No Ladies First


No ladies first in this diurnal rush,
Like insects, we swarm to red circles,
Each for himself, thrusting, fighting,
Down, onto crowded dim platforms,
Pushing ourselves into gaping monsters,
To stand, or sit, lonely sentinels.
Lives brought momentarily together.
Here, a pair enjoy hints of each other,
Indicating by eye and movement,
Promises of love’s naked intimacy.
But most, eyes behind unseeing stares,
Rocked and stultified in accustomed whir,
Succumb together to soporific swing.
Suddenly, deadened senses jar into recognition,
Sleepy eyes refocus,
We push and shove out of that airless thing,
To join the busy crowd surging upwards,
And fumbling for forgotten tickets,
We heave sighs of relief to emerge into daylight,
And recapture our humanity.

© Copyright, 9/18/16 Jane Stansfeld

Mating Insects

A few days ago, I received an ecstatic e-mail from my brother who is an ardent lepidopterist.  He wrote:

“Yesterday I saw two butterflies mating. It was wonderful. They were Green Veined Whites. The male sprays the female with an aphrodisiac dust that is so powerful that some humans claim to be able to smell it (apparently, it smells of lemon verbena). If the female consents, as she usually does, they mate and then go on a short nuptial flight together. In the process of mating the male doesn’t just inject sperm but 15% of his body weight – a nutrition boost for the female. It includes minerals the male has processed by drinking mud. This nutritious package helps the female survive longer and lay more and larger eggs. The pleasurable exchange makes many of them understandably promiscuous and reduces the longevity of the males. I waited for an hour in an area near our house where there are lots of Green Veined Whites and finally saw the thing I had been reading about. A real delight.”

His story brings to mind the Chinese use of butterflies to symbolize love and their folk lore story of the “Butterfly Lovers.” The following day as I went about my normal activities; I came upon my own insect observation and responded to my brother as follows:

It all began when I happened to notice a small lizard (gecko) body hanging tail down from our trumpet vines, which cover most of our back door overhead-trellis. I stared at this oddity only to realize that the lizard was dead and appeared to be caught up in the leaves of the vine. This needed investigation, so I looked more carefully and saw that the lizard was upside down because it was being eaten by a large green mantis. I could see its mouth, lethal beak-like snout and mandibles. It was working hard at its meal. I thought that it paused a moment to look at me with bulbous compound eyes. Did you know that the mantis has five eyes and antennae? There are the two huge bulbous eyes at the two outer corners of its triangular head and three smaller ‘simple’. The mouth and mandibles are located on the bottom angle of the head. 

After dinner with family, I took them out to see the spectacle only to discover that the mantis had dropped the lizard. At first, I thought that she had disappeared but then saw that she had turned and was slowly moving up into the full cover of the vine. Now, here is the shock, for on her back was the body of another mantis. They were attached at their rear ends. My son-in-law speculated that the second body might be a discarded exoskeleton, but then it hit me – this headless body, which was still attached to her rear was the remains of her mate!

Yes, I didn’t see the ritual, but of course I had to do so on line. The Internet tells me that not all mating results in cannibalism; however, it showed a film clip of one such event. The male, who is a good bit smaller than the female approaches and washes his head rather as a cat does by licking his front raptorial fore-legs and wiping them over his head. He approaches as he washes, and suddenly she grabs him. She securely grips his lower body under one of her fore-legs while immobilizing his upper body with the other one. She guides him onto her back where he attaches and starts a pulsating flow of genetic material. She, meanwhile, severs his neck and starts to eat his decapitated head. The odd part is that the beheaded male body continues to pulsate and, according to the Internet, the flow of genetic material increases after the decapitation.”

I didn’t tell my brother that the Internet article reported that the male mantis has a “mini supplemental brain” in its rear section to enable it to continue copulation even after losing its head. The statement made me wonder at the frequent allusion that men often think with their sex organs!

My brother responded with a wise crack that he was glad that he wasn’t eating lunch when he read my e-mail! He went on to speculate whether the Mantis could be personalized into a sci-fi story in which the mantis-like aliens are given feelings. He invited me to investigate what the male might be thinking. It is odd, but the Internet narrative concluded with a like speculation on the male mantis’s thoughts in his ecstatic death.  I didn’t respond for my take is that the Muslim suicide bomber comes close to the experience of the male mantis. He dies in the expectation of his virgins, while the mantis dies while enjoying his copulation.

