Nora stood outside the corridor to Mrs. King’s office; the sterile white back corridor with linoleum flooring, not the carpeted, inviting front corridor.
All she had to do was walk down the corridor past the two storage rooms and knock on the door. Then she had to say, “Hi Mrs. King. Could I talk to you about something?” Or, alternately she could say, “Excuse me, Mrs. King. Do you have a moment?” Or perhaps she could say, “Mrs. King, I have a really great idea!” What was that her English teacher said about speeches? Begin with a hook. She had to get Mrs. King excited about what she was going to say… Nora had already had this conversation with herself eighty times. Now she was just stalling. She forced herself to step off the beige speckled linoleum and cross the line onto the mint speckled linoleum of the back corridor.
She took several steps until she found herself in front of the first storage door. Behind this door lay a vast expanse of stuff Nora had never seen before. What did this mysterious door hide? Were there banks and banks of filing cabinets in there? Was there a super computer holding the secrets of the universe? Were there the dead bodies of all the old people who had ever died in Oleander Gardens? It suddenly occurred to Nora that all the funerary and memorial stuff always took place at Oleander Gardens. She had never witnessed the actual movement of a body from the residence to a cemetery of any kind, nor even a crematorium. Nora stopped to ponder this for a few moments.
If she turned back now, she could find something else to do before having to speak to Mrs. King. But she had promised Cute Guy that she would do this, and it was her opportunity to arrange two standing dates a week with him, and her opportunity to impress him, and if she didn’t do this he was know what a pathetic loser she was an never speak to her again. Nora stood torn.
Suddenly the wooden door at the end of the corridor opened and the two on-site security guards came out: Ray and Ben, looking more like night-club bouncers than old people guards with their security uniform bomber jackets and black slacks with white piping up and down the legs. Just behind them, Mrs. King emerged, strikingly tall in a tailored charcoal pinstriped suit and spiked heels. Her piercing eyes immediately caught Nora’s and, closing and locking her office door behind herself, she clip-clopped over, followed closely by her obedient henchdogs.
“Are you looking for me, Nora? I was just on my way out. I have a meeting in the city.” Mrs. King clutched an old-fashioned brown leather briefcase, the kind that people in gangster movies carry large sums of money in non-consecutive unmarked bills in. With a quick glance, Nora established that it was not connected to Mrs. King’s wrist by a pair of handcuffs.
In her usual quick-witted way, Nora said, “Um…” She was trying to work out whether by “the city,” Mrs. King meant the town, Steeplechase, that OG was located on the outskirts of, or an actual city several miles away, like Seattle or Wallawalla.
“And by ‘um’ do you mean, No, Mrs. King, I was just lurking around in the back hall here trying to avoid doing my work yet again, or Yes, Mrs. King, I want to talk to you about something so pressing it must be done while I am on the clock?”
“Uh…” said Nora. “I mean, yes, I wanted to… I have a suggestion? But it can wait…” Nora took a step backwards, followed by another one. She began to turn around, relieved to be able to retreat back the way she had come.
“I’m sure it can, but this meeting may take a while, and I know how you young kids like to hop on your bikes and beat it to the nearest mall to play arcade games as soon as the proverbial bell rings, so make it fast and we’ll get this over with so I can go about my day.”
“Uh, okay…” Nora cleared her throat. “Well, I know how you, I mean, the management team here at Oleander Gardens wants to cut costs so as to pass the savings on to the clients, so I thought…”
Mrs. King waited a full three seconds for Nora to gather her thoughts before she finished, “You thought you’d ask for a pay cut? Done! Now let’s get moving, gentlemen, before–”
“No! I don’t want a pay cut, Mrs. King.” Nora was surprised to hear herself cut off the evil witch and hoped she would not now be hexed, which seemed very likely by the way Mrs. King’s icy blue eyes were now piercing into her very soul.
“So you do have a spine after all. Well, I guess you do need all your quarters for Spaced Invasions or whatever. So, what’s your wonderful money-saving idea, then, Nora?” She waited another two seconds before adding, “Speak, girl!”
“I know a… I mean, my school, where I used to go, is having this charity thing, where the students have to, I mean are volunteering to work at places, and I know a guy, I mean, a young man in grade twelve who has… an interest in working with… the elderly. So I figured, I mean, my idea was, why not hire him to volunteer here, or whatever.”
Mrs. King snickered and glanced at her diamond-studded watch for the seventieth time since Nora had started stammering her perfectly prepared and utterly forgotten spiel. “So you want this boy to have your job, which he can do for free, thereby rendering you unemployed and Oleander Gardens that much richer?” She burned Nora’s face off with a dastardly smirk. The mutts flanking her chuckled behind big, greasy fists.
“Actually, ma’am, I just thought he could come after school a few times a week and just, you know, spend time with the old people. Listen to their stories and stuff. Since their families and whatever don’t visit very often and it seems like some of them might be a bit lonely. That’s all.”
At this, Mrs. King actually laughed out loud. “Sounds fine. Yep, they’re lonely all right!” She beckoned for her henchogres to follow her with her free hand and began clippity-clopping along the linoleum once again.
Nora called to her disappearing charcoal pinstriped backside, “There’s a paper you have to sign or whatever…”
Without turning back or slowing down, Mrs. King called, “Have him drop it off at reception!”
And that was that.