wide khaki bum loomed above Jamie on the escalator. As usual, she feared it
was going to disengage from the rest of his body and fall and crush her. Not
many silver, slatted stairs left now, thoughthree, two, onethey
disappeared into eternity and Todd pushed off heavily onto solid ground. He
retreated down the corridor without so much as a backward glance. Jamie finished
her journey safely, light of heart, and disappointed.
happened againthat spooky ahead-of-me thingthankfully its
over," she told Julia, the receptionist, on her way in the door. No further
explanation was neededJulia knew all about Todd. Julia came into work
every day at seven-thirty and was competently performing menial tasks as the
employees arrived, some in stony silence and others ready to talk her ear
off. Jamie fell into the latter category.
was a superb receptionist. Pretty and capable and outwardly sweet. She lifted
weights and ran on a treadmill at a nearby gym each morning before coming
in. Her hard-earned physique was tasteful, and showed through her clothes
in only the best, subtlest way amid some still-soft curves. Secretly, Julia
hoped her infuriatingly perfectly-put-together presence made people feel lazy,
unkempt and useless, as though they should just turn around and go back to
bed forever. Freshly-scrubbed looking at all times, neither the sweat she
shed while exercising or the toll her futile job had taken were ever apparent.
No red face or quivering hands, no quick breathing patterns, no flailing nervous
breakdowns. Her exterior was elegantly cool. She was a traceless sort of person.
Julia rode the subway everywhere. Whenever the ad posters started to get to her she would aggressively doze as the cars chugged from stop to stop, letting the mournful people on and off. A department stores latest print campaign was giving her that familiar, creeping sensation; the models were wholesome, with disproportionately small facial features, the kind the company appeared to favour. Their inane poses filled her with hopelessness, so she would turn resolutely into the hard wall, curled up unconscious but not in such a way that would mess up her outfit.
she did not altogether despise Jamie, Julia dreaded having to listen to The
Todd Saga. Jamie went on and on and on about it, every day, without fail.
It was pathetic, really. Todd simply wasnt a stalker, as Jamie liked
to dramatically proclaim. And even if by some strange fluke he was, Jamie
was not his target. There was just no way. Julia guessed that Jamie got off
on the deranged appeal of it, the idea that being an object of obsession made
you the winner of some psychotic popularity contest. Jamie was, after all,
alone and lonely, a demented workaholic. She seemed unable to form any functioning
relationships, romantic or otherwise. Her bizarre sisters were her only link
to the outside world, and the benefits of this link were questionable. It
made sense that even a panting pervert would have been a welcome addition
to her life, a macabre void-filler. But there were holes in Jamies stories
of torment, and Todd was usually in front of her on the escalator, a position
which did not exactly conjure up images of evil pursuit.
for Julia, it was imperative that Jamie be indulged and coddled, no matter
how ridiculous her needs or delusions. This was an unacknowledged but very
vital part of Julias role. And Julia genuinely did feel sorry for her;
there was a child-like quality to Jamies attention-grabbing schemes
that was endearing. But Jamie was exceedingly aggravating, and frequently
Julia found it difficult not to let the beast out, to tear her superior to
shreds. When there was a danger of this occurring, Julia would merely think
of the word "Tahiti", letting the syllables bounce mellowly around
in her head, and the desire would subside. She also kept a fern at her desk.
It was sturdy and reliable and persevered through both kindness and neglect.
With such resilience blooming in front of her, some things were easier.
Tahiti Treatment, combined with vacant plant staring, came in very handy for
Julia, especially when Jamie was engaged in her most annoying habit. This
was to act-as-though-her-every-move-deserved-the-worlds-undivided-attention.
It was by far Jamies most despicable ploy, worse even than the Un-Stalking
nonsense, which was somewhat amusing. The reviled Look At Me! game went like
this: after being away in a meeting or at lunch, Jamie would cry "Oh!"
(or some other variation) loudly upon returning to her disgustingly spacious
office. This was to signify that there was something surprising, something
unexpected, that demanded external curiosity and interest. It was a cue to
is it?!" Julia knew Jamie was dying for a person to call out excitedly.
Nine times out of ten, some dupe did. Jamie was high up in the company and
had legions of underlings simpering around her, trying to make a good impression.
So, when her "Oh, no!" was wailed behind her closed door, and a
knock or an "Are you okay in there?" was being fervently anticipated,
someone usually delivered. These episodes disgusted Julia; the extreme desperation
emanating from both parties made her gums throb.
of all was that if no one was around to cater to Jamies pitiable neediness,
the responsibility fell to Julia. On one occasion she had let the opportunity
pass; Julia sat frozen in her chair, willing her crinkling scalp to be still,
waiting for the dreadful moment to end. She felt like the townspeople in The
Boy Who Cried Wolf. Was this a legitimate summoning? Was she making a job-costing
error? Did Jamies "Well, looky here!" actually mean something?
Probably not. Julia exhaled ever so slowly through her nostrils, wishing to
disappear. When she heard Jamies door open with a sad squeak a few minutes
later, she hightailed it to the photocopy room, a place where it was reasonable
to assert, if pressed, that she hadnt heard Jamies exclamation.
sailed in soon after and eyed her suspiciously. "Busy in here?"
too," said Julia calmly, pointlessly rearranging ballpoints in their
little baskets. Shit. Shit. Shit.
its nice that some people can relax around here. I, on the other hand,
am totally stressed out. I have three major client meetings in the next two
days, that conference in Spain in July, and to top it all off, my allergies
are killing me. Those dust balls in my office certainly arent helping.
