It’s winter in Chicago. In the windowless back offices of a designer furniture showroom, women stand in a circle, stuffed into ill‑fitting black jeans, gray jeans, olive jeans, the ass cloth sagging one inch, two, below where the cheeks meet. They don’t notice this on themselves, but they notice it on each other. They wear cheap suede ankle boots and incomprehensible furry vests that flap against them as they talk, pushing their voices out an octave too high, lotioned, soft, gummy hands gestur‑ ing wildly. One of them wears a topknot, another checks her pedometer.
Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” plays in the background. They are allowed to choose their own music.
They shift between subjects with a rapid ease, words spilling out of their mouths. One of them is explaining something from her real, nonwork life, something about returning something she bought online—the frustration and indignity of the experience.
The one in the topknot and a tunic looks down and laughs. “Oh my god you guys look at me I’m such a hipster.” Another smiles, barely containing her disgust, and says “No, you look cute” with her words and “Oh my god shut the fuck up” with her eyes.
One of them leans over her immersion‑blended meal, laughs with strain, and says, referring to a chandelier on the showroom floor, “Where I come from you can get a house for twenty thousand.” A glob of green puree hangs from the fuzz on her mohair sweater, right by the boob. No one responds.
They start talking about a woman who works down the hall. She used to work here, and they all hate her. Appar‑ ently she really likes chrome and has no friends. One of them slides an open catalog across the table and says, “Isn’t that so trashy?” It’s a chrome coffee table, indistinguishable, to me, from the rest of the wares.
The whole scene is a bitter cliché, the expectations and ego barely hidden behind the flimsy presentation of friend‑ liness.
My pits are slick, and my face smells like a bagel.
I wonder if I should chime in, tell them that I also think the table sucks, but the words catch in my throat. Impossible to join in, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, not really.
I’m the new temp, ten days into my assignment here. I’ve been getting better temp assignments lately, and my rep writes to tell me things like “I’m so excited for you, this one has possibility for temp to perm,” but so far perm hasn’t come. I wonder how I would have to behave, how many changes I would have to make, to tip myself over the edge into this endless abyss of perm.
I walk home in the dark, in the snow. My tights sagging. A hole in the side of my shoe.
I open my dark apartment and turn on all the lights, like there might be someone who needs to use a room I’m not in. Like I’m expecting company. Like I still share my life.
I light a cigarette and open my laptop. I turn on an epi‑ sode of Forensic Files, my favorite of the serialized murder documentaries, to comfort myself.
There’s someone in the house!