Heart Licensing Bureau
Tina R. Brown
There it stood. Watching and waiting to gobble me up. I can't do this. I studied the formal looking building in its crisp and businesslike atmosphere. Everything screamed perfection from the smudge less windows to the big steel door. The Heart Licensing Bureau, I thought to myself. It was almost eight o'clock. Here goes nothing. However my feet refused to cooperate with my brain. Okay, I said to myself, on three... one, two, three... okay on five... I must have been standing there awhile because next thing I know a voice came from behind me,
"First day, uh?" I spun around and came face to face with another employee. She was an older woman in her late fifties. Her graying hair was pulled back in a tight bun and her lips pointed downward in a permanent frown. She was very professional. Her blue suit was neatly pressed and she carried a small, black briefcase. The biting sarcasm in her voice sent shivers up and down my spine.
"I have been working here thirty years. I'm the one who should be afraid to go in," the lady made a futile attempt to be pleasant but it was strained and unnatural. "Here, I will walk in with you. I'm Mabel Johnson by the way."
I smiled and replied, "I'm Lindsay Carmichael." I extended my hand but Ms. Johnson already began a brisk walk towards the door. "Okay," I muttered to myself and followed Ms. Johnson towards the building.
Inside of the building was much the same as the outside of the building. The hallway looked freshly painted in a perfect white. The hallway was rather long. To the left and right of us were big steel doors just like the one we came in. One of the doors had a picture of a stick figure with a skirt.
"Oh, I have to use the restroom," I said to Ms. Johnson.
She gave me a strained smile and put her hand on my shoulder. She said, "This place isn't going to be as bad as you think... it's worse."
I smiled. I had a friend. A bitter, old woman who hated everybody, but a friend never the less. With that she shuffled down the hallway and was gobbled up by another steel door leaving me standing by the restroom. I opened the beast's mouth and peered my head inside. The bathroom looked rather tidy and clean but it lacked any color and was rather barren.
I looked in the mirror. A train wreck of course. Wisps of brown hair had escaped my french twist. My eyes looked puffy and my hands were shaking uncontrollably. "Maybe I should cut down on coffee," I said aloud in an amused voice. I chuckled to myself. After carefully inspecting my black suit in the mirror and deciding I looked decent, I took a deep breath and walked out.
The door that Ms. Johnson had walked through earlier led into the same department I was working in. Room 117. Customer Service. Once inside I noticed how large the room was. Along one side was lined filing cabinets and computers. Along the other wall was lined a dozen desks with glass separating the employees from the customers. Long lines of people waited for service. I spotted Ms. Johnson talking to a middle-aged, balding man.
"Mr. Clark, we have another young one on our hands," Ms. Johnson made a gesture towards me. "Ah, Ms. Carmichael, this is the supervisor, Mr. Clark."
Mr. Clark extended his hand to me. Just then one of the telephones in the back rang. Ms. Johnson, always the professional, answered without hesitation,
"HLB here. If your heart is broken we can fix it. If it is lost we can find it. If it is stolen we will replace it. How can I help you?" Ms. Johnson paused listening to the other end. "Mr. James Lawson... spelled L-A-W-S-O-N right?" Ms. Johnson began typing on one of the available computers. The rest were occupied by other employees whose jobs were to answer telephones. "Mm... you say you lost it? Let me check the records."
Ms. Johnson began typing ferociously on the computer. "Ah... Mr. Lawson it says here that your heart isn't lost... you left it in San Francisco." A pause. "I am sorry. I cannot issue you another one since it isn't technically lost. Have a nice day." She returned the phone to its holder.
Ms. Johnson turned attention back to me and Mr. Clark. Mr. Clark gave her instructions to see to me and left the room. She turned to me. "First of all, all employee hearts must be checked in during work hours." Ms. Johnson peered down at my heart. It jumped behind me in fright. "I'll put it away," she said scooping her up. My heart quivered and shook in her hands.
"Um mm... just be careful," I said to her. She retired my heart in one of the filing cabinets. She nodded reassuringly and insisted that my heart would be fine.
"Now, let's see... the telephones are all full. You will be working in one of the booths." She made a motion to one of the desks with the glass. I nodded but inside my stomach flip flopped. I was going to have to deal with the customers in person. Ms. Johnson assured me the task was rather easy once I got used to it. Also, luckily, Ms. Johnson was positioned in the booth next to mine.
Each desk was equipped with a computer and a comfortable chair. And not surprisingly the booth was spotless and the glass stainless. The first person in my line was a sleazy looking man with a rather small, black heart. He plopped down in the chair opposite me. He was wearing a green, checkered suit. His black hair was greasy and it was combed to the back.
"Look here sugar," the man leaned in towards the glass and put his heart on the counter. When he talked I noticed he had something caught in between his teeth. "I need a new heart, this one is looking unhealthy. I can't get chicks with this."
His heart made a wheezing sound and I was sure it was going to fall over. I wasn't sure about the company's policy on this. I looked over at Ms. Johnson who had overheard the conversation. I was relieved when she came to my rescue.
"Let's just check your confidential file first." Ms. Johnson took down his name and checked his Heart's License. She leaned over and typed into the computer's system. She opened up the man's file. She scowled at the computer and then at the slime sitting on the other side of the glass. "Your file here says you are shallow, you are a womanizer, and you recently embezzled money from the company you work for." She gave him another scowl. "It is a wonder that you have a heart at all. I am sorry there is nothing we can do for you."
The man scooped up his sputtering heart and stormed out of the building. Ms. Johnson was undaunted by the episode. She simply called out to the next person in line.
