After talking about me and my writing, I decided to post a story I wrote some time back. I also have news. I’ve published my first book, both in Spanish and English (El Hombre que nunca existió, The Man Who Never Was). I hope you like the story.
Denver had never been the most attractive or lucky of girls. Brown hair, brown eyes, average height. Not a sculptural body either. She’d gone through Primary and High School without doing anything remarkable. She’d had a few dates, but she’d never had a formal boyfriend (or an informal one, for that matter!). She’d managed to move away from her parents’ house (nice people, but too conventional) nearly a year ago, and she’d expected her life to change completely. No more boredom! Excitement, freedom, recklessness! Maybe all that wasn’t her, after all, because her life had continued to be as boring as usual. Nothing new. She had a studio-flat to herself, but that was all there was. It wasn’t even in a fancy place. Peaceful, quiet, and empty.
Even her friend Phoebe was living with someone. She’d always thought Phoebe would be the last girl in the world to get somebody. So shy, so prudish, she never dared to take any risks at all…And there she was. Phoebe had had her adventure, and Denver was still there. Waiting. What on earth was she waiting for?
If only things were like in the books or the films. Life would be so much easier to handle. If only she could discover what the plot to her life was, or at least what the genre of the novel she was living was. If life came with a book of instructions for its use and enjoyment everything would be so much simpler…
She told herself that it was all a matter of determination. She was going to take control. From now on, she was writing her own story. And she would decide what it was going to be like. She could hear the music of Carmen (‘Toreador’) as she went to sleep on the thought. Her name in neon lights. Her relatives and friends clapping at her performance. Her life was going to become a best seller!
The next morning, when she walked into her office, she’d made her mind up. A romantic story. That was what her life was going to be. A beautiful love story. The setting wasn’t perfect: tables, computers, doors, papers and more papers. But her reserve of imagination was larger than the Federal Bank’s gold reserve. She could blank out reality if she tried real hard. It was all in the process of creation. The plastic and cheap-looking tables could become mahogany, period tables. The lamps, crystal…Maybe something more intimate and less grand would be more romantic. She didn’t want ‘Gone with the Wind’ either. It was too much. Not so ambitious. Flowery pastel curtains on the windows; instead of the huge skyscrapers a lake and a little white house in the distance, a Cole Porter song…And soft light. Definitely soft light. It would go with her pink dress. And she had a hero. Mr. Spencer, Mark, her boss. He was tall, dark and handsome. Denver was well aware that there were many women interested in him, but deep inside him, even if he’d never showed it, she knew that the flame of his love for her burned really hot. She had got some flowers for her desk, to complete the scene, and she left one in his room.
Mr. Spencer came in and nodded at her. The music grew louder. He hadn’t said anything but Denver sensed that he was only feigning indifference. She waited for his call. He would call her any time to thank her for the flower, and he would acknowledge his feelings. She could picture the scene. She’d go in, and there he would be, in the centre of the room, hazy background and a shiny smile on his face. Who needed Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio when she had Mr. Spencer? He would rush towards her, inflamed by his passion and taking her hand he would cover it with kisses.
”Thanks for the flower. It’s so beautiful and delicate as you are. I suppose you imagined I didn’t notice you, but it’s taken all my self-control not to approach you before, and now…”
“Mr. Spencer…” She would blush and flip her long eyelids that were one of her main charms.
“Call me Mark…”
One of the other girls, a newcomer, short and very active, shook her.
“Mr. Spencer is calling you. I wouldn’t make him wait. He’s been quite short recently.”
“He won’t be short with me.”
The other girl looked at her surprised, but Denver marched in the office with her notebook and a broad smile. ‘Our love is here to stay’ was playing in her mind.
He was sneezing like mad. No hazy background, no shiny smile.
“Was this your idea?” He asked pointing at the flower.
“Well, yes. I thought it would enliven the office.”
“Nobody asked you to think. I’m allergic to flowers. Take that away from here. Quick!” His tone was dry and hard. He was not amused.
She grabbed the flower feeling mortified. She was only trying…
“And don’t come back in. Mr. Wingfield needs someone to help him. His secretary had an accident a couple of days ago. Take your things to his office.”