As for the butterflies; I believe that my brother audited their copulation in vicarious enjoyment of their dance and lemon-scented aphrodisiac dust. His story comes close to that of the Chinese Butterfly Lovers.


The train flirtation

 Amelia loved King’s Cross station. Even in her present state of mind, when she approached the ticket gate at the train platform entrance, she paused and looked up at the giant vaulted roof with its wide double span. As always she marveled at the structure’s functional decorative ironwork and ancient glass roof, which bathed everything in daylight. Then she looked to the long side walls to admire the intricately detailed red-brick walls of the outer enclosure. They rose in Victorian majesty. 

When she brought her gaze back down Amelia noticed that her homeward, Durham-bound train was already standing at the platform. She saw passengers milling around searching for their assigned cars. This concerned her because she didn’t have a reserved seat. She walked briskly down the platform looking into each window as she passed.  Towards the front of the second/standard-class coaches, she found a few empty unassigned seats in groups of four separated by tables. She stowed her small suitcase in the luggage rack at the end of the coach and walked down the center to select a window seat facing the direction of travel. She would have preferred the relative privacy of a seat without a table even though there was always a risk that she might be hemmed in by an unwelcome fellow traveler, an obese person who would spread into her space or worse someone who talked incessantly or someone with bad body odor.  She placed her purse and cardigan on the seat beside her. She hoped that it might look as though the seat was taken. Then she opened her iPad and began to read in a futile attempt to block out her surroundings and also, perhaps, deter anyone from asking her to clear the seat next to her.

Amelia had just turned twenty-one and glowed with health. She wore an op-art navy blue and white dress. Its swirling skirt and tight waist accentuated her figure; while its color harmonized well with her sun-tan achieved during her vacation with friends in France.  Her hair was cropped short and streaked golden by the sun. Her nails were beautifully manicured and painted a vivid red. She, and her French friends had treated themselves to manicures and pedicures in Nice the day before she flew back to London. She should have been completely happy, but instead she felt sad, dejected and inadequate. When the train pulled out of the station, she put down her iPad and looked out the window. She congratulated herself for having no immediate fellow travelers in her foursome of seats, and indulged in a faint self-congratulatory smile. Then, as she watched the London suburbs whirr past her mood changed. She took out a tissue and dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. When the train emerged from the second tunnel, her unhappy reverie was interrupted.

“Are these seats vacant? May I sit here?”

Amelia glanced at the speaker. She resented his intrusion on her private reverie but when she saw his bewitching smile, she could only answer,

“The seats are not taken, feel free!”

She pretended to read on, but surreptitiously watched him fold his jacket, take out a book and slide into the seat opposite hers. She liked what she saw, well built, slender hips, broad chest, and handsome face. He gave her a winning smile and seemed to fumble with his hands for a moment before he spoke, his voice lilted with friendly mockery,

“It’s nice to be watched by a beautiful woman!”

 “Well, I …” she stammered as she blushed.

“No excuses necessary; I’ve made you blush. We’d better meet.” He stretched his right hand.

 “Name’s Michael. Pleased to meet you! By the way you enchant when you blush!”

Amelia felt her whole face glow, and although the rising blood made her hot and embarrassed, it eclipsed her sad reverie. She wouldn’t normally have opened up to a strange man, however good-looking, but somehow this was different. She stretched out her hand,

“My name’s Amelia, how do you do, Michael?”  His hand was soft and warm, his grasp firm. She tembled as they shook hands. “That’s better,” he said, “now you should tell me why you are so sad! But, no, on second thoughts how about first having a cup of tea and some breakfast?”

“No, I ….”

“It’s OK. I insist, it’s on me. It’s not every day that I am with such a lovely woman! I’m sure that you haven’t eaten today and a cup of tea always cheers one up!

“Well maybe a cup of tea would be nice.”

“Sure it would; and we are right next to the buffet car.” Michael was already on his feet. He moved with ease down the coach. Amelia watched him go. She admired his figure and easy walk. When he returned he carried a tray loaded with scones and tea. Amelia marveled at so much food until he sat down and passed her a laden plate.

“Now let’s see you eat something.” His voice was solicitous and kind.

