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Office Girl (week 1)

Office Girl (week 1)

{In celebration of the release of Joe Meno’s new novel Office Girl, Annalemma.net is serializing the beginning of the novel over the next four weeks. Click over to Akashic Books for more info on Joe and Office Girl.}

ANYWAY IT’S SNOWING.

But then there is the absolute bullshit of it! The amazing gall of some people! Who does he even think he is? Odile Neff, art- school dropout, age twenty-three, rides her green bicycle along the snowy streets of the city that evening at five p.m., arguing with herself. She is wearing one gray sock and one black sock and her faint-pink underwear, hidden beneath her long gray skirt, is dirty. It is January 1999, one year before the world as everyone knows it is about to end. Communism, like God, is already dead.

Having just finished an eight-hour shift conducting telephone surveys for an international research company—How many members in your family? What sort of hair spray do you use? How often do you use your hair spray? Have you noticed any dermatological irritations, including but not limited to eczema, carbuncles, warts, or various skin cancers, in connection with the frequent use of your hair spray? Has your hair spray ever interfered with the quality of your life?—she is now riding home and swearing to herself about something she is having a difficult time understanding, and about the person who has become the cause of all her grief. Her green hood is up, completely covering her small white ears, green scarf bound around her chin, the hem of her gray skirt blowing as she pedals along. It’s only the second week of January but the winter has already become a verifiable pain in the neck. She wears her pink mittens which have become unknotted, the pale pink penumbras of her fingernails peeking out. And with these mittens she holds the cold plastic of the bicycle’s handles, cursing to herself again and again.

“Asshole!” she shouts out loud. “why won’t you talk to me? why not just talk to me and be honest about everything?”

She never thought she would be so stupid, and yet, here she is. Her fancy pearlescent shoes, bought for twelve bucks at the thrift store, keep slipping off the pedals, making her even more frustrated. The gray sky, the waxy unending weather, the caliginous buildings rising up in humorless planes of speckled silver glass, all of it makes her feel so small, so tiny. The snow continues its liberated march in considerable flakes, falling all around in achromatic sheets of bleary chalk. Also, there is his gray sock, Paul’s gray sock, sitting in the left pocket of her parka, which she has been carrying around for the last few days.

Why am I so stupid? she asks herself again. Why do I keep wanting to be with him?

Her face is an abject expression of disgust, mouth twisted to the side in a frown, narrow eyebrows raised.

Is it just because I’m not supposed to? Is it just because he’s married? Is it just because I thought I had the world by the balls and I always end up making a mess of everything?

Her green bicycle, unable to answer, only vibrates with rage.

AT A STOPLIGHT.

Odile pauses a block later at a stoplight which has become obscured by ice. She looks over and sees a bus idling beside the curb. On the side of the bus is an advertisement for some men’s hair dye that promises to be SO FEROCIOUS! Odile grabs the silver paint marker from the pocket of her green coat and uncaps the pen and leans over and draws a pair of enormous silver breasts on the male model in the advertisement and then adds a pair of hairy, dangling, unkempt testicles between his legs. Beneath this pictogram she writes, You are an idiot, Paul. She then caps the pen, shoves it back into her pocket, and rides off through the uninterrupted snow.

A NOSE UNLIKE HER MOTHER’S.

Odile, pronounced O-deel, has dark hair, which runs just past her shoulders, a wide forehead, which is framed by uneven bangs she cut herself, and a pair of gray-blue eyes that are set several inches apart in a soft, heart-shaped face. The size of her eyes, larger than most girls’, lends a quality of constant amazement to all of her facial expressions. Her ears are attached to her head at a spot lower than average, and are also a little wider, suggesting an elfish affectation, though this is hardly noticeable, as it’s her large, gleaming eyes that draw you in. Her nose is neither long nor snub and is rounded in appearance, as it often is on the faces of girls of European descent. Her nose is unlike her mother’s, who at first glance may appear to be the greater beauty, as there is a small bump along the left side of the bridge of Odile’s nose, imperceptible to anyone who has not spent an afternoon lying in bed beside her, listening to the song she loves the most, “After Hours” by the Velvet underground, or admiring her profile in the dark of a theater, ignoring the black-and-white film by John Cassavetes. This very small bump is the consequence of an ice-skating accident that occurred when Odile was six, and, on deeper inspection, only adds to her attractiveness. It allows the viewer to wonder what other worlds, what other small pleasures, there are to discover. Like the small beehive tattoo on her left wrist, which is so faint it’s almost invisible: what does it mean? How old was she when she got it? will she tell about it you if you sleep together? You look at it and then up at her open mouth, at the sensitive lips, the lips rounder and somehow more adventurous than you noticed at first glance, the mouth already smiling, already laughing at something you said or did.

At the moment, atop her bicycle, her mouth is partially occluded by a green scarf, though it’s moving as she continues arguing with herself out loud. She curses at a cab driver and swerves past a woman with an incredibly wrinkly face, dressed in a gray fur coat. The woman’s arms are piled high with packages, each of them tied nicely with a white string bow. Your face looks just like an elephant’s, she wants to say but means it in the nicest possible way. And look out: there’s another drift.

AT THE CORNER OF DAMEN AND AUGUSTA.

On her bicycle, Odile stops at another red light and adds a pair of boobs to a poster advertising some moronic new hip-hop release. The rapper, DJ rAw, with his sunglasses and grill of gold teeth, now has a gratuitous pair of silver saddlebag tits hanging from his chest. And then she adds a diamond over his face. And then sketches a silver dunce cap on his head. This is all she’s been doing lately, drawing on street posters or other advertisements, because she hasn’t made anything good, anything really interesting of her own, in weeks. Lately all she’s been making are these weird, lewd doodles which she can’t even call art. She places the cap over the paint marker and then glances over at a blue newspaper dispenser which features a headline having to do with the president getting impeached. The idea of being impeached for getting a bj makes Odile crazy. Maybe in the next millennium people won’t be so worked up about screwing. Maybe after the comet that is coming to wipe out the world on New Year’s Eve has already annihilated everything, and people have become wax-faced mutants, maybe then everyone won’t be so uptight about sex. Maybe. And thinking of this, she adds a hairy vagina to the poster DJ’s lap. Yikes, it looks like a black insect. And she does all of this before the light turns green.

Read more about Joe here.

Read more about Celine here.

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