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Office Girl (week 2)

Office Girl (week 2)

{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. Click here for part 1.}

BUT THEN THERE IS HER YOUNGER BROTHER.

And she rides up to the shadow of her apartment building and locks her bicycle to the iron gate out front. She climbs the wet carpeted stairs and hopes her kid brother will be gone, but when she unlocks the door, she sees him still lying there on the couch, still wrapped up in his green sleeping bag, his dark brown bangs hanging in his too-skinny face. He doesn’t look right anymore. He looks a little disturbed, a little too serious for a boy who’s only seventeen.

“What are you still doing here, dipshit?” she asks.

“You said you were leaving this morning.”

“I know, but then an episode of CHiPs came on, and I couldn’t make myself go.”

“You need to leave, Ike. You can’t stay here. Mom and Dad are already going absolutely nuts. They called last night. They’re really super-pissed. At both of us. But mostly me. You said you were going to the bus station this morning before I left.”

“I know,” he says, nodding his head. “But I don’t want to go back alone.”

“You only have one year left. When you’re done, then you can come live here.”

“But I hate it. I hate Minneapolis. I hate my friends. I hate having to live with Mom and Dad all by myself.”

“Why? They don’t ever fight. They’re the greatest parents in the world.”

“That’s what I mean. They’re always trying to get me to watch TV with them. They asked if I wanted to go to a movie with them a few weeks ago. It’s too much. They just won’t leave me alone. They’re way too supportive. It practically borders on abuse.”

“Okay, come on,” she says, standing before him. “Pack your bags. we’re going to the bus station right now.”

“Really?”

“Really.” And he nods and sits up and begins to fold his green sleeping bag.

And then they are walking back into the snow, Odile

unlocking her bicycle, pushing it beside them, advancing step by step through the ever-increasing drifts, her brother, six years younger, though already taller than her by several inches, shuffling alongside her, their frames, the shape of their shoulders identical, their hair color exactly the same, their mannerisms mostly different, though in their expressions there is a similar aloof candor, the same sense of amusement at most things. And it’s snowing around them and all of a sudden Odile remembers what it was like to be a kid, and to have played in the snow with her little brother, and for no other reason she turns and shoves Ike into a pile of it. And then she hops onto her bike and tries to pedal off. And so begins the now-famous chase sequence that ends only at the turnstiles of the Blue Line station on Damen Avenue.

At the Greyhound station

AT THE GREYHOUND BUS STATION.

And on together riding the Blue Line subway to the Greyhound station downtown, and then afterward, Odile sits beside her younger brother in the hard vinyl chairs, ruffling his shaggy, dark hair. She looks at him and is surprised again at how skinny his face is. She kicks her legs back and forth, glancing up at the institutional-looking clock every so often.

“How long is the bus ride again?” she asks.

“About ten hours.”

“That’s a long time.”

“I don’t care. I have a book,” he says.

“What’s the book?”

“It’s some fantasy series I’m rereading.”

“So have you thought about what you’re going to tell Mom and Dad?”

“No, I’ll just say what you said.”

“What was that?”

“That I had a freak-out. And that high school isn’t the way they remember it. And I didn’t want to take that Spanish test.”

“That’s good,” she says, smiling.

“You know, if you ever get into any real kind of trouble, you can always count on me.”

“I know. That’s why I came.”

“But you’re not in any real trouble.”

“I know,” he says. “But I missed you.”

And then Odile smiles, the dimple appearing on her left cheek.

“I was hoping maybe you’d come back with me,” he continues. “It’s not as fun there anymore. I don’t have anyone but Mom and Dad.”

“I have a life here, kiddo,” she says. “This is where I live.”

“I know, but what’s so great about this place? It’s pretty dingy-looking.”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it the buildings?” he asks.

“No.”

“Is it the people?”

“No.”

“Are you in love with someone here?” And she shakes her head and knows her cheeks are glowing

red.

“How about this?” she asks. “You can come visit any time you like. As long as you call me beforehand.”

“Okay. Okay. Sorry about getting you in trouble with Mom and Dad. I’ll call next time and tell you I’m coming.”

“Great,” she says, and then the static-filled announcement blares over the wires and Odile stands, helping her brother with his backpack and sleeping bag. And he hugs her and begins walking away, his gait slow but more confident than you might guess.

“You’re gonna be all right!” she shouts, folding her hands together like a megaphone. “Better than all right. I see big things for you, kid. Big things!” and he shakes his head and gets a little red too, and he waves to her and walks away. And then she begins to think maybe he is right. What’s so great about this city? What’s so great about Chicago? On the ride home, her bicycle rattling beneath her, she thinks, Nothing.

And if she had climbed on that bus with her brother, would anyone have noticed? Probably not. Because Jeannie called from New York only yesterday and told her she had a place where Odile could crash, at least for a few months. And because Odile’s lease is up at the end of February, she’s thinking maybe she should go. Because if not now, when? And as she rides she hums a song from the band Half Japanese, considering all these different possibilities. And so.

Screen shot 2012-07-04 at 11.22.17 AM

MEN WHO HAVE ACCUMULATED AROUND HER.

1. Reginald, her former English teacher, who chaperoned the Literature Club when Odile was in high school, and who was responsible for her Franny and Zooey phase. Even five years later, few days pass that reginald doesn’t stare at the blossom- faced female students in his English class, wishing they were more like Odile, punishing them with surprise quiz after surprise quiz because they are not.