Amelia thanked Michael and ate, suddenly realizing how hungry she was. As they ate they talked about the weather, a favorite topic for all English persons. Then they talked about the recent Brixit vote and speculated on what its ultimate impact would be. While they talked, Amelia further assessed Michael, she estimated him to be somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-five, hair thick and brownish red and eyes. Oh his eyes, they were a perfect sky blue. Amelia’s family all had brown eyes, which meant that blue ones always mesmerized her, and Michael’s were intense. His open-necked shirt was exactly the same color which further accentuated their impact. When they had finished their food and conversation lagged Amelia rose.

“That hit the spot, thank you, Michael. Now I think that I’ll go to the toilet; wash my hands.”

His blue eyes sparkled and he leant forward and gave her an intense look, “Going to powder that cute little shiny nose,” he joked.

Amelia blushed again although up until he suggested it; she had not thought of powdering her nose.  She walked slowly up the coach conscious that he was watching her and sure that he liked what he saw. The toilet was small but had a tiny mirror and so Amelia took the time to redo her lip liner and lipstick and to add a little more liquid make-up to her nose, powder being a thing of the past for her. She brushed her hair and came out, feeling like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.  As she walked down the coach toward him she enjoyed his welcoming smile and returned his gaze with one of her own. When she reached their table he stood up and reached forward to assist her into her seat.

“Thank you,” she said “You are such a gentleman!”

“When an alluring young woman with a secret sorrow, captivating blush and freshly powdered nose approaches I couldn’t do otherwise!” When she was seated he leant across the table and took her hands in his. “Now tell me why you are so sad, perhaps I can help.”

Amelia didn’t think that he could help but the warmth of his hands and depth of his gaze inspired her into confidence. She told him how she had met Charles when she was in high school, how they had dated for several years, how they had maintained their friendship through college even though they were attending different universities.  Then she told how she had returned home to Durham at the beginning of the summer to see him with her best friend and how they had quarreled.

“So you still love him?”

“Yes, of course I still love him, but after the things I said it is all over!”

“You still love him and yet you talk to me. Might he not be equally jealous if he were to see us together?

“Yes, but….”

Michael paused letting several minutes pass and then he asked, “Didn’t your trip to Nice help?” Amelia told him that she had hoped that it would but it had had the opposite effect because she had always been the outsider “ as “l’anglaise”. She told him that, even though she spoke good French, she had a hard time following the subtleties of the group’s discourse. Over the month they had paired up leaving her alone. The experience gave her a sense of unworthiness and made her feel unattractively gauche. On  her return she had spent the previous night with a friend in a Baron’s Court flat only to be further depressed when the friend gave  her a key and left her alone while she went out to dinner  with  her new boyfriend . Michael told Amelia that she had allowed her break-up with Charles to cloud her judgement. He urged her to re-establish her self-esteem. His words comforted, but his presence and actions did more. She kept trying to get him to talk about himself but all she could get him to disclose was that he lived in Edinburgh and had been to London on a business trip.

After Amelia’s confession Michael guided their discussion to the books that they were reading and from thence to general topics. After York and then Darlington, getting closer and closer to Durham Amelia became increasingly excited and then she grabbed Michael’s hand,

“Michael, look” she pointed through the window, “there is Durham Cathedral – how I love that view”

Michael followed her instruction, “It is stunning, like the little lady who lives there! It’s a pity but I suppose that it’s time to get your bag.”

A few minutes later, the train slowed down and stopped at Durham station. Amelia was so excited at arriving in Durham that she momentarily didn’t think about having to say good bye to Michael or even to try to establish a way that they could meet again. Everything happened so fast Michael opened her door, she stepped out. Instead of her parents on the platform, she saw Charles. He was there to meet her, which could only mean one thing. A wave of joy pulsated through her body, but she didn’t run into his arms. She paused to look back at Michael. He waved to her from the window of the moving train. As he waved the mid-day sun silhouetted his head in a halo of light. Charles put his arm around her; she stood and let him hold her while she continued to watch the train disappear around a bend in the tracks.

Michael smiled when he saw Charles hug Amelia. Then he turned and pulled his wedding ring out of his pocket and slipped it on.

Innocent or guilty?

I’ve been in the UK the last three weeks and away from blogging, but not from thinking and observation. I’ve had a full three weeks of making memories and return anxious to write. However it always takes time so I’m now posting his little extract which I wrote before we left. It has no conclusion; instead I invite my readers to offer their own interpretation.

