by Joe Zabel
Kathy had been serious about using the holiday to fix up her new apartment. In this regard, having a guest came in handy. Sally helped her move furniture, held the container of crack sealant while Kathy stood on the ladder, and in general lent a hand and kept Kathy company.
Down in the basement, Kathy opened a padlocked door. 'And here is my deepest, darkest secret!' she said melodramatically.
Sally laughed. 'You're a good person, Kathy-- you don't have any deep, dark secrets!'
'I wish that were so!' said Kathy. She began knocking down cobwebs with her broom.
'I mean, you might have told a few little fibs in your time,' said Sally, 'or accidentally stepped on a bug. But you're too nice to ever have done anything really bad!'
Kathy shook her head. 'How wrong you are. What I did was really terrible.'
'No, it can't have been,' insisted Sally.
'Let me show you. I have an album of clippings here, from my early career.' Kathy lifted a few boxes off of a pile, and opened the crate on the bottom. 'I was saving these because I was proud of them, and thought I was really accomplishing something. Now I wish I could just burn the thing-- but I don't really have the right to forget what I've done.'
Kathy opened the album. There were newspaper and magazine clippings. One of them showed a young woman on the set of a television show. 'There I am,' said Kathy.
'Gee, that doesn't even look like you,' said Sally.
'I wore my hair differently, and had on lots of makeup for the camera. This was taken in New York. Let me tell you about it.' And, in halting phrases, Kathy proceeded to do so.
Dunleigh and Hatton was a new and rapidly-expanding Wall Street PR firm. Their chief account was PLAYTIME, a prominent toy manufacturer.
The manufacturer was pitted against a new and aggressive consumer advocacy group, Victims of Industrial Neglect. 'VIN is looking to make a reputation for themselves,' said the head of Dunleigh and Hatton. 'They don't care about how many jobs will be lost, or what happens to the stockholders-- if they can taken down PLAYTIME, it'll make a lot of headlines.'
He was in conference with the top consultants from the firm, as well as an ambitious young flack named Kathy Swanson.
One of the consultants spoke up. 'We've received word that they're going to drop some kind of bomb at a scheduled TV appearance. It's an acutely temperamental show is called Mad As Hell. They thrive on adversarial confrontation, and I can guarantee you they aren't going to lift a finger to balance VIN's claims with responsible journalism. PLAYTIME wants to pull out their company spokesman. But we think if they do, it'll look like they've got something to hide.'
The head of the firm turned to Kathy. 'This is where you come in, Kathy. We want to make an end-run around VIN so PLAYTIME has a fair shot at telling their side of the story. These TV shows always bring in a third spokesperson as a tie-breaker. Have you ever heard of an organization called Parents For Children?'
'No,' said Kathy.
'Well, you're it's new president!'
On the set of Mad As Hell, the contrast between the the consumer advocates couldn't have been greater. VIN's Alice Posner had the drab, harried look of the single mother of twins that she was. By contrast, Kathy possessed a youthful beauty undiminished by what the fashion consultant had done with makeup and clothing to make her appear ten years older, a beacon of mainstream conservative responsibility.
'An infant's doll is chewed on, sucked on, pressed against the child's face,' said Alice, wielding a PLAYTIME Pokey Bob doll. 'A product like this should be scrutinized as carefully as anything approved by the Food and Drug Administration.'
Kathy, cradling a PLAYTIME Pokey Betty in her arms, countered, 'A child's beloved doll is hardly in the same category as a drug! A toy should embody the wholesome, positive values parents want to surround their children with. What does a lumpy, misshapen doll tell a child, except that he isn't loved?'
Alice was left sputtering about the chemical reaction of spring-back fibers to saliva, while Kathy went on about nurturing and family values. And the PLAYTIME spokesman was free to plug the company's new product line.
The headlines, when they came, were too late to save the twenty-five children who'd suffered cerebral hemorrhages from close contact with the PLAYTIME dolls, turned toxic from repeated dampening.
'No one outside of her immediate circle had recognized her on the TV show,' said Kathy. 'Her role as the supposed head of Parents For Children never came out in the coverage of the incident. But she couldn't forget the part she played in drowning out VIN's all-too-accurate criticisms. If it wasn't for her, those children...'
'You're talking as if this happened to somebody else,' said Sally.
Kathy considered. 'I guess I have a hard time believing I did those things. It all seems so remote now. I can't imagine what I was thinking back then!'
'Isn't that what we all have to do?' asked Sally. 'Put our mistakes behind us?'
