Incident in San Francisco (Chapter 6, page 2 of 8)


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Chapter 6

Laura had only a slight inkling of the effect she had on the males in the office. She would have been astonished to know that the combination of that great figure wrapped in a snug-fitting suit, with skirts worn above the knee, caused most of the men in the office to suffer silently whenever she was within sight. Conditioned to avoid even a hint of sexual harassment, they never dared to make any verbal comments, not even to compliment her. And the self-paced course on the subject, which Human Resources had provided via their computer network and required them to complete, had even defined "staring at another person's body" to be harassment.

One of the men was reminded of a high school English class in which the teacher, an elderly gray-haired woman, had attempted to explain the concept of an oxymoron. From somewhere in her reading she had dredged up the phrase, "pleasing pain," an unfortunate example when presented to teenagers obsessed with sex and losing one's virginity. But pleasing pain was what many of her male co-workers experienced daily. It was a pleasure to be treated to a mere glimpse of cleavage in the V-neck of a severe white blouse as Laura leaned over a desk to point out something, or to admire, with surreptitious glances, those elegant long legs. But it also brought pain, because most of the men were married, a couple were gay, and the few singles who had the courage to ask her out had not sparked enough interest from Laura for a further date, so they enjoyed the view but suffered from the unrequited lust it stirred.

As she stepped out the door, Laura glanced back into the office before she switched off the light. Satisfied that it appeared as unused as a newly-entered hotel room, she pulled the door closed and hastened out of the building. Her flight left Pierre Trudeau airport at 10 tonight, and she still had to pack. Somehow work always took longer than planned - she had expected to slip away an hour early today, but the same dedication to getting the job done which led her to be at work today, instead of using it as a travel day, had kept her at her desk until late.

The sidewalks, which had been so busy when she had looked down at them earlier, were now more sparsely populated. Some people, like Laura, were leaving work late, some were emerging from pubs after a quick drink or two before heading home, and a few were on their way to an early movie. But this was the lull between the working day and the playing night, and there was still an hour or so before the evening crowds would appear to fill the brightly-lit streets and sidewalks with life again. She was able to walk briskly without having to dodge other pedestrians, and like most Montrealers on foot, wasted little time waiting for traffic lights to change. The traffic was light at this hour, the few cars racing homeward at 45 miles an hour, and with long practice, Laura estimated their speed and distance. Like a duck hunter leading a distant bird before calculating when to pull the trigger, she judged when to step off the sidewalk to clear the rear bumper of the passing car, and make it safely to the other curb before the next vehicle came along. The daytime population downtown contained no children or old people, and accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles so rare that they merited front-page news for days. The drivers gave no quarter: it was up to the jaywalkers to be alert enough and quick enough to cross the street in mid-block or against a light. Like the speeding traffic, these lawbreakers were mostly ignored by the police. Everyone's concern was rather to move as many people about the city as quickly as possible, and the people seemed capable of handling it safely, whether afoot or behind the wheel.

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