"Norton and South's, how can I help you?"
Other phones rang, up and down the musical scale. High heels clicked, papers shuffled, sunlight glittered through clean walls of solid glass floor-to-ceiling windows. Other people said the phones ringing drove them crazy. It was a relatively new sound to her. She didn't mind it.
"Mrs. Mills is on vacation, can I put you through to her voice mail? Very well."
"Please hold while I find that extension."
"We offer packages for groups of up to one hundred. What's your price range?"
The calls surged around six o'clock, turning from the healthy three to four rings a minute to ten, twenty, thirty and everyone on hold and all the secretaries talking so fast they could hardly take a breath. Then they ebbed, ebbed, ebbed, until the lines were dead and the only calls were from telemarketers and the secretaries looked at their watches and wondered why they had to stay until eight when there was nothing to do. She rubbed her left hand, where her ring was digging into her finger after repeated bumping against the keyboard and handset. Strange; her hands seemed a little swollen. She flexed her fingers, sucked a knuckle, and slid the ring off, making a note not to forget it as she tucked it under the keyboard, behind the little flip-out legs attached to its back corners. Out of sight, out of mind; people didn't steal what they couldn't see.
For her, the slowdown in calls meant a chance to lean forward on her desk and rest her head on her hands. With the keyboard pushed out of the way, of course, lest she type an endless line of gibberish with her forehead. She slid her shoes off without thinking about it, toe over heel and toe over heel and a gentle kick to get them to the back of the cubicle and out of the way. The AC blew the little hairs at the back of her neck, making her shiver. It was always set to too cold. She wished she were small enough to climb behind the monitor and lie down in the heat from the back vents. The sounds of the occasional answered call and conversation faded away; she needn't worry, they were all being answered by the other girls, who were bored stiff of having nothing to do and jumped for the phones almost before they rang...
It's a peculiar moment, when consciousness returns and you realize that your moment away was in fact quite a bit longer, maybe hours. The office was eerily quiet. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the workaholics closing up, shutting down, locking things up. She jumped to her feet; the janitor would be along soon, and when he was done cleaning he would lock the building behind him. She wanted to be out of here before that...
Her toes barked up against something lightish and stiff as she scrambled to her feet. It felt huge, but the impact moved it a few hairs. She wobbled, arms scrambling the air for balance, and looked down. ALT stood out, jumped out at her, in huge letters. Letters the size of her palm. A spacebar big enough to sit on.
She gulped. She'd done it again. She'd gone to sleep with thoughts of being small in her head - without her ring on. And now...
A jangle-jangle-jangle-creak cacophony out in the hallway alerted her. The custodian, with his cart and his broom and his mop and the lighter jingle-jingle of his keyring. She threw herself down into the mercifully soft seat of her chair, dangled over the edge and eyeballed over her shoulder lest she lame herself on one of the wheels, then dropped to the floor.
He was in the corridor now, switching off the lights as he poked his head inside each cubicle, emptied the trash cans with practiced swiftness, and swept up the occasional empty cigarette box or candy wrapper with his latex-gloved hands. She dove into the only cover available - the sunglasses pouch of her handbag.
In the nick of time. The door to her cubicle, already ajar, swung open. She muffled a sneeze with both hands, thankful for the rattle-clatter-jingle of his cart and the wheel that squeaked and turned backwards so one could hardly make the cart go in a straight line unless they were were used to it and you could always spot a new janitor by the way they weaved around the corridor trying to prevent collisions. She needed to turn her handbag upside down and give it a good shaking out, but now was not the time...
"Mrs. Hanabi?" The custodian shuffled in, made one of the incoherent noises older people are apt to make as they bend over. Her world tilted, gently. He had picked up her purse. It swayed as he stepped to the cubicle door and peered both ways down the hall. She could tell, because the latch clicked as the door swung back against the inner wall. The sunglasses slid, minutely, the half centimeter the pouch allowed them to, resulting in a slightly different pattern of plastic rims poking into her legs and backside. "Mrs. Hanabi?"
No answer. "Hmm." The custodian scrubbed at his hair. "I better put it in the locker. She'll come looking for it in the morning."
The locker! No, it was almost airtight, the company having just replaced the old steel mesh doors with solid little metal cubes because of a rash of break-ins -
Click. Yes, that was the locker door... almost soundless, it was, new and well oiled. A little cube of metal bolted to the floor under each employee desk to safeguard small personal valuables and the occasional important paper. The air in here was ten degrees cooler. She shivered, then pushed at the pouch flap. She hoped he hadn't jammed the purse up against one of the walls...
He had, but not tightly. She was able to wriggle out through the curled top of the pouch, then wedge her shoulders against the leather and push against the locker wall with her legs until the purse slid two inches back, allowing her to climb down and walk freely around the purse inside the fifteen-inch-cubed innards of the locker. At least, she could have walked freely if it weren't so darn dark. But all she had to do was find the next pocket over, and that wasn't hard, especially with a dimmish light filtering out of the top, around the sides.
She threw herself at the cell phone pocket, popping the rivet open with her foot and thrusting her hands deep into the pocket to feel for the bottom corner of the phone. There... almost... She had it. Thank God the leather was aged, loose. By dragging the pocket down and working the phone up, tilting it first one way and then the other and propping the corners against the sides of the pocket to keep it from slipping back down, she was eventually able to dump the cell phone out. It dropped with a clatter, narrowly missing her foot. She jumped back and thought ruefully of her shoes - still under the desk, and probably as big as she was now. The locker metal was cold under her bare toes.
No time to fuss over that now. She flipped the phone, since it had landed face-down, and stomped on the asterisk key with one foot and the "back" button with the other. The phone unlocked, and she palmed through her menu options until she got to "Contacts." She stomped "1" and listened to the speed dial's familiar sequence.
Please be home, please be home, please be home...
"Hey, sweetie." That voice; made her heart sing. Not just because it was warm and masculine and oh so familiar.
"Help!" she squeaked. "I'm in the locker at work and the custodian will be gone by the next half hour..."
A pause. "You took off your ring?"
She winced. "I didn't mean to, for more than a minute, but I fell asleep and..."
"I'll be right there."
She heaved a sigh of relief. "Don't get a ticket this time."
She hung up and climbed back into the sunglasses pouch. It was the warmest place she could be right now. The good thing about being small in this situation was that she wouldn't need too much air.