Darci looked over the job application again, checking that
sheâd been absolutely truthful on every line, with
no âimaginationâ added. Her mother said that
Darciâs âimaginationâ was like a family curse. âMust have
come from your fatherâs side of the family,â Jerlene
Monroe would say whenever her daughter did something she
didnât understand. âWhoever he may be,â Uncle Vern could
be counted on to add under his breath -- then thereâd be a
fight. When it got to the part where Uncle Vern was
shouting that his niece wasnât âfull of imaginationâ but
was just a plain olâ garden variety blankety-blank liar,
Darci would silently leave the room and open a book.
But now Darci was in beautiful New York City, she had a
fabulous college education under her belt, and she was
applying for what had to be the best job that anyone had
ever seen. And Iâm going to get it! she said to herself,
closing her eyes for a moment as she clutched the folded
newspaper to her chest. Iâll apply my True Persuasion to
this and Iâll be sure to get the job, she thought.
âYou okay?â asked the young woman in front of her in what
Darci recognized as some type of Yankee accent.
âWonderful,â Darci said, smiling. âAnd you?â
âFeeling like an idiot, actually. I mean, can you really
believe this thing?â she asked, holding up the same
newspaper that Darci was clutching. She was a tall young
woman, much taller than Darci, and, compared to Darci, she
was downright fat. But then people were always describing
Darci as scrawny. âSheâs âfashionably thin,â â her mother
would say. âJerlene!â her sister, Thelma, would snap, âyou
ainât never fed that girl nothinâ but Jell-O and sugar
cereal. Sheâs probably starvinâ to death.â This statement
would produce a lot of anger from Darciâs mother, then a
torrent of words about how hard it was to raise a daughter
single-handedly. âYou ainât raised her; the neighbors
has,â Uncle Vern would say; then the fight would escalate.
Now Darci smiled at the woman in front of her. âI think
itâs a miracle,â she said. Darci was pretty in a fragile
sort of way, with wide-set blue eyes, a tiny nose, and a
little rose-bud mouth. She was only five-feet-two and
weighed so little that her clothes always hung loosely on
her. Right now, her little black skirt with the shiny seat
was fastened at the waist with a big safety pin.
âYou donât think youâre really going to get this job, do
you?â the woman in front asked.
âOh, yes,â Darci said, taking a deep breath. âI believe in
thinking positively. If you think it, you can achieve it,
is what I truly believe.â
The woman opened her mouth to say something; then she gave
a sly smile. âOkay, so what do you think the job is,
exactly? It canât be sex because it pays too much money. I
canât imagine itâs for running drugs or that they need a
hit man, because the announcement is too public, so what
do you think they really want?â
Darci blinked at the woman. Her aunt Thelma had washed
Darciâs only suit in soap powder that sheâd bought on
sale, then had taken it out of the washer before the rinse
cycle began. âSaves money that way,â Aunt Thelma had said.
Maybe it was cheaper, but now the dried soap in the fabric
was itching Darciâs bare arms inside the unlined sleeves
of the suit, as her pink, ruffled blouse was
sleeveless. âI think someone wants a personal assistant,â
Darci said, not understanding the womanâs question.
At that the woman laughed. âYou really think that someone
is willing to pay a hundred grand a year for a PA and that
you are going to get the job because you....What? Because
you believe youâre going to get it?â
Before Darci could reply, the woman standing in line
behind her said, âGive her a break, will you? And if you
donât think youâre going to get the job, then why the hell
are you standing in line?â
Darci didnât approve of cursing, not in any way, and she
meant to say something, but the woman three down in the
line spoke up. âDoes anybody here have any idea what this
job is about? Iâve been waiting for four hours and I canât
find out anything.â
âFour!â a woman several people ahead said loudly. âIâve
been here for six hours!â
âI spent the night on the sidewalk,â a woman standing half
a block ahead yelled.
After that, all the women began to talk to each other, and
since the line was nearly four blocks long, that made
quite a noise.
