Diane could feel the heat from the sidewalk seeping through the soles of her shoes as she hurried down Columbus Avenue. Beads of perspiration slipped down her sides, and she wiped the dampness accumulating at her brow line with one swoop, negating the twenty minutes she had spent in front of the bathroom mirror with her hair dryer, round brush, and styling mousse. Her freshly laundered cotton blouse stuck to her back, and the starched collar was beginning to droop. The day hadn’t even begun and already she was a wilted mess.
She was anxious, as usual, about being late, and she wished she had not promised herself to walk to work. The twenty-block trek was the only dependable exercise she got these days, and she needed it. She had let her gym membership lapse since she found she wasn’t using it on any routine basis. There just wasn’t time anymore—not if she was going to spend the time she felt she should with the kids right now.
Sniffing the sickening smell of garbage already baking in the morning sun as it waited to be picked up from the curb, Diane felt relief that her two-week vacation was about to begin. It would be great to get out of the city, away from the oppressive heat, away from the noise and the hustle and the pressure. These last months had been tough on all of them, brutal really. Sometimes, it didn’t feel like any of it could have happened. Yet the reality was all too clear when she spotted Michelle biting her nails or watched Anthony’s shoulders slump when she caught him staring at his father’s framed picture on the piano—or when she reached out in the middle of the night to the empty place in her queen-size bed.
She cut across the courtyard at Lincoln Center, stopping for just a moment at the wide fountain, hoping to catch a bit of fine spray. But there was absolutely no breeze to propel the mist her way.
Adjusting her shoulder bag, Diane continued walking. No matter. Soon she and the kids would be someplace where the air didn’t stink and the water flowed cool and clear. Maybe they weren’t going the way they had originally planned, maybe it wasn’t the way they would have wanted it, but it was the way things were. They were going on this vacation. They deserved it. They needed it after all they had been through.
Life, even without Philip, had to go on.
Pushing through the heavy revolving door into the lobby, Diane welcomed the blast of cool air. She smiled at the uniformed security guards as she fumbled in her bag for the beaded metal necklace that threaded through the opening on her identification pass. Finding it, she swept the card against the electronic device that beeped to signal she was cleared to enter the KEY News Broadcast Center. She knew many of the other correspondents found it annoying to produce their IDs. They thought their well-known faces should be enough for entry, but Diane didn’t mind. Security had an increasingly tough job, and it was easy enough for her to pull out her card. She did draw the line, however, at wearing the thing around her neck all day. That wasn’t a fashion statement she cared to make.
She purchased a cup of tea and a banana at the coffee trolley, then walked up the long, wide ramp to the elevators, passing the large, lighted pictures of the KEY News anchors and correspondents, grouped according to their broadcasts. Eliza Blake beamed from the KEY Evening Headlines poster. Constance Young and Harry Granger grinned beneath the KEY to America morning show logo. The Hourglass photo, taken over a year before, showed Cassie Sheridan surrounded by the newsmagazine’s contributing reporters. Diane didn’t stop to study her own face, with its blue-gray eyes and nose she wished was just a little bit straighter, smiling from the wall with her colleagues. She needed no reminder. The worry and aggravation of the past few months were showing. The fine lines at the corners of her eyes had deepened, and new ones had formed around her mouth, vestiges of unconscious frowning. Lately, Diane noticed she was forced to apply concealer several times a day to camouflage the dark circles that had developed beneath her eyes.
Another good reason for a vacation, she thought as she pressed the elevator button. If she could just get away and relax for a bit, her appearance would benefit. All of the female correspondents were acutely aware that the way they looked played into their success. It was just a fact of broadcast news life. The guys paid attention to their appearance too, of course. But they could let their hair go gray, sport some wrinkles, gain a few pounds and get away with it. The women couldn’t. They groused about it with their friends, but it wasn’t going to change and they knew it. For the on-air journalists, experience counted, but youth and beauty were idolized.
The elevator bell pinged, and the doors slid open. Walking directly across the sixth-floor hallway, Diane slipped into the ladies’ room. She pulled paper towels from the wall dispenser and patted at her face, trying not to wipe off her makeup as she dabbed at the mascara that had run at the corners of her eyes. As she worked to re-create some semblance of a hairstyle, she heard the click of a lock opening in one of the stalls behind her.
“Hi, Susannah,” Diane said as the young woman limped toward the sink next to hers and pumped out some liquid soap.
“Hey, Diane. Hot enough for you?” Facing the mirror, Susannah smiled her crooked smile, which reflected its way back to Diane.
Diane was about to start complaining about her flattened hair and her sweaty walk to work, but she stopped herself, knowing how insensitive that would be. Susannah would probably give just about anything to be able to take the walk that Diane took for granted.
“Thank God for air-conditioning,” Diane answered, pulling strands of ash-blond hair from her brush before putting it back into her shoulder bag. She rifled through the satchel and pulled out a small can of hair spray. “And tomorrow I leave for a vacation with my kids. It may be hot at the Grand Canyon, but it won’t be as muggy as it is here.”
“That sounds fabulous,” Susannah answered with enthusiasm. “Do you have all the information you need before you go? I could get a little research package together for you.”
That was one of the great things about Susannah, thought Diane, shaking the can and taking the lid off. She was always so upbeat and eager to help. God knew, Susannah had plenty to be down about. But she didn’t play the victim. Maybe she knew that a poor-me attitude wore thin with folks after a while.
“Oh, you’re a doll, Susannah, but I don’t need a thing. I’m going to just sit back and let the tour guides do their jobs. I’m looking forward to a vacation where I don’t have to read any maps or make any decisions or be responsible for anything more than which pair of shorts to pull on in the morning. I just want to relax with my kids for two weeks and let someone else worry about what we’re going to do every day.”
Diane waited until the researcher made her way to the restroom exit before pushing the button to release the hair spray. The smell of the aerosol fumes was just reaching her nostrils when Susannah called back from the doorway.
“I guess I should give you a heads-up, Diane. Joel is looking for you.”
“Any idea why?” Diane asked as she recapped the hair spray can. But Susannah was already gone.
Copyright © 2005 by Mary Jane Clark