By Yakob Peterseil
In walked his visitor.
“There’s a chair for you, Raymond!” Mr. Whipple pointed to one of the two wooden chairs he kept for visitors near the door. “I’ve been thinking about you all morning!” He settled into his seat and examined his visitor. “Have a mint?”
Raymond shook his head. When he looked back up at the man on the other side of the desk, across the valley of desk ornaments encircled by mountains of pages, the man was chewing on a mint and staring at the floor. Suddenly, he looked up at his visitor brazenly.
“By God, they weren’t lying…” he stuttered, excitedly. “…You’re handsome, man!"
“Of course, I see pretty faces march by me everyday,” he continued. “They come right in front of my desk, right where you’re sitting now…” He nearly leapt out of his chair.
“But come on, man! There’s no reason to be nervous! I was joking!"
“That’s the last thing--firing you! No,” he said, relaxing the grip of his fine white-and-pink fingers on the desk, as if only now could he safely return to the purpose of the appointment.
Mr. Whipple, the supervisor, smiled devilishly, leaned back, and fiddled with his pipe for a few moments, preoccupied with getting some black stuff out of the bowl.
“You must have heard something while you were out there, waiting, eh? It’s a regular rumor mill.” He smiled and indicated the office at large outside his door. “Well, it’s true, Raymond. My daughter’s…fallen in love with you.”
He seemed to stop breathing for a moment and to brood over something. “Surprised? I was.” Then, it was as if he became aware of an imaginary visitor in the corner, and began to address him. “Yes, but I suppose she does as she wishes… Who am I to stand in her way?” he seemed to ask the air. “I haven’t an opinion about you one way or the other, Raymond,” he continued. “You seem as good as any other fellow the women find attractive.
“Now before you say anything--hear me out.” With this request, his voice altered. It had an unusual gravity. “As I’m sure you’ve learned in all your time working for me, I am a hard man, but a man of my word. There’s just…before I can give you two my blessing…” He was so quick to falter!
“For God’s sake, son, she’s in love with you… She’ll listen to you….”
Mr. Whipple proceeded to impart to his visitor the conditions contingent on which he could win his daughter’s hand. His bald brow trembled as he outlined his program, which seemed to have been memorized as if it were a sales pitch for a car. At several points during the explanation, he shoveled as many as four mints into his mouth. Throughout, he smoked.
“…My wife abhors it: the smoking. She abhors the mints, too,” he laughed grimly.
“…She abhors the clouds in the sky,” he added, in a hollow whisper, dropped off a few notches from what it was before.
“But tell me this, Raymond,” he said, all of a sudden, as if he had just remembered a question he had been meaning to ask from the start.
He asked it, but when it became clear to him that no answer was forthcoming from the visitor, he sat back and chided himself. “Oh, never mind…it’s just that…what I fear is…my biggest fear…that my daughter will turn into my wife…which is something you ought to fear, too, unless, that is…"
“…Unless, that is, you like the idea of being married to my wife.”
He eyed Raymond carefully.
“…In which case, I can’t trust you.”
He went on in a confidential, confessional tone, which became powerful when it was at its most pathetic, and vice versa, quite opposite his intentions. Suddenly, he looked up to Raymond with an expiating look. “Of course! You’re in the dark!” He at once set about explaining all that he had left unclear.
“…And that idiot neighbor of mine believes that leaving the television on is enough to make him invisible! Ah, what do I care? He can have her! Of course, they talk about you, too,” he hastened to add. “‘How sweet my love is,’ Emily says.”
His willowy trunk became visible to the young man across the desk, as he hung his wilted frame over his two fists like a decrepit suspension bridge. “It’ll be hard, there’ll be times when you’ll feel like crawling obediently back into your study…But she’ll suffer! The ghosts of her vanity will haunt her! Emily calls to us from the witch’s tower!
“Otherwise…” he quieted down. “Well, otherwise, there’ll be a scandal,” he said, picking up a pen and swiftly signing his name on some loose documents scattered about his desk, becoming, in short, the diminutive supervisor behind his desk once more. After a moment, he looked up and watched his prospective son-in-law stand up with an air, a particular air that might suffer translation only in this way:
“Free me! Won’t you free me?”