Ernest Jacobson was listening to Heidi Morales explain, in her precise, clipped systems analyst’s voice, just the trace of a German accent, the computer programming needed for the new expenditure data he was supposed to provide. He’d had many meetings of this kind with Heidi, whose analytical skills he greatly respected, the two of them in his office, sitting closely together, the pictures of his family on his desk, his wife and two children, the occasional ring of a telephone heard through the door, the buzz of traffic coming from outside. But this time it was different, an intense stillness, Heidi’s mouth moving with no sound coming from it, no background noises, out of time.
He was intensely aware of her reddish hair held back with a green ribbon; her eyes, sometimes blue, sometimes green; her narrow face, fine features, somewhat pointed chin; her breasts curving out under a thin white blouse; slender fingers playing with a pencil; her faintly lemon scent. She must have realized something had happened because she stopped talking and looked at him questioningly.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was distracted. Go on.”
He half listened while she continued to explain. She was about ten years younger, he thought, late twenties. He knew she’d come to this country a few years ago from Germany, married to someone with a Spanish name. Evidently the merger of the two nationalities hadn’t worked out because she was divorced, no children. He had a meeting at 11 so he stood up. She also stood and he noticed slender legs beneath her short skirt. In the European manner, she shook hands with him. “Are you going to that meeting in San Francisco next week?” he asked her.
She grimaced. “I suppose so.”
“Yes, I know it’ll be boring. Maybe we can have dinner afterwards.”
“Yes,” she said. She let him continue to hold her hand, looking straight into his eyes, then she smiled. “Yes, we can do that.”
At ten that night, Ernest sat in his armchair in the living room, idly watching the local news on television, occasionally reading in a professional magazine spread out on his lap. His wife Barbara sat in the other armchair, blonde hair falling over her forehead, blue eyes tired behind her glasses, folding clothes just taken from the washing machine. They’d had a late dinner because she’d had to take their two sons to their soccer practice. After dinner, Ernest had mowed the lawn, then helped the boys with their homework.
“I had a hard time starting the car again this morning,” said Barbara.
“Maybe it needs a new battery. I’ll look at it this weekend.”
“We should think about painting the boys’ rooms. They’re starting to look terrible.”
The television news had something about the daily local murder. Next came a story about a United States senator found dead in a hotel room with a call girl, followed by a story about a famous actor who was having an affair with his stepdaughter.
“Okay, as soon as I get a chance. I have to go to San Francisco next week.
“Computers for managers. Something like that.”
“For how long?”
“A couple of days, Thursday and Friday.”
“Maybe I’ll go to the paint store. We have to get new drapes, too. The old ones are falling apart.”
They talked in this way for a while longer, then went to bed. “I’m tired,” said Barbara. “And another soccer practice tomorrow.” She turned on her side and in a few minutes Ernest could tell she was asleep. He stared into the darkness and saw Heidi Morales, the red hair, the green-blue eyes like the changing sea, the curving breasts, the smile she’d given him.