But Darci didnât participate in speculating on what the
job was really for, because she knew in her heart, in its
deepest part, that the job was for her. It was the answer
to her prayers. For the last four years, all through
college, sheâd prayed every night for God to help her with
the situation she was in with Putnam. And last night, when
sheâd seen this ad, sheâd known it was the answer to her
âSure has your qualifications,â Uncle Vern had said when
Darci showed him the ad. His face was twisted into the
little smirk Darci had come to know too well.
âIâll never understand why your mother let you choose that
highfalutin fancy school,â Aunt Thelma said yet
again. âYou coulda gone to a secretarial school so you
could get yourself a real job -- not that youâll need one
after the weddinâ.â
âI . . .â Darci began, but then sheâd trailed off. Sheâd
long ago learned that trying to explain was useless.
Instead, she just let Uncle Vern and Aunt Thelma run down;
then she went to the converted closet in their apartment
that was now her bedroom and read. She liked to read
nonfiction because she liked to learn things.
But Uncle Vern had been right: The ad was written with
Darciâs qualifications in mind.
PERSONAL ASSISTANT No computer skills necessary. Must be
willing to travel, so no family attachments. Must be
young, healthy, interested. Starting salary $100,000 a
year, plus medical, dental. Apply in person, 8:00 A.M. 211
West 17 Street, Suite 1A.
âWhat dâyou mean that sheâs right for this job?â Aunt
Thelma had said last night. âIt says âno family
attachments.â If itâs one thing Darciâs got, itâs family.â
âOn her motherâs side,â Uncle Vern had said, smirking.
Aunt Thelma wasnât a fighter as her sister, Darciâs
mother, was, so she just tightened her lips and picked up
the remote control on the TV and switched from the
Discovery Channel program that Darci had been watching to
QVC. Aunt Thelma knew the life stories of all the
presenters on all the shopping channels. She said that the
shopping channels made her feel at home even in a place as
big and busy as New York. Sheâd often told Darci in
private that she should never have left Putnam, should
never have married an ambitious man and moved all the way
to Indianapolis ten years ago. And when, three years ago,
Vernâs boss had asked him to go to New York to supervise a
crew of lazy welders, Thelma said she should have refused
to go with him. But she had gone and sheâd suffered
through every minute in the city she detested. Now,
waiting in line, Darci tried not to listen to the angry
words that were floating around her. Instead, she closed
her eyes and concentrated on the image of her being told
that she had this perfect job.
As the day wore on, information trickled down the line.
Once they entered the building, they were allowed into a
waiting room, and, finally, they were allowed into the
interview room. There was a heavy wooden door leading into
the interview room, and it became known as âthe door.â As
for what went on inside that room, they heard little,
probably because no woman wanted to jeopardize her chance
at such a great job.
It was nearly four P.M. when Darci was at last allowed
inside the building. There was a woman standing in front
of the doorway into the waiting room, and she only allowed
into the room exactly as many women as there were chairs.
Hours ago everyone in the line had seen that men werenât
really being considered for the job. The men would go up
the stairs, but theyâd go back down just minutes later.
âTold you,â a woman near Darci said. âSex. This is for
âAnd what do you have thatâs worth a hundred grand a
year?â a woman asked, holding her shoe and rubbing her
âItâs not what I have so much as what I can do with it.â
âDone with it, more likely,â someone else said loudly, and
for a moment Darci thought there was going to be a
fistfight. There would have been had those words been said
in her hometown of Putnam, Kentucky, but sheâd learned
that Northern women fought with words rather than fists.
âBe a lot kinder to punch âem in the nose,â her mother had
said after sheâd heard a couple of Yankee girls arguing.
âNext!â the woman said sharply as the wooden door opened
and out came the young woman who had first spoken to Darci
while they were in line. Darci looked up at her in
question, but the young woman just shrugged, as though to
say that she didnât know if sheâd done well in the
interview or not.