Mr. Wingfield! He was old, fiery, and not very nice. Denver could have cried.
“And take the flowers on your desk with you. Thanks.”
Thanks? Thanks? Who did he think he was? Not her hero, definitely not. A romantic hero didn’t behave like that. Men. One could never trust them to play their parts.
While she was filing documents in Mr. Wingfield’s office she concluded that, whatever it was, her life wasn’t a romantic novel. But, who wanted a romantic novel anyhow? There was no real adventure, no risk, and no danger. A detective story. A good detective story was what she needed.
Next day Denver decided on wearing a dark suit, and she even bought a packet of cigarettes on the way. She tried to smoke one, but it made her cough, and her eyes started to cry. She threw them away. She’d have to be a healthy detective instead.
Once in the office nothing exciting seemed to happen for a while. Selecting the mail, answering some of the letters, rearranging some appointments. Just before midday, Steve, one of the salesmen and Marie’s (one of the other secretaries) boyfriend went to see her. He was a nice guy, nothing outstanding, but kind and attentive. He didn’t have a dress sense though, red hair and a brown suit didn’t quite match, but he wasn’t like the other salesmen always flirting with the pretty girls and never talking to her. He was polite and he always told her about his adventures when selling their ‘wonderful garden implements’. Marie never let him talk about it; it was too boring for her. She only wanted him to adore her and talk about her all the time. Steve was far too good for Marie. Not Denver’s type, but he deserved better than Marie. She always had to act all high and mighty.
“ I wonder if you can help me with this mystery.”
A mystery! Eureka! She had the feeling this was going to be her lucky day. The music inundated her ears. Dark, slightly threatening, jazzy…
“I’ve been to see Marie…She’s not at her desk.”
Denver’s pulse accelerated. The trumpet blew in. A missing person. Always a good topic in detective stories.
“She’s probably doing something…photocopying?”
“I’ve looked. She isn’t there. Nobody has seen her go out either.”
“Let’s go and see.”
Denver examined Marie’s desk with utmost attention. A good detective had to be scientific and meticulous. Shame she hadn’t brought a magnifying glass with her. But, that was too old-fashioned. Now it was all DNA testing and sophisticated gadgets. She’d have to do with her wit. It was much cheaper. Observation was the first rule. Marie’s notepad was there, so it was unlikely that she would be in Mr. Spencer’s office. Unless she…
“Do you think she’s filing something in the office?” Steve asked.
“It’s possible, but Mr. Spencer doesn’t like us to do it while he is here, and he hasn’t gone out. You see? She hasn’t written anywhere where he was going. He must be there.”
“What about the toilet?”
“It’s been quite a while. And her handbag is in the drawer, so she isn’t making up or anything.”
“She can’t possibly have vanished.”
“Did she know you were coming?”
“No, she didn’t. I wasn’t supposed to be here today, I had to go out of town, but the client phoned saying he was unwell, so I didn’t go.”
An idea came to Denver’s mind. She didn’t like it, but it made sense. Why Mr. Spencer had seemed so crossed recently, why Marie had been wearing nicer and more expensive clothes, why he’d dismissed her with a stupid excuse. Her mental soundtrack died. It was solemnly silent.
“I think…” Denver pressed a button in the intercom.
“Mark…Go on…Go on…Yes, yes, yes!”
Denver switched it off. It was too much. Steve’s face had changed colour.
Steve was flushed, shaky, but tried to smile. “Don’t worry. I won’t do anything stupid. Good luck to her. I can find somebody like her any time. Thanks all the same.”
“It’s all right. Not your fault. Bye.”
Denver wasn’t hard enough for the job. She didn’t like its results. The truth could be too hurtful at times and she wasn’t mean. Her life wouldn’t be a detective’s story either.
Denver didn’t admit her defeat as yet. The times weren’t right for romantic novels or detective stories. People wanted the impossible, dreams come true, progress…Science Fiction, that was the ‘in’ thing. A good Sci-Fi story. That was it.
