“Nymph?” Mr. Jeffers leaned back in his chair and looked expectantly at me across the desk.
“What?” I asked. “Nymph what?”
“Nymph,” he said impatiently. “Do you think you’d be interested in a position as a nymph? I have a couple of listings here from The Aides of Artemis. No special qualifications required. Seems like one of them might suit your general lack of work experience.”
“Are you kidding me?” I asked, indignation creeping into my tone. “Now look. If you think I would consider stripping or anything like that just because I don’t have any special skills, you’re crazy. Absolutely not!”
“No, no. Nothing like that. There are two openings here. One for a Wood Nymph and one for a Water Nymph. The only requirements are a willingness to learn and a love of nature.”
Now I have to admit I was desperate to find steady employment. I’d been out of work for almost a year with only the occasional temporary assignment to keep me going. Nobody wanted an unskilled worker like me. And I couldn’t afford more schooling. I really needed a job.
“Okay,” I said after thinking for a few minutes. “Forget the Water Nymph. I’m afraid of water. What is the job description for the Wood Nymph?”
“Nothing too detailed, I’m afraid,” he said. “Um, let’s see. Responsible for communing with the trees and other denizens of the woodland areas in the central part of the state. Successful applicant must be a good listener and able to prepare weekly reports summarizing the concerns of the various woods. Salary negotiable. That’s about it.”
Oh, I know I should have thought it through more thoroughly. But really, it sounded like a cake walk. I mean, if someone was crazy enough to pay me to spend a few hours in the woods, pretend like I was communing with the trees and then make something up to put in a report – I could handle that. I do have a good imagination and it sounded like that would be the primary skill required for this job.
“Let’s set up an interview,” I said.
That was how I found myself standing outside a small storefront on Queen St. Stenciled on the window glass in gold were the words:
~The Aides of Artemis~
~Nymphs of the World~
~Celestial, Land, Water, Wood and Underworld~
An involuntary shudder gripped me for a second. The underworld thing creeped me out. I could have turned back then. I really wish I had. But I needed that job. I gripped the gilded handle, opened the door and went in.
The office was sparely furnished – one wood desk and two visitor chairs, also wood. Behind the desk sat a thin young woman with very strange, blue hair. My imagination was already working overtime because I thought it looked a bit like neon seaweed. What the heck. People did all kinds of odd things to their hair these days and it was kind of attractive in a weird way.
“Greetings,” she said. “My name is Harpina. And you must be Janet?”
She gestured toward one of the visitor chairs as I nodded. Blue-green fingernails, too, I noticed. I sat.
“Tell me something about yourself, Janet,” she said with a smile.
So I did. I gave her my whole, sad story. Loss of husband, loss of job, need for money, need for a change. I gave her my best approximation of interest in and enthusiasm for the job at hand. I smiled ingratiatingly.
“Well,” she said when I finished. “You are an ideal candidate in many ways, particularly given your lack of family ties. Now you are quite a bit heftier than we generally prefer but the transformation should take care of that.”
“Trans…” I started to ask.
“Yes. Yes. That will be covered in the contract. Let me tell you about the job now.”
“Before you do,” I said. “Can you tell me what the starting salary would be?”
She named a figure that was three times the highest salary I have ever earned. My heart started racing as I thought about what a difference that kind of money could make. No more counting pennies at the grocery store. No more wondering if I could or should set aside a few dollars for a cheap tee shirt or a pair of jeans. I stopped listening. I know. Not good. But the thought of all that money drove everything else out of my head.
I do remember staring blankly at the map she laid out, nodding my head as she identified ten woodland areas that I would be responsible for — visiting one each day on Monday through Friday so that each area would get a visit every two weeks. I nodded and nodded as she mentioned probationary periods, cost of living increases and contractual obligations.
When she yammered on about changing labor conditions and how difficult it was to recruit nymphs these days, I pasted a sympathetic look on my face and said sagely, “I think all businesses are facing labor challenges these days.”
When she asked if I was still interested in the position, I said firmly, “Oh, yes, very much!”
She finally stopped speaking for a moment and stared at me intently with her blue, blue eyes. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” she finally said. “You’ll do.”
