our Director. Jane tutted and fussed with her typewriter, muttering under her breath how they hadn’t mentioned anything about her being coloured. It didn’t bother Mr Gordon, his neck nearly snapped off when he saw her. He didn’t need another assistant, but then he didn’t really need a deaf office boy like me. No one did. My employment prospects were limited but Mr Gordon was a friend of my dad’s.
That’s how it goes. Always has. Always will.
She glided about the office, hips swaying like a metronome. Every ravine, peak and curve had been carved. Sloe-eyed beauty. Her hair teased the arch of her back. Jane said it was fake, that girls like her can’t grow their hair long. That’s bullshit.
Her vibrations spoke for her. Even the tiny downy hairs at the base of her neck when she wore her hair piled up high, they whispered. Every way she moved her legs made a sculpture. I wanted to crawl up those legs. I dreamed of being an insect. I would walk every inch of her skin.
She had this habit of biting her lip that gave me palpitations.
I got caught looking at her on more than one occasion. But once when I got caught, she smiled at me for more than one whole second. Then she rolled her eyes and went back to typing. I swear my blood stopped pumping.
I know older people always say that young people are spoiled and lost, that we need a real crisis to live through. They call it whining. I call it disappointment. When you grow up, leaders start to look like your grandparents when they walk into a room and forget why they went in there in the first place.
It wasn’t like that for her. She still had to go home every night and watch white suburbia explode on TV, as subtle as a dirty bomb. Then in the morning, she put on her makeup, came into work, and typed up endless reams of pointless shit with a pervert of a deaf boy staring at her.
Clare Riley Whitfield first had the feeling she wasn’t where she was meant to be when she found herself standing in the rain sniffing compost on a peat bog in Co. Kildare, Ireland. After many years as a retail buyer including purchasing cat litter, rim blocks and garden gnomes, she has now retreated into a converted garage with no heating and spends a worrying amount of time talking to her dog. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester and can be found on Twitter at @whitfield_riley and Instagram @clarerileywhitfield.