FEATURED SHORT STORY
"Kim?" It was the metallic model agency voice on the phone; Kim gave a sigh and turned over in bed. "Be at the airport at 9:20, will you? It's Florida-- Orlando. Adele Delaide's beach stuff for summer. Okay? You'll be met by Ultima Studio."
"Okay," Kim said. Florida. Snow flakes were melting on New York streets under her bedroom window. A cup of coffee, then she packed the makeup case and shoes, wigs, clothes.
She was Kim Cordelia now; she could afford a taxi, even though she had to load her cases herself, as usual. Airport magazine stands had the new Vogue with Kim's cruise ship series. Kim didn't buy a copy to look at her smiling face on the cover. The plane was on time; she went first class and slept.
"We want a 'young and carefree image,'" Adele Delaide's top man said when Kim dragged her cases upstairs to the studio. "Maybe you look too experienced." The ad agency man said "young and carefree" was dated--the real seller now was "pouty and sleepy." He argued with the stylist about what was left of a bikini. The photographer said Kim looked fat.
Kim didn't listen much; she was running herself through a check, like a computer. They told her to stand there, sit here, look sexy, thoughtful, happy, young, care- free, pouty, sleepy...Kim just posed. She knew what her knees looked like from every angle, and when to tuck her toes under and how to make a pattern of herself in space.
The male model was bronze-brown and beautiful-- he was probably local, and beach-tanned every day. If he took Kim dancing, the pair of them would look like an ad, and their conversation would sound like one, of course--an ad for him. He put his arms around Kim and told a photographer he'd met a marvelous redhead hang-gliding.
Pairs of narrowed eyes surrounded Kim Cordelia. They looked at her as if she were a woman’s shape that would set off their arrangements of ideas, like an empty vase. When she got dressed and was ready to leave, no man at the studio asked her where she was going or if she wanted company; they were still talking about "pouty and sleepy." It was always the same. When they saw the shots, they'd be satisfied, and think they'd done it all.
Kim went to her hotel, showered off the makeup, and ordered supper in her room. She totaled the money she'd made. She was going to sleep twelve hours, and the next day in Florida was hers. But when she crawled into bed, she dreamed all night of Kathy Knudsen of Lander, Missouri, before she was Kim Cordelia of New York. In every dream she was her old self: the Kathy who was shy and homely and hurt most of the time. There was no guy in highschool who cared to get acquainted with her.
What a joy to wake late for breakfast in bed, and find Kim Cordelia's face in a mirror and Florida sunshine warming her through her si1k nightgown. But dreams had made her restless, rebellious, reckless--it was company she needed, some place with crowds where she could pick and choose. Florida was out there: toyland, girl-and- boy-1and, the EPCOT Center, rubbing elbows with Disney World.
When Kim left her hotel in a taxi, she wasn't Kim Cordelia with her cool shine, her expensive gloss: she was just a beautiful young woman, casual enough for a college man, stylish enough for a young lawyer, smart enough to wear low-heeled shoes. Heads turned as she passed; men paused mid-word.
The EPCOT Center was as big as Manhattan, they said, but it was immaculate as a TV backdrop: no cigarette stubs, chipped paint, or soot--not even a dead leaf in the flower beds. Crowds poured from neatly parked cars to little trains, from trains to ticket windows. Finally they clicked through an entrance and were in the shadow of the Spaceship Earth geosphere. Walks led to great pavilions. Kim watched crowds from the shadow of her hat, looking for the right man.
The first one was sitting alone in The Land pavilion. Kim watched him. He wasn't holding a table for anyone; he was busy with a platter of salad. Kim liked men who liked salads. This one had wavy, dark hair on his head, and more hair where his shirt was unbuttoned, and he had a lot of salad to eat yet.
Kim bought a platter of salad, and picked her way through a giggling, sticky gradeschool class. There wasn't an empty table in sight; Kim hesitated prettily by the salad-eater's table. In only a few minutes he had her hand in his and their knees touching under their platters of fodder, and was telling her stories of his graduate student life.
He was very clever for somebody who only had an M.A.. He could be talking about Antirrhinum sempervirens or Antirrhinum barrelieri (he was a botanist specializing in snapdragons), but when they went on the pavilion boat tour, he was watching for dark tunnels, and could stop his Latin midword.
He was a good kisser. He said she was gorgeous. He said his eyesight was extremely good, and it must have been: he managed to find deserted spots even at EPCOT, and then Kim enjoyed the kissing and quiet. But there was no point in being bored when snapdragons wilted. After an hour or two, Kim told the botanist she simply had to leave, said goodbye, and stepped into the crowd.
