“Yes?” Uh-oh, here it comes, Margo thought.
“Well, technically,” he began, “I’m married.” Before Margo could respond, he rushed on. “It’s been over for a long time. We just haven’t finalized it on paper …”
“I see,” Margo said, feeling a bit mean. “What does that have to do with me?”
There was a lot of hemming and hawing on Robert’s end. Good, Margo thought.
“It’s just that I thought … and maybe I’m out of line here,” he stammered, “but I thought you and I ...” He left it there.
Margo sighed, feeling sorry for him.
“So, you’re married, but you’re separated and just haven’t gotten around to ...”
“No,” he interrupted, “not exactly separated ...”
“I pretty much live in the top floor of the house and ...”
“You live together?!”
“More like coexist,” Robert said, then rushed on. “Ingrid and I can’t afford to live apart right now. She’s saving to go back to Norway and we’re working out the details of splitting property. We really have very little to do with each other. We eat dinner together, that’s all. Ingrid’s a wonderful cook.”
How nice for you, Margo thought, her stomach sinking.
“I just wanted you to know how things stand,” Robert said. “I wanted to be honest with you. Honesty is very important to me.”
Margo rallied. “I certainly appreciate that, Robert, so thank you,” she said. She had to get off the phone. “Oh, wow, look at that, it’s already after 9 here and I really should be getting home ...”
“You’re upset, I understand ...”
“No, no, not at all … it’s just late,” she lied.
“We’ll chat tomorrow then? During lunch maybe?”
“Sure, sure … well, let’s see how the day plays out. I really should get going, I have a long ride home. Good night, Robert.”
Margo didn’t stay on the line long enough to hear his reply. She put her head on the desk and closed her eyes. When she opened them she could see the horse sculpture out of the corner of her eye.
“Stupid horse,” she said. “Stupid me.”
Tired, out of sorts, Margo drove slowly in the snow to work the next day.
“Hold all my calls until further notice,” Margo barked at a surprised Carl when she got to the office. He raised his eyebrows as she stalked down the hall to her office, slamming the door behind her.
With the concentration and focus her ex-husband used to complain about (“Sometimes you don’t even know I’m alive!”), Margo worked, barely looking up from her computer the full day. She could hear the staff whispering on the other side of the door, but they didn’t disturb her. Lunch came and went. By 4 o’clock, she’d done all she could do. She’d laid out the next year’s editorial calendar, assigned stories to various freelancers, checked and rechecked every page of the upcoming issue; and it had been the perfect day to make normally unpleasant calls to suppliers. Exhausted, she rose and stretched and finally opened the door, taking a stack of correspondence to Carl to mail.
“Where is everyone?” she said, putting the pile on his desk. The place was eerily quiet.
“I sent them home before it got too bad out there,” Carl said, sniffing slightly.
“Out there …?” Margo looked outside. Everything was white and snowflakes the size of silver dollars smacked against the window. “Holy … I had no idea it was this bad,” she cried.
“There’s at least two feet already,” Carl said as he pulled on his coat, “and they’re expecting another two feet before midnight. Good thing tomorrow’s Saturday. I don’t have far to go, but maybe you should think about staying here tonight.”
Margo knew he was right, but she didn’t relish the idea. What would she do with herself?
“There’s some leftover pizza in the break room if you get hungry” Carl said, pausing at the door. “And Lindsay brought veggies and dip.”
“Okay, thanks, Carl,” Margo said. “Now get while the getting’s still good!”
Margo wished she had a beer or two to go with the pizza, but she warmed up some anyway and took it to her desk. The wind howled outside, making the empty office a little creepy. Margo shuddered and turned on her radio. Then, against her best judgment, she opened her chat program. A flurry of increasingly concerned messages from Robert cascaded in.
She read the first message to the last, feeling more and more guilty as she read. He really was very sweet. And he was upfront about being married. It wasn’t like they were romantically involved, not really. He was there, she was here. He was fun to talk to … quirky maybe, but he did make her laugh. As she pondered, another, new message pinged in.
