BY SHAUNA McKENNA
My Kate Spade handbag perched lightly on the counter below the ladies' room mirror, I lean in to blot my lipstick on a Kleenex brought from home -- not one of those scratchy paper towels touched by who knows what kind of cleaning lady. The little nameplate on my bag is visible, of course; very small, so you can't really read it if you don't know what you're looking for, but let's be honest here, people, who really gives a fuck about anyone that doesn't know what they're looking for on the side of a Kate Spade signature design.
That other management trainee chick comes in. The one that's pretty sloppy most of the time, her sandy hair unbrushed, her baggy mix-knit garments wrinkled. Every so often she shows up wearing a nice suit, fresh from the cleaner's, and you'd think she was Julia Roberts the way the guys around here sort of elbow each other and all the managers compliment her looks. She really pisses me off. I sort of give her a half-smile through the mirror as she greets me and goes back to one of the stalls. I finish my blotting and step back, admiring the finished product. Lovely, I think.
In my cubicle, I listen to very mellow trip-hop music and sometimes sing the words to myself in a whisper, so no one else can hear. My boss, a very rectangular woman with bleach highlights in her brown hair that wouldn't be half bad except she grows it much too long for a woman her age, my boss has a habit of miraculously creeping up behind me and just sort of standing there for a bit. It sort of weirds me out, because you don't get the idea she's trying to be polite or anything, just that she likes to be all stealthy and shit for the sake of being stealthy. She's waiting there like that for a while and I'm sitting there moving my lips to the music, not making any noise even, so I'm sure as hell not looking all crisp and fresh and professional like I spend two hours every morning making sure I do.
"Breanna, we need to talk," she says, so I follow her into her office, trying to be as calm as her. God, she's well-postured for a woman of her odd size, like she's got iron muscles underneath that bulk. She must do some serious cardio and then probably drinks like a Clydesdale every night. Folding her hands on the table, she tells me all this crap about being a team player, and relaxing, and trying to be respectful to the support staff and my peers. I'll be goddamned if those crow's feet practically strangling her temples don't make her look like a witch. Whatever. Everybody knows I was real close to getting my MBA; in fact, like, as far as they're concerned, I did.
So she tries to end her little lecture on a nice note by telling me how all the vendors really enjoy working with me and how she knows I'm such a big asset to our organization: whatever, whatever, whatever. I go back to my cubicle and turn up the music a little louder, but don't feel like singing along at all. I am way too offended.
One of the mail clerks, this kind of uneducated guy that's surprisingly clever, stops by and tries to joke around with me a little bit. He can tell I'm upset, I mean I want him and everybody else to know I'm upset, so they'll leave me the hell alone, but he keeps bugging me about coming to play on the company softball team tomorrow evening. At first I tell him no very politely, but he asks again. I'm about to tell him that I've got a lot of work to do, meaning "hint hint, get the fuck out of here" but then it dawns on me that hanging out with all those kind of blue collar sort of people might improve my standing around the office. I mean, I'm really annoyed at my boss, but like, I know that I should make everybody like me if I want to get promoted someday soon. So I agree to play, and after work I make an impromptu Gap run in order to get some cute softball clothes.
When I'm getting ready for the game the next day, again, blotting my lipstick with my own personal kleenex in the ladies' room, that management trainee chick comes in with a backpack full of stuff to change into. She says hi to me and seems to be pleasantly surprised that I've got a jersey on with my new cargo shorts and matching canvas sneakers, but then she giggles and starts to shake her head.
"What's with the lipstick?" she asks.
"Oh, you never know who'll be there," I reply, thinking bitch, bitch, bitch, you could use a makeover or two. She sort of nods and goes back to the stalls to change. I mean, I can't tell you how much this girl gets on my nerves. You can hear her all the way across the rows of cubicles, her laughter outrageously loud and bouncing off the soft-sided walls. You can hear her get mad every so often too, and it's like she doesn't care who knows it. Where does she get off?
The softball game is a pretty good way to "network." Ha. I know what's what. I nod approvingly to the opinions one of the older associates is elaborating upon, and this junior salesman who's about the same age as me, he uses every excuse he can to touch my thigh -- in a "good try" squeeze or an "I'm distracted and nervous" pat or just a good old-fashioned "I'm so confident in my company power that I'm not afraid to let you know that I want to screw you" rub. After the game, this young guy and the mail clerk that invited me, as well as this chubby guy and that management trainee chick -- her name is Megan -- we all go out for a couple of pitchers. Megan doesn't say much, sort of listens to the really dirty-minded jokes the men are telling and laughs at ones that are apparently especially funny. Who knows, maybe she's a dyke.
