Seeing George - Excerpt
It was late in the working day and Violet stood at Spatler & Smith’s filing shelves with her face buried in the crook of her arm, her glossy brown hair slipping from a hasty chignon. She let the tears drip a moment before using the sleeve of her blouse to mop at them.
Frank would be back from Adelaide tomorrow night with a month’s worth of beard. Back from deserting her. And sitting in the house by herself this past month had made Violet realise that they should have been fighting about their secret, not tiptoeing around each other.
She sniffed and twisted her thin gold wedding band. It dug into her flesh, painfully ignoring her weight gain. Apparently neither of them had the courage to fight. Two years of marriage and everything was still too new. And too old. She didn’t feel nineteen years old, she felt one hundred: the prospect of an entire life of just she and Frank threatened to take away the horizon.
She couldn’t imagine years of watching him take the newspaper into the toilet because he refused to eat enough preserved fruit, and thinking about getting out of bed to make sure her face was on before his five am starts—just thinking about doing that for the rest of her life—set her teeth on edge. All those mornings of just each other.
Violet’s eyes watered again. She blotted them with the receipt she was supposed to be filing, and startled when a male voice beside her said, ‘Are you all right?’
‘Bit of dust.’
She made a show at dabbing her eyes, then turned towards the voice—and screamed.
It was leaning an elbow against the metal shelving, propping up at least six foot five inches of pinstripe-suited girth. Facial scales, purple and emerald, shimmered slightly under the fluorescent lights and its eyes were terribly large and bulbous. It looked like a dragon.
She clutched the receipt to her chest and slowly backed away.
‘What’s happened?’ Betsy was striding toward them from the other end of the aisle. ‘We could hear you in reception.’
‘Betsy—,’ Violet’s voice was urgent.
‘There was a mouse,’ the dragon loudly interrupted.
‘A mouse?’ Betsy couldn’t keep the amusement from her voice, although her tired brown eyes peered at the floor. ‘George’s going to think we’re an office of silly girls. You’ve got them all panicking.’
Sure enough, Edward and Lila were squashing into the narrow aisle too.
Violet watched, bewildered that none of them seemed perturbed. This must be a hoax: an elaborate rubber suit. Any minute now they would start laughing, letting her in on the joke. Or maybe it was a promotional? But Betsy had the others more interested in finding the invisible rodent and Violet could feel the dragon staring at her.
‘Can’t you see it?’ she whispered to Betsy.
‘Well, it’s probably run away, dear,’ the elderly woman replied. ‘But you look so pale. Was it a rat?’
Lila, who was now behind Betsy, looked down at her high-heeled feet, all skittish.
‘I mean that. Him.’ Violet inclined her head towards the dragon, using her free hand to continue pressing herself against the furtherest part of the shelving.
‘George? Of course we can see him. Did you bump yourself?’ Betsy shifted around George to put a cool hand to Violet’s forehead.
The dragon offered a small smile.
‘Well, what’s the matter? Haven’t you been introduced?’ Betsy angled her shoulder to negotiate the cramped space a bit better. ‘This is George—he only arrived yesterday. Transferred from Spatler & Smith’s Shepperton office. George, this is Violet. Our secretary. And very lucky to have such a position of responsibility at her age.’
‘Oh, come on.’ Violet lurched forward to pull at the green facial scales.
‘Violet!’ Betsy was angry now, and when the scales didn’t yield like cloth, when the dragon winced, Violet snatched her hand back to cover her mouth. It just wasn’t possible. But the dragon grinned. Rows and rows of pointed white teeth.
‘Let’s get Mr Spatler.’ Lila shifted her gum from one cheek to another.
‘No, it’s my fault,’ the dragon said. ‘I gave her a fright.’
‘Now look, Violet, none of us knew about the transfer,’ said Edward from the back of the small grouping. ‘But he seems nice enough. You’ll excuse me George, talking in front of you like this. Clearly it’s a bit of a surprise to someone.’
There was a rush of exchanged glances that Violet couldn’t decipher and the dragon said, ‘Why don’t I help her with the rest of the filing? Give her a chance to get to know me.’
‘No.’ None of this made sense and Violet couldn’t get a handle on which part of it was wrong: the way the others weren’t reacting, or her own fear. Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
‘Violet, don’t be silly, dear.’ Betsy touched the dragon’s scaly hand. ‘Are you sure, George? You know it’s nothing personal. Just goes about things backwards sometimes.’
He nodded, so Betsy backed away, heralding the return to the main office section. Lila and Edward were reluctant to pass up this exciting diversion, but a telephone could be heard ringing, so they awkwardly turned and walked off. Lila stil looking for a mouse.
George plucked the crushed receipt from Violet’s grasp and began straightening it against a shelf. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘this is unexpected.’
Looking down at the floorboards, Violet didn’t answer. She inched her way around him, then turned to run down the aisle.
‘It’s too late for that,’ he called after her.