The year is 2000, a time when computer software had made large inroads into the preparation of business documents. The once busy personal secretary who was responsible for the typing of all letters, meeting notes, contracts, and other documents is now reduced to fielding telephone calls, filing, mailing, and scheduling. Many of the most sophisticated software programs associated with graphics are in their infancy. This explains how a 50+-year-old company president knows what he wants a document to look like but is unable to produce it without help.

Bella has a good eye for graphics, and at 21 has already mastered a graphics program. Hence she gravitates into the marketing department where she quickly assumes responsibility for the graphics developed therein. Bella also has a good eye for Bella. Not only is she young, she is very attractive, and has a perfect figure. She wears provocative clothing outside normally accepted business wear; skirts so short that some might mistake them for belts and tops so low cut that her seductive cleavage is well displayed. Early each day a description of her garb passes among the young bucks of the office. During the course of the morning each nonchalantly finds an excuse to pass by her office to verify what they have heard. Bella keeps her office dark,. She says that it is, “To afford better screen contrast.” But it has the effect of further enhancing her mystique.

One of the company president’s main responsibilities is to respond to RFPs (Requests for Proposals). Winning new work is integral to the success of the office and the president trust no one but himself  to undertake this important task. His lack of computer skills means that he relies on Bella for the graphics. He takes to sitting next to her in her darkened room beside her bare legs and chest so that he can direct her work on the computer. The young bucks parade by; many, no doubt, fervently wishing that they were able to occupy that chair next to Bella. The work on the RFP responses extends far into the night. The office staff leaves for home glancing in the direction of Bella’s office where she and her companion sit riveted to the computer monitor.

Occasionally the president’s wife drops in. She is a good looking woman who suffers from periodic bouts of dehydration due to lapses in her alcoholism.  She lets it be known that she owns the president and should anything happen she would take everything.  She warns that divorce would ruin him. Bella smiles behind her back for Bella does not appear to be motivated by money; from her demeanor all deduce that sex is her thing. The general office staff heed the wife’s warning and deduce that she, like them, wonders about what goes on after hours in that darkened office.

Rumors are always rampant in a large office. In this office their main focus is on Bella and her companion.  No one has ever seen anything apart from what is described above, all suspect more, no one is sure. Once Bella and the president had an argument and Bella was heard shouting obscenities as she, barefoot, raced out of the darkened office. He didn’t follow. She disappeared into the bathroom. She reemerged smelling strongly of perfume and went back to her usual spot. No one in the office witnessed a reconsolidation but all noticed that everything merely returned to “normal” and they worked late that evening.

The sulk syndrome

Recently, the AFP (American Family Physician) carried an article submitted by Dr. K.. The doctor’s full name is withheld at this time at Dr. K.’s request. The article reports findings gathered by Dr. K. over thirty years. If the doctor’s facts and analysis prove accurate, they may change medicine’s approach to many treatments and cures, particularly those in which the patient requires pain medication. Given the recent spate of celebrity deaths associated with painkillers this discovery should be heaped with accolades.

Dr. K.’s S.U.L.K. stands for Stiff Upper Lip as discovered by, himself, Dr. K. He reports it to be a condition most often associated with persons of English heritage, particularly those born and raised in England. The sulk is manifested by a paralyzed upper lip. The reader can experience a similar paralysis by placing a thumb firmly upon their upper lip; thereafter, it will be found that, any attempt to smile, frown, or experience emotion, associated with facial expression, is thwarted. As an aside, the irony that a person who is sulking has a like facial expression may, or may not, have been Dr. K.’s intent when he coined the acronym.

According to Dr. K.’s research results, persons with sulk syndrome report pain and discomfort on a reduced, completely different scale from the public at large. Where most patients might rank pain as a seven or eight on a scale of one to ten the sulk syndrome patient generally says, “I’m fine.” When pressed to use the pain schedule those with sulk report a two, or maximum three on the same scale.

In summary, Dr. K. finds that sulk syndrome persons tend to suffer less and recover faster from bacterial ailments and surgeries than their counterparts with normal upper lip function. He, therefore, postulates that the upper lip has a unique role in contributing to recovery and proposes that all patients experiencing chronic pain, undergoing surgery, taking courses of antibiotics or undergoing cancer treatment, first be given a facial Botox injection to induce sulk syndrome upper lip paralysis.


