Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Aleta Cratchet of Williamson and Marley Simulations
Aleta Cratchet stumbled through the biting cold. The wind driven snow swirled around her, making it hard to see where the curb ended and the street began. She held her mittened hand up against her forehead hoping to shield her eyes from the stinging ice.
The Cratchet children were reluctant to get out of bed because of the cold. Their small coal fire had gone out during the night. Coal was a necessity the Cratchet's couldn't always afford on the wages paid by Williamson and Marley. The extra time it took to get the children up and off to school meant she would be late for work. It was apparent after leaving her flat that she wasn't the only one delayed by the storm. The pavement was busy with people, all looking for a friendly door and fire. Alas, that wouldn’t be her lot. She worked for Williamson and Marley Simulations.
She opened the door to the shop slowly, hoping the small bell attached to the frame wouldn’t ring. It did.
“What is this?” Williamson bellowed from his dark musky office to her left. “The clock on the wall shows ten past. If I’m not mistaken, you’re employment starts at the top of the hour. Am I correct, or have you found employment elsewhere and have come to turn in your notice?”
“I beg your pardon Mr. Williamson. It will never happen again. My children needed more attention to get off to school. You see, its the cold. Our fire went out...”
“Silence!” he shouted. “What happens out of this office is no concern of mine. I expect you to respect your obligations to this office as you do your responsibilities to your offspring. Why should I be required to suffer discomfort because of your choices? Perhaps you've forgotten the work houses, supported by my taxes. There is always a place for you there. ” His voice was sinister in sound and cold in intent.
“Then let this be the last time we visit the subject of tardiness. Get to your desk. We’ve a business to run and coin to make.”
Aleta walked down the hallway toward the cubicle she called her office. The carpet under foot was worn with age. The rose pattern all but gone. She found her desk, turned on the computer and pulled her coat tightly about her. A coal stove sat in the corner. Through the grate she saw the faint orange flame struggling to dance in the unwelcomed Arctic air. The coal bucket beside it held three pieces of coal, the amount allocated for a winter’s day by Mr. Williamson’s reckoning. The temptation to put the entire day’s ration into the stove nearly overtook her sensibilities. A moment of weakness would warm the room for an hour or so, but afterwords, her only companions would be the dark and cold.
She reached for the flashlight kept on the desk beside her. The light illuminated a perfectly round section of the ceiling above her head. She imagined it was a burning torch. She held her fingers over it to warm them. It was a quarter past the hour. She heard Williamson shuffling down the hallway, sniffing at the air. He seemed oblivious to the cold and rarely kept a fire in his office, not wanting to bear the burden of lost coin spent on comfort. It was two years ago he agreed to supply the clerk’s office with coal, and that was only after repeated pleadings from the local vicar of St. Anthony’s Church on the Commons.
Williamson used his nose to sniff out waste. Aleta could tell he was sampling the air for evidence she’d used more coal than the agreed on ration. She was happy she’d resisted the temptation. The noise in the hallway stopped.
“At work are we?” a cracked voice spoke from the doorway. She looked up to see the top of a head partially covered with thinning hair. An eye appeared, It looked at her, then the stove.
“Yes sir,” she replied.
“See to it then. Waste not want not,” he grumbled. “No one respects a day’s work anymore,” he mumbled as he shuffled back toward his office. “Be here all the earlier tomorrow,”
His door shut, leaving the office quiet - except for the sound of the wind and snow pelting the four squared window. Aleta turned toward the computer. Three day's of work for a normal office waited to be done before lunch. It was Williamson's way.
Boy was it cold today. When I came to the Space Center it was 6 degrees. Aleta arrived on time and sat at the desk. I noticed she hadn't removed her coat. That wasn't surprising. The office, Odyssey and Phoenix have air conditioning - but no heat. On a day like this, the Space Center office stays around 64 degrees. When I saw Aleta sitting at the computer all bundled up, the kernel of a short story popped into mind. And you know me, tis a temptation I can't resist.