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Domestic Violets(8)
Matthew Norman

Katie’s breasts exist now at my eye level, but I don’t stare at them like all the other dipshits in our office. Instead, I accept their presence as a given, allowing only the slightest glance at her ever-present corduroy blazer. She wears it almost every day, even in the summer. It is, somehow, the exact brown of her eyes and has been a character in the sexual fantasies of, I can only assume, every straight male in this building. A few months ago I saw one kind of like it at Nordstrom, and I picked it up for Anna, who accepted the random gift with wifely suspicion.

“Shouldn’t you be working?” I say. “I’ve found that during economic meltdowns it’s good to at least appear busy.”

“Speaking of . . . have you heard anything? Are they gonna do another round?”

The word “layoffs” is avoided here. People talk around it, like one of those complex French words that’s difficult to pronounce. I used to manage two people, Katie and a nice kid from Baltimore named Stevie Tanner. But now it’s just us. Poor Stevie got laid off two months ago.

“I know nothing,” I say, cheerfully.

“You never seem to. Have you ever wondered why that is?”

“It’s very deliberate. I’ve found that knowledge is usually a burden. I prefer to be surprised and then eventually horrified.”

“You’re a born leader, Tom Violet,” she says. “I would follow you into hell.”

I’ve been a longtime appreciator of a good exit line, and this one—solid—lingers for a few minutes after she’s gone, making me forget that I’m at work, and that I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and, according to a recent online survey from seven minutes ago, “mild” erectile dysfunction. In fact, she’s left me so giddy that it takes me a moment to realize that she’s stolen my heart-shaped squeeze ball.

I swoon for a moment. I’m like some dumb kid with unfortunate skin at his locker. But then I see my dad on my computer screen, smiling at me below the headline VIOLET WINS PULITZER FOR FICTION. He’s looking at me all smug and accomplished like he’s so smart, and I think of that stupid T-shirt. It’s a good question. What Would Curtis Violet Do?

Chapter 5

In most companies, no one really notices you until they need you. And even then, when someone wanders into your office or IMs you and finds that you’re gone, they just assume you’re doing something constructive. Sitting in some horrible, pointless meeting. Stealing office supplies. Weeping gently in a bathroom stall on the fourth floor. Once you’ve established yourself as reasonably competent, you can pretty much come and go as you please.

And so, as the day wears on and on, I’ve decided to go.

There are few things as exciting as going over the wall in the middle of the afternoon. On the other side, the air is fresher and the sun is a little more brilliant in the blue sky. There are always people walking around, driving places, and I wonder if they’ve gone over the wall, too. Are there currently hundreds—thousands—of unmanned cubes and offices in D.C. right now while we all do whatever it is we’re doing here on the outside?

I worked at MSW for a full six months before I even knew what MSW stood for, which is Management Services Worldwide. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but, in a nutshell, my company helps other companies be better companies. We have courses and expert speakers and pie charts and business models and acronyms and PowerPoint presentations that throw around ear-splitting words like “synergy” and “best practices” and we have Webinars and binders of information and it’s all designed to help your organization work more efficiently. My job, as director of marketing copywriting, is to write ads and press releases and brochures about how if you don’t use MSW your company will sink into bankruptcy, your wife will leave you, and you will die alone beneath a bridge.

It’s all very fulfilling.

Like most people who have jobs like mine, it was all meant to be temporary. I would write and publish my novel, and then I’d retire from corporate purgatory and become a member of the Community of American Letters.

That was seven years ago. In a climate in which simply having a job is an accomplishment, mine represents failure.

When I arrive at my doctor’s office, I stride toward the reception desk where a woman named Glenda sits. Glenda is an elderly black lady who’s worked for my doctor for as long as he’s been my doctor, but she never seems to recognize me. I can’t blame her though, considering I’ve never made an actual appointment and every time I’m here I claim to be someone different.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

“Yes. I’m Paul Hewson, here to see Dr. Mortensen.”

Paul Hewson is Bono’s real name, incidentally. Last time I was here, I was Gordon Sumner, otherwise known as Sting.

Glenda looks at a giant desk calendar. Dr. Charlie shares his practice with two ancient doctors, and so everything here seems like something out of an issue of Life magazine.

“What time was your appointment?”

I look at my watch, which says 3:45, and so that’s what I say.

“Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Hewson, I don’t seem to have you down.”

“Oh, no worries. I can wait awhile.”

As she jots Bono’s name down, I walk by the waiting room and through a door leading to the examination rooms. An old woman reading Highlights looks up but doesn’t seem concerned that I’m blatantly cutting in line. As obnoxious as this all sounds, it’s actually authorized. Dr. Charlie was my college roommate, and he’s too nice of a guy to tell me that I’m not Barbra Streisand and that maybe I should actually make an appointment like a normal person.

A few nurses smile at me, assuming that I’m someone else’s problem, as I sneak glances into rooms. One of Charlie’s partners dozes at his desk over a file while listening to Rush Limbaugh. A young mother sits in an examining room with a little boy dressed in only socks and tighty-whitey underwear. She’s ignoring him as he drums on her thigh with tongue depressors. I round a corner and see a poster on the wall diagramming the human respiratory system, which looks very much like the D.C. Metro map. Then I hear Charlie’s voice. He’s yelling, but not in an angry way. I follow the shouting to find my friend standing in a doorway, hollering into a very old man’s ear.

“Two pills, Mr. Halgas! One in the morning, and one at night before bed!”

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