Rowan – a short story

In 2000, the fraternities at Belmont College voted Rowan their pledge of the year. At the time, everyone was pleased by the election, although many were surprised when Rowan failed to turn up to accept the award. This failure aroused the fraternity boys’ interest. Talk flowed freely as they looked about and tried to identify who this person was. They soon realized that, for most of them; Rowan was just a name. Many freely admitted that they had voted for “Rowan” because of the importance implied by this singular name. Some of them felt sure that they had heard the name at a frat gathering and even suspected that they may have met Rowan. Further investigation revealed that one group, the ill-defined bible-study fraternity, had placed the name on the ballot. Thereafter, the other fraternity boys determined that this group knew Rowan and that Rowan was a genuine person. Over time the surprising revelation quickly spread that Rowan was not a male fraternity pledge; in fact, Rowan was not even a student at Belmont College.

The pledged students could only have been more surprised if Rowan had attended the awards ceremony. Their masculine sensitivities would have been sorely taxed by her diminutive figure, in the form of an elderly woman with a full head of flowing red hair and clad in swirling clothing. The floral pattern of her skirt, matching blouse and flamboyant jewelry would have contrasted with their grubby casual tees and worn blue jeans as much as her age and sex contrasted with their youthful masculinity. It was best that they came to acknowledge the mystery of her election through a slow process of word of mouth and rumor so that the event painlessly passed into the mystique of their fraternity history.

Her election can be explained by the fact that three of the bible-study fraternity boys lived in her basement. She was lax in her rules and opened up her home to the group so that they held meetings in her living room while she, generously, served pizza and cookies. She explained her approach to her tenants with the words, “I love to surround myself with young men!” On their side, the boys put her name on the ballot because, for them, she represented the mainstay which held them together.

If the fraternity boys had got to know Rowan through narration of some of the events from her life, they would have realized that her election was a fortuitous endorsement of everything to which they espoused. Rowan’s entire life was full of drama, as she exuded joy and laced all she did with a touch of unconventionality. She was an artistic, fun-loving, free spirit; an adult who never lost the innocence of youth and the ability to make stupid mistakes and to recover from them with vigor. Unquestionably she was the perfect choice for the pledge of the year.

Thirty-five years before her nomination and election as Belmont College’s 2000 fraternity pledge of the year Rowan, herself, attended a small college. She was enrolled in a General Arts degree with the ostensibly normal goal of becoming a school teacher. As soon as she arrived on campus away from the confines of her family, she opened her eyes the world and embraced a hippie-like life of unconventionality. She became vegetarian, smoked pot and opted for a lifestyle which demonstrated to her fellow students, and herself, that she saw all men as equal.

When she met Eugene Blanc, a handsome young black scholar from Houston, Texas, it was inevitable that she fell in love. Eugene responded to her impulsive free spirit and returned her love with passion. Gradually, they settled into a routine in which they did everything together, even enjoying the stir that their presence made when they visited their families. Neither side’s kinfolk approved of their liaison. Both families, while protesting support for civil rights equality and racial integration, couldn’t accept that their family might be linked to a family of another ethnicity. After the 1967, Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in their ruling on Loving vs. Virginia, Rowan and Eugene saw an opportunity to advance their relationship. In 1969, they got married at a wedding chapel on the side of the Galveston freeway. Neither of their families was invited to, nor attended the event.

It would be good if this narrative could report that Rowan and Eugene lived happily ever after, but then, perhaps Rowan might not have made it to fraternity pledge of the year in 2000.  After graduation, they enjoyed a brief period of happiness working in positions in large oil-related corporations in Houston. They lived in a small rented apartment in Forster’s Pond just inside the Loop at the Galleria and attempted to dissolve into the cultural melee of the rapidly growing city. Unfortunately the prejudices of corporate American unsettled Eugene and he became increasingly irrational and disturbed. He took to the bottle, and one early Saturday morning drove headlong into a tree close to their apartment. He was killed instantly.