I just found a giant one behind my computer, less than a week after the memo
went out to the cleaning guys about shaping up. Im lodging another complaint."
It had been a dust ball. Come here, everyone, please gather round and ooh
and aah and cluck sympathetically over a gathering of dirt. Jesus Christ.
The inner beast kicked Julia sharply in her muscled gut and she winced. Jamie
was already gone, off to find a bigger crowd to whine to in the lunchroom.
one oclock, Julia returned from a leisurely lunch break to find Jamies
sisters hovering around the coat hooks. They clung to each other like orphans,
wearing garish flowered dresses which looked unspeakably awful together. One
sister was bigger than the other, but they were nearly identical, with their
round, scared eyes and tiny mouths hiding painfully crooked teeth. Julia was
convinced that Jamie was adopted; it was impossible to accept that she shared
genes with the two lost beings teetering around the foyer. Jamie was nuts,
to be sure, but in such a different way. Jamie was corporate-anorexic crazy;
these two were farmhouse-incest crazy. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at their
for the monthly luncheon, girls?" Julia asked, sitting down and putting
on her headset. The sisters took three alarmed steps back at the sound of
her voice. This happened every time.
the smaller one said quietly. "Is she
swiveled sideways, craned her neck down the hall, saw that Jamies door
was partially open. A short, wide foot, stockinged but shoeless, appeared
and disappeared in the visible space, bouncing along to the radio that was
playing. Something Big Band.
here," Julia told the sisters, and again they shrank back.Whispering,
so as not to alarm them further, Julia said, "Ill get her."
necessary. Jamie suddenly came out of her office, shoes on, lipstick perfect,
designer purse hitched over her shoulder. She must have heard her siblings,
or felt their tenuous vibes. "Hi!" she cried, and the sisters sprang
into action, came apart, fussed around Jamie, put her in the middle, between
their generous hips, made her the extra-lean meat in a sandwich of gaudy-patterned
bread. Julia marveled at the weirdness of it all.
you remember Raye and April, right?" Jamie was saying. "They owned
the catering company before it got bought out and made them millionaires?
Arent they adorable?"
were the furthest thing from adorable, and Julia had never heard anything
about their catering business, but she nodded mutely in agreement on all counts.
Then everyone smiled, all four of them, and Julia wondered underneath her
forced grin if Jamies teeth had been fixed, or if she was just lucky.
Surely the sisters could afford to straighten theirs, if what Jamie said was
true. But you never knew with Jamie.
have a great time," Julia said, tiring of them, trying to hurry them
out. The dresses were giving her a headache.
Jamie said, making a contorted face at Julia that communicated she would in
fact have the worst time, ever. Raye and April had already turned away. They
tittered back and forth, clearly beside themselves with glee. Poor gals.
they were gone, Julia sank deep into her seat and crossed her arms in a very
un-receptionist-like way. There was no one around to see. She wriggled out
of her Mary Janes, looked at her bare feet and thought of how different they
were from Jamies. Julia had dancers feet, long and pale and veiny
and knotted. But she didnt dance, never had, and their ugliness was
wasted. Hideous for no apparent reason. Her mother had been a ballerina, briefly,
but what did that matter now? When Julia stretched her legs out on the beach
in Tahiti, she would have to bury her feet in the sand, soles burning, so
as not to repel friends, lovers, and passers-by. She was happily expectant
about letting go and getting bigger, becoming roly-poly and slack where she
used to be firm, but she was sensitive about her feet. She wanted people to
like them. But that would probably never happen.
was a buzz in the processed corporate air that was lulling her into a near
sleep. The phone was silent. Julia settled into one of her tropical daydreams;
she could almost taste the salt water and daiquiris and foreign skin. But
then, intruders. Jamie and her sisters bumbled their way into her make-believe,
Jamie in a black bikini and Raye and April in lavender paisley one-pieces.
Julia tried to remove them, to will them away. But Jamie spread out a towel
beside her and, giggling, took off her bathing suit top. Too irritating for
words. Julia ignored the request to help with sunscreen. The sisters moved
toward the waters edge, waving idiotically at Jamie. Julia tried to
snap out of it, to return to the universe. She couldnt. Her beast had
been roused, and was forcing her to stay. The barely-contained creature had
made the most of a vulnerable moment, and Julia was powerless. It now leaped
out of her ribcage, roared, and grabbed at Jamie, broke her in two in a non-gory,
efficient manner. Julia could do nothing as it charged after the sisters,
chased them into the sea. It was doubtful that they could swim.
Julia felt no pleasure in witnessing these events. She was too distracted to enjoy them, too caught up in considering the implications of the escape. Both in her mind and out her mouth, she sighed. It would take a great deal of precious energy to capture and re-chain the beast, excess energy she was quite sure she didnt have. And how would she exist normally while coiling its obscene length back inside herself?
real life, there was someone standing over her. Brad, one of the accounting
people. Julia opened her eyes a fraction and squinted at him insolently. She
remained inappropriately slouched in her chair.
seemed to puzzle briefly over Julias modified physical presentation.
His tone was hesitant as he asked, "Could you
copy this for me?"
He timidly tried to hand her a brightly coloured package of papers.
grabbed at it with her bare ugly feet; her shoes felt ages and ages away.
Some of Brads documents fluttered off at this abuse.
I cant copy this for you, Brad," said Julia. "So could you
fuck yourself for me?" At these words, the tiniest release of pent-up
flab extended from the back of Julias upper arms.
Maybe Tahiti was going to have to wait a while longer.
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