The next person in line was a handsome young man in his early twenties. Ms. Johnson said I could handle this one by myself and she returned to the customers at her booth. As the man approached the desk I noticed a trail of giggling hearts following behind him. I smiled and it was all I could do from laughing out loud. The man sat down. I followed Ms. Johnson's example and asked for his Heart's License. He reached into his wallet and pulled it out. Mr. David Reed, it said. His file only confirmed my suspicion. These were hearts of young ladies.
"Now which one of these is yours?" I asked him trying to contain my amusement. I was secretly glad my own heart was safe and put away in the filing cabinets. He was a very handsome man. He pointed to one of the hearts. I nodded. "Okay. I am going to take these other hearts and they will be returned to their proper owners." He handed me the hearts through the glass opening. I tagged them and stored them like I was shown in training. "You are all set," I said to Mr. Reed.
My next customer was a young girl with dirty blond hair. Her blue eyes were red and puffy and her freckled skin was red and blotchy. She placed her limp heart on the table or what was left of it. Her heart groaned and took in a deep breath. Her Heart's License told me her name was Patty Plimpton. I checked her file. Her file said her heart's current status was due to a recent heartbreak. I shook my head, teenage love, what a terrible thing. I could feel my own heart ache for Patty.
"Here, let me have this," I scooped up the pitiful heart and placed it in the heart wagon destined for the infirmary room, 118. I returned and smiled at her sympathetically, "Come back in about an hour and your heart will be as good as new." She returned the notion with a half hearted attempt at a smile and got up from the chair.
The day sped on. I hardly had time to draw in a breath. I checked Heart's Licenses after Heart's Licenses. I never knew the Heart Licensing Bureau had to put up with so much. My fingers cramped from typing on the keyboard. From time to time I glanced over at Ms. Johnson's line. Her line, like the other dozen lines buzzed with excitement.
Some of the people in my line were ridiculous. One elderly man said he forgot about his heart and accidentally ran it over with his car. This statement got some "Eeewwws" and disgusted looks from the line of people behind him. Another woman came to my booth without a heart. I inquired if she had misplaced it.
"Oh no," she replied, "I know right were they are."
"They?" I asked her incredulously. She explained that there had been a mistake at the HLB and she had thought her first heart was lost but it turns out this guy had it. She was issued a new heart and now another man had possession of this one. Two men had her hearts and she was split down the middle. I had to ask Mr. Clark about this situation. He recalled both of the defective hearts and issued the woman a new one. He advised her to take care of that one.
I looked at the clock. It said work was almost over. Only five more minutes of this left to go. I was almost finished with my first day. I assisted the last person in my line. A rather easy case of a lost heart. The customer had a rather clean record and I was able to speedily issue another one. Ms. Johnson had already cleared her line and made her way over to me.
"You survived your first day," she said it as though she were surprised. I guess she half expected me to crack before the day was over. She gave me one of her infamous frosty smiles. The bell sounded and employees and the few remaining customers began packing up. I stood up and stretched my legs. My poor, sore legs ached. I had been sitting at that booth since my lunch break.
I made sure to retrieve my heart. I almost felt I should promise her that I would never let her turn black or run over her. When I picked her up she jumped in excitement. My heart and I made our way toward the same steel doors that intimidated me earlier. Now they were welcoming and I was in a hurry to get a fresh breath of freedom. Outside the air hit me and I took in a deep, refreshing breath. We walked towards the car.
I then noticed I had two shadows. I stopped. The unfamiliar heart also stopped. My own heart and I looked at each other and then back at the other heart. I took two steps and stopped then another large step. The other heart imitated me. He took two steps and stopped and then he took another large step. I began hopping on one foot. The heart did the same.
"Wait!" A man came running at me waving his arms frantically. "That is my heart," he said breathlessly.
"Oh, thank goodness. I think he is lost," As I spoke I looked from the tall man to the imitating heart. The man scooped down and reached out for his heart but his heart skillfully dodged him. The heart darted towards my ankle and wrapped his arm around it.
"I guess he is yours then," the man said scratching his head. I began to protest. I tried to shake the heart off my ankle. He refused to let go.
"Maybe I will just step on him," I waved my fist menacingly at the annoying heart. He quickly jumped off my ankle but he refused to stray far. He began making faces at my heart, trying to get her attention. She sniffed and looked away.
"Now look lady, my heart is stubborn. He knows what he wants. Who knows how long he will follow you," the man said. I knew the man was determined to be on my bad side. The man said matter-of-factly, "Once my heart strays he isn't coming back. He is strong willed." The man continued to jump up and down on my nerves. He went on and on about love and the determination of his heart. He pointed for emphasis to where his heart should have been. He looked around frantically. His heart had disappeared. It was no longer standing beside me.
I glanced up and down the parking lot. I spotted his heart about twenty feet away. My own heart was trying to suppress her giggles. I grinned from ear to ear. I tapped the frantic man on the shoulder and pointed out his heart. It was following and imitating another young lady who had come out of the building. He shrugged and blushed. He then took off after his heart calling out to the other young lady something about the determination of his heart.
"Knows what he wants indeed," I said in disgust looking down at my heart. She chuckled. Just as I had reached my car, Ms. Johnson approached me.
"Ms. Carmichael, you did a fine job at work today," Ms. Johnson shook my hand. It was then I noticed that her heart was standing beside her. Surprisingly, it was a rather large, healthy, pink heart. I guess I expected it to be wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase. Ms. Johnson wasn't so bad, I supposed.
"I will see you tomorrow, Mabel," I said. She gave me a real smile and said,
"Welcome to the Heart Licensing Bureau, Lindsay."
Published by permission of the author.