Rowan bounced back from the sadness of losing Eugene and moved to Austin. She accepted a position at IBM, bought a house and settled into a new life. She met the Ghanaian, Bastos, in the IBM cafeteria. He wooed her by showering her with attention in the form of conventional courtship paraphernalia such as flowers, chocolates and expensive dates. Although Rowan shunned traditional mores, she enjoyed Bastos’ attention. Within a few months, she invited him to move in with her. He was a perfect companion and continued his pursuit with his apparently undivided devotion.

After six months, Bastos told Rowan that he needed to return to Ghana and proposed she accompany him as his wife. Rowan suggested a trip to another Wedding Chapel, but Bastos was lovingly emphatic that they should be married by an Imam in true muslin tradition. Although he had not previously discussed his beliefs with Rowan, he now told her that his sincerest hope was that, over time, perhaps in Ghana, she would convert to Islam so that they could spend eternity together. Rowan found his suggestion flatteringly loving and told him that she also wished to be with him through eternity. In preparation for their life-changing move, Bastos persuaded Rowan to liquidate her assets and to sell off her possessions and to give him the proceeds; for, he told her, this would enable her to make a proper transition to Ghana as his wife. Rowan willingly complied.

Ghana proved to be an uncanny revelation for Rowan. When they arrived in Accra, Bastos changed; gone was the attentive suitor, now he was the autocratic businessman and head of a household. This was when Rowan discovered that she arrived in the role as one of four wives. She quickly tired of this life and expressed a desire to return home to the United States. Bastos had her money, and tiring of her emotional outbursts, was ready for her to leave. One fine day he escorted her to the American Embassy and left her to contact her family for money and to undertake the long process of returning to the USA.

After her return to the United States and the annulment of her marriage with Bastos, Rowan needed a clean start. She returned to her roots, bought a home near Belmont College, and accepted a position as a librarian in a local library. She wholeheartedly reunited with her relatives who were delighted to welcome her back into their midst. She settled into the place of her youth, and soon took up with an ex-boyfriend from her teens, a six-foot-six white guy named Phil. Now story has it that Phil was a part – time pimp; which may explain why Rowan had difficulty keeping him in line. One evening he drove off in her second car for a night out on the town. Rowan was fun-loving enough to resent his leaving her at home but, after two failed marriages, acknowledged that sometimes a man needs to go out with the boys.

When Phil failed to return by eleven Rowan was irate. She was so angry that she revved up her second car and roared into town looking for him. She drove past his two favorite bars. At both, she failed to see her car in the parking lot. Just as she was leaving the second lot, she saw one of Phil’s friends. She stopped and questioned the slightly intoxicated man and managed to discover that Phil was probably at Sandy’s house on Elm Street.

Rowan drove to Elm Street and spotted her car parked at the curb. She drove slowly past peering up at the adjacent house. Behind the curtains of one of the illuminated windows, she distinctly saw two figures locked in an embrace. She drove around the block and returned. The two figures were still there; by now, she was so filled with wrath that she accelerated and rammed her own car parked at the curb. There was a loud crunch of broken metal, and her car’s engine quit. In the ensuing silence, she screamed into the darkness,

“That serves him right. That’ll teach him. By the time that he finds a way home, I’ll have his possessions on the doorstep!”

She got out of her car, crossed the street, and walked up to a house with a light on. She rang the doorbell.

“Good evening,” she said, her eyes flashing with anger, her voice steely calm, “May I use your telephone? I need to report a hit-and-run!”

No fraternity boy could have done better. Belmont College was right to award Rowan their Pledge of the Year.


The Job Offer – a short story

Jennifer and her daughter sat on the coffee house terrace under a flowering crêpe myrtle tree. Jennifer was still trembling. Her daughter lent across the table and patted her hand, a gesture which Jennifer accepted as loving support. She smiled weakly, enjoying this moment of closeness, although she wasn’t yet ready for confidences. She looked out over the terrace hoping to see their waiter,

“I could use that cup of tea.”

“I’m sure they won’t be long.” Her daughter also scanned the terrace and soothingly continued, “Meanwhile, Mom, lean back, breathe deeply, and take in the sweet smell of crêpe myrtle blossom.”

Jennifer obeyed, and as she relaxed she heard the sounds of the city, the muffled whirr of traffic, the voices of other patrons talking to each other, and the intrusive sound of grackles squawking. These ordinary reminders of everyday life, combined with the presence of her daughter, calmed and reassured her.

