The knock on his office door startled Mr. English out of his daydream. “Come in,” he called. When she entered, he recognized the applicant the committee had interviewed in four o’clock slot. She was mid-thirties with curly red hair, straight-backed, impeccably groomed, and attractively Rubenesque. He imagined himself mounting her from behind, grabbing her hair and pulling her head up like you might rein-in an unruly mare. “Did you forget something, Ms. Welsh?”
She stood just inside the Accounting Supervisor’s door. “I couldn’t go back to Rock Island until I asked you something.”
Mr. English reached for his dark green suit jacket. He rose, hastily putting on the coat. She was tall, easily six feet in her two-inch heels. Standing he looked her in the eyes. “We won’t make recommendations until after tomorrow.”
Ms. Welsh remained by the door of the small office, clutching her portfolio tightly against her chest. “That’s what your secretary told me at the elevator.” Mr. English looked. His secretary’s desk was empty and so were the cubicles surrounding it. The digital clock read 5:23.
“This is highly unusual.”
Ms Welsh noticed the desktop picture of a blonde girl in a bright blue soccer uniform standing beside a smiling boy in a baseball uniform. He had a young family. That would make this more difficult. She hesitated. “Why the number eight?”
Mr. English cleared his throat. “What… ?”
“You wrote the number repeatedly during my interview. You circled it.”
Mr. English motioned Ms. Welsh to the beige upholstered chair to the left of his desk.
“I’ll stand,” she said. The white dress she wore had dark blue piping and large blue buttons. The HR Director felt she could have chosen more professional attire, but Mr. English felt the dress suited her.
All the women in his department wore pants suits in earth tones because that was what Mrs. Bontu, the CEO, wore. He fantasized sometimes about replacing Mrs. Bontu as CEO. His first official act would be to ban women in the office from wearing pants. Or underwear. He thought it best at the moment not to mention to Ms Welsh how much her liked her dress.
Tiny beads of sweat formed on Mr. English’s upper lip. He sat down. “This is awkward. Your application is still under consideration.”
“Is it?” Her tone was accusatory. He smoothed back the hairs across his balding forehead and said nothing. “You filled your note pad with eights.” She noticed a twitch by his left eye.
“It meant nothing.” He waved his hand to dismiss her.
“You folded the scratch paper and put it in your pocket. I imagine it’s still there.” Mr. English shifted in his chair. He’d become uncomfortably erect at the thought of Ms Welsh reaching into his pants pockets in search of the doodle. “Should I be flattered that I was an eight? Did you interview any tens?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Did any male candidates get numbers?”
“No.” He motioned again toward the chair. “Please sit down.” Ms. Welsh sat down. She crossed her legs. He tried unsuccessfully not to stare at them. He wondered if she was wearing panty hose. In his imagination she had selected a garter belt and nylons this morning when she’d dressed for the interview because she had discovered how much he disliked pantyhose.
Mr. English made eye contact and cleared his throat. “Look at this office.” He gestured. The credenza was scratched, the carpet worn, the Employee of the Month plaque needed dusting. “My window faces the parking garage.”
He seemed harmless, but it had been a long day, and Ms Welsh had little patience. “And your point… ?” This had been her third interview of the day. The other two had not gone well either. It was a tough job market.
“I’m forty-six years old. Two years ago I mismanaged a major project and was demoted from VP. In May, two Hispanic employees resigned over a remark I made at the Cinco de Mayo party. My boss refused to fill either position so she could come under budget second quarter. I worked fourteen-hour days, and she got a nice bonus.”
He spoke earnestly, his hands folded on his desktop. He tried to keep eye contact even though his eyes kept drifting to her legs. “Two months ago my wife packed a suitcase for me and had a messenger drop it off at my office.” He glanced at the pictures on his desktop. “Now I see the kids every other weekend and Tuesdays. Celia and I have marriage counseling on alternative Thursdays.”
Ms Welsh blinked. “You are not a happy man.”
“Exactly.” He looked over to her. “I live on fantasies because reality stinks.” He hesitated. “There are eight large blue buttons on your dress. I imagined you unbuttoning them for me.”
She slowly rose from the chair. “While I was interviewing, you were fantasizing about me?”
“I could file a complaint.”
“You could. See Ms. Radcliffe about that. She’s the third desk on the left. She’s probably gone for the day.” Ms. Welsh tried to read his expression. “What if I had told you I ranked each candidate’s qualifications from one to eight?”
“I wouldn’t have believed you.”
“I watched your face while you wrote the number.”
That satisfied him. “So you suspected… ”
“I wanted confirmation.”
She looked at him carefully. “Why confess? A sexual harassment charge could end your career.”
“Why confront me? It could cost you this job.”
“We both have something to lose.”
