[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: "Pick a four-syllable word you don't know out of the dictionary. Write a word around that prompt."
I gave Ankita this prompt: "My father's theory is: Listen, if someday you're going to tell someone to dig a ditch, you should know how to do it yourself." -Donald Trump Jr.]
(This prompt puzzled me a bit. It's almost metaphysical. I probably have a dictionary somewhere, but I'm not entirely sure where. More puzzling is the idea of it. There aren't a whole lot of words, in my experience, that I don't know, or haven't heard and have a general idea of the meaning of. Further, once I find the word and read the definition, I know it, thus negating the intent of the prompt. So I settled on "sequestration", mostly because it fit.)
Staff Sargeant Kelly poked her head through the door. That was unusual- we could go through a typical day without exchanging more than a dozen words, which suited us both just fine. Her hair was pulled back tight, and I could see the hint of makeup around her eyes.
"Colonel?," she asked. I wasn't doing anything of deep importance, but I was busy enough to be slightly annoyed by the interruption.
"A Ms. Doreen Clarke is here to see you, sir."
"She doesn't have an appointment," I said uselessly. She knew that as well as I did.
"No, sir. Who is she, sir?"
I sighed. I knew Doreen would wait all day if she had to.
"I served with her late husband." I took a deep breath. "Show her in, would you?"
"Yes, sir," she said, her head ducking away. The door opened to reveal Doreen, the picture of middle aged health in a tan pencil skirt, flat black shoes, and a muted green blouse, all clean and pressed and neat looking. One thing military wives learn to do, I thought, is look put together.
"Doreen," I said warily. "How are you?"
She walked in and sat in my office chair without being invited. "Allen," she said evenly, "we need to talk."
I swallowed. "OK."
"Where is it?," she said. "I haven't gotten anything since August."
"I know," I said. I started to walk across my office. I had a Redskins calendar hanging on my olive drab file cabinet, with Sunday's Eagles game circled. I had two tickets down low that I had won in an office pool. "I had been meaning to call and explain."
"Explain?" Doreen said. "Explain what? What's to explain?"
"Sequestration." I stared out the window onto a parking lot, watching a bird come down and begin to wrestle with a discarded potato chip.
"What? You mean the budget crap that's on the news? That?" She uncrossed her legs and then recrossed them. She was leaning back now, her face skeptical and questioning.
"Yes," I said. "They're all over me, questioning every cent. I can't squeeze out overages like I used to. The cuts are coming, and we don't know how deep yet, so we are all down to skeletons. Bare bones on everything. I can't play fast and loose with numbers right now."
"Which means what?" Doreen said acidly. "Bottom line it. Am I just SOL? Or what?"
I smiled at the acronym. "Of course not," I said. I reached down for my briefcase, pulling it up onto my desk. "I told you I owe Robert my life," I said. "And I take care of people who take care of me."
"You did," Doreen said. "And I believed you."
"It's true, Dor," I said plaintively. "It is true."
"Don't call me that," she spat. I took out my checkbook and my Mont Blanc, one of the extravagances I allowed myself.
"A check, Allen?," she said in disbelief.
"I don't carry that kind of cash around, Dor," I said.
"Fine," she said.
I wrote the amount and signed it, noting it carefully in the register.
"What are you writing in there?," she said. "Bastard child?"
I swallowed again. "I use acronyms all the time. Marie is used to it by now. Besides, she never looks at the checkbook."
"Am I going to have to chase you every month now?"
"No, Dor," I said. "Doreen," I quickly added. "No. I'll make sure it is there on time next month."
"It better be," she added. "I don't want to have to go through channels."
"We discussed this, Doreen," I said, putting a little iron in my voice. "It's better she thinks Robert is her father. She ends up worse off if we do it that way. We all do."
"You do, certainly," she said, and then smiled grimly. "I know, Allen. You're right. I just hate lying to her."
"I do too." I tore out the check and came around the desk to give it to her. She stood up quickly, snatching it from my hand without ceremony. She folded it once and slid it into her purse.
"Just mail it next time," she said.
"OK," I said. She started to walk across the room. She still had the strutting, hip swinging walk of the young woman she was, all those years ago at 29 Palms. She stopped and looked back at me, her voice as cold as the onrushing autumn breeze.
"Aren't you even going to ask how she is?"
"How is she?"
"Elizabeth is fine," she said evenly. "She's going to be a better person than either one of us turned out to be," she said, opening the door and then letting it slam shut behind her.