Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Loan Man -- a story I wrote a while ago

I’m just about ready to call it quits for the day, to close the little loan office and go home. Then the door rattles. My irritation at this last minute, would-be customer melts as I glimpse beautiful blonde hair and pleading blue eyes.

I open the door and she practically tumbles in.

I can see right away that she is nervous. I also note that her outfit, though dignified and pretty, dates from about 20 years ago and has the faint – not necessarily unpleasant --fragrance of having been in her closet a long time.

Being experienced in this line of work, I know the story right away. She’s left or been fired from her job, she’s got no money, she’s gambling on some great idea she hopes we’ll help her with and she obviously can’t afford the newest threads even for such an important interview.

Oh, but she is pretty – reminds me of Melanie Griffith from a long time ago.

She sits primly across from me, crossing her legs demurely and trying to keep her nerves under control.

She explains why she needs the loan. I listen politely. There is no way in hell any company like mine would take on such a risk. A thousand small businesses like hers are born and die every day.

But in those blue eyes, I don’t just see pleading. I also see intelligence. And fire. Determination.

Five minutes have passed and I haven’t given my consent yet. It’s not that I am cruel. If I was going to say no, I would have sent her on her way at the get-go. But we have to do our interviews, cover all our bases.

She is still nervous. She has let it slip that she’s been turned down elsewhere. Unsaid is the obvious implication: after this, she has nowhere to go except maybe some awful job that won’t pay the big bills she’s accrued. Disaster, absolute disaster.

Suddenly, she looks at me and says:

“Do you mind if I smoke?”

Ah, how long has it been since I heard such a question! I do miss those old days. I used to smoke myself, long ago and far away, and many were the cigarettes I lit for ladies in my life.

I should tell her no, of course. It’s forbidden here, like just about everywhere.

“I don’t mind at all,” I say, and hand her an empty Altoids tin for an ashtray.

She bursts out laughing. “I meant, do you mind if I go outside for a cigarette? It’s a bad habit, I know, I’ll be right back.”

I glance at the darkening sky, that threatens rain, and the wind blowing litter across our parking lot.

“Sure, but you don’t have to go out there.”

So she doesn’t and appears relieved at my generosity.

.She fumbles with her pack, so nervous that she drops her cigarette on the table between us. I pick it up and smile softly as I angle it towards her lips, which she parts into an adorable little O to receive it. I feel her lips grab hold of it and I let go and she holds a flame to the tip and hungrily inhales. In the stillness, I can hear as well as see her beautiful exhale.

And the fragrance – like the perfume of an old friend, a lover from long ago – how long has it been since the aroma of a Virginia Slims crossed my path? Sweet as tea on a Southern porch in summer, as feminine as silk and flowers.

Now I am the one struggling to concentrate, shuffling papers and trying to maintain my official demeanor as that lovely cigarette rises again and again to pretty lips and creamy smoke spills forth in perfect cones, wisps and curls. She angles the first puff or two away from me but then apparently forgets after that and I am trying to talk balances and credit history through a sweet fog of smoke from lips not six inches from my own. I breathe in the smoky air, feeling my head beginning to spin like a kid falling in love.

Suddenly she stabs it out in the Altoids can.

“Is it a deal then?”

“Absolutely, I say, giving her a grin. “Congratulations and good luck.” I do not mention the various fees I am supposed to have charged her for the paperwork and my time. Not gonna happen.

She stands up, and I see that all her nerves have calmed now. She is as dignified as a school principal, but as pretty as a dancer.

I watch her sashay out the door, a beautiful woman with a new lease on life. I feel like a million bucks, too. I have the distinct impression that against all odds, her business dream will actually succeed. If not, I’ll get fired. What the hell.

Her cigarette lies on a bed of ash in the Altoids can, darkly imprinted with her lipstick I sit for a few minutes watching the last wisp of smoke rise from its crushed-out end and savoring the rich tobacco fragrance in the still air.

Ah, when did the world get so hard and cold as to forget just how beautiful a woman looks with a long cigarette in her hand and a dream in her eyes?

13 comments:

Janice Thomson said...

I did NOT know you were a writer.
What a deliciously sensuous write that kept me hooked till the end.
The imagery is fantastic - I felt like I was present in the office - maybe the steno or something.
You really ought to do more of these.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Thank You, Janice, bless Your beautiful heart.

Writing is something I love to do, always have.

citizen of the world said...

The writing is good, and I enjoyed reading the story. Although I can't wrap my mind idea that there is anything remotely lovely or feminine about suckng tobacco into your lungs in preparation for a painful death after some amount of time attached to an oxygen tank. Maybe that's just me.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Citizen: How about in the sequel, She quits -- and uses the money She saves to take a celebration trip to Tahiti.

leslie said...

Great writing ECD!

"Suddenly she stabs it out in the Altoids can."

What a perfect use of the word 'stabs'. I did a little startled jump when I read it!
You're good!

Eastcoastdweller said...

I have discovered Wi-fi and Panera’s Restaurant. I can blog during lunchtime again. Happy day!

You are all great! I really appreciate both your praises and criticisms of this short story.

It’s sort of a collage of moods and environments:

The dark, threatening world outside, from whence the loan-seeker has escaped, barely.

The almost drowsy atmosphere inside the loan office.

The point where the Woman goes from asking for assistance to realizing – punctuated with the stab that Leslie noticed – that She is going to get what She asked for – when Her nervousness shifts to confidence.

Perhaps that is a subtle reason why She puts out the cigarette – She doesn’t need it anymore to support Her.

It was kind of a film noire sort of short story – thus too the politically incorrect cigarette prop -- except without the murder scene and the Bogart accent.

Talking about this story was even more fun than writing it. I’ll have to do this again sometime.
Meantime, for those of you who weren’t around in the early days of Isis, here’s one that I posted back then:

http://eastcoastdweller.blogspot.com/2007/02/out-of-game-short-story.html

Chase March said...

That was a good story. I seem to remember the last one you wrote here also featured smoking as a big theme. Perhaps you are a tobacco-apologist.

Smoking is something that doesn't make sense to a lot of people, myself included. But this story is you through and through.

I enjoyed reading it.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Chase:

http://eastcoastdweller.blogspot.com/2007/07/rebecca-is-right.html

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

You just took me all the way back to the silver screen days.

Bette Davis.
Lauren Bacall.
Katherine Hepburn.
Rita Hayworth.

Sigh.... how long is this list? Much longer than what I've written.

Janice was right... absolutely hooked to the very end.
OH you can write.

Keep doing that, please.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Eastcoastdweller said...

Thank You, Scarlett.

It's sweet to know that even though I don't visit some of my long-time blog friends such as You, as often as I should, still we pick right up where we left off each time we do communicate.

Maria said...

What a wonderful, wonderful tale....

kat said...

happy to sit at your feet and hear your tales...
simple yet elegant imagery

Eastcoastdweller said...

Maria: Thank You!

Kat: Sweet, beautiful Kat -- You should know by now that no Woman shall ever sit at my feet, anymore than one addresses the Queen of England, as, "Yo, baby, yo!"

Rather, I sit at Hers.

It is one of my favorite things to do now and then when Sweetie and I are relaxing watching tv -- I scoot up to Her in Her chair (I'm a floor-sitting person, myself) and rub those cute little toe-sies of Hers.