When Darci stood up, she suddenly felt light-headed. She
hadnât eaten since sheâd left Uncle Vernâs apartment early
that morning. âI want you to have a good, solid
breakfast,â Aunt Thelma had said as she handed Darci a Pop-
Tart and a plastic cup full of warm Pepsi. âFruitâs better
for you than those cereals your mother gives you. And you
need caffeine and sugar and somethinâ warm inside you when
you go job huntinâ,â sheâd said kindly.
But now, when Darci stood up too quickly, the breakfast
seemed a long time ago. She took a couple of deep breaths,
put her shoulders back, and, controlling the urge to reach
inside her jacket and claw the itchy place on her
shoulder, she walked through the open doorway.
One side of the room was lined with windows so dirty she
could barely see the building across the street. On the
floor under the windows was a messy heap of metal folding
chairs, most of them broken.
In the center of the room was a big oak desk, the kind
that all used-furniture stores seemed to have an unlimited
supply of. A man was sitting behind the desk on one of the
metal chairs, and to his left, off to one side, sat a
woman. She was in her fifties, dressed in a pretty twinset
and a long cotton skirt, and around her neck and on her
hands sparkled gold and diamonds. She had a perfectly
ordinary face, one that no one would notice in a crowd,
except that she had the most intense eyes that Darci had
ever seen. Now, as she watched Darci enter the room, those
huge brown eyes didnât blink.
But after only one glance at the woman, Darci looked away,
because the man behind the desk was the most gorgeous
person sheâd ever seen in her life. Oh, maybe he wasnât
movie-star beautiful, but he was the kind of man that
Darci had always liked. For one thing, he was older, at
least in his mid-thirties. âYou canât get a father by
marryinâ one,â her mother had said more than once, but
that didnât stop Darci from being attracted to men past
thirty. âPast thirty and they may as well be past seventyâ
was her motherâs philosophy, but then Jerleneâs boyfriends
seemed to get younger every year.
âPlease have a seat,â the man said, and Darci thought he
had a lovely voice, deep and rich.
He was a tall man, at least he looked as though he would
be tall if he stood up, and he had beautiful black hair,
lots of it, with wings of gray above his ears. Like a
lionâs mane, she thought, staring at the man with her eyes
so wide open they were beginning to tear. But she didnât
want to blink in case he was a product of her imagination
and didnât really exist.
Besides his beautiful hair, he had a strong jaw with a
lovely square chin with a little cleft in it (just like
Cary Grant, she thought), small flat ears (she always
noticed menâs ears) and deep-set blue eyes. Unfortunately,
they were the eyes of someone who seemed to be carrying
the weight of the world. But then, maybe he was just tired
from asking so many women so many questions.
âMay I see your application?â he asked, holding out his
hand to her across the desk.
May I? Darci thought. Not âCan I?â but a proper âmay,â as
in asking permission. With a smile, she handed the paper
to him, and he began to read it as she sat down. While she
was waiting, Darci tucked her hands under her knees and
began to swing her legs as she glanced about the room, but
when she looked at the woman to the manâs left, she
stopped swinging and sat still. There was something about
the womanâs eyes that were a bit unnerving. âNice day,â
Darci said to the woman, but her face gave no indication
that sheâd heard Darci, even though the woman was staring
at her hard.
âYouâre twenty-three?â the man asked, drawing Darciâs
attention back to him.
âYes,â she answered.
âAnd college educated?â At that he looked her up and down,
and his eyes said that he didnât believe her. Darci was
used to that. She didnât quite understand it, but it often
happened that people looked at her machine-washed suit and
her fine, flyaway hair and thought that she didnât look
like a college girl.
âMannâs Developmental College for Young Ladies,â Darci
said. âItâs a very old school.â
âI donât think Iâve ever heard of it. Where is it?â
âItâs anywhere, actually,â she said. âItâs a
âAh, I see,â the man said, then put down her application.
