Caroline penciled a flock of crows flying above a river in the advertisement for a mineral water. The art director liked the suggestion of environmental harmony, but she wanted Caroline to emphasize the intelligence of crows. What was Caroline supposed to do? Have them read the Iliad? She put glasses on the biggest crow.
She and Eric really needed a vacation. He was stressed, he said. All those billable hours he was supposed to post.
When she researched crows she found they remembered individual human faces, particularly people who had captured and tagged them. In her first meeting with Eric, she thought he was her ideal: smart, funny, empathetic.
She kept doodling, found herself writing "Woman, 28, seeks long-term relationship with man, 25 to 35."
Mamie loomed over her again. "Draw something that will last."
Caroline needed another job. "What lasts?"
"Mountains," Mamie said.
Until they're worn down, Caroline thought. She sketched one mountain after another, making them lower and lower, until they were flat as fields and then declivities, ravines, gorges. The crows kept getting larger until their shadows covered the bottom third of the paper, weighing it down like mulch.
She put a kitten in the corner.
She started another page: beach, sunrise, gulls circling, on the sand a baby toddling between the parents. This baby wore pink. Caroline was not the baby. This was a future baby. She was holding the baby's hand, so that had to be Eric on the other side. Joy, joy, joy. But she was not happy.
She doodled a heart and put their initials inside: C.H. + E.D. Now she was all the way up to sixth grade.
Outside, the wind blew the snow off the roof of the parking garage in a horizontal veil. The snow transformed the world into a toy town in a glass globe. On her desk was that glass globe, the first present Eric gave her. She shook it to see the flakes drift. Inside the tiny white house with its green roof, the lights shone brightly, the toy people were happy, the snow lay softly on the front yard.
She drew that house and perched a crow on the roof. An intelligent crow. With glasses.
Martin, tall and straight, carried a cup of coffee and, as he handed it to her, their fingers brushed. His fingertips felt hot. Did hers feel cool to him?
"Thanks," she said. "I'll get yours tomorrow. How do you take it?"
"One sugar, same as you. Nice drawing." His lazy smile lingered. "The crows look smart."
"I put glasses on them." She stared at him, wondering.
He shrugged. "I heard Mamie. She can be a dufus sometimes."
"I'm sure her heart's in the right place."
"On the left side. A lump of stone."
She liked the pink shirt he was wearing. "Well, I need to get back to these sketches. Pretty shirt."
"I'm reclaiming pink for men."
She had to stay away from Martin or she might be attracted to him. "You're a funny guy."
"I'm a copywriter."
"Well, thanks for the coffee." She tapped her pencil idly on her thigh. The pencil slipped out of her fingers and fell to the floor.
Martin bent over to pick it up. He extended it to her. "You have to get back to work, I guess."
"Yes." She gazed at his pink shirt. "Yes."
"You have a pile of work on your desk." He nodded at her sketches.
"I'll let you get to it."
"Yes. And are you busy too?"
He looked toward the window where the snow was brightening and softening the skyscrapers. "Depends on who's asking."
What was she doing? She needed to stop this flirtation. She was a married woman. "Let's go out for coffee after work."
His eyes were pools she could get lost in, mountains to climb, birds to fly with.
"Let's," he said.
Next to the wall, the copier clicked pages. In back of him the office swooshed and blurred, above him the fluorescent lights buzzed. Outside, skyscrapers and mountains were wearing down.
BIO: Cezarija Abartis'Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Prime Number, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf's Top 50 list of flash fiction. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Website: http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/