sounds, smells, sights

You grew up in the eighties and early nineties. Your mother worked, most of the time, once you started Kindergarten. Usually just part-time, so that she could be home when you and your sister were done with school.

Her jobs, to you at least, were inconsequential: remnants of skills she learned before you were born. She was a typesetter for small printing houses, or she ran up figures in neat little rows. She was a fast typist. She laughed a lot at work and gathered up friends like blueberries. She’d come home with the most fantastic stories and inside jokes that became a part of your daily thoughts. You knew everything about her co-workers: they came to dinner, they bought you birthday gifts, they printed personalized stationery for you when they had a slow day.

When you were too sick to go to school but well enough to go into work with her, her boss put you to work collating in a small closet to the back of the print shop. The smell of the ancient toners and inks filled your stomach with a sort of purposeful feeling calm. You grew to like loud, repetitive sounds of people working. These sounds include:

Typing

Hammering

Sweeping

Raking

Window Washing

Printing presses (I like the churning and clanking sound that mixes with the zip zip of the paper traveling through the rollers. A smell wafts up: yellow toner, bright green chemical smoke, heavy black ink. Laser printers don’t smell like anything at all besides electricity.)

Someone watering flowers with a metal watering can: (I’ve worked in several offices over my lifetime and almost every one has hired a professional plant service to come and pick off dead leaves, water dry soil, and leave pretty new potted trees in the lobby. I’ll tell you what it feels and sounds like.)

The reception area, if you’re lucky, is a kind of dove-grey quiet. The phone only rings every twenty minutes or so, and even sometimes three or more calls come in at once you’re usually left to your thoughts and the thick stack of white spreadsheets. The papers are usually comfortingly warm, fresh from the printer, but they do stick together some. Around nine or nine thirty every Tuesday a short, efficient-looking blonde woman wearing a green polo shirt, khaki cargo pants, and soft white tennis shoes opens the glass doors and smiles in greeting. You say hello and good morning, and she walks past your desk towards the office kitchen, which is where she always begins her work. She carries a large copper watering can with a rectangular handle, a black tube comes out of the top and a spray nozzle (the metal also copper, you like this little shiny detail) comes out of that tube. It’s filled with filtered water, you can hear it sloshing rhythmically in the can and against her leg.

Soon a pattern forms to her actions. Her feet pad on the carpet, the sloshing sound in the watering can, then a light, spraying sound as she waters the hanging ferns and potted fichus trees. She repeats this all over the office, finally taking some extra attention on the plants that sit near your reception desk. This is the area that needs to look good. This is also why you’ve been hired. You’re pretty, with black hair and blue grey eyes, and you’re also quite tall for a woman. You look good against the cherry cabinets and the frosted glass.  In your slim fitting charcoal grey pencil skirts and tight little cardigan sweaters, you give the air of efficiency and fantasy both. You type fast, and know your away around most of the popular office software systems. You will earn your small income with grace.

When the plant woman is finished watering, and plucking dry brown leaves off of the carpet, and sticking small tablets of plant food in an ailing asparagus fern, she will pad up to your desk, place the copper watering can at her feet, and scratch out an invoice on a small tablet of carbon paper. One for you, one for me.

She always says the same thing. One for you, one for me. This is a comfort. You’ll thank her and hold the glass doors for her on her way out of the office, then walk the thin sheeted invoice back to the bookkeeper, who will put the invoice in a folder after shaking his head at how much it costs to have someone tend over a bunch of houseplants.

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6 thoughts on “sounds, smells, sights

  1. Yay, Chrissy. I loved this…..actually, my husband used to work for a giant videogame company, and they had a company that did this for plants/flower arrangements….I always wondered how they decided how many and what types of arrangements (I think they changed them once or twice a week).

  2. It’s a terrifically intricate decision, it seems! They take into account the humidity and sunlight in the office, the type of office (creative, financial, medical), and the square footage. The lady I often spoke to who did the watering and tending was a horticulturalist.

  3. Thanks, Kathryn! The plant lady always greened up my rather boring white days at that particular office (especially because half the year the ground was covered in snow!).

"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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