âSo tell me about yourself, Darci.â
âIâm from Putnam, Kentucky, and Iâve lived there all my
life. Iâd never been more than fifty miles out of Putnam
until two weeks ago when I came here to New York. Iâm
staying with my aunt, my motherâs sister, and her husband,
until I can find a job.â
âAnd what do you want to become when--â He stopped
himself, but she knew heâd been about to say, When you
grow up? The smallness of her often made people mistake
her for a child. âAnd what did you study to be?â
âNothing,â Darci said cheerfully. âI studied a little bit
of everything. I like to learn about different things.â
When neither the man nor the woman responded to this,
Darci said meekly, âI know nothing about computers.â
âThatâs fine,â the man said. âSo tell me, Darci, do you
have a boyfriend?â
Alarm bells started ringing in Darciâs head. Had she given
herself away already? Had this beautiful man seen that
Darci was attracted to him? Was he thinking that he wasnât
going to get a worker but some love-struck girl mooning
over him all day?
âOh, yes,â Darci said brightly. âIâm engaged to be
married. To Putnam. Heâs-â
âThe same name as your town?â
âYes. Putnam owns the town.â She tried to laugh in what
she hoped was a sophisticated, big-city way. âAlthough
Putnamâs not much to own, what there is, belongs to
Putnam. Or to his family, anyway. All of them own it, the
town, I mean. And the factories, of course.â
âFactories? How many factories?â
âEleven, twelve,â she said, then thought. âNo, I think
thereâre fifteen of them now. Putnamâs father builds them
at a prodigious rate.â
ââProdigious,ââ the man said, then bent his head down, and
Darci wasnât sure, but she thought he smiled a bit. But
when he looked back up, his face was once again
solemn. âIf youâre to marry a rich man, then you donât
need a job, do you?â
âOh, but I do!â Darci said fiercely. âYou see-â she began,
but then she broke off and caught her lower lip between
her teeth. Her mother was constantly warning her not to
tell everybody everything there was to know about
her. âLeave some mystery,â her mother said. If there was
ever such a time, Darci was sure that now was the time to
leave a bit of mystery. And maybe it wouldnât hurt to add
a little âimagination.â âPutnam wonât inherit for years,
so we have to make it on our own. I came here to New York
to earn as much as I can so I can return to my beloved
home and marry the man I love.â She said all this in one
breath, while behind her back, the fingers on her right
hand were crossed.
For a while the man looked at her hard, and she stared
back at him just as hard. As for the woman, she had
neither spoken nor even blinked as far as Darci could
âIf youâre in love with a man, you wonât be able to
travel. And if you have relatives here in New York, youâd
miss them if you were away for weeks at a time.â
âNo, I wouldnât!â Darci said too quickly. But she didnât
want the man to think that she was an ungrateful person,
certainly not after all her aunt and uncle had done for
her. âThey, uh . . .â she began. âThey have their own
lives, and as much as I love them, I think theyâd do quite
well without me. And my mother has....âWhat could she say?
That her mother had a new boyfriend twelve years her
junior and she probably wouldnât notice if Darci fell into
a hole? âMy mother also has her own life. Clubs,
charities, that sort of thing.â Could Putnamâs Spuds and
Suds be considered a âclubâ?
âAnd your young man?â
She had to think for a moment to know whom he meant. âOh.
Putnam. Well, he has lots of interests, and he, uh....He
wants me to have a whole year of-â She almost
said âfreedom,â which would have been close to the
truth. âHe wants me to have a year to myself before we
begin on our lifelong journey of love together.â
Darci thought this last was a rather nice turn of phrase,
but she noticed there was a teeny tiny curl of the manâs
upper lip that made him look as though he were going to be
ill. She wasnât sure what she was doing wrong, but she
knew that she was blowing this interview. She took a deep
breath. âI really do need this job,â she said softly. âAnd
Iâll work very hard for you.â She knew that her voice was
pleading, almost begging, but she couldnât help herself.