Bo: I don’t know if you’ve read any of my messages, but I miss talking to you …
Margo wiped pizza grease off her hands and pulled the keyboard toward her.
Margo: I’m here. We can talk.
Bo: !!!! It’s so late and you’re still there??? I’m glad you are.
Margo: Snowed in. Have to spend the night. It’s kind of creepy.
Bo: Poor dear! Do you have food? Blankets?
Bo: Yep, all set there. Was just going to make up the pull-out bed.
Bo: Good, good. Look, I have to go for a bit, but do you think we could talk or chat later? We have all night …
Margo hesitated. It was pretty lonely there.
Margo: Sure, we can do that.
Bo: GREAT! So, I have a question …
Margo: Am I going to like this? :)
Bo: It’s ok, really! I was just wondering if you have a digital camera.
Margo: A … yeah, we have one here. Why?
Bo: I like to picture you and where you are, you know that.
Margo: Yeah …
Bo: So, maybe you could take a picture of your office and send it so it’s here when I come back?
And odd request, but what’s the harm, Margo thought.
Margo: Okay, I can do that.
Bo: Wonderful! And what are you wearing?
Margo knew better than to read anything into that question.
Margo: Right now, black slacks and a blue sweater. When you come back, though, it’ll be sweatpants and sweatshirt!
Bo: Good, good, relax. Have to go. Send that picture!
Margo: Will do. Bye.
Margo wondered if he and Ingrid were going to eat dinner. “Whatever,” she said aloud. She rummaged through her desk drawers and found the camera, actually looking forward to their chat. She’d have to take two shots, one of the desk side of the room, and the other of the sitting area where she’d be sleeping that night. After straightening things up a bit she took the pictures, loaded them into her computer, re-sized them and emailed them to Robert.
While she waited, she busied herself by making up the bed, going down the hall to brush her teeth and change into sweat clothes, checking out a few favorite Web sites and trying not to obsess about the weather outside. She waited. And waited. And waited.
I thought he said he’d be gone for ‘a bit’, Margo thought. She was getting tired and the made-up bed looked inviting. She surveyed the room, rather pleased with the environment she’d created – the comfortable couch and chair, the artwork on the walls, the kilim rug, her ancient, solid wood desk …
“Crap, oh, crap!” she cried. She quickly pulled up the pictures she’d sent to Robert. “Oh, crap! I can’t believe I did that!” There on the screen was the office side of the room. And there on her desk was the horse sculpture Robert so coveted. Her stomach roiled.
Margo: Robert? Did you get the pictures? There’s … She hoped he wasn’t back yet.
He suddenly popped online.
Bo: Yes, indeed I did.
Margo wondered if she should start explaining or just pretend nothing was amiss. He decided for her.
Bo: Lovely office you have there. Interesting décor.
Margo: Thanks. I’ll bet you’re wondering …
Bo: No, not wondering. Just amazed is all.
Bo: Yes, amazed that you lied, though I hardly know you, so I shouldn’t be.
Margo: Lied? I never lied! The statue was WILLED to me long after you wrote.
Bo: Oh. I see. Interesting.
Margo: It WAS!
Bo: And you kept that to yourself because …?
Margo: Because I didn’t know how you’d take it! The irony and all … a little hard to believe …
At this point, Margo was seething. Accusing her of lying! She didn’t owe this man any explanations! And he was being so damn condescending!
Margo: I don’t even LIKE the damn statue, but it was a dying woman’s WISH that I have it!
With that, she closed the chat program and shut down her computer, wishing fervently that she had a bottle of vodka to keep her company. It was going to be a long night.
It took hours for Margo to dig out her car the next day. When she got home late on Saturday, she fell into bed and slept 14 hours straight. By Monday, she had purged herself of anger and all other emotions towards Robert Bowen. She drove to the office with new vigor and cranked up an Aretha Franklin CD along the way. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
But irony wasn’t done with her yet.
After Margo had had a lengthy phone conversation with the publisher, Carl knocked on her open door.
“There’s a woman holding on line two for you. I told her it could be a while, but she insisted she could wait.”
