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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Monday, March 14, 2016

=When the hammer doesn't fall=

That morning I was the first one in the office for a change. I was the first one there because I was still there from the night before. I'd fallen asleep at my desk. I'd been afraid to go home, afraid Ben would be there, Ben who was still angry, having found out about my meeting this guy I linked up with on the internet, who I gave a quick, meaningless blow job to in an apartment downtown during my lunch-hour last week—I couldn't even tell you the address—that's how meaningless it was, some old building without much-needed air-conditioning.

Ben had found out about it having read the email exchange I'd had with this guy. I don't know how he managed that. He said I'd left it open on my computer, which I sincerely doubt, I'm pretty careful with stuff like logging off of my email account, especially when I know it contains compromising material, for instance, an email exchange with a guy to whom I'm sending provocative half-naked lingerie selfies of myself and detailed descriptions of what I'm going to do to his cock with my talented slut tongue, etc, etc. 

But whatever. 

You can't argue reasonably with a man who just found out you had sort of cheated on him and was now ranting and raving with a hammer in his hand. My throat was still bruised from where he grabbed me, I could feel it if I replaced his hand with my own and I have to admit, it feels kind of good, like love. Or something damn close. Ben had pushed me against the wall and I still remember the hammer raised above my forehead, the way it trembled up there at the apex of the blow that would have no doubt shattered my skull and sent splinters of bone into the front of my brain for one final spectacular fireworks crescendo. I don't think he would have brought the hammer down even if I hadn't kneed him in the groin, in fact, I didn't even mean to knee him in the groin, it was just a reflex, basically I was cringing, waiting for the blow to fall and in the process of curling up the best I could with his hand around my throat, cutting off my airway, I tried to scrunch up into a protective ball, like a porcupine, and my knee came up and, well, I managed to get away while he clutched his testicles and I came here, to the office, because I couldn't think of anywhere else to go and if I could've I suspect this would have seemed the sanest and safest place to come after the craziness I'd just experienced. 

I put in a full day of work like nothing near-homicidal had happened, kept my blouse buttoned all the way up to hide my finger-marked larynx and when I had to say anything I noticed I sounded husky and sexy like Lauren Bacall. If anyone else noticed, they didn't say. I ignored the many frantic messages from Ben throughout the day, except for the one where I warned him against showing up at the office or I'd have security arrest him, and when five o'clock came I didn't leave. I ordered in a sandwich from the corner deli, just in case Ben was lurking around out there on the street waiting for me with apologies or the hammer or both. I lifted my legs and rolled away from the desk when the cleaning lady came round with the vacuum cleaner at six, and locked the door to my office and set up camp for the night at nine. I watched Youtube videos on my computer.

I didn't sleep much, my head on the desk and my feet off the floor, afraid to stretch out on the carpet in case there were mice. (There'd been reports of sightings in the kitchen a few months back). But I must have slept, how else could I explain the passage of hours I couldn't account for? The building creaked and groaned and there were sounds of distant doors being opened and shut—by who, I wondered? Building security? Others like me, who'd taken refuge here at the office? Ghosts of employees past? Anything seems possible at three in the morning.  At one point I had to pee so fiercely it overcame my terror and I walked down familiar corridors that had taken on a dreamlike weirdness. I did my business and rushed back to my office as quickly as possible, locked the door, and stood behind it, breathless, my heart pounding, imagining a claw coming right through the wall. Ridiculous, I told myself. There's nothing to fear. But there's everything to fear and deep down inside we all know it.

I woke up grainy-eyed, stiff, and foul-mouthed and went to the ladies room to clean up as best I could with paper towels and the foul industrial soap they use in the sink dispensers. The office looked spectral in the predawn light, all those empty desks and unmanned computer terminals. Every day for the last seven years I had seen things in this office no one was meant to see. I saw people sitting at those desks typing away at a fiction they didn't create, but to which they made their earnest daily contributions. I saw people acting their hearts out on the telephone presumably to people on the other end acting theirs out as well. I saw office romances that were totally inappropriate and  invented between completely incompatible lovers just for the sake of keeping the story interesting. I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, checking my hair, my teeth, my makeup, preparing myself for the next act. 