The man turned to the woman who was sitting slightly
behind him. âDo you have what you need?â he asked, and the
woman gave a tiny nod. As the man turned back to Darci, he
picked up her application and put it on top of a pile of
others. âAll right, Miss, uh-â
âMonroe,â Darci said. âNo relation.â When the man looked
blank, she said, âTo the other one.â
âOh, I see,â he said. âThe actress.â He didnât pretend to
think the joke was funny but kept his solemn
expression. âAs you have seen, we have many applicants, so
if weâd like to interview you again, weâll call you. You
wrote your telephone number on here?â
âOh, yes, but donât call between eight and ten. Thatâs
when my uncle Vern watches TV, and he....âHer voice
trailed off. Slowly, she stood up, then paused as she
looked at the man. âI do need this job,â she said again.
âSo do they all, Miss Monroe,â the man said, then looked
back at the older woman, and Darci knew that sheâd been
It took all her willpower to keep her shoulders erect as
she left the office and looked into the hopeful eyes of
the women sitting in the little waiting room. Like all the
others sheâd seen leave the office, she shrugged in answer
to their silent inquiries. She had no idea how sheâd done
in the interview. Once she was on the street again, she
opened her handbag and checked her wallet. How much food
could she get for seventy-five cents? Sometimes the
greengrocers would charge her very little for bruised
bananas that they couldnât sell.
With her head up, her shoulders back, Darci started
walking. Maybe she was going to get the job. Why not? She
had all the qualifications, didnât she? They wanted
someone who had few skills, and that certainly fit her.
The spring returned to her step, and, smiling, she began
to walk faster, occupying her mind with planning what
sheâd say when the man called and told her she had the
job. âThatâs how Iâll act: gracious,â she said
aloud. âGracious and surprised.â Smiling more broadly, she
picked up her step. She needed to get home so she could
apply her True Persuasion to this problem.
Adam signaled to the woman at the door to hold the
applicants for a while. He needed to stretch and to move
around. Walking to the windows, he clasped his hands
behind his back. âThis isnât working,â he said to the
woman behind him. âWe havenât found one woman whoâs even
close to being right. What do I have to do, canvass the
âThe last one was lying,â the woman behind him said
Adam turned to look at her. âThat one? The little Kentucky
hillbilly? Poor thing. That suit she had on looked as
though itâd been washed in a creek. And, besides, she has
a boyfriend, a rich one. Is that what she was lying about?
Those factories she says his family owns? He probably has
a twenty-year-old pickup with a gun rack in the back.â
âShe was lying about everything,â the woman said, staring
up at Adam.
He started to speak, but heâd learned long ago that Helen
used her mind and abhorred normal human ways of
communication -- which meant that she hated to talk. Many
times sheâd said to him, âI told you that.â Afterward,
heâd racked his brain until heâd finally remembered that
she had indeed said one short sentence that had told him
everything. But now Helen had repeated this one sentence,
so he knew it was very important. Tired as he was, he
nearly leaped across the room to grab the girlâs
application off the top of the stack and handed it to the
woman. Staring into space, she took the paper and ran her
hands over it, not reading it, just touching it. After a
while, she smiled; then the smile grew broader.
She looked up at Adam. âSheâs lying about everything there
is to lie about,â she said happily.
âShe doesnât have a boyfriend, no aunt and uncle? Doesnât
need the job? Exactly what is she lying about?â
Helen waved her hand in dismissal, as these questions
werenât important to her. âSheâs not what she seems, not
what she thinks she is, not what you see her as.â
Adam had to work to keep his mouth shut. He hated the
convoluted, cryptic talk of clairvoyants. Why couldnât the
woman just say what she meant?
Helen, as always, read Adamâs thoughts, and, as always,
they amused her. What she liked about him was that he
wasnât in awe of her abilities. Most people were terrified
that clairvoyants could read their innermost secrets, but
Adam was trying to find out his own secrets and those of
others, so she held no fear for him.
