That night I put my new work
clothes on a chair and looked at them. A brown skirt, a beige blouse.
I was attracted to the bland ugliness, but I didn't know how long that
would last. I looked at their gray shapes in the night-light and then
rolled over toward the dark corner of my bed.
My family's enthusiasm made me feel sarcastic
about the job, about any effort to do anything, in fact. In light of
their enthusiasm, the only intelligent course of action seemed to be
immobility and rudeness. But in the morning as I ate my poached eggs
and toast, I couldn't help but feel curious and excited. The feeling
grew as I rode in the car with my mother to the receding orange building.
I felt like I was accomplishing something. I wanted to do well. When
we drove past the Amy Joy doughnut shop, I saw, through the wall of
glass, expectant construction workers in heavy boots and jackets sitting
on vinyl swivel seats, waiting for coffee and bags of doughnuts. I had
sentimental thoughts about workers and the decency of unthinking toil.
I was pleased to be like them, insofar as I was. I returned my mother's
smile when I got out of the car and said "thanks" when she
said "good luck."
"Well here you are," said the lawyer.
He clapped his short, hard-packed little hands together and made a loud
noise. "On time. Good morning!"
He began training me then and continued to do
so all week. No interesting people came into the office. Very few people
came into the office at all. The first week there were three. One was
a nervous middle-aged woman who had an uneven haircut and was wearing
lavender rubber children's boots. She sat on the edge of the waiting
room chair with her rubber boots together, rearranging the things in
her purse. Another
was a fat woman in a bright, baglike dress who had yellow in the whites
of her wild little eyes, and who carried her purse like a weapon. The
last was a man who sat desperately turning his head as if he wanted
to disconnect it from his body. I could hear him raising his voice inside
the lawyer's office. When he left, the lawyer came out and said, "He
is completely crazy," and told me to type him a bill for five
Everyone who sat in the waiting room looked
random and unwelcome. They all fidgeted. The elegant old armchairs and
puffy upholstered couch were themselves disoriented in the stiff modernity
of the waiting room. My heavy oak desk was an idiot standing against
a wall covered with beige plaster. The brooding plants before me gave
the appearance of weighing a lot for plants, even though one of them
was a slight, frondy thing.
I was surprised that a person like the lawyer,
who seemed to be mentally organized and evenly distributed, would have
such an office. But I was comfortable in it. Its jumbled nature was
like a nest of available rags gathered tightly together for warmth. My
first two weeks were serene. I enjoyed the dullness of days, the repetition
of motions, the terse, polite interactions between the lawyer and me.
I enjoyed feeling him impose his brainlessly confident sense of existence
on me. He would say, "Type this letter," and my sensibility
would contract until the abstractions of achievement and production
found expression in the typing of the letter. I was useful.
My mother picked me up every day. We would usually
stop at the A&P before we went home to get a loaf of white French
bread, beer and kielbasa sausage for my father. When we got home I would
go upstairs to my room, take off my shirt and blouse, and throw them
on the floor. I would get into my bed of jumbled blankets in my underwear
and pantyhose and listen to my father yelling at my mother until I
fell asleep. I woke up when Donna pounded on my door and yelled, "Dinner!"
I would go down with her then and sit at the
table. We would all watch the news on TV as we ate. My mother would
have a shrunken, abstracted look on her face. My father would hunch
over his plate like an animal at its dish.
After dinner, I would go upstairs and listen
to records and write in my diary or play Parcheesi with Donna until
it was time to get ready for bed. I'd go to sleep at night looking at
the skirt and blouse I would wear the next day. I'd wake up looking
at my ceramic weather poodle, which was supposed to turn pink, blue
or green, depending on the weather, but had only turned gray and stayed
gray. I would hear my father in the bathroom, the tumble of radio patter,
the water, the clink of a glass being set down, the creak and click
as he closed the medicine cabinet. Donna would be standing outside my
door, waiting for him to finish, muttering "shit" or something.
Looking back on it, I don't know why that time
was such a contented one, but it was.
The first day of the third week, the lawyer
came out of his office, stiffer than usual, his eyes lit up in a peculiar,
stalking way. He was carrying one of my letters. He put it on my desk,
right in front of me.
"Look at it," he said. I did.
"Do you see that?"
"What?" I asked.
"This letter has three typing errors in
it, one of which is, I think, a spelling error."
"This isn't the first time, either. There
have been others that I let go because it was in your first few weeks.
But this can't go on. Do you know what this makes me look like to the
people who receive these letters?"
I looked at him, mortified. There had been a
catastrophe hidden in the folds of my contentment for two weeks and
he hadn't even told me. It seemed unfair, although when I thought about
it I could understand his reluctance, maybe even embarrassment, to draw
my attention to something so stupidly unpleasant.
"Type it again."
I did, but I was so badly shaken that I made
even more mistakes. "You are wasting my time," he said, and
handed it to me once again. I typed it correctly the third time but
he sulked in his office for the rest of the day.
This kind of thing kept occurring all week.
Each time, the lawyer's irritation and disbelief mounted. In addition,
I sensed something else growing in him, an intimate tendril creeping
from one of his darker areas, nursed on the feeling that he had discovered
something about me.
I was very depressed about the situation. When
I went home in the evening I couldn't take a nap. I lay there looking
at the gray weather poodle and fantasized about having a conversation
with the lawyer that would clear up everything, explain to him that
I was really trying to do my best. He seemed to think that I was making
the mistakes on purpose.
At the end of the week he began complaining
about the way I answered the phone. "You're like a machine,"
he said. "You sound like you're in the Twilight Zone. You don't
think when you respond to people."