“Yes.” He shifted in his chair. “Our top candidate is overqualified. HR misled him about the position. He will turn us down.” Ms. Welsh watched his eyes. “Our second candidate lacks your education. She’s less articulate, less dynamic, but she’s got a manufacturing background. You have a good resume, but no factory experience.”
Ms Welsh’s face was flushed. She tried to focus on the Mr. English’s remarks. “Even accountants for nonprofits do cost allocation, CVP, budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis.” Part of the heat she felt was anger, but there was more to her reaction than that. “I have my CMA.”
“But you’ve never done ABC because you’ve never worked with inventory.”
“That’s correct.” She realized she was pressing her portfolio against her chest. She needed to calm down. She loosened the grip on her portfolio and waited. She tried to even out her breathing.
“How badly do you need the job?”
The comment startled her. What would she be willing to do to get his job? “I’m not desperate.” Even as she said it, she knew it wasn’t true. Contributions to nonprofit funding was drying up. At most her office had another two months of funding.
“If you’re not desperate, why did you come back?”
That was a good question. She’d convinced herself she was coming back to express her moral indignation at Mr. English’s obvious attraction to her. The others had been expressionless and noncommittal. That had been better than the reactions she gotten at the other earlier interview. Mr. English was right; she needed this job. She needed to find a way to get it.
Ms Welsh stood. “I came back because I was curious about the expression on your face. I wondered what caused it.” She placed her portfolio down on the chair. “Now you’ve given me the answer. It was my buttons.” He watched as she raised her hands to the first large blue button. She hesitated. She wondered if she could do this. She unbuttoned it. “I have fantasies, too,” she told him, and even as she said it, she knew it was true. She unbuttoned the second button, revealing the lace at the top of her slip.
“Please don’t,” he said. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. As she reached for the third button, he swiveled his desk chair until he faced the window overlooking the parking ramp. “I’d like you to leave.”
She paused. “Mr. English, don’t you want more than just fantasies?”
Mr. English continued to stare at the parking garage. There was a long silence. He heard the door to his office closing. “Sometimes I do,” he said finally.
“I do, too.” Her voice startled him. He thought she had left.
“What are your fantasies?” he asked her. Mr. English didn’t turn around.
“I imagine I’m on a stage and every man in the audience is watching me.” She turned off the lights. The light from his lone window illuminated the office. “Will you watch me?”
“I could lose my job… ”
“It’s a risk.” Mr. English heard the rustling of fabric. “I’ve unbuttoned the third button. You’ll miss the fourth if you don’t turn around.”
“I can’t guarantee you the job… ”
“This isn’t about the job.”
Mr. English turned to face Ms. Welsh as she unbuttoned the fourth button. Underneath her dress she wore a pale blue slip. He thought about Celia and the kids. He put his hand in his suit pocket and touched the folded paper that he’d placed there after the interview. He started to rise from his chair.
“Stay there. I’ll come to you.” She walked around his desk and faced him as he swiveled in the chair to follow her movements. She stood erect, straight-backed like she had when she first came into the office. “The next one is yours.” He reached for the fifth button. “Slowly,” she said.
“Yes.” He unbuttoned the fifth button. She hung her hands at her side. She did not touch his shoulder to steady herself as she had done in his fantasy. He unbuttoned the sixth button.
“You find me attractive?”
“Very.” Mr. English reached for the next button.
“Tear it off.”
He took the seventh button in his right hand and grasped her dress with his left. He tore off the button and set it on his desk.
“I’m a size 16. Most men want tiny women with slender waists and no hips.”
“They’re fools.” He reached for the final button and tore it off, too. “They don’t know what beauty is.” Her dress hung open at the sides. He wanted to run his fingers up her nylons. He wanted to feel the dampness of her inner thigh.
Her pale blue slip ended just below where her nylons attached to their garters. The slip clung to her thighs. He reached out and pulled the slip to her waist. She wasn’t wearing panties. He stared at her curly red pubic hair and wondered what it would be like to bury his face in it.
Ms. Welsh stepped back. She wasn’t ready for him to touch her. She pulled back her dress and put her hands on her hips, feigning bravado she didn’t feel. “Disappointed?”
Mr. English sat breathless, staring at her. “How could I be? You’re beautiful.”
“Is it what you imagined?”
“Better.” She smiled, and for the first time that day, relaxed. “And you, Ms. English,” he asked, “is this what you imagined?”
“No. But then it probably never is.” They watched each other in the dim light until, finally, she began rebuttoning her dress. “Even if you hire me, I won’t let you fuck me.”
“I’d be your supervisor. I’m still a married man.”
“Yes.” She picked up her portfolio, and then Ms. Welsh walked to the door and opened it. “You’d have to be content just to watch.”
She didn’t close the door so that Mr. English could watch her strut all the way to the elevator. When she was gone, he placed her two buttons into his desk drawer, proof that it had been real.