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Office Girl (week 4)

Office Girl (week 4)

{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 to part 1, part 2 and part 3. Click over to Akashic Books for more info on Joe and Office Girl.}

AND THE NEXT DAY SHE GETS A TELEPHONE CALL.

From the guy she had been seeing a few months ago, will, who says he’s been trying to get in touch and he explains how he’d like his pink T-shirt back. And so she says okay and he comes on over. will’s gotten a goofy haircut, it’s longer in the back, and he’s growing one of those stupid ironic artist beards but he still looks pretty decent. And so she smiles and hands him his pink T-shirt, the one she stole from him, the one he made that says, I Love Soft Rock. It still smells exactly like him, like cigarettes and generic underarm deodorant. And also his dandruff shampoo, which she happens to know is what he uses for soap.

“So how have you been?” he asks, and all of a sudden she sees what this is.

“Did you come over here for your shirt or because you wanted to talk?”

“Neither,” he says defensively. “Both. I just thought I’d stop by and see you. Or is that against the law?”

“It’s not against the law,” she says, still suspicious. “How’s life?” “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.” “Sorry.” He smiles a little and then squints at her and asks,

“So what have you been doing?” “I’ve been thinking of starting my own art movement.” “really.” “It’s against anything popular. Even popular art.”

“Wow. That sounds great.”

“You are so full of it,” she says, even though both of them are smiling.

“So are you still the world’s worst dancer?” he asks, and she laughs because it’s such a bold, ridiculous question, because he knows she thinks she is the best dancer of all time and she has no choice but to roll her eyes at him and then he walks over to the stereo and puts on a CD he brought and then puts his hands around her waist and they begin dancing and she asks, “who is this?” and he says, “The Police,” and they dance some more, and it’s become an impromptu dance contest, and will is a pretty decent dancer and he puts his mouth beside her ear and asks, “Are you still quiet in bed?” and then they are lying in her bed, and he is taking off her sweater and then pulling down her jeans, and she is not stopping him, and she can feel his stupid blond beard against her cheek and his hand making its way down the front of her underwear and she thinks, I wish the two of us could just go to sleep, and so she closes her eyes and begins to dream she is in some other place, some imaginary city, farther and farther and farther away from the hands and lips and faces of all other people. And, in the dark, the condom he puts on is pink.

AND IT’S THE DAY AFTER THAT.

And Odile finds out that her roommate Isobel has to get another abortion. It’s the second time it’s happened. Isobel comes in and sits down on Odile’s bed. Both of them are still in their striped pajamas, and together they stare down at the small white pregnancy test. There is something subtly terrifying about the pregnancy test’s impersonal mechanical shape and Odile can’t stop looking at it.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” is all Isobel can manage to say. “Are you sure you did it right?” Odile asks. Isobel nods. Her face is wet with tears. Even now, even

crying, Odile knows her roommate is probably a lot prettier. “what are you going to do?” “I don’t know. I just called the clinic. It’s two hundred and

fifty dollars,” Isobel says. “I already made the appointment. It’s in three weeks. But I don’t have any money.”

“Did you tell Edward yet?”

“Not yet. He’s going to flip. I don’t know what we’re going to do. Neither one of us has any cash. He’s not even working right now. He’s just going to school.”

Odile makes a sound then that’s somewhere between a yawn and a sigh.

“Do you think you could ask your parents for it?” Isobel asks.

Odile feels her face get red. “What? I couldn’t. They already . . . I just can’t.”

Isobel nods. “well, there’s no way I’m telling my folks. They took care of the last one. I’m really screwed.”

Odile stands, walks across the room, and opens up a small white jewelry box. Inside the box is a mood ring, some jelly bracelets, a terrible necklace her ex-boyfriend Brandon once gave her that he got out of a toy machine at a supermarket, that’s shaped like a poodle, and two hundred and thirty-two dollars in wadded-up cash—it’s her part of the rent. And she counts the money, then again, and even though she doesn’t want to, she hands it over to Isobel.

“I don’t want you to have to worry about this,” Odile says. “But I don’t want to have to go with you again. To the appointment, I mean. I just can’t. It was too weird last time.”

