Over the Transom

Marcia took off her shoes at the corner and picked up her paperclipped manuscript.  Her baby.  She walked down the corridor, her weak knees making the journey more difficult than she expected.

“Please don’t open the door,” she breathed, afraid her father, who worked in the office just a few doors down, might open the door and catch her here.  Or, that Mr. Johnson, editor of Amazing Tales, would open the door and she would have to introduce herself and he knew her father and she would have to explain about her father and writing and “Please don’t open the door,” she breathed.

Her father, a man who “worked for a living”, wouldn’t understand.

It was hot today and she hoped … yes, Mr. Johnson had the window above the transom open.  Reaching as high as she could, she threw the manuscript through the window and raced back toward her shoes.

She heard the door creak open long before she had disappeared around the corner.  Terrified of being caught, she kept running, even after she realized no one had bothered to chase her.  However, she was outside by then, standing on the steps that led into the office building, shoeless.  The thought of going back, though, terrified her more than the thought of walking home in just her nylon stockings.  She sighed.  If she needed, she could mend them when she got home.  It would be difficult to hide why she needed another pair, but if she could get away with lying about a sick friend from school who wanted a visit, maybe she could get away with lying about her ruined stockings.

She smoothed out the skirt of her best dress — worn just in case she had been forced to talk to Mr. Johnson — looked up at his window, whispered a quick prayer and headed home.


Two weeks later, Marcia found herself outside the same office building, once again in her best dress, but for an entirely different purpose.  Her father had decided it was time for her to start learning “the value of money” before she left for college.  She quickly found out this meant working in his office, a job she accepted only because she already knew the value of money, especially when a girl was going to attend a private college.

“Being a secretary isn’t that difficult, whether you work for a stock broker, or an accountant like your old man,” her father said as he opened the door for Marcia.  She walked through slowly and tried to smile.

“I’m sure it isn’t,” she said.

“The key is listening.  You listen well.”

Her smile became a little more sincere at the compliment, then faded.  She listened when she wanted to listen.  And listening to her father’s co-workers dictate memos and letters or order her to get coffee wasn’t something that sent chills of excitement down her spine.

Now, writing science fiction was much better … “real work” or not.

Neither spoke to the other as they walked down the corridors.  She cringed when they turned down the corridor that contained Mr. Johnson’s office.  Still, she couldn’t help looking as they walked by.

Apparently, Mr. Johnson felt opening the transom window wasn’t enough today.  The door was open and she could hear a fan buzzing inside, fluttering the edges of manuscripts held down by various paperweights.

Her eyes widened.  Two of those paperweights were her shoes.

Marcia barely remembered most of that morning.  It was a flurry of coffee mugs, dictated letters, typing and telephone calls.  When lunchtime came, her father said he had to stay in the office and she could go to the deli just around the corner.  She did.  And all the while she thought about her shoes.

Her father would notice them eventually.  She had first heard about Mr. Johnson from her father, who occasionally joked with the young editor before he came home.

“The man just sits and reads all day,” he’d said a few days before Marcia had dropped off her manuscript.  “And when he isn’t reading, he’s putting out pulp about spaceships and women who are barely dressed.  You know, sometimes he stays in that office until dawn?  He’s a nice boy, but that’s not work.”

Marcia was still mulling her options when she passed Mr. Johnson’s office on her way back from lunch.  She paused in front of the door and bit her lip.  The fan still buzzed, the manuscripts rustled, but those were the only sounds she heard coming from the office.  She walked forward and peeked in.  No one.

She would need to replace her shoes with something.  Glancing around the sparse office, she frowned.  Nothing.

Perhaps if she went to her father’s office, there would be something nondescript that she could use?  Something that wouldn’t be missed?  Marcia nodded, and turned around, bumping into a very tall man in a worn suit.

“Can I help you?”

Marcia looked up and felt her knees grow weak again.  She opened her mouth and said, “Mr. Johnson?”

“Yes.”  His eyes narrowed behind his round glasses.  “You weren’t trying to sneak in a manuscript were you?”

“No.”  The word came out strangled.  Only when he moved away to sit at his desk did she realize she hadn’t been breathing.

“Good.  I’ve been getting too many submissions that way.  One girl threw her manuscript over the transom a couple of weeks ago.  The paperclip fell off on the way down and without page numbers to tell me the order, I ended up throwing it aside so I could deal with it later.”

Marcia bit back curses at herself.  Of all things to forget.  Then she realized Mr. Johnson was laughing.

“The girl was so worried about stealth that she took her shoes off, and got so scared when I opened the door that she forgot to take them with her.”

His eyes looked at her then far more intensely than Marcia had experienced with anyone.  He seemed to expect an answer, so she laughed as well, too brightly, and said, “How silly.”

Did he recognize her?  She was wearing the same dress as she had that day and even worn her hair the same way, never thinking she would be in his office, talking to him face to face.  The thought of him watching her, laughing at her while she raced away made her sick and she prayed he hadn’t seen her.

Mr. Johnson shrugged.  “The writing’s good.  I can’t use it right now, but I’d like to see more from her in the future.  Or him.  The shoes are obviously a woman’s, but there was a man’s name on the manuscript.”

Marcia blushed fiercely at the compliment and hated herself for it.  No one except for one teacher had told her that her writing was good and she’d blushed just as fiercely then as now.

Mr. Johnson didn’t seem to notice.  Instead, he opened a drawer and began to search inside.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Marcia said.  “I have to get back to work.”

Mr. Johnson didn’t look up.  “You never told me what you were doing in my office.”  He brought out two polished stones and set them on the papers her shoes held in place.  She watched him pick up the shoes and walk back toward her.  He held them out.

“I mean it,” he said, smiling for the first time since she’d seen him.  “I’d love to see more from you.  But send it to me through the mail, not over the transom.  And next time, wear a different dress so I won’t recognize you.”

She took her shoes and smiled back.

Copyright 2012 Amy Keeley



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