Sausage party. That’s what they would’ve called it in college, anyway. Except that it wasn’t a party, it was a long conference table with ultramodern fluorescent lamps pointed at it from odd angles. She was the only woman at the meeting. She was only one of three women registered for the entire seminar. The other two were in different divisions at the moment, arranged around their own conference tables, exchanging casual glances with their own parties of sausage.
Everybody in the group was wearing a nametag. “Sharon,” she had printed neatly in all caps with the blue Sharpie. Some other names in the room were “Mark” and “Stephen” and “Darrell.” Several of the men printed both their first and last names, as if the absence of the surname left a terrible cliff from which the blurry identity hung dangling. These men were not very relaxed. As far as Sharon could tell, no one printed his last name only. She was relieved. She didn’t know why she had expected such pretension.
The man at one end of the table (with a permanent nametag enclosed in a plastic badgeholder reading “Kevin Sullivan”) cleared his throat politely. Most of the conversations dwindled to a close. A few men at the far end of the table – the foot, so to speak – continued chatting, one of them chuckling asthmatically at some droll observation made by the other, a rail-thin man with designer glasses. From the head of the table, the meeting conductor tilted his head to one side, folded his hands in front of him, stared. Everybody else in the room stared, too. It was intimidation of the politest sort. The chuckler noticed the silence and cut his mirth short with a little cough. The entire group, now, was ready.
The meeting conductor – “Kevin Sullivan” – took a measured, but not unkind, look at each one of the attendees.
“Please introduce yourself,” he said, “And tell us all what you hope to bring with you from the seminar.”
He swiveled to his left and in such a way indicated that the man to his left was the one to begin the introductions. The man introduced himself, said something lacking substance about his reason for coming to the seminar that nonetheless managed to go on for far too long, then tapped his finger to the table, grinned, and looked, in turn, to his left. And so it proceeded.
Sharon’s seat was about two-thirds of the way around – past the gentlemen who had delayed the start of the meeting. She thought about what she should say, and how she should say it. Should she be extra professional in order to forestall any suspicions of using her sex to curry favor? Or should she lay it on thick, play cute, be the darling?
Bill Thomas, who only scratched out “Bill” on his nametag, had been in the industry for quite some time and was eager to get new insight. “Marv,” who failed to share his last name even when delivering his introduction, was just hoping to get in some decent rounds of golf. (A few faint laughs.) “Aaron Bloom” was brand-new in his position. He came with a group of other new hires. It was company policy.
Sharon realized that she was sweating lightly. She started to chew her lip. When her turn rolled around, she did just fine. She hit a note somewhere between professional and slutty. (Just what they like.) Kevin Sullivan flashed her a special smile, and she knew he was considering some extracurricular networking possibilities. She didn’t know what it was that he liked, though – the professionalism or the sexiness. She tried not to think about it, shoved it in the back of her head.
Marv tucked his chin into his hand, leaned his elbow on the table, so nobody else could tell whether he was paying attention to the discussion or taking a little catnap. He was seated directly across from Sharon. He’d noticed her when they all sat down, I mean, of course he did, the only chick – but there was something about her that seemed all right. She wasn’t wearing much makeup, just some eyeliner and light blush. Her haircut was pretty short. Marv liked his ladies with long hair, hair you could bunch up in your hands, hair just like the cheerleaders back in high school. But this Sharon looked okay, no matter. And it seemed like she had a bit of the tease in her when she said her name.
Looking down at his fly for a moment while he adjusted it, he saw a flicker of movement from underneath the table across from him. Sharon was kicking off her shoes. He looked up fast. You wouldn’t know a thing from the expression on her face, very serious while she explained her department’s strategy for regulatory inspection, but sure enough. Shoes: off. Feet wriggling like goldfish in her stockings. Huh.
Bill Thomas tried to concentrate. He tried so hard. He always did. In preparation for his wedding, he practiced the vows over and over again, looking in the bathroom mirror, jamming in his head as much of the anxiety and terror he knew would be kneeling between him and his bride the day of the ceremony. He watched the shape of his mouth. After those practices, he never stopped watching the shape of his mouth every time he caught his reflection in a mirror. It was hard not to say stuff when other people were around, when the bathroom door was open and his wife was changing in the bedroom behind him. On his own he just went ahead and spoke: “Brynna, get back here at once!” or “Al, I hear where you’re coming from, but I worked hard on these protocols and I think they’re perfectly acceptable,” or “Come on, honey, it’s normal for married couples to experiment!”
At this moment, in the meeting, the discussion was coming around to a topic he had more experience addressing than he cared to remember. But it certainly was the perfect time to demonstrate his aptitude to his colleagues. Al, the manager, sat directly across from him. Bill sucked in a deep breath, leaned forward with one hand raised to show the moderator he had something to say, but the guy turned to the one woman in the room. She pointed out the inconsistency of certain methods described when exposed to certain climatological fluctuations. And then she slipped out of her blazer with a flourish Bill felt certain he was imagining. He felt his jaw drop open. He wondered how his mouth looked, snapped it quickly shut.
Like his sister, thought Aaron Bloom. Pale skin free of blemishes, free of any speck at all but a dark beauty mark on her left temple. A voice that was low, though, serious. More like Andrea Patterson, his very first girlfriend. There was something the same in all women, Aaron liked to think, something he liked to unpeel like an orange rind whether by talking, or watching, or fucking. He chewed on his pencil eraser. He had a hard time keeping up with the meeting discussion. He wasn’t so very good at the technical side of his job; thank God his supervisors hadn’t seemed to notice. She was speaking a lot, so he could watch her without having to be sly, and she was speaking when it happened, and he was watching when it happened: without changing the expression on her face, she began to unbutton her blouse. Underneath she was wearing an eggshell-blue bra with lace scallops on the cups. Aaron Bloom could not believe it.
Nobody could. Sharon was not in her head. She was not in her body. She was pulling buttons loose; she was feeling the air-conditioned draft on the skin over her clavicle. Every dick in the room went stiff.
“The thing is,” she said, looking Kevin Sullivan in the eye, “There is no one QA/QC protocol appropriate for every manufacturing scenario. In order to choreograph a sound and demonstrably safe processing line one must ensure procedures are not only FDA compliant but theoretically justified.”
For a minute Kevin Sullivan remained motionless while she waited for a response. His eyes were glued to her open shirt. Sharon giggled and licked her lips. He shook himself visibly, and a flush rose to his cheeks, first of shame, then of anger.
“Miss . . . miss . . . Sharon! I’m going to have to ask you to leave! This is business we’re conducting here. Not a lapdance.”
The rapid breathing slowed, as all the men watched Sharon to see what she would do next. She gathered her clothes but left her nametag on the table. With her shirt open, in her stockinged feet, she walked out to the hotel lobby. The sound of Mozart behind a fountain pulsed once as the door opened and closed behind her.
Marv slapped the table with his palm and grinned at his shipwrecked companions.
“Well, that was some lady,” he said, and the Mikes
and Erics and Johns agreed that yes, indeed, she was.
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