Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The interpreter struggled with the lock on the nature house door. It was old and fussy and tended to bind the key. Finally inside, he was surprised to find Amanda typing at his computer. Amanda was another interpreter who, like Stacey (who had recently been promoted and no longer was an interpreter), was young and pretty, but unlike Stacey was no fun to be around. The interpreter and Amanda held each other in mutual disdain, stemming from, but not limited to, philosophical differences regarding the teaching of natural history. Amanda believed in singing. If it was a program about trees, you sang the autumn leaf song. If it was a program about frogs, you sang the tadpole song. And so on. The interpreter believed in knowing what you were talking about.

What was strange about Amanda being here was that she had her own computer in the Area Office at the other end of the park, a much newer computer in a vastly less decrepit facility.

"Hello," said the interpreter.

"Yeah, hi," said Amanda.

"I can't help but notice you’re using my computer."

"Actually, it's the taxpayers' computer," said Amanda. "And if I don’t get this report in to Head Office within an hour I’m in deep doo, so I can't talk now."

"Wasn't that supposed to be submitted a couple weeks ago? That's when I had to have mine done."

She glared at him. "Some of us have more eventful lives."

“Fine, do your work. I’ll wait.” He had no interest in talking to her anyway. He sat at the far desk, which had the fax machine on it, and put his legs up. He started reading the Hanta Virus warning sign above it but then stopped. He inhaled deeply and wondered if his lungs felt abnormal at all. It had been almost two months since the mouse poop incident, and he figured he was in the clear. He thought about going to the doctor for a check up just to be sure, but wondered where he should go because he hadn’t had a family doctor in more than a decade. He decided to think about something else. He thought about his bus ride in to work, about the old woman and the dog.

The bus had been stalled in traffic in a part of town where the houses were small and old with fenced front yards. In the house directly out the window, a frowning old woman in a beige coat came bashing out the aluminum front door with her small dog, which was also beige, mostly. The dog too seemed old, and was bandy-legged. The interpreter watched the woman and the dog approach the chain-link fence at the edge of the tiny yard. The woman reached and undid the catch and tried to open the gate, which opened inward. The dog, excited at the prospect of venturing forth, rushed against the gate, slamming it shut. The woman again reached and undid the catch and tried to open the gate, and the dog, again excited at the prospect of venturing forth, rushed against the gate, again slamming it shut. This happened again and again, and then the bus moved forward, leaving the interpreter to wonder what would be the trigger to bring an end to this non-productive conflict. That both woman and dog were elderly and neither had showed undue frustration or rancour at the impasse suggested to the interpreter he had witnessed something that happened every day, and both woman and dog were okay with it. He came to the conclusion that dogs are impetuous and humans are incompetent.
Amanda loomed above him. “Could you please move your legs? I have to fax this to Head Office.”

“Oh, sorry,” he said.

“You were like, asleep,” she said. She placed the pile of paper in the hopper, and then pressed the phone number. The paper started feeding in.

“No, I was thinking about something,” said the interpreter.

“Like what? Like maybe it’s time for a career change?”

“I need a career change?”

“Well, you sure don’t seem to enjoy being an interpreter.”

“No, I enjoy it fine.” I just don’t like singing, he thought.

She stared at him, which made him uncomfortable. The interpreter found himself telling Amanda the story of the old woman and her dog. She continued to stare, but now, blankly. At the end of the story he told her that dogs are impetuous and humans are incompetent.

“Speak for yourself,” she said as she snatched the paper from the output tray. Then she pulled on her raincoat, picked up her bag, and left.

He almost felt bad about not telling her she had inserted the paper the wrong side down and faxed fifteen blank pages to Head Office.


Christopher Taylor said...

I keep meaning to tell you that I love these interpreter stories. Keep it up!

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I was hoping she had put the papers in upside down.

PSYL said...

Serves her right, I don't feel bad at all.

Linda Navroth said...

She's but a gnat in an otherwise perfect job. Just give her a little swat now and then. Oh yeah--you just did!

Your blog is a delight. I haven't had such fun since Gary Larsen stopped drawing cartoons...

Hugh said...

Thank you for the nice comments, Christopher and Linda, and thanks for the validation, Deb and PSYL. Deb, you make me laugh.