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Ends and Means, a short story
“I am a beast. A jungle animal. Fit, strong, practical, ruthless. A machine. A huntress. My sole purpose is to provide for myself. I need, so I take. I stretch languorously on my worn and faded sheets, appreciating the tool that is my body. What is joy? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Joy is not germane to my life. Getting some new sheets, now that is something to think about. Wonder who will pay for them?”
My cheeks flushed as I read the words. Were these really the secret workings of Mara’s mind? I closed the book and held it in my lap under my desk. I wanted to keep reading, but the time wasn’t right.
Just then, Mara sailed through the office leaving a trail of perfume behind her as she tossed her coat on her chair and headed down the hall to the time clock. While she was gone, I tucked the journal back into her desk drawer and turned toward the doorway with what I hoped was an innocent look on my face. Mara was protective of her privacy. She would have been angry beyond belief had she caught me reading her notes. A moment later, Mara glided into our shared office carrying her first coffee of the day.
“This is abominable stuff, really vile,” she announced as she settled delicately into her chair with the grace of a dancer, arranging her skirt to cover her knees.
“Why do you drink it?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Mara just lifted her eyebrows and gave me a significant look.
“Charlie has called twice already this morning,” I whispered. “He sounded desperate.” She was obviously screening her calls at home again.
“Ask me if I care,” she said with a distracted air as she turned on her computer.
I had begun to think perhaps Mara and Charlie were warming into something steady. I know he thought so, too. He had even paid to fix her car, and given her money for a portable washing machine (which she still hadn’t bought). Trying not to sound too preachy or prying, I told her he seemed like a nice guy.
“Gail.” She turned to look at me with annoyance on her face. “He is a nice guy. But I don’t care. Don’t turn it into some kind of enormous tragedy, ok?”
“It is kind of a tragedy,” I said. “He thought you liked him.”
“It was a means to an end, Gail. That’s all. You’re so naïve sometimes. You need to grow up.”
I nodded, stung, and busied myself with my first project. Mara was a mystery to me. We had worked together for months, been out partying, gone shopping, and done all the things women do together. But, nothing in our interactions had given me near the glimpse into her thought processes as had my stealthy peek into her journal.
The silence grew heavy. But I kept my thoughts to myself.
“Look, Gail,” Mara said, her gaze steady on me. “I know you like Charlie. Most people do. But I’m finished. Let me illustrate my point. See that soda bottle on your desk? Will you continue drinking from it after it’s empty? When you have gotten everything you can from it, will you keep sucking on it? I don’t think so. To me, Charlie is like that soda bottle.”
Well, that was Mara. Apparently, Charlie had no more to offer her.
This was a familiar scene. It had played out numerous times since I met Mara. Some bewildered man or another would call frantically for a while, or send roses and cards, letters and gifts, but then finally give up in the end. Dark-eyed, cool and aloof, Mara was unmoved by these gestures. Every time I thought she had found someone to love, I turned out to be wrong. Poor Charlie, I thought.
Lunchtime rolled around and we walked up the street to the Mocha Mug. Heads turned as Mara strolled into the coffee shop and tossed her purse down on the table. With sensuous grace, she removed her coat like a woman shedding a negligee before sliding into bed with a lover. Her movements held eyes all over the shop, and the attention stayed with her until she settled into the chair, signaling the show was over. I wondered if any of the men would brave the long walk over here and attempt to start a conversation with her. I could have told them she would be receptive. She always was in the beginning. This time, however, no one approached and we had the time to ourselves. Mara ignored the significant glances of interested males as I sat wrapped in my plain Jane anonymity. I hovered far under the radar when Mara was around.
“Gail,” Mara said. “Let’s go out tonight, have some kicks. There’s a new bar over on 15th called Kryptic Maze. I want to try it. There’s no cover charge tonight, some sort of promotional thing.”
“I’ve heard of it. It’s supposed to be some new-age place with space music and waiters dressed in tunics. I don’t think you’d like it, but we can go if you want to,” I answered. “It might have ‘ambiance’.”
Mara chuckled softly. “I don’t give two shits about ambience. I want to check out the clientele.”
I looked down into my double latte, the usual disappointment creeping over me. Mara was hunting again, I thought, looking for a new mark.