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C.A. Head, 31 Dec '12

The woman sits at a desk across from the clerk. It is her first time coming downtown by herself because George took care of all the business. She doesn’t mind the trip because it gives her a reason to dress up and get out of the house but the rush-hour traffic was more than she’d bargained for and her nerves are shattered. She asks the clerk for a drink of water pointing a manicured finger at a case of Aquafina behind his desk. He gives her a startled look as if she has revealed a pistol and announced: ‘this is a holdup.’

“We’re not a restaurant, you know.”

“I feel faint. I don’t think I will faint,” she clarifies, "but a sip of water will help.”

The clerk doesn’t respond but takes note of her expensive herringbone suit, newly-permed gray hair and alligator handbag. ‘High maintenance’ he thinks to himself.

“Name,” he says in a constipated monotone.


“Your name; what’s your name? I need it for your benefits form.”

“Doesn’t it say on that letter I brought in?”

“Yes, but I need to verify that all this information is correct.”

The clerk is now officially annoyed. He makes only $11.50/hour for this job, he is a week behind on his rent and his boyfriend came home late last night with a hickey.


“Did you hear me? I must have a drink of water. Why won’t you give me a drink of water? Her voice raises two octaves.

The clerk signals for the guard who comes to stand over the desk. He is a big guy. She notices a large grease stain below his plastic name tag which reads: Officer Talbot. He wears one black sock and one blue and has scuffed, soft-soled shoes.

“Is there trouble here?”

“This woman is becoming agitated and loud. I think she might be sick,” the clerk says.

“I didn’t say I was sick, I only asked for a bit of water. Can’t the government even provide a citizen a glass of water?”

“Give her a drink of water for God’s sake,” someone yells from the waiting area. There is a chorus of agreement.

The woman isn’t feeling so nervous now and could pass on the drink but she is secretly enjoying the attention. Her children so rarely visit because they live in California and since George’s passing their married friends don’t invite her to the bridge games and the theater anymore.

The guard dons a pair of gloves and takes hold of the woman by the elbow. He lifts her from her seat with such force she is momentarily suspended in air. A handsome Hispanic man turns to the the old man sitting next to him assuring him that he will soon return, then stands to intervene on the woman’s behalf. The old man grabs his cane with shaking hands. The fluorescent lights, shouting people and tangerine orange chairs remind him of an unpleasant boyhood experience in Havana.

“You don’t have to be so rough with the lady. She’s elderly.”

The woman is pleased by the gallantry of this young man with the dark, shining hair and his use of the word ‘lady’. She’s glad she took time this morning to put on make-up; she self consciously adjusts the silk scarf tucked into the neck of her suit.

“Sir, you need to go back to your seat,” the pretend officer says with fake authority.

“She asked for water and I’m going to buy her a bottle from the vending machine,” the good-looking stranger says with a defiant glance at the guard.

Officer Talbot holds onto the woman; she squirms in his grip but he doesn’t let go. He is aware that thirty pairs of eyes, moments before glazed with boredom, are now locked on him. The clerk with the precious cache of water has made himself scarce.

When the young man returns with bottled water he introduces himself as Peter and asks her name. She takes several sips of water, giving him a good once over, before answering.

“Miss Elizabeth Conifer,” her smile is flirtatious. “Do they call you Pedro?”

“No, that’s my grandfather’s name,” he says pointing to the old man he has abandoned. “My name is Peter.”

The guard has had enough. “Well Pedro, Peter whoever you are, the party’s over. She’s had her water and now it’s time to leave. We don’t allow outbursts.”

Still aware of his audience, the guard extends his hand in an invitation to exit. He and the old lady stride across the room as if heading for the center of a grand ballroom where they will begin a waltz. When they reach the double doors of the building’s entrance the guard opens one side for Conifer’s departure but in an impressive display of agility she sprints to a nearby revolving door.

“Why do you people call this place Social Security when it’s neither one?” she shouts in protest before shimmying into a slot of the revolving door.

She almost makes her escape but Officer Talbot snatches the revolving door stopping its progress then pushes it so hard she falls onto the pavement. The office erupts. Peter and another man rush to the woman pushing the guard out of the way. Men and women in the waiting area spring to their feet some shouting obscenities, people are pointing towards the door and the old man furiously pounds his cane against the chair. Hearing the ruckus, a second guard appears from the rear of the building and the stingy clerk joins the tight circle formed by his co-workers who are prepared for fight or flight.


The supervisor apologizes profusely to Elizabeth Conifer as he expedites her paperwork. She has a run in her pantyhose but is otherwise uninjured and someone has provided her with a delicious cup of chai tea. Still, she occasionally dabs at her eyes with a handkerchief to keep the upper hand.

“Is there anything else I can help you with, Mrs. Conifer?” the supervisor asks.

“Well, I’m still shook up by this unfortunate incident,” she brings the hanky to her face again.

The supervisor nods his understanding and gives the offending clerk the evil eye.

“We are sincerely sorry for your treatment.”

“I— I wonder if Officer Talbot could see me to my car.”

For the second time in an hour, the guard and Conifer move together to the front door. She waves to handsome Peter and he waves back as she slips her hand into the arm of her escort.

“Do you know you have on mismatched socks?” she says to Talbot.

“Uh, no ma’am.”

“When I was married I always had to make sure my husband didn’t leave the house with unmatched socks, or stains on his tie.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll see you next month, Mr. Talbot. No need to mail my check when I can just pick it up.”

Comments · 2

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  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    Thoroughly enjoyed :)

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • C.A. Head said...

    Thank you, Anthony; and thanks to you Mairead. To your question about the old lady's motivation. I'm not quite sure what she was up to. My characters sometimes tell me a lot about themselves but this wily old girl is a bit of a mystery. I do know that she is lonely and Talbot's carefree attitude about his attire reminds her of her departed husband. I appreciate your read and your comments.

    • Posted 7 years ago