On the elevator the next day she was trying to get herself in the right mood for her new genre. The building was better suited for that than for romantic novels or detective stories really. Metallic-looking doors, abstract paintings, mechanical sculptures, cameras everywhere, computer screens, and thousands of doors…Even the people looked grey and metallic that day. The elevator stopped without a warning between the tenth and eleventh floor. She didn’t know any of the other people stuck with her. They worked in other offices. One of the men, pale, bold, in a grey suit, seemed annoyed.
“I wonder what it is this time. These bloody things never work properly.”
“It won’t be anything serious.” the youngest, blondest and prettiest of the girls affirmed. She was wearing a grey skirt and a grey blouse too. Definitely a grey day.
“Shall we press the alarm button?” a very young man anxious, sweaty, and probably wearing his first grey suit for his first job, asked.
The lights went off. Maybe she’d made a mistake and it was a horror movie after all. Or a combination, like ‘Alien’. But, the only music that would play in her mind would be the band in ‘Star Wars’ bar. OK, they were all a bit weird in that elevator, but not as weird as the specimens in the film.
“What’s happening?” It was an unknown voice. A grey woman, no doubt.
“I’ll press the button” the young grey man said. No movement, no sound. Dead quiet.
“It isn’t working! What’s happening?” the same grey woman asked. The pitch of her voice was higher this time.
The elevator shook and there were noises. Everybody went quiet. Denver thought that it didn’t feel quite right for an abduction. She’d always heard about bright lights, and usually somebody driving along lonely roads, or out for a walk, not in the middle of town, in an elevator full of people. It didn’t make sense. Maybe it was a horror novel. But why that music? It wasn’t serious. Even the music of the ‘X-Files’ would be more appropriate, but no. The alien bar in ‘Star Wars’.
They could hear what seemed to be voices coming from outside. Perhaps it was an abduction after all. Aliens. Did aliens prefer people wearing grey in elevators? Denver hadn’t read anything about that. She shouldn’t have neglected her culture that way. If she wasn’t abducted she’d made up for it. If she was…well, she imagined she’d get to know, one way or another.
“Help! We’re trapped!” the bold grey man shouted.
The voices stopped and all went very quiet.
“Something is not right.” the very young grey man offered. “I think…”
They heard somebody or something walking on the roof of the elevator. One of the panels on top of them began to move. It was lifted and a ray of light flashed in. Denver had suddenly realised in a panic that she was wearing green! They were coming for her! Aliens couldn’t stand people who wore green! She screamed and the rest of the elevator joined in.
“They’re coming to get us!”.
When a head looked in, a loud thump resounded in the closed space. A spot of light fell on the body. It was the bold grey man. He’d fainted.
“What are you doing here?” the owner of the head asked. “We told the porter not to let anybody use this unit because we had to do some repairs, so we stopped it in a place convenient for us.”
“The porter never said anything.”
“Who did you think I was, anyhow? Why did you scream? Oh well, we’ll let you out. Sorry.” The repair man grinned. He was probably thinking it would make a good story to tell his colleagues. Panic in the elevator!
It was embarrassing. Even Denver looked grey after that. And if it wasn’t bad enough, the music carried on. But she could take it. It wouldn’t be a Science-Fiction story, or a Horror novel either. Maybe try another old-style type of thing. Revival time. A good Western. Nothing could really compare to an old Western. And she’d always wanted to wear cowboy boots and a hat. With the central heating at full blast it felt like a dessert, and the cacti the company had bought to give the office a homely atmosphere helped the impression. Her name was appropriate too. Denver. The Denver Kid…The Denver Girl…Denver the Quick. Buffalo Denver? Decisions, decisions. And Mr. Wingfield bothering her about some copies. She’d choose her new name whilst making the copies.
When Denver reached the photocopier, strategically placed in the middle of the corridor that joined all the offices, she realised that she had forgotten her card. She left her things next to the machine while she went to pick it up. When she returned Marie had had the cheek to jump her place and start photocopying her own stuff. Who did she think she was? First her man, then the photocopier. What would be next? No, it shouldn’t be tolerated. There wasn’t enough space in that office for the both of them. The whistles in one of Clint Eastwood’s movies seemed to filter under the door at the end of the corridor. A very long corridor. Empty. Only Marie and her.
“I was here before you came. Didn’t you see my things?”
“You should remember to bring your card with you.”
