The woman currently known as Elinor is a dedicated spy, so dedicated, in fact, that her real name is unknown even to her. Her true identity is out of the question. Her job is ridiculously easy, for in America, changing identities is as easy as changing clothes. That’s because the emperor isn’t wearing any. The people have used up all their disbelief in their collective agreement to behave as though the emperor’s nudity does not arouse their prurient interest in any way, leaving them eager to believe whatever Elinor or anybody else is wearing.
Elinor is sometimes discouraged by not having anyone to report to, but her dedication does not flag. Volumes of data collected over the past twenty years of faithful service are stored in various safety deposit boxes all over the country waiting to be claimed, but she does not know who will claim them or when. She is supremely skilled in the art of waiting to be contacted. Convinced that someone, somewhere, will one day reward her handsomely for the knowledge of what is really going on, she continues to infiltrate, observe and report. Above all other skills of her trade, Elinor prides herself on her objectivity, the price of which she is unable to calculate.
The number of skills she has developed over the many years at this job which, despite its drawbacks, never bores her, is considerable. To list them all would be impossible. Why, just in the last year alone, she has learned to:
1. Install sheet rock, leaving a perfectly sized indentation at every nail hole with her hammer while cursing appropriately.
2. Answer a telephone and dispense information in a friendly upbeat manner while wearing panty-hose, high heels and fashionable earrings.
3. Gyrate, bump, grind, and slither down a pole seductively while fondling her own breasts at carefully calculated intervals.
4. Remind people that life is uncertain and that something bad could happen at any moment, while taking large sums of their money in exchange for a piece of paper promising an even larger sum should they die in a mishap.
5. Surf the net while engaging in witty keyboard repartee with potentially valuable new contacts.
Elinor averages four assignments a year. She had tried various other combinations before hitting on the magic number four. However, she’d found that with fewer than four, she would find herself tempted to begin pledging allegiance to this flag or that. Oh, it would begin innocently enough. A movie. A drink. A campout. Invariably, it would turn ugly, and she would be asked to agree with someone to exclude someone else. And the last time, she’d been forced to admit to herself that she’d begun making social engagements with people just a bit more often than was necessary to maintain appearances. In short, she began to lose the very objectivity which she considered the hallmark of her trade, and without which, she would surely slant the data, rendering it useless. With more than four, she found that she could not collect enough data to make an accurate report and was unhappy with the one-dimensional aspect of her work.
Elinor owes her success as a spy to her perpetual willingness to relocate. Her mobility is multi-directional, upwards, downwards, sideways. Oddly enough, she has found the downwardly mobile assignments more enjoyable and less taxing in terms of memorizing scripts. Although she sometimes feels that it is a dirty job, she believes intensely that somebody has to do it.
So, each New Year’s Eve, from a long list of possibilities compiled throughout the year, she carefully selects her four upcoming assignments. Because she has never before doodled in the margins of her planner, Elinor suspects that she may need what she has heard people refer to as a “vacation”. But Elinor is too dedicated for that. Instead, she will add another possibility for the upcoming year to her list, and if she is still doodling in the margins by New Year’s Eve, she will select it as one of the magic four.
In her planner, under the heading of “Possibilities”, she writes: Investigate and report on life in mental institution.
Under the heading “Requirements”, she writes: Ingest expensive mind-altering pharmaceuticals currently being tested for effectiveness in creating a chemical desire to go on living under conditions increasingly devoid of human dignity. Sleep. Shuffle. Cry. Behave unpredictably. Appear willing to deal with childhood issues.
Under the heading “Preparations”, she writes: Invent childhood with issues. Read book of Revelations. Invent complex mathematical formula for calculating exact date of Armageddon. Explain it to people. Don’t wait for them to ask.
Elinor checks the date on the calendar. December 21st. She slides her planner under the mattress and clicks off the light for the night. She lies still and waits for sleep, where in her dreams, she plants flowers and remains to see them blossom in spring.