2. A boy who she held hands with at the mall just outside Minneapolis when she was seventeen. This young man, Max, still walks by the video arcade every few weeks, and sighs, thinking of the afternoon they spent playing game after game of Miss Pac-Man.

3. Brandon, the first adult relationship she ever had, during her freshman year in art school, and who was the first boy she ever cheated on. A red flame of sadness still crosses his face whenever he thinks of her.

4. Will, an art student pursuing photography, who once talked Odile into doing some racy Polaroids. There are seven of them. These seven Polaroids are still kept at the top of will’s sock drawer. He will sometimes flip through them to masturbate, but also, sometimes, simply to see the daring look of abandon, the recklessness glowing pink there on her face.

5. Paul, who is not an ex or even a boyfriend, but who is someone she is afraid she has fallen in love with.

Screen shot 2012-07-04 at 11.25.12 AM

BACK AT HER APARTMENT.

And so she lugs her bicycle up the stairs and begins to frown even wider as soon as she sees a pair of men’s tennis shoes lying at the front door. Because there are her roommate Isobel’s orange high heels left in an awkward pattern beside them. And there is some bad music coming from inside. And Odile opens the apartment door and finds Isobel and her boyfriend Edward making another stupid art movie. Edward is in film school. And Isobel just so happens to be an exhibitionist, and she has hung dozens of near-nude black-and-white photos of herself all around the apartment. At the moment, Edward is dressed like Darth Vader, wearing a black plastic mask, and also a pair of white underpants. That is all. Isobel is in her underwear too, which is an alluring shade of pale green. She is topless and is wearing a Storm Trooper helmet. Together they sit on the couch, tickling each other and laughing. Edward is trying to hold the video camera up while wearing the awkward-looking black mask.

“I’m going to fuck you using the Force. I am. I’m going to do it.”

This is their idea of art, of becoming famous. Odile coughs once, closing the front door behind her. The couple turns and regards her in absolute silence. Odile nods at them and then carries her bicycle inside, feeling embarrassed for everyone present. As soon as she closes her bedroom door, Isobel and Edward immediately begin laughing. Darth Vader begins breathing heavily once again.

And so Odile sits in her room, with her hands over her ears. It gets very quiet all of a sudden and she can tell Isobel and Edward are trying not to make a sound, which is worse really, because the absence of noise makes Odile more aware of what they’re doing. And she can hear the slightest laughter, the smallest giggle, the sound of the sofa rocking a little, and Isobel muttering a pleased sigh, and for some reason Odile decides not to fight it, and climbs under her covers and fits her hand between her thighs. And she closes her eyes and thinks of Paul and then no one really at all, someone totally faceless, and she is rocking her hips back and forth and then she hears Isobel make another soft sound and Odile opens her eyes and feels ridiculous for what it is she’s doing. She pulls the blue blanket over her head and shouts, “You are so stupid!”

And then she leans over and searches blindly beneath the bed frame for a certain comic book: Abstract Adventures in Weirdo World is what it says on the title page. It’s from some other era, somewhere in the early ’70s, something she bought at a garage sale a few weeks back. The artwork is crude and the story line almost meaningless but she thumbs through it anyway, studying each panel, each line. On one page there is a pair of lips chasing a mustache and on the facing page, an explicit orgy of dogs and cats. Why doesn’t anyone make anything weird like this anymore? she thinks.

Before long the moans begins to eke out again and so Odile throws down the comic book and pushes herself out of bed. She begins searching through the ominous-looking piles of clothes on the ground and finds a T-shirt for a band named Suicide. She sniffs it to see if it is dirty. It’s okay. She pulls it on and then begins to gather up all the clothes on the floor. The wall beside her continues to thump, once, twice, then a third time, all with an unbearable urgency. Odile starts to shout again, banging on the door. She finishes collecting her laundry, forces it all into a paper shopping bag, and then storms out of the apartment. The Laundromat is a block away and she can kill an hour or so there. Which she does, but unhappily.

And that night goes to an art opening

AND THAT NIGHT GOES TO AN ART OPENING.

It’s her friend Liz’s opening, and all of the art looks like it’s been done by deranged teenage boys, like it’s part of some gigantic game of Dungeons & Dragons, or else it’s been inspired by anime or video games; it’s full of weird purple tentacles and vaginas with teeth, and all of it is lacking any kind of originality, none of it does anything for her, and so she drinks. She gets seriously drunk. She puts away four small plastic cups of red wine and then stares at a painting of a topless girl with a large silver sword for a half hour and then she begins to think: You call this art? This isn’t art! This is a joke! All of you are a joke! Fuck you and fuck Jeff Koons and all the rest of those ’80s art-star wannabes. Where’s the art that makes people weep? Where’s the art that makes people want to go to church? None of this is the least bit interesting. All of this stuff, all of this is so self-aware. It’s all art for ironic art snobs. I want something brilliant. I want something stunning. I want something that makes me look in wonder, and as she stumbles from painting to painting, she trips over her own rubber snow boots and spills her wine and her friend Liz, her freckles going bright red, helps her to her feet and then back outside, where Odile finds her bicycle crowded with three or four gray pigeons. “Shoo,” she says, but the pigeons don’t want to move.

Read more about Joe here.

Read more about Jonathan here.

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