By the time that their tea arrived, Jennifer had regained her self-control. She took the pot and poured. The tea was served unusually hot for America, and so they both added milk to cool it down. Instead of holding her cup by its handle, as was her norm, Jennifer cradled it in her hands as though the warmth could give her additional comfort. She sipped slowly enjoying the distinctive flavor of Rooibos with its earthy herbal aroma.

“I think that the interview went well. They are going to offer me a partnership.”

“That’s great Mom. So, why are you nervous and edgy? Didn’t you always aspire to become a principal somewhere?” She paused and stared at her mother and then continued, “But there’s something else isn’t there?”

Jennifer looked at her daughter and wondered how one so young could be so perceptive. She didn’t answer the question; instead, she evaded with additional information about the prospects.

“A partnership. Yes, you are right; I’ve always wanted to be a firm leader – it’s just marvelous! I wish that my father were still alive for this would have made him so proud!”

“So you should be elated Mom; but you’re not are you?”

A Grackle alighted on the back of a chair at an adjacent table. His feathers gleamed black/blue in the sunlight. He fanned his tail and looked at their table with his tiny eyes. Jennifer’s daughter clapped her hands, and he flew away. Jennifer took another sip of tea and dunked a cookie before continuing,

“The money is fantastic. If you include the expected annual profit distribution in conjunction with the salary, it will be double what I make now. That’s more than our family needs, but it would be nice.”

“So much money, they must think a lot of you Mom.”

“Yes, I think they do. Up until now, I have excelled at my job. I’ve always loved what I do and know that I am good at it. The problem is, they want me to go into operations, and I’m not sure that this is my forte. I might not be able to deliver what they want.”

“Oh come on Mom, aren’t you underestimating yourself?”

“Maybe…… If it were straightforward it might be okay, but I have a premonition that their corporate culture doesn’t align with mine. It seems to me that the upper management, of which I would be a part, is too remote from the rest of the staff. It’s as though the fantastic money is accomplished through shortchanging everyone else.”

“But Mom, won’t that be the challenge. Won’t that be how you will be able to help?”

“I’d like to think so, but I suspect otherwise. I’ll be the outside newcomer, thrust between a bunch of old boys who have been together for years and who love their perks and profits. In fact, they bring me in order to increase profits, and I doubt that they will see this as being accomplished by investing in higher salaries, new computers, and state-of the-art software.”

“If their corporate culture is manipulative, or you feel it to be unprofessional, then maybe you should turn down their offer.”

“Yes, I should.’ Jennifer gazed at the Grackle who had returned to the adjacent table; she sighed, “The other argument against taking the position is that it will require a weekly 200 mile commute and two residences until your father can join me. The distance apart is going to be hard. I keep wondering if the prestige and money justify it.”

Jennifer threw the Grackle a piece of cookie and watched it eat before continuing, “To put it bluntly,” she glanced around to make sure that no-one was within earshot, “if there was a devil, I’d say that he concocted this offer. It is sugarcoated in money. I know that it appeals to my greed and pride. Perhaps I am being asked to sell my soul.”

“If you feel like that Mom, DON’T DO IT!” Jennifer’s daughter clapped her hands again, and the Grackle flew off. She repeated, “Don’t do it Mom, trust your instincts!”

They finished their tea, hugged and parted. Jennifer’s daughter left to return to her classes at the University while Jennifer went to her car for her 200 mile drive home. She slipped in a Book on Tape into the player “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde. She listened to the narration and settled into an aura of peace as she watched the road peel away. At the end of the first chapter, the tape gave a hiccup and stopped. This had happened before, Jennifer knew that this time it had quit for good.

When she stopped for gas, a black raven flew down and sat on the gas pump. It cocked its head and eyed Jennifer. She spoke to it

“You can see that I need a new car,” she said, “I need that good pay in that new position to enable me to get one. It isn’t immoral for principals to take disproportionately high compensation out of a firm. Principals guide firms; they earn it. If I have to commute 200 miles a week, I’ll need a spiffy new car. That’s not greed that’s practicality! Is it prideful to want to succeed? No, it is a logical conclusion, a reward for hard work.”

The raven nodded its head in apparent agreement. When Jennifer reached home, she met her husband with a kiss and the words,

“They offered, and I’m going to accept.”

The devil laughed as he watched Jennifer head for several years of acute unhappiness.