Copyright is held by the author.
LATE, GETTING on closing time, I tell Milly, the girl in the cubicle next to mine, that I have no plans for the weekend. No dates for three months, in fact, and not by choice. And Milly, always kind and funny too, says she’d like to try the no-date lifestyle herself. Her husband, Leonard, a big brute of a man, is her curse, she says, and the smile on her face droops a little.
Leonard’s no blessing, I know. Just out on parole again, he’s already hanging with his boys, planning some crime. Always little stupid stuff — hubcaps, church collection boxes. He’s a squirt in the crime department. Poor Milly suffers a lot. I feel for her. And I wonder if I am better off than her because I don’t have anyone in my life. You know?
That’s when I look out the window and see those awful red clouds drifting by our building again. And I lose my breath for an instant, like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Blood clouds, we call them. They come drifting from battlefields and explosions and disasters of every kind, all over the world. The clouds deliver the bad news from everywhere to here, outside our office.
I think these clouds are from China, I say to Milly. She’s watching them now too. No harm in this. Besides, we’re almost finished for the day. We’ve each finished two boxes of fancy address labels for a fishery in Minnesota. Yesterday it was for a dog kennel in Missouri. Tomorrow we have three boxes for a convent all the way in California. Business is good. Seems like everyone needs labels these days. I think it makes them feel secure to see where they are. In print, you know. I like my job, and I don’t mind saying, I wish I could hand deliver the labels to all those places where they’re going. Wouldn’t that be something?
Milly thinks these clouds might be from India. Don’t you think they smell like curry, she asks. Well, I don’t smell anything, and besides our windows are sealed shut. But I say I think I can smell curry too. It’s just a little lie. Doesn’t much matter where the blood clouds come from. Least I don’t think so. It’s really about sadness. That’s what matters.
Milly says that tonight there’s a special edition of WHEEL OF FORTUNE. The show is going to be from Hawaii. Vanna will probably wear a lei, or two or three, and Milly’s face lights up just thinking about it. She loves Vanna. No, she adores her. I say, everyone loves Vanna. I know I do. She’s always so lovely in her gowns. Always so graceful when she turns the letters. She glides so softly across the stage. She floats on the air, maybe.
I think she could have been a ballerina, but Milly likes to say than Vanna has the best job in the world. She always smiles, like she’s never known a minute of sadness. Though we know Vanna has had tragedies in her life. Her true love, her fiancé, died in a plane crash. But I know, though I would never tell even Milly, that the fiancé’s plane ran into a red cloud. Such a tragedy. And there have been others. But she picks herself up, lifts herself you understand. That’s where the floating comes in, I do believe. It’s magic, if you want to know the truth. Milly feels the same way. We talk about it, the floating. How we wish we could. Above everything and everyone. Closer to God, maybe. Vanna knows.
Milly asks if I want to come to her place to watch the Hawaii show. Leonard has a meeting with the boys and won’t come home till late, if then. So I say sure. Milly wants to order a pizza. The place by her house has a special pizza, “The Waikiki,” with pineapples and tiny umbrellas, and Milly thinks it will be perfect for the evening. Milly’s brilliant like that.
I can’t wait to see Vanna! We get our purses and coats and leave the office at five on the dot. We’ll get to Milly’s in time to sit back, maybe have a glass of wine, kick off our shoes, and then we’ll be in Hawaii!
You want to know the best part? It will be night time. Even if I look out the window at Milly’s place, I won’t have to see the blood clouds. Oh, they might be there, probably will be, but I’ll pretend they’re not. And I’ll ask Milly to turn up the volume full blast on the TV so we won’t be able to hear the clouds, even if they bump against the building and scrape across the windows.