'But twenty-five children!' said Kathy. 'I should still feel terrible about it. But I don't-- it's abstracted somehow, like it was a dream...'
They were in the kitchen again, preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Kathy was sliding a pan of lasagna into the oven.
'You sure are emptying your refrigerator for me!' said Sally.
'If we run out of everything else, we'll still have plenty of onions,' said Kathy ironically.
'I've been having such a good time, I haven't given much thought to my situation. I'm in no position to pay you back until this weird business gets straightened out. And I don't think it's very... realistic... for me to expect things to go back to normal.'
'"Normal" is overrated,' said Kathy. 'What's important is keeping the wolf away from the door. You're safe and warm, and we've got a nice dinner on the stove. And the rest of it will work itself out.'
'If only... if only I could get my old job back!' Sally looked at Kathy apprehensively.
'Well, I'm not promising anything,' said Kathy, 'but why don't you type up a resume-- as Sally Smith. You can use my word processor.'
Sally was surprised by the offer. 'Ok... I'll start on it right now!'
As Sally booted up the computer and brought up Word, Kathy paced the floor behind her. She'd suggested the idea just to make a point, but she was afraid she was being too brutal with Sally-- when the troubled young lady realized that she wasn't a competent typist, it might bring on another crisis. 'Just take your time,' Kathy said, nervously.
But Sally's fingers flew over the keyboard, as she competently drafted the document in its correct format, without hesitation or wasted effort.
After Sally had printed the resume, Kathy looked it over. 'You seem... amply qualified for the job.'
She set the document aside. 'Sally, if I give you this job, that means I can't protect you. Somebody's bound to check your references sooner or later, and stumble across your 'identity crisis.''
Sally shrugged her shoulders. 'I'll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.'
Kathy carried the lasagna out, protecting her hands with two potholders. Sally had tossed a salad and sliced some bread. A bottle of red wine decorated the table.
As Kathy was about to start eating, she noticed that Sally was again going through a series of hand gestures.
'Sally, dear, what is that? With your hands, I mean.'
'I was saying grace,' said Sally.
'But I've never seen it done that way before.'
Sally demonstrated. 'It means, 'We are as one...'' She folded her hands in front of her. ''I protect you...'' She placed her left palm over her right. ''You protect me...'' She switched hands, so the right palm covered the left. ''And we don't listen to any false speech.'' She lifted both hands and cupped them over her ears.
Kathy was amazed. 'What religion is that?'
Sally said cautiously, 'I don't know. It's just what I was always taught.'
Kathy's eyes narrowed. 'Have you ever heard the phrase, 'Return to the fold?''
'What does it mean?'
'It's what you say to somebody who's wandered away,' said Sally. 'It's a way of asking them to come back.'
'Come back where?' pursued Kathy.
'Come back home, I guess. Come back to the family.'
They'd been late for their flight, and airport parking had been jammed, so Kathy had parked the car angled between two others on a patch of gravel, at the curve of the road. There'd been no parking meter in sight, so she doubted it was legal; but if the car got towed they could take care of when they got back.
The flight gate was an awkward affair, with two elevated, parallel decks, separated by about fifty feet. The trick was that one deck was for Eastbound flights, the other for Westbound. So if you were on the wrong deck you'd really be in a mess. And once you were through the turnstiles, there was no turning back.
Kathy pulled Sally along behind her. But the younger woman was in a trance, and it was difficult to keep her moving forward. They became jammed up at the turnstile, because Sally didn't know to push her way through, and Kathy couldn't rotate it from the front.
Finally they were on the chute boarding the flight. What flight it was, and where it was going, Kathy didn't know-- if they'd taken a wrong turn, they'd just have to backtrack once they'd landed. What was important was that they stay together, and not get lost from each other while in transit-- that would be disastrous!
But as they channeled down the corridor to the seats of the 747, the pilot announced over the PA system that the flight would have open seating. 'We'll have to find two seats together,' Kathy told her traveling companion. But as they struggled forward, all the seats were getting snatched up. Kathy kept a tight grasp on Sally's hand, and pushed at the crowds, trying to force her way to the remaining seats.
But then she heard a cry from far behind her, and looked back. It was Sally, pinned between two broad-shouldered brutes sitting five rows back. But if that was Sally, whose hand was Kathy holding?
She turned full around and looked at the hand, and followed up the wrist, and the arm, and the shoulder, until she was staring into the visage of an animated corpse. It was Jen Marriott, whose sightless eyes were fixed upon Kathy...