Sweet Relief

In an extraordinary world, her day was the most ordinary possible. She walked to work, passing shops, offices, and galliers, each evenly-lit inside and restrained and symmetrical on the outside in the modern style. Her own work building said ""Gresham'' on the outside and the inside was made of white tile and wallboard and partitions. This was early morning in the city, when the light was golden and hesitant; it did not yet stretch curvaceously around tall buildings the way it did in late afternoon, the time of long shadows and, for office workers, stupor.

The thing is, she thought to herself while hanging up her coat and moving to the office coffee pot, you've got to get your mind more active--take a class or something, if you can bear sitting in a classroom for three hours after sitting for eight at a typewriter. She thought this often. Behind a fog, other secretaries were making their sporadic dull morning-talk. But what kind of class? She had never gotten past this question.

Limousines gliding down the avenue outside her window might have been strange black water birds, with an occasional white swan. . .but inside, the proud and the powerful sit, she thought, catching a glimpse of a hand holding a telephone receiver inside one of the murky windows. She smiled slightly, her attention drawn back to the swan image: there was nothing very angry or willful about her. She loved what could take her away from the world.

Rolling paper in the platen, she began to think idly: weight, weight, you've got to lose some weight. . .running it like a chant through her head. After typing lists of stock numbers and prices for an hour or so, she vaguely began to think about the thing, hoping it would not come over her but it did. This kind of antsyness in her stomach was not hunger, but it made her rise like a robot and walk to the vending machines down the hall. This urge is hopeless to fight, she thought, once it comes on. It blew in like a squall from the lonely spaces in her brain and while eating, in the hall or in the bathroom away from co-workers, she stared straight ahead, vacantly and it was pleasant.

Well, that's it, she thought, swallowing the last of the three candy bars and crumpling the wrappers. Now the argument-with-self would ensue: No, no, no, I told you not to eat that crap! But it's so awful here, no one even talks to me, and I'm wasting my life! How can you deny yourself this trifling pleasure when this room and your whole daytime existence is so sour? Well, isn't your nighttime existence a zero deal too? And do you know why? Because you're such a blimp! Oh c'mon! Is that a real reason or just an excuse?

During the argument, her face was smooth; she bit her lip the tiniest bit, but that could have indicated concentration over the paperwork which she was now taking to task.

Lunchtime was better; it was with Lucinda, a co-worker who had lots of children at home who wore her out. Oh, they throw themselves on me from the moment I get home till the time I fall asleep, she was saying as they sat on the park bench not 20 feet from the noisy avenue. Lucinda laughed a lot and her exhaustion was not evident. Her long black hair got into her sandwich and they both laughed. Then they had to go back inside for the next half of the day, which was always the worst.

She had forgotten about the other thing that happened sometimes when she felt in lighter spirits, like after a nice lunch. It drove her crazy. Surely it won't keep me from work, she thought, but then it started. A huge feeling of horniness leapt upon her. It made her feel her nipples against her blouse and the creases behind her knees. It made her want to laugh insanely at the office--the absurd, stultifying cubicles, alphabetical files, and all the silly people with pointy shoes and impeccable grooming.

If only to dash out the door and into the little park, she thought. If only to strike up a conversation with someone there, something simple about feeding pigeons! Someone out there who doesn't have a boring existence like this, someone who could tell me what daytime is really like!

Asking if anyone would like anything from the deli, she ran out quickly and brought back a soda pop for the receptionist and cookies for herself. She wolfed them down while shuffling through the papers. Afterwards, through the greasy, stuffed feeling, she felt the thick beating of her heart. The thing had returned, and she began to rock very slightly and slowly back and forth in her chair, one foot tucked under her, typing all the while. Sweat rose to her forehead; the rest of the office was a clicking machine far away behind a blue fog. She got up and went into the bathroom. But I don't have to go to the bathroom, she thought, sitting there.

Oh damn you! Why do you have to get so out of line! Why? What if somebody saw that? Then you're really gonna be in trouble. . .you'll have to quit! You're completely unhinged, you idiot! I can see it now. . .dropped out of the workforce at age 22 due to uncontrolled masturbation. . .oh god, what is wrong with you?

But as she argued with herself, her anxious fingers began tugging and digging and massaging. She was afraid someone would come in. If I could just get rid of this tension and get rid of it fast, she thought. Then work would be easier. . .to concentrate on. Each rising and falling breath was shortened and then the outlandish became the exciting: Do you know where you are and what you're doing? Oh, if those nags even knew! You're crazy you cunt, cunt. . .cunt!

For a full minute she dropped limply there on the toilet, then suddenly gasping as if she'd heard terrible news, she got up quickly and went to her cubicle.

Now it was 3:30 and there was no more stalling to do, no more change for the vending machines. You better do some exercising, you slob, she thought vaguely, feeling tired. Maybe I need a shrink. . .it's some kind of compulsive condition. No one had looked at her at all when she had come back into the room. Who cares what they think. ...why do I have these grotesque urges?

Outside, she could see shadows growing long and the sky began to glow purple and red behind dark cigar-shaped clouds. Dusk was coming and the city would churn away into the night. Somewhere out there, life was going on.

What should I have for dinner?