At the time of this story, I was working designing graphics and layouts for a large publishing company that specialises in travel and adventure books, and also has an imprint of pseudo-factual kids’ books about Pirates and Zombies and Mummies and so on.
You know when people talk about their career and they say “I know it sounds glamorous, but…”? And then they play it down and tell you about all the bad things about it? You end up thinking, “you actually want us to think it’s glamorous, don’t you,” or, “actually I never thought it sounded glamorous in the first place.”
Well, illustration actually is really glamorous. Even if you didn’t think it was. It is.
To start with, the books we do are pretty cool. The thing I’d been working on that week was a series of maps illustrating Scott’s exploration of the Antarctic, and the main editor Mr Peterson said I could totally go for it with the whales’ tails and other cartouches, which I still love to do. I even did a squid with a beady eye, which made him laugh.
In between working up drafts of those, Mike the Ox would come and show me his layouts for the Werewolf volume we were doing, which had a series of very neat drawings showing exactly how the man’s body got ripped apart by the inevitable full moon transformation. I’d told him they needed to be more colorful and flamboyant and less like something out of an anatomy textbook, and he’d made a rumbling noise, and wandered off back into the fields to eat grass, um, back to his desk to keep working.
I made a mental note to replay the little rumbling noise a few times in my head, when I got home.
I kinda like Mike in that way, you see. I haven’t slept with him. But I do like him.
After that encounter with the Ox, I went into see my boss, Mr. Peterson, the old Fox.
Mr. Peterson is about fifty five, but very well preserved and quite attractive. He is a talented artist too, but he barely gets to do much of it. He’s too busy looking after the business. I admire that, and I’m grateful. I’m not sure that I’d want to be in his position, though.
‘Ah, Joanna’, he always says, in an avuncular tone. ‘What’s happening?’
I walk into his office and instead of sitting opposite him, I sit down sideways to him with my legs crossed, and drink a glass of water.
His gaze is not drawn to my thighs.
‘Mr Peterson, this isn’t about my work. It’s about Mike’s,’ I said, shuffling forward on the chair a little further. My work attire is pretty respectable up top, but down below, the skirt is short indeed . How is he not looking at me?
‘Ah, indeed. Tell me?’ He sounds intrigued.
I lean forward. ‘Well, John, I just wanted to say that his work has really been great lately. He’s reliable and he’s creative and he’s hardworking. Best on my team, for sure. So…’
‘Yes?’ Mr. Peterson raises his eyebrows and seems almost amused. I have managed to take him by surprise, at least. It’s just not with my legs.
‘So, I’d like to support his application for a promotion to senior illustrator. I know he’s been working on one. And we used to have two here. We get on very well, I’m sure it won’t be a problem if we are both on the same level.’
‘I agree, that is a good idea,’ said my boss. ‘But, I’m afraid that Michael has not made any such application to me. If he does, it will be favorably received. But it may be the case that whatever he has been working on, it isn’t that. Now, is that all?’
I left his office.
Is that all?
No one ever says that to me!
Mr. Peterson and I have been playing this game ever since I started working here a few years ago. I’m pretty sure he wants me. And sooner or later, he’s going to slip up. An invitation to work on something with him, alone. A gaping stare at my chest. A moment of hesitation as I raise my arms before I get something from a shelf.
And then I will know.