Fiction · 06/10/2009

600 Turkey Basters, 200 Tongs

Rurik is teaching me to juggle with a red scarf throw, a blue scarf throw, and his Russian accent, catch catch. He says go with impact as the scarves flutter to his hands and his arms sink as if he’s catching lead balls. Or missiles. Throw throw catch catch.

The boss rushes in, copper-shiny heels, glittery sleeveless top, pink bow hairclip. She has two announcements. One: My desk is the example. Tidy, symmetrical, pointed. Do this way.

When she turns around, Rurik and I nod and mouth pointed.

Two: The latest payload arrived safely.

I stuff the blue scarf in Rurik’s front shirt pocket and return to my desk to log bogus shipment details. 450 Spaghetti Strainers Stainless Steel. The boss can be heard on the phone through the wall. She always speaks English extra-loud. Da. It comes like we say. On time. On time.

Though the classroom door emerges the gold of daylight and a teacher in a black bodysuit. Her braided hair is coming undone in damp wisps around her face. She is the only other American here. We have never spoken about it. For all I know she thinks this really is a ballet studio. Bathroom available? Ours is occupied. We’ve been taught only I respond, the one with the American accent, Go ahead. It’s open. I say, putting on my efficient office smile.

My e-mail dings. Cleanest desk! It says. Congratulations on cleanest desk. Would you mind to move Elephant Ornament to side bulletin board?

I pull out the tack and relocate the little blue elephant ornament. Rurik sees me and points to the boss’s door. I nod yes. Last week we had a lesson in which way to close the blinds, the week before a lecture: only binders on shelf, no books, must look business.

I return to my desk. Without the elephant ornament hanging next to my monitor, it is as if my father has finally left. It was his gift before he vanished eight years ago, that, this job, and the introduction to Rurik, technically a cousin several times removed – a small fact that keeps us close, but not too. I see you soon. Dad had said. Work here, help us. I’m not sure who us is anymore.

The blue scarf floats down from above to land silently on my keyboard. I launch over the red scarf as the teacher opens the bathroom door. She smiles and lets out a little laugh. A laugh of forthrightness, of nonsecrecy. A person unaccustomed to fear. As she returns to the studio, a blast of buoyant melody escapes. Our room returns to the ongoing murmur of the Boss’s quieter Russian voice and then her purposeful ending, for anyone – including us -who might be listening. Do svidaniya, spasiba. I want to say to the teacher, come back, tell me how it is out there and of your father. Let me test your pillow.

The carpet is still the same stained gray. The walls, the same peeled yellow. The posters, the same faded circus. The elephant ornament faces the boss’s door. I cross the room and change the trunk’s direction, toward the faint music coming from the studio. Back at my desk I find the red scarf on my chair, slightly wrinkled, slightly peaked.

+++

Stefanie Freele‘s recent and forthcoming work can be found in Glimmer Train, American Literary Review, Night Train, Wigleaf, Literary Mama, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Frigg, Boston Literary Review, Hobart online, and Dogplotz. Stefanie has an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop. After serving as the 2008 Writer In Residence for SmokeLong Quarterly, she joined their editorial staff. She is also the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review. Stefanie’s short story collection Feeding Strays will be published by Lost Horse Press in September.