There used to be a time when people worked for something greater than money. Something akin to fame, with the same kind of pride but more divine. Something that cannot be faked or bought. But once you feel it, you want more and you want to try to make others feel it too.
It also used to be easy to find people who wanted to work for the accomplishment of working. The world was simpler and the fruits of labor were sweet.
I paid fair wages and even offered benefit packages to my full-time employees. But the truth is, working for me was far more about the accomplishments than anything else. I wasn’t looking to replace anyone but walked through life with an open mind and a craving for something more, someone great.
Daphne was just that.
Alan had hired her during the holidays at his hardware store, but as post-Christmas cleanup drew to a close, he couldn’t keep her on.
“I’d love to have her around just for the cleaning if I could afford it. But she’s better than that.”
We sat in his office upstairs smoking a couple of white owls and knocking back the last of a bottle of Glenrothes, an odd but pleasant combination.
The window looking out over the shop was now free of the twenty-year-old film it used to wear and the arms of the old swivel chair I sat in were polished to a gleam I wouldn’t have thought they could carry. I could clearly see the impact she had engineered all over his place.
Looking down into the empty shop, there were examples all over of her presence, all of which lit up like light bulbs popping to life. Ideas were my business, and someone with that kind of work ethic at a measly fifteen hour a week job was an idea just waiting to be born.
Before she arrived for her interview, I asked Sandra to let her into my office but not tell her where to sit. It’s a tell of a person’s character to have to choose their own seat. Men typically sit down in one of the straight back chairs perched in front of my desk or one of the armchairs to the left of it, obvious choices as suitable places for an interview. Women often perch on the edge of the sofa in front of the window so that they might see the door open and stand to greet me.
I knew Daphne was different right away. When I entered the office seven minutes after her arrival, she was standing before my bookshelf, invested in a pale blue, handbound book of french poetry. A gift from long ago that I could have never forgotten was there.
After I stepped in and closed the door, she turned toward me, but her gaze continued to dart across the handwritten page until she sighed and closed it lightly. She looked up with eyes that gleamed like a woman twice her age, but a smile that I might have expected a child caught in the cookie jar to wear.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Stanley. It just-,” she turned and slipped the book back into its place. “What a wonderfully sad gift, it just called to me. I apologize.”
I was unable to withdraw my surprise. “You can read French?”
Her cheeks warmed like Gala apples, but her voice was clear and unfettered by my shock. “I can and do. I love French novels. Sorel, Voltaire and everyone in between. But a present like that, so personal. So private-,” her voice sank soft and low, “You shouldn’t keep that in your office.”
I looked up at the ceiling, bobbing my head from side to side before looking back down and leaning in, lowering my own volume. “I certainly never expected a stranger to peruse my private library.”
Swallowing and straightening her shoulders, she took a step forward. “Daphne Reynolds, sir. I am simply thrilled to have the opportunity to interview with you. I sincerely apologize for the invasion of your privacy.”
A young woman reading French poetry at 18 is not perhaps the most impressive thing in the world in 1965, but with only a high school education and a mountain of brothers at home, it was intriguing, to say the least.
We conversed for twenty minutes about her skills and experience, and of course the book. Nothing rattled her, she answered every question barely blinking, even when I wondered at her relationship status.
“Well, Mr. Stanley, I am in the precarious position of being too smart for my own good, as my father likes to say. But to be truthful, I’m simply bored by the boys my own age. And since I had the distinct honor to be born into an era where I am not only allowed to, but even encouraged to work, I would like to do something with myself before allowing myself to be tied down to a house and children.”
“You want to find a career? That’s a tall order for a young lady without a diploma.”
She looked down at her hands, chewing on the inside of her lip, then looked up and moved to the edge of the little club chair she’d decided upon once encouraged to sit.
“I want to give myself the opportunity to feel the earth beneath my feet before allowing someone to sweep me off of them.”
I chuckled but she held my gaze. Deep blue sapphires carefully lined and highlighted beneath her tall brassy blond coif, swept across her forehead and flipped perfectly at the shoulders. She had dressed for the part, undoubtedly in her mother’s best suit and heels.
But she was not a child playing dress up before heading home to read bedtime stories to her siblings.
I offered her the position that Friday, and she started on the following Monday.
The newspaper was printed at a press on Suffolk Ave., but the writing and piecing together happened all over the city. It was never about the hours at your desk or word quotas or advertising dollars, not for me. It was all for the exhilaration of going to print.
I rarely ever read my own paper. But the crazy intoxication of getting it ready to read, that was my fuel. Daphne became an integral part of it during the next four months. Sometimes you hire people without a position in mind, and after restructuring the mailroom and assisting with a major ad campaign debacle, it was clear that she was assistant editor material.
She was made from the same stuff that presidents and warlords were made of, but smoothed and softened by the delicious curves of femininity. So when she steamrolled over you, you were left sighing and smiling about it.
It was a shimmery first day of May, dew winking in the grass and on every sleek surface as I walked to work at 7am. Daphne, in her feverish need for information, had recently read about the negative effects of sitting all day. She’d already worked her magic over my smoking and drinking, and truth be told, I had no inclination to dismiss anything she brought to me.
She met me on Hudson, smiling broadly as I offered my arm. “It’s such a beautiful day, I’m going to pretend I don’t see the powdered sugar on your tie, Roger.”
“Only tooth powder, my dear. I haven’t touched a donut in at least a day.”
Her laugh chimed through the crisp spring air like the song of a harp. It stole my next step, and when she turned to face me after my sudden stop, I felt the earth slip from beneath my feet.
Her smile softened as her eyes met mine. Concern drew tiny vertical lines between her brows and she let her hand slip from the inside of my arm. Stepping forward and tilting her head, she asked me what was wrong. Or I think she did. I could only hear my own pulse thumping in my ears.
“Your eyes remind me so much of my wife’s.”
Jeanne had been 19 when we married. She was wild and flippant but loved me with a passion that locked down my heart so tightly that I was sure no one would ever break it out. She wanted babies immediately when I brought her to America after I finished my third year in the Army, but struggled to hold a pregnancy.
After each miscarriage, she would huddle beneath the sheets for days, scribbling away in her journal. Or what I thought was her journal. It was two days after losing her fifth pregnancy that I found out what she had been writing during those terrible times.
It was a pale blue linen stretched book. Inscribed with her suicide note. And embedded with a special kind of torture that I would inflict upon myself repeatedly for over a decade.
It would have been such a beautiful gift if she had been there to share it with me all those years.
Daphne stood listening to me blabber about that book that had drawn her to care for me in a special way, to know me in a way most people don’t, to see me like only my beloved ever had.
“I’ve read it, you know.” Her lips quivered slightly at the admission. “I’ve read it and reread it, cover to cover.”
“And yet, here you stand.”
I don’t doubt the world thought me a fool. At my age, some pretty young thing harbors a fascination like hers and longs to take care of me, I could’ve had a whole new life.
After all, Jeanne brought her to me for a reason. In that dusty old blue book, she didn’t just write our past.
She wrote my future.
But I saw a different future for Daphne. The heart of a poet and philosopher with the brain of a businessman and the face of an angel, she didn’t need to be tied to a house and family.
She needed to be free to feel the earth beneath her feet as long as humanly possible.
So instead of giving her my love, I gave her my newspaper. A purpose.
And she never forgave me until she received her own book of poetry, a million years later.
But not a day too late.