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Sunday, February 28, 1999
By Paul Ford
Another wee story
To the right of her desk there was a filing cabinet filled with accountancy reports. It was 10PM on the 16th floor, and she waited for 11 to come, because at 11 you could expense a cab.
Tim sat by her file cabinet and talked to her. He was laughing, and saying "This time I make it work. It's being here late that does it to me. It ruins me."
"This time is different," she said, smirking.
"Yeah," he said. "I mean it every time I say it." He inhaled and gave out a long, proud sigh. "I keep trying."
She smiled, looking at numbers on her monitor. She put her hand on a pen and rolled it back and forth across the desk. Tim was talking about how he was going to quit the job, stop drinking, join a gym, and go freelance.
The office emptied out at 6, leaving her and Tim and some other stragglers. For months they noticed each other with nods, heard each other's footsteps down the varnished hardwood, and saw each other's hair floating above cubicle walls.
"Right now," he said. "I want a drink. But I'm talking to you instead. And then I'm going home."
"And I want to leave now," she said, "but there's no way I'm getting on the G tonight." So they waited for 11 together.
Once, two months ago, he walked past her to the water cooler and found her crying. It was 9 on a dark winter night. Her sobs were bizarre under the flourescent light, her head down on the desk, so he almost walked past. But after standing for a moment, he asked if she wanted anything. She shook her head. Tim came back a with a coffee mug filled with water for her, left it on her desk, and then began to walk away. Then he went back towards her desk.
He put his hand on her shoulder and she was suddenly conscious of how much her shoulder hurt, how the toxins had built up in her muscles because she was rarely touched. She tried to explain, and her voice came out in a sort of goaty bray: "It's just be-e-e-ing he-e-ere on a Fri-i-iday," she said, and took a deep breath. "I just feel trapped."
Tim only knew Jess from meetings. He wanted to take his hand away, but felt bad about pulling back. So he squeezed her muscles and moved his hand over her shoulder.
His touch was like a sunrise over her skin, a long, deep radiant jet of tingling nerves. She quickly calmed, and then became embarrassed, digging in her purse for Kleenex.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I started crying."
He just looked at her, scared. To her, he looked sympathetic. "It's just this place," she said, and blew her nose.
"I know," he said, with absolutely no understanding. Her eyes and nose were red. "I guess."
She thought a lot about his hand on her shoulder, and they went on a date, not explicitly stated, just dinner out, a week or two later, after having had some nice discussions in which they complained about a mutual supervisor. She told no one she was going. He told his friend in sales, Mike, who nodded without much interest, then asked if Tim was sleeping with her. Tim shook his head. It was a nice dinner, not too expensive. They had both been raised in the Episcopal church. They tried to kiss at the end, pressing lips hard, and their teeth hit. Both pulled back.
They were quiet to each other, purposefully busy in each other's presence, after that, until he said, a week later, "I think we can just talk, you know." He felt brave to say it. She agreed, and they began to eat lunch together, and talk about their lives outside of work, and last week they'd had a drink together, and tonight they sat, alone on the 16th floor, waiting for the clock.