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Penniless Hearts

Penniless Hearts

Book excerpt

Confidence radiated from Penny Himmel, as she sailed through the front door, holding two Subway sandwiches, two sodas and chips in one hand and her purse with the airline ticket in the other. A quick glance at her Tinkerbell watch made her walk faster, into her office at The Daily Globe. After catching her breath, she noticed it was relatively quiet when she entered the cubicle area where the sales and graphic art departments merged. The sales people were out making their calls, but the top producer, Tina, had bundles of loose ends to get through before she could get out on the road to visit her customers. Seconds after setting Tina's lunch down, she heard her cackling voice snap across the room, like an F-16 breaking the sound barrier.

“What took you so long?” she hollered, but Penny didn't wince. Tina took two, long, elegant strides with her towering, lean legs, into Penny's personal space. Rustling the straw out of the wrapper, she quickly shoved it through the plastic lid to suck down her compulsory daily dose of caffeine. Most of the time, Penny tuned it out, by developing a growing immunity to Tina's demoralizing outbursts. Besides the high-volume yelling, there was the demeaning way the Amazon laughed at her hard work and told her to redo everything from scratch. Caffeine and sugar only amplified Tina's cynical put downs but Penny had a supreme talent in pre-empting her cat-like vanity, an ability that helped her survive as Tina's personal graphic artist and overworked assistant.

“Oh God, I needed that.” Tina exhaled, after sucking down almost half the drink and pulling the lipstick covered straw from her mouth. “Next time, get the extra-large drink,” she gasped.

Whatever. Nothing Tina could do or say would get in the way of her excitement. Tomorrow she'd be on vacation and Tina would need to learn to work with another slave for a while. Of course, it all depended on the stars.

Tina's emotions swayed with the daily horoscope. Each morning Tina would grab The Times, The Herald and The Globe and after careful scrutiny, she'd pick the happiest, most positive horoscope as her guide for the day. If all three were less than favorable, she'd throw the papers on the floor or rant about raging sunspots awaking the Roman moon goddess, Luna. During these flagrant demonstrations, Penny felt like a turtle pulling her head into its shell, letting Tina's ridiculous behavior flow like saltwater off her back.

Right now, they had deadlines to meet, and Penny didn't like the pinched look on Tina's normally sedate face. Sedate as in frozen and superior, like some strange condescending monarch ruling her own miserable universe. At least Marie Antoinette suggested cake, but knowing Tina, Penny figured she'd offer the poor masses dry bread, until lopping off their heads, while charging the onlookers admission. She was whacked.

Kicking off her pumps, Tina curled one long leg under her body in her ergonomically designed, special-order office chair. Typically tense around deadline, she said, “We have to start building that Ford ad for this weekend's Lifestyle section, you know.” For someone who acted so superior, she sure recited the same predictable lines and she sure seemed haunted by that huge clock on the wall that frequently made her frown. Time, Penny figured, must be Tina's main nemesis. The deranged illusive enemy that even Tina didn't know how to manipulate.

“I do know,” Penny said cheerfully, powering up her Mac and putting down her sandwich. “Look, I already started working on it. What do you think?” Penny stared at the screen, afraid of turning towards Tina while her creation slowly emerged on the monitor. The ad portrayed a giant Ford logo at the top with a nice photographic lineup of the latest models in the middle. The only other place Penny could stare was the wall with the clock, but in its place, Penny saw a ticking bomb with red dynamite.

Pulling the straw out of her mouth, Tina loudly exclaimed, “No, Penny, that is so bo-o-ring.” Smiling inwardly, Penny thought about her life and how Tina would fall down dead if she knew the monotony and responsibility in her routine, lackluster life. “You know he wanted something exciting that jumped off the page–and what's with the small type?”

Looking around, Penny felt self-conscious at Tina's loud assessment of the ad. The smell of tuna filled her cubicle and assaulted her nose. It used to be entertaining, Penny thought, watching the drama unfold on Tina's sculpted, marble-like face. Her animated expressions reminded Penny of a bad scene in a poorly acted foreign soap opera. Describing her day when she got home usually made her dad burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter. Lately however, Penny simply found her increasingly aggravating. Besides, every single ad she designed was supposed to 'jump off the page.'

“What is this?” Tina asked, pulling a cucumber slice out of her sandwich and tossing it into the trash. “You know I like pickles in my tuna sandwich.”

“They ran out. Sorry. Anyway, pickles are cucumbers and those are good for you—less sodium,” Penny replied, feeling her shoulder muscles tightening, in anticipation of Tina's upcoming reaction to her bold statement.

“Gross,” Tina sighed, tossing another piece of cucumber into the trashcan and staring back up at the monitor. “That ten-point type makes it hard to read,” blabbed Tina. “Delete it. Change the font or something.”

Crap, she'd never get out of here. “You don't like the drop shadow type?” Penny asked, reaching for her soda. Deadline or no deadline, she took a quick sip.

“No, I don't, and I don't think the dealer will either. Geez, Penny, the customer has to be able to read the prices clearly or they won't go buy cars.” Tina proclaimed, in her special condescending voice, making Penny feel like a child.

“Okay, okay it's cool,” Penny said, pushing a few keys on her computer, easily changing the type. “Is that better?” She asked, holding her breath and looking up at the stupid clock that still looked like a bomb. Stopping by the travel agency seemed like a good idea at the time, but now guilt beamed down like those lights they shine into a convict's face. Exhaling, she moved her shaking fingers across the keyboard, immediately improving the spacing. A few more hours and this will all be over, she thought, and now that she had the actual ticket, she could not chicken out.

The phone on Tina's desk started ringing. “Tina,” Penny said, “I think that's your line.”

“Thanks Hon,” Tina answered. She got up and stretched an elongated arm into the adjoining cubicle. She picked up the phone and wrapped her index finger in spirals around thick, dirty blonde curls with her other hand. “Advertising,” she sang in the sweetest singsong voice. “Tina Blake, how may I help you?” Ron Parrish the department manager probably wanted everyone together for a team meeting at four o'clock. Tina sighed, “Ron, you like seeing me sweat, don't you?” Her highlighted hair kept spinning around her finger, reflecting like gold under the florescent lights. Penny knew Tina's comment referred to the manager's request of getting Tina back from her territory in afternoon traffic. Something Tina always thought was unreasonable. Meanwhile, Penny tapped on her keyboard straightening out the visuals and sizing the art. She knew that her chances of sneaking out early were vaporizing with every tick of the clock. “Of course, I'll be here,” Tina answered, before hanging up and returning to her full time job of terrorizing Penny.

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