Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Parachutist

I work with a woman who looks like a parachutist.

Every morning at eight when I arrive at work, she is already sitting at her desk. That cubicle faces the kitchen door, and I can see her legs beneath the desk. Today she has the purple shoes on. I like those ones the best, but in the way that a child might say they like Brussels sprouts better than Cabbage when they hate all vegetables with a passion.

She waves at me and smiles a greeting, her attention fixed on the caller at the other end of the phone. "Mmm-hmm," she murmurs into the mouthpiece, the quiet reassurance that she hadn't hung up and that the speaker should continue their spiel. The Parachutist's fair short hair is a cloud around her sunny face, her huge round glasses like 1970's windows to the sky.

The Parachutist always says good morning. Or waves it, when a customer interrupts her opportunity. But the Parachutist rarely speaks to us otherwise. If we need help, the Parachutist will know, but she will answer politely in as few words as possible, and will watch our faces carefully to ensure we understand. Once her job is done, she will jump out of the conversation, returning to her base camp to murmur into phone receivers and pore over waiting work.

Under the desk today, and topping her purple shoes, are the pants she always wears. They are jeans, of a fashion, but of a shape I hadn't known jeans were made in. The Parachutist has taught me that these jeans exist. They are high-waisted, and blown up like a balloon from top to bottom. Her ankles look impossibly tiny where they disappear into the purple shoes, the jeans' bottom elastic pulling them tight.

I keep imagining what her hair would look like as she jumped. The jeans, I am sure, would look exactly the same, billowing out and blown up with air as she rustled in the high wind descent. I sometimes wonder how old the Parachutist is. Her face might be 20, but her hair is 50 and her clothes a mix of 12 and 40. She has the efficiency of a secretary who has known a CEO for thirty years. Perhaps she is ageless, kept young by leaping out of planes every weekend.

Or perhaps she never jumps. Maybe she moonlights as that secretary, for a skydiving club, and the nearest she ever gets is greeting customers and handing them the enrolment forms.