By three o'clock Kim had walked miles, and learned more than she wanted to know about insurance from a big-muscled blond. Before dinner she listened to tales of travel in Russia from a thin and wiry satyr in sandals. Both of them said at least once that she was gorgeous, and watched to see if other guys saw what they had on their arm.
She ate dinner with a computer analyst who had a reservation at Les Chefs de France, but she paid her way, and heard a married tale of woe. Finally she said she really had to leave. A fife-and-drum corps conveniently marched between them at the American Experience, and when "Yankee Doodle" faded along the lagoon, the computer analyst was nowhere to be seen. Kim found a dark bench and sat down.
Night breezes were warm over the World Showcase lagoon. It was snowing in New York. Kim sighed and yawned. The lagoon reflected lights of a miniature Eiffel Tower, and there was a baby St. Mark's Square, and Hampton Court, and Japanese Katsura palace. Kim's feet ached: she had walked through those stage sets that were like little painted ghosts. The authentic buildings, thousands of miles away, were life-sized, stained, crumbling, real things.
Crowds were thinning, and most of the families with children had taken them home to bed. Kim turned her back on the baby ghosts of Europe and walked slowly through Future World, not looking at men who looked at her. Lights and colors from the Universe of Energy, the World of Motion or the Journey Into Imagination spangled sidewalks and glowed in trees. Spaceship
Earth shone overhead.
About nine-thirty Kim stopped beside a grass plot to stare at a snake of water that seemed to be alive. It jumped from one socket in grass to another: high, silvery loops that leaped overhead, fell, leaped again. Their bright arcs of water began once more a hundred feet away. How could a water jet jump like a squirrel?
Kim watched, fascinated. A high school boy had timed the water's progress exactly. He leaped to meet it when it arched above him and caught the jet in one hand. Passers-by laughed and ducked. He was as expert as a baseball fielder. Kim didn't think he was good at much else. When he stood waiting for the next leaping water arc, his shoulders drooped, and so did his homely, pimpled face.
"You're good!" Kim said.
The boy turned around so quickly he almost fell. "Yeah!" he said, and ducked his head, then stared at Kim and missed the next leap of the silvery water-snake entirely.
"Teach me how to do it," Kim said.
So he taught her, and they leaped for the glittering water arcs. He finally got up nerve enough to say that he thought the water didn't travel at all: the jets jumped only once, and set off another in the line. "At least, I guess so," he said. His name was Donald Fisk, and he was getting used to looking at Kim. Would he get her a coke, she asked, sitting down to get her breath, and he came back with two cups, looking surprised that she hadn't left. She remembered how it was.
They sat together on a bench and drank the cokes. Don looked at her when he dared, and at his big, knobby hands when he didn't. He looked at men who passed, and they looked at her and then him. He was too dazed to even ask her name.
"What do you do in your spare time?" Kim said, and listened to his description of his swim team and a trophy they wanted. She wondered what would have happened if the football captain had leaned against her high school locker one day after school while other students watched, and asked how she liked her bit part in the school play. If he'd done that once, would it have made any difference?
Don described how hard it was to do swimming turns; they were tricky. Kim nodded, but she was thinking about her day. She'd told every man she met that she had a "very fascinating, unique job." One man--she couldn't remember which--had said,“Oh, really?" but she'd never had to explain what her job was.
"My dad's going to buy me a car," Don said. "When I
graduate. A new one." Kim kept a piece of ice in her mouth for a long time and thought she could have made a pretty humorous story out of Kathy Knudsen and Lander, Missouri.
"I've really got to go home," Kim said at last. Don's eyes were sparkling and he was pounding one big fist into the palm of the other hand, and he said please, could she stay just a minute more, because he had a favor to ask?
So Kim obliged. She sat on stone walls and benches. She looked up at the Geosphere and down at a bed of petunias. She knew how to do it, smiling, not looking into Don's brand new camera with flash attachment. Don asked strangers to take their picture, so Kim stood with his quivering arm around her, turning her profile to its best angle against his shirt. They traveled EPCOT walks like a firefly and his silent, smiling mate: flash, flash, flash.
Then Kim Cordelia kissed Don Fisk goodbye, giving him a quick lesson in the art. "I hope you'll win that swim trophy, and get your new car," she said. She smiled into his awed eyes (which she'd told him were handsome eyes--they were), and stroked his cheek, and ran her hands through his hair. He stood under Spaceship Earth and watched her go out in darkness toward the parking lots. He had a tremendous, triumphant smile on his face and dozens of pictures of himself and Kim Cordelia hanging around his neck.
Kim Cordelia turned her back on the Environmental Prototype of the Community of Tomorrow, and took a deep breath of Florida night odors: flowers and earth and damp cement. She caught a taxi that was unloading two couples at EPCOT for late dinner. As she climbed in, the men watched. She rode back to Orlando with no expression on her photogenic face at all.