Denver didn’t have a gun, but she reached for her belt nonetheless. She adjusted her imaginary white hat. At the end of the dusty street was her enemy, Marie, all dressed in black. They were approaching each other in slow motion. Did she imagine the clink of the spurs? Moving closer, a little bit closer.
“And you should remember you have a boyfriend before getting in the office with the boss.” She felt a slightly bitchy, but one had to use the best weapons available. She was ready to shoot. Fast, clean, no hesitation.
“What do you mean?”
“Have you seen Steve recently?”
“I think he heard a very strange conversation between Mr. Spencer and you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“One that went something like: ’Mark…Yes, yes, yes!’” she said, trying to imitate Marie’s high pitched voice. Did she hit the target? Marie was still standing, but she was sure she’d wounded her at least.
Denver could see in Marie’s eyes that she was preparing to shoot. She looked like a good shot. Cool, calm, no shakiness.
“Do you know what Mark said to me, Denver? He said: ’That Denver, she’s such a pathetic creature. She always seems to be living in the clouds, she has no style, no sense of humour. I’m sure she’s a lesbian.’”
“He didn’t…” Denver felt the bullet straight in the heart.
“Do you want us to ask him?”
Denver retreated. Too much blood loss to try another shot. She wasn’t offended by Mr. Spencer calling her a lesbian. That wasn’t an insult, that was the same as calling her short or brown-haired. Only she didn’t feel attracted to women that way. But ‘pathetic creature’ ‘no sense of humour’. She’d tried so hard to make him like her and she had failed. She didn’t stand a chance with anybody else. She left the scene badly wounded. She’d lost her duel. She wasn’t made to be a gunwoman either.
If Steve hadn’t walked in her office at that precise moment Denver would have cried, but she knew he had better reasons than her to cry(after all he’d been going out with Marie for nearly two years now and he seemed quite serious about it), and he was holding on. Whatever her life was, she didn’t want to make a big tragedy out of it. It wasn’t that bad.
“Hi Denver. You don’t look happy.”
“Hi Steve. I am not. But nothing important.”
“Tell me your sorrows and I’ll tell you mine.”
“It’s a long story, Steve.”
“It’s lunch time. Go on. Let’s go out and you tell me.”
Sitting on a bench in the park she told Steve her ideas about books and life and her failed attempts at living her life as if it were a book. He laughed.
“Do you think it’s funny?”
“I do. Haven’t you realised that your life makes a wonderful comedy?”
“It doesn’t. Not from my end.”
“I think it’s hilarious. A shoot-out with Marie. That’s a lovely idea. I wouldn’t mind myself. But I’d rather have real guns.”
“I’m pleased I’ve made you laugh.”
“You’ve made me feel better. But not as well as to make me change my mind. I’ve decided to leave this job. It was never for me in the first place and I don’t want to do this for ever. A friend of mine is getting a restaurant. I can’t remember if I’ve told you before but I trained as a chef. It isn’t going to be a big business to start with, but…”
“Here?” It would be sad to lose her only ally in the place. And such a nice person.
“No, in Boston. It’s a bit far but I am not leaving that much behind.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“Come to see me. I’ll miss you too. The only person I’ll miss in this hole. But you must remember, nobody can ruin your life for you if you don’t let them. You have enough imagination to survive anything.”
“Thanks. We must go back to the office. I still work there.”
“Let’s go back.”
Steve promised to say goodbye before leaving, and Denver promised in return that she would try to go and visit him. She sat back at her desk and her mind wandered back to the old themes. Life. Novels. Maybe books weren’t as powerful or as good a guide as she had thought. She didn’t want to live a comedy that was only funny for others. Whoever was writing her life hadn’t given her a very good part on it. And not much voice in the matter. Life wasn’t fair.
“Denver, Denver!” Mr. Wingfield’s voice woke her up from her reveries “Dreaming again? Come to my office. I have to dictate you some letters.”
Letters, letters…Maybe life was only writing other people’s letters.
Back at home Denver kept on thinking about her life. Writing other people’s letters? Was that all there was? No. It couldn’t be. If she couldn’t live her life like a book, maybe….
She sat at the table, got pen and paper and began to write:
Denver had never been the most attractive or lucky of girls.