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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

XX

I asked Mimi to have lunch with me. At the restaurant, she told me I needed protein and suggested I order the liver or steak with a good cabernet.
    When the waiter came to the table, I told him that I'd have the salmon.
    "I'll have the same," she said.
    She said that she'd come to this restaurant for lunch alone after her own father had died. "I just sat at the bar and ordered soup." She told me that she was crying when an ex-boyfriend happened to walk in. "He sat down and put his arm around me," she said. "He seemed to think I was still upset about our breakup."
    I laughed, and she said, "Boys always think everything is about them."
    I thought, Whereas everything is really about you, Me-Me. But I understood her now as I hadn't before. I understood that she needed to be told who she was. Just as I had.
    She said that her father's death had been the hardest thing in her life. "We are all children until our fathers die."
    I said, "I feel sort of like an adolescent again."
    She gave me a look of older-sister understanding.
    "At work, I mean." I said, "I've gone backward. If I keep going this way, I'll be heading down to personnel soon to take a typing test."
    She started to disagree, but I stopped her. "I've become your assistant," I said. "I used to be an associate editor."
    She said, "That's still your title."
    "I need to be one, though," I said. "I'm not asking for a promotion," I said. "I'm telling you that I need to be un-demoted--or else I have to quit."
    Her face was even paler than usual, which I hadn't thought possible. I could see the blue of a vein just under her eye. "You haven't exactly proven yourself."
    "I know," I said. "You're right."
    "I have to think about this," she said.
    I told her I was letting her pick up the check, on the chance that I'd soon be unemployed.

 

~

"You've got balls," Archie said.
    "Could you put that some other way?" I said.
    He said, "But what if she lets you quit?"
    I told him I thought she would. "I don't think I belong in publishing anyway."
    He looked at me as though I'd said I wanted to sleep with another man.
    "It's all about judging," I said. "I'm not sure I'm the judge type. I might be more of the criminal type."
    "Judgment is power," he said.
    I said, "I thought knowledge was power."
    "Why are we talking like this?" he said.
    "You're right," I said. But I told him that I didn't think I wanted power. "I think I want freedom."
    He said, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
    I said, "You're sinking to my level."

 

~

Mimi let me resign. "I feel terrible about this," she said. "Maybe I could help you find another job."
    "No," I said. "I'm quitting publishing cold turkey."
    She said, "I feel the way I did when my first husband left me."
    This was a story I wanted to hear.
    "He thought he was gay," she said. "It wasn't enough for him to leave me, he had to leave my whole sex."
    "Was he gay?" I asked.
    "Of course he was."
    I said, "But you said 'he thought he was gay.'"
    "I think you're missing my point, Jane."
    We agreed that I would leave in two weeks.

 

~

I heard Archie turn the key in the door.
    He kissed me and said, "What's the matter?"
    "Nada thing," I said. "I was let quit."
    He said, "Oh, honey," as though I'd made a terrible mistake.
    "Don't say it like that," I said. "I'm about to embark on an exciting career as a temp."
    "No," he said, and he snapped his fingers. "You'll come work for me at K----. And be a real associate editor."
    I said, "I could bring you up on charges for that."
    "What?"
    "Work harassment in the sexual place."

 

~

On my last day of work, I went by Mimi's office to say goodbye. "There's something I've been wanting to ask you," I said.
    "Of course," she said.
    "How do you get your eyebrows so perfect?"
    "Carmen," she said, and she wrote down the number of her eyebrowist. Then she sprayed perfume on my wrists one last time, and I was out.
    On the subway home, I got a little scared. I remembered the phrase career suicide. But then I thought, Goodbye, cruel job.

 

~

The following Monday, I went to the temp place. I aced my typing test. I soared through spelling and grammar. I went to the benefits department of a bank, where I typed numbers into a computer and answered the phone.
    "Today was the first day of the rest of my life," I told Archie when I got home. "It was okay. I think the second day of the rest of my life will be better."
    He tried to smile, but it was just a shape his mouth made.
    While I was cooking dinner, I found Motown on the radio and danced around the kitchen.
    "What is this?" he asked, as though he'd caught me reading a comic book.
    I sang along to the music: "I'll take you there."
    He said, "I live with a teenager."
    "Why are you so upset?" I asked him in bed.
    He said, "I don't know," and I realized I'd never heard him say these words before. "I wanted to help you, and now I can't even do that."
    "It's better for me, honey," I said, but he didn't answer.

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