âYou want to tell me what youâre really saying?â he asked,
glaring down at her.
âSheâs the one.â
âThat undernourished waif ? The Mansfield girl?â
Puzzled, Helen glanced down at the paper. ââDarci T.
Monroe,â it says. Not âMansfield.â â
âIt was a joke,â Adam said, knowing heâd not be able to
explain. Helen could tell you what your dead grandfather
was doing at any given moment, but he doubted if sheâd
ever watched a TV show or movie in her life.
Taking the application from Helen, he looked at it, trying
to recall all that he could about the tiny girl whoâd sat
before him just minutes ago. Since heâd seen hundreds of
women today, they were all blending together in his mind.
Small, delicate, with an air of poverty hanging about her.
But, still, she was a pretty little thing, like some tiny
bird. A goldfinch, he thought, remembering her blonde hair
that hung limply about the shoulders of her cheap suit.
Sheâd had on sandals, no stockings, and he remembered
thinking that she had feet the size of a childâs.
âIâm not sure-â he began as he looked up at Helen. But she
had âthatâ look on her face, the one that meant that she
was in a semitrance as she looked deep into
something. âAll right,â he said with a sigh, âout with it.
Whatâre you seeing?â
âShe will help you.â
Adam waited for the woman to elaborate, but then he saw
the smile play on her lips. Lord help him! It was
clairvoyant humor. The woman was foreseeing something that
amused her. From his experience this could mean something
as good as winning the lottery or something as bad as
being stranded in a snowdrift for three days. As long as
everyone survived, Helen thought that such miserable
experiences were amusing. In fact, any adventure that one
survived delighted her. So who needed movies and TV when
such things were running through a personâs head? âThatâs
all youâre going to say?â Adam asked, his mouth set in a
âYes,â Helen answered; then she gave one of her rare full
smiles. âSheâs hungry. Feed her and sheâll help you.â
âShall I name her Fido?â Adam asked, trying to be nasty,
but his tone just made Helen smile more as she stood up.
âItâs time for me to go to work,â she said, for she spent
the darkest hours of every night in a trance looking at
the lives and futures of her clients.
For all that she annoyed him, Adam felt a sense of panic
as she was about to leave. âAre you sure about her? She
can do this? Will she do this?â
Helen paused at the door, and when she looked at him, her
face was serious. âThe future is to be made. As it stands
now, you could fail or succeed at this. I wonât be able to
see the out-come until youâre there with this Mansfield
âMonroe,â Adam snapped.
Helen gave a bit of a smile. âRemember. You must not touch
âWhat?!â Adam said, aghast. âTouch her? Do I look
desperate? That poor little girl? She probably grew up in
a sharecropperâs cabin. What was that school she went to?
Mannâs something or other? Touch her! Really. Iâd rather-â
He stopped talking, because Helen had left the room,
closing the door behind her, but her laughter wafted about
him. Heâd never before heard her laugh.
âI hate clairvoyants!â Adam said when he was alone; then
he looked down at the application again. Wonder what the T
stands for? he thought, shaking his head in dismay. Today,
every time some gorgeous, long-legged beauty from South
Dakota or wherever had walked in, Adamâs heart had nearly
skipped a beat. If she was âthe one,â then heâd be
spending day and night with her, sharing meals, sharing
what might become an adventure, sharing.... But, each
time, after the beauty had left the room, heâd looked at
Helen, and with a mocking expression, for sheâd seen every
one of his lascivious fantasies, sheâd shaken her head no.
No, the beauty was not âthe one.â
But this one! Adam thought. This Darci T. Monroe - no
relation to the other one -- didnât look strong enough to
help him accomplish anything. Maybe it was true that she
was, well, physically qualified -- he could certainly
believe that -- but how could she ...?
âOh, the hell with it,â he said, then picked up the phone
and called the number sheâd written on the application. As
the telephone was ringing, he thought, I still have two
weeks. Maybe someone else who has the proper
qualifications will show up, he told himself as a womanâs