“Okay, I’ll get Edward to.” Isobel stands to hug her. It is the first time they have hugged in a long time. Odile thinks it feels good. Isobel’s shoulders are firm and bony. “I’ll pay this back as soon as I can,” she says.

Odile nods and watches her hurry out of the room. She hates how easy everything always is for Isobel, even something awful like this. She knows she is never going to see that money again, so why did she do it?

And now she doesn’t have enough for rent, and now she doesn’t even have a job. And she is thinking about maybe moving back to Minneapolis or going out to New York, but she’s still on the lease here for one more month and even if she wanted to move now, she hasn’t got the money for it. And what is she going to do now? what would anyone do?

MUZAK SUPPLY COMPANY.

One of the first want-ads Odile sees is for a phone operator at Muzak Situations. Apparently it’s where dentists and insurance agents get their waiting room music, the kind of music that’s advertised on late-night television. It’s only a temporary job but promises to pay well. The ad stipulates that all potential applicants must have some customer service skills and a college degree. why would someone need a college degree to answer the telephone? She does not have an actual college degree but the pay looks pretty decent and the fact that it is another night job seems like a good idea, because she and Isobel always get on each other’s nerves.

“Do you have any experience with customer service?” the interviewer, a nervous, overweight man with a droopy mustache, asks. The office is ramshackle, there are unpacked boxes everywhere, and it looks like what’s going on is slightly illegal. One of the lights in the small conference room keeps cutting out. And the interviewer is particularly sweaty.

Odile looks across the faux-wood desk and nods. “Yes, I worked for a place in St. Paul for two years and that’s all I did. This last place, here, was telephone surveys. And then the other one,” she points at the line on her resume that mentions her short stint at the orthopedic company and the interviewer nods and asks, “Do you have a college degree or are you still in school?” and Odile asks, “why?”

“Because people who go to college are responsible. And they don’t turn out to be trouble.”

Odile frowns, biting the corner of her mouth, and then lies, saying, “I’m finishing up right now, but don’t worry, it won’t interfere with work,” and the interviewer does not ask her to prove it. He hands her a sample script to take home to memorize and, moments later, the job is hers.

You: Good evening, this is ______ with Muzak Situations. Thanks for calling. What can I help you with tonight?

Caller: I’m interested in your Moonlight and Love two-CD set.

You: Wonderful. That’s one of my favorites. Are you a fan of instrumental music?

Caller: Yes, I am.

You: I am too. Did you know we also offer a four-CD set of contemporary romance hits which I am able to offer to you as part of our special qualifying period for being a new customer?

Caller: Tell me more.

You: It’s called Modern Magic and it has some of today’s most romantic hits by some of the world’s best contemporary instrumental artists. It’s perfect for any home, office, or medical setting.

Caller: Thanks, but I’m not interested.

You: I can tell you’re having a hard time trying to decide. You can try out any one of our CD sets for thirty days and send it back postage paid if you decide that it’s not the best instrumental music you’ve ever heard.

Caller: Wow, that sounds great. You: I thought you’d be interested. Now if I could just get your

name, address, and credit card information . . .

HELLO PAUL.

Odile rides her bicycle through the evening, right in the middle of the gruesome glare of the stalled traffic, happy for the first time in a long while. She wants to call someone to tell them about her new job but does not know who would be happy for her, other than her mother, and she doesn’t want to tell her she has a new job because that will only make her worry and so she is stopping beside a phone booth and dialing Paul’s number, and later, if she doesn’t say anything stupid, they will meet and kiss in the backseat of a taxi and she will know even then that these moments, his gray scarf scratching her bare neck, his hands on the rumpled shoulders of her green coat, the taste of his mentholated aftershave on his throat, these moments are over before they even begin. And although she does not want to, she dials his number anyway, because in those frightful seconds, the city is just too big and too full of people to be alone.

Hello, she says, once the individual sound of the numbers being dialed are done beeping. Paul? Are you there? Paul, are you there?

Guitar

Read more about Joe here.

Read more about Colleen here.

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