Now the stage was empty, except for the props, which looked all the more forlorn and phony with no actors to enliven them. What would Ben have done if he knew that it wasn't my first time, that I had met at least a dozen guys online, only two more than once. That I met them in hotel rooms, in the park, in cars, and, occasionally, at their apartment. Would the hammer have come down? Maybe he did know. One or twelve, what difference did it make, really? Fact is, I didn't give him a chance to make a decision. My reflexes had denied him the right to choose. And what about my reflexes? What inside me wanted to save myself in spite of myself? My reckless behavior, my refusal to plead for my life, to apologize, or to my lie my way out of the situation even to save myself. What of that? Did I want the hammer to fall, after all? Sooner or later I would have to come to terms with Ben. I'd have to give him the opportunity to choose. I owed him that much. 

Besides, I couldn't live at the office forever. I couldn't even work here forever. That much was certain now that I'd spent a night here, seen  the place—and my life—in a new light. The elevator dinged. Mr. Harrison strode out. Crisp, trim, good-looking Mr. Harrison, in his impeccably tailored suit, looking exactly the same every day, for every performance, every hair in place for at least the seven years I'd been here. I only saw him fleetingly, engaged in scenes with other stars, striding purposely toward important meetings far beyond my comprehension—or pay grade. We had no important dialogue together, no consequential scenes. I'd checked the script. I was just a walk-on. In his corner office, he was as remote to me as Brad Pitt in his trailer, as a god on Mt. Olympus. But now, suddenly, with the cameras off, we were the only two on set.

"Good morning," Mr. Harrison," I said in my husky new voice. They were the very first words I ever spoke to him. I was careful to keep my movements to a minimum for fear of releasing the cabbagy smell of my limp, slept-in clothes. 

He smiled. Every tooth in his mouth white and straight and perfect, like teeth in a tooth commercial. I tried to picture him with his face bloated and red, his eyes bulging with cartoon anger, a hammer raised tremblingly above his no-longer flawlessly barbered head.

"Good morning Amanda. Early today, aren't you?" 

"Yes sir." 

He smiled again and walked on toward his office, as purposely as ever, a man with somewhere to go, a mark to make. 

I realized I was blushing, like a big sloppy rose had bloomed on my face. Now it was fading, growing cold, dying, like in time-lapse photography. It was the usual nervousness one feels in the presence of one's boss, but it was also more than that; my shame was the result of the idle sexual fantasies in which he occasionally starred. Until he said it, I wouldn't have bet on his even knowing my name. 

"Well, onward and upward," he said, calling over his shoulder. 

It was a silly unanswerable thing to say,  just an empty bit of dialogue, something you say off-stage, in the wings, before the show begins, something to which you don't expect an answer. I knew that, but I answered anyway. 

"Break a leg," I said. 

He turned and looked at me curiously, as if seeing me for the first time even though he acted like he saw me two seconds before. He nodded briskly and continued on to this office.  I wouldn't be surprised if we never spoke again. Or if he had me downsized. Or if he impulsively ordered an underling to consider me for promotion to a new position should one become available. Or even if we ended up having a well-whispered about affair, stunning all the office gossips. I wouldn't be surprised by anything at all. I figured I'd get to work revising my resume and start looking for a new job this weekend.

At noon, after a morning in which I accomplished nothing, having no appetite for lunch and feeling like a zombie, a stand-in "playing the role of me today," I decided to pick up one of Ben's calls. 

"We have to talk," he said. 

"Yes," I agreed. 

But having agreed on this much, we said nothing at all, still waiting, as it were, for the hammer that doesn't fall.

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