Tea Leaves

I told Emma at work once in one breathless sentence that I wanted to kick down the walls of my cubicle, punch the florescent lights, frolic down to South America or Bali, pick tea leaves in an orchard for the rest of my life, sleep in a hammock and live off five dollars a day. She pinched the red handle on the water cooler faucet tersely and said “Get back to work.” Emma was in at nine and left at five. Emma had bangs like a fresh bought razor. She always wore prim white shirts buttoned to her porcelain chin and a countenance of someone who viewed the world from the bottom of a paper bag.

I guess that’s why I never would have thought I’d find Emma on the corner of Dulaney Avenue leaning into the window of some guy’s Volvo, a fraternity of Franklins winking and high-fiving from the inside of her cleavage. It only took a glimpse of her steel bangs through the folds of my dry cleaning bags to know it was her. Hushed conversation complete, the car pulled out of the street light. Emma had been shoving another clan of well-thumbed bills into her twinkling Wonder Bra when she saw me. Her spider eyelashes keeled over dead and splattered legs below her eyebrows.

“I’m assuming you weren’t asking if they had any Grey Poupon,” I said.

She puckered then smacked her velveteen lips at me and laughed. I stood mouth agape as she hip swiveled over cracks in the pavement. When she came close to me she said “Or, perhaps I’m the prostitute of my own tea leaves.” I felt her slip something into the back pocket of my jeans. I waited until her patent heel clicks folded into the cacophony of city sirens to reach into my pocket. There in the palm of my hand, grinning in the buzzing neon, were six one-hundred dollar bills.

I never saw Emma in the office after that. Someone said she moved after getting a better job position. I always said they didn’t know what they meant by that.

Those six bills are still pinned to the puckered cork board in my one bedroom apartment along with travel brochures to Asia, a letter of resignation and new work gloves as if asking me “Who’s really walking in the dark?”


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