“And …?” Margo prompted.
“And her name is Ingrid. From Seattle.”
Margo suddenly knew what the phrase “her blood ran cold” meant.
“Ingrid? From Seattle?” she said stupidly. “Did she say what it was about?”
Something in her tone and face gave Carl pause. He actually looked embarrassed.
“Er … no, just that her name was Ingrid and she was calling from Seattle. Should I go back and ask?” he said, looking like it was the last thing he wanted to do.
“No, no, no,” Margo said, waving him away. Ingrid. Seattle. She needed to talk to Robert, and fast. Although she’d never called him before, she quickly found the number for the Little Museum on the Hill (Ingrid could wait), and with shaking hands, dialed the number.
“Little Museum on the Hill, Robert speaking.” Margo was surprised that he, the museum administrator would answer the phone.
“Robert, it’s Margo, don’t hang up,” she said in a rush. “We might have a situation. Ingrid called here. She’s on the other line right now.”
“What?! That’s not possible! She doesn't … Ingrid would never … are you certain?”
“All I know is that there’s a woman named Ingrid, from Seattle, who insisted on being put on hold while I was on another line. She’s waiting to talk to me. What did you tell her? Is this some sort of ambush?”
“Ambush! Calm down! Don’t take the call. I’ll run home and see what’s going on. Ingrid is an honorable woman, I’m sure this is a mistake.” He hung up.
Margo buzzed Carl’s desk. “Carl, please tell that Ingrid woman, if she’s still holding, that I’ve stepped out of the office and that I’ll call her back later. Get her number!”
“Right-o, Boss Lady.”
Margo sat with her head in her hands, waiting, her mind running wild. What kind of game was Robert playing? Was he trying to get even with her over the statue? What did Ingrid think she knew about them … them, there is no them, never was. Was he really going back home to confront her? He sounded surprised and upset. Maybe it wasn’t a game?
Carl buzzed her phone. “Two things,” he said. “That woman wouldn’t give me her number and said she’d call you back. And there’s a Robert Bowen on line two.”
Margo punched line two. “Robert? What’s happening?”
“As I surmised, nothing is happening. Ingrid knows nothing about this! She would never go behind my back in such a fashion. I suggest you quit making things up and leave me and my family alone!” He slammed down the phone.
Stunned, Margo replaced the receiver. What the hell was going on? She felt like Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Her phone buzzed again.
“It’s that Ingrid woman on line one,” Carl told her. Resigned, Margo picked up the phone.
“This is Margo,” she said.
“Margo, I caught you!” the heavily accented voice said.
“Er … caught me?”
“It’s Ingrid! From Heavenly Bodies in Seattle? We talked at the Great West Living Trade Show?”
Realization hit Margo in a flash. The trade show. That awful woman with the gaudy clothing and jewelry line trying to find a way to get into the magazine without advertising – this was not Robert’s Ingrid! Relief flooded over her.
“Ingrid, how nice to hear from you,” she said, meaning it. “What can I do for you?”
“I just knew you’d be excited to hear our latest news! Nefertiti, our newest line of fabulous fashions, has been bought up entirely by an Arabian prince! I’m certain your readers would love an exclusive pictorial ...”
Margo was shaking with laughter. She held her hand over the phone’s mouthpiece while the woman droned on. As soon as she could, she passed off the call to the managing editor and hung up, practically bursting with guffaws. Tears rolled down her face. Pretty soon, co-workers were poking their heads in the doorway to see what was going on. Margo shook her head and waved them away, unable to speak. How could she explain it anyway? She broke into a new round of laughter when she thought about sending a note to Robert to tell him what really happened. No, let him wonder. He wouldn't believe her anyway! It might be worth it, though, just to hear the righteous indignation. A new fit of giggles overcame her.
The horse sculpture caught her eye. She reached for it and held it up. “Gayle Clausen, wherever you are, I just want to thank you,” she said. “I’ll treasure this gift forever and it will forever remind me not to jump to conclusions.”
She replaced the statue tenderly on her desk.
“Carl!” she bellowed, “My office, now!”