She opened one of the desk’s drawers, pulled out a thick sheaf of papers and handed it to me. “The contract,” she said. “I’ll give you some time to read through it.”
“Not necessary,” I said. “I want the job. Where do I sign?”
“You should read it,” she said again.
“No. I’m sure it’s fine. I’m ready to sign it.” She hadn’t given me a pen so I started to rummage through my purse for one.
“Wait,” she said. “Tradition requires that you use a special ink for the contract. I must warn you that the transformation will be complete and irreversible once you sign. You may use any kind of pen on the tax forms and other things.”
She pulled an old-fashioned quill type pen and a small bottle of red ink from another drawer. I dipped and signed the contract in all the places she indicated. I felt a slight tingle but transformation? Please. We shook hands. I departed with a copy of the contract and the map, ready to visit my first woodland the next day.
The next morning, I pulled on some hiking clothes and prepared to head out to the closest area on the map. As I brushed my teeth, I noticed that my blond hair was looking a bit greenish and decided to make an appointment at a salon to touch up the color instead of buying more do-it-yourself dye. After all, I could afford it now.
Thirty minutes later, I pulled into the lot at the forest preserve and began walking down the trail. I planned to find a nice, large rock somewhere by the river’s edge, soak up a few rays and then head back home. Easy peasy! As I walked, I became aware of an incessant whispering noise. The further into the woods I walked, the louder it became. I stopped to listen for a moment. It was the damned trees. And not just the trees. The plants in the undergrowth. The squirrels. The birds. Everything around me. I could hear them all in my head. What the hell?
“Okay,” I thought. “Get a grip.” When Harpina said transformation, I guess she meant it. I was really going to have to listen to these things. So I did. Well, let me tell you: it was not a joy. Majestic, wise old trees? No. Whining, petty things they were. That tree’s roots were hogging too much of the water. This one’s leaves were blocking another one’s light. And the rest? No better. Birds squabbling over berries. Squirrels bickering over limb space. Creatures robbing each other. Eating each other. The litany of complaints went on for hours. Thank goodness I had remembered to bring a notebook so I could write everything down. But still. One thing was clear to me within minutes. The woodland’s inhabitants were all complete, self-involved ninnies.
The next few weeks brought more of the same. Though the weekends did afford a small respite, by the end of a month I was ready to pull out all of my leaf-like hair. So I did what I should have done before taking on the job. I read the contract.
And that is how I found myself back at The Aides of Artemis storefront. I took a deep breath, marched inside and confronted Harpina.
“Now let me get a few things straight,” I said. “The transformation made me immortal? My initial probationary period is a century? If I don’t meet nymph standards after the probationary period, I will be demoted to a position as one of Demeter’s crones and will spend eternity as a wrinkled old hag? If I ever voluntarily leave the nymph position, I will also be demoted to one of Demeter’s crones? Do I understand all this correctly?”
“Oh, yes,” she said calmly. “Though please don’t use the word demoted in Demeter’s presence. She does think quite highly of her crones. And kindly remember that I did ask you to read the contract.”
“I want out!” I yelled.
“I am afraid that is not possible, Janet. The contract has been bound in blood. It is irrevocable.” She gazed at me sadly. “I am sorry you are unhappy. Give it a little more time, will you not? As challenging as the nymph position may be, I am certain you would find the crone position to be very unpleasant.”
“Irrevocable? We’ll see about that. You will be hearing from my attorney.” I stalked out of the office, determined to sue my way out of that contract if necessary.
You can probably guess the rest. Every attorney I visited nearly split a gut trying not to laugh in my face. They all, every single one of them, thought I was a lunatic. So I’m stuck. Yep, the money is good and that part is very nice. The transformation has also caused me to go down several dress sizes, something I was never able to accomplish as plain old Janet. I’ve gotten used to the greenish color of my hair, even quite like it on some days.
But those woodland denizens? I do so wish they would shut up. Honestly, if you are tempted to glorify nature — don’t. What you have is really just nature’s ninnies nurtured by nymphs who should rightfully be called nursemaids. So when next you’re out hiking, whack one of those trees for me. It won’t change anything but it will bring a smile to my face.
© Karen Kleis – All Rights Reserved
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