After I've done my part in swallowing down one of the pitchers, the chubby guy starts in on asking me all these personal questions. Megan laughs hard with the rest of them, but also makes a point of making eye contact with me sympathetically and saying,
"You know you don't have to answer anything you don't want to."
Screw that, I think. You wouldn't want anyone else to be tight with your boys, would you. So I lean back in my chair and declare,
"I can take it. Shoot."
The chubby guy, apparently Italian with all the spaghetti jokes his friends are making, he's the one in charge of the interrogation.
"When did you lose your virginity?" he asks. So I tell him. I was nineteen years old and I'd been going out with my boyfriend Wayne for six months. We were very much in love and he'd take me to dinner all the time, steak and lobster, whatever I wanted.
"Who at work would you fuck?" he proceeds. I sort of shake my head and smile coyly.
"Nobody." I tell him. "That's bad business." His eyes twinkle and he leers at the salesman guy who even as we speak has his hand on my thigh.
"I don't think she's kidding, dude."
And if you can believe it this guy, this junior salesman with a hawk nose and squinty eyes, chuckles like it's impossible for anyone to resist him. Megan is looking around the bar, at the television monitors showing sports events, at the table of girls clouded by cigarette smoke a few feet over. Like I said, I think she must be a lesbo.
"Sounds like you don't have much to hide, Breanna," says the clever mail clerk. He starts to change the subject by asking Megan about some movie she'd recommended to him. How boring is that.
"Well, I'll tell you all something I've never told anyone else before," I say loudly, looking at each and every one of them with a very mysterious smile. The mail clerk and the salesman seem a little nervous, and Megan looks puzzled. The chubby guy grins.
"Please," he says. "Enlighten us."
"I like to masturbate in public bathrooms," I say in a firm tone of voice. Even though my stomach is fluttering like I'm getting in over my head, I make eye contact with each of them in turn. "That's right," I continue. "In bars, in movie theaters, in college I would do it in classroom buildings. I even got off once in the middle of a wedding in the priest's private restroom."
The chubby guy's mouth is wide open. The junior salesman still has his hand on my thigh but it's frozen in place, like he's forgotten that it's there. Megan and the mail clerk guy seem to be completely stunned, but after a moment passes, all the guys start laughing and Megan covers her face with her hand, shaking her head back and forth.
"You didn't need to tell them that," she says flatly, while they laugh. "I don't know why you said that."
Whatever. Like it matters. So I never go to another softball game again, and as far as I know, they either tell all their dirty little friends my very private personal secret or they tell none of them. A few weeks later, my boss voluntarily submits herself to a detox program and the powers that be decide to promote me, even though I've only been around for a year. You see, it makes a difference to be crisp and clean and pretty every day, and to make sure you use business parlance and be seen reading trade magazines even on your lunch hour. I work out a way to have the mail clerk guy and the chubby guy transferred to a different branch, and that salesman, not surprisingly, he fails to meet his quota and gets the unceremonious "ba bye."
There's not shit I can do about that Megan, though. Sometimes
destiny just works in bizarre ways. I mean I am a firm believer in the
zodiac and the signs and all that crap, and what happens is Megan is promoted
at almost exactly the same time I am. From time to time we even collaborate
on meeting presentations for other company divisions. I guess she's got
a boyfriend, surprisingly. Someone told me he used to work here.
She doesn't ever acknowledge that night out after the softball game, but
goddamn, she knows, she knows. And sometimes, when I'm in the bathroom
all alone, I'll hear one woman shuffle in sort of uncertainly, wait just
outside the stalls, and then backtrack right on out. I wonder what she
hears. I am careful, I am quiet, I am discreet. This is, like, how to make
your way in this world.
B R A V E S O U L S R E C E I V E
READ THE FOLLOWING BEFORE PROCEEDING:
Zadie Smith's "On the Road:
American Writers And Their Hair"
The Plot Revealed: "The Others"
Interview With An Autofellator
Archive of Recent Activities