The Grey Suit
If you stare at a ceiling fan long enough, it starts going faster. Karen had noticed this as soon as she moved into her new office. Her office. The words had a pleasant, purposeful ring to them. Such an honor, such a quick promotion, not two years out of school and her own office already they had all acted like it was such a big deal when the announcement went through. She supposed that it was, but after only two weeks the ceiling fan had taken on a life of its own. She could track its moods as easily as her own, could tell by its hum how many hours had passed, how much longer before the building closed. Sometimes it seemed companionable, almost friendly. Today it threatened her wordlessly, bit gently around the edges of her concentration and nagged like a loose thread in a sweater. Today she hated it.
An office, yes, but Karen did not yet rate her own window, and she stared blindly at the wall and wondered if that was where the dream came from. About being trapped in a room without windows, smaller and smaller until she woke gasping, shaking, clutching fiercely at the familiar cuddling warmth of the afghan her mother had knitted when she was still in school. It's a stupid dream, she told herself now, shaking her head. A little kid's kind of nightmare, grow up why don't you?
She jumped at Lena's voice and found herself stammering for something to say. Lena's short, round form filled the lower half of the doorway with a kind of brisk decisiveness, not at all like Karen's former mental image of her new boss. Her scalp was almost shaved, the hair was so short, and each ear had been triply pierced; her usual expression was kindly but authoritative, with none of the New York Superbitch air so many woman executives wore like armor. Even so, Karen had been warned.
"Watch out for Miss. Hutchison," Gary had told her one day when he learned of the transfer that came with her promotion.
"That's Ms. Hutchison," Mike inserted primly. "Ought to be Butchison if you ask me." He went off on one of his predictable routines, and Karen wanted to throttle him, driven at the same time by something inside which made her laugh at the dyke jokes and agree to "watch her ass" around her new boss.
"Karen?" Lena repeated, a note of surprised concern creeping into her voice as she stepped through the door.
"Sorry, Ms.Lena, just a little distracted," she said, blushing a little at Mike's coarseness and her own remembered laughter. Lena was a nice person, after all, and easy to get along with. This transfer was a step up in every possible way. Not enough sleep. I want this day to end, the monosyllables thumped against windowless walls in her head. "Going over the Featherman file."
"It's okay to space out once in a while, you know," Lena smiled reassuringly. "I know it takes a while to get used to the rhythm around here, but those moments when the mind wanders are when we come up with new ideas. Don't get too stressed. God knows there's enough of that in this city."
"Thanks." Karen returned the smile mechanically, and Lena continued her rounds.
Concentration continued to elude her. It's that fan, it's going to drive me insane, she thought dully. Hummmmmmmmmmmmmm. I shouldn't have eaten a whole bagel for breakfast, the idea came suddenly, clearly. If I hadn't done that, the day would be fine. It was sitting there like a rock while her stomach clenched and unclenched around it.
Karen rose from her desk and walked calmly to the ladies' room. Automatically entering the last stall, she found that someone had plugged the commode with toilet paper, and little pieces of shit were scattered around on top. She spun hastily and went into the next stall, leaned over and didn't even have to try before she vomited. Again, and again. Her upper teeth left little red marks on her finger.
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Except where otherwise noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson