At 10 (Quick Sketch)

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.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents