“Linda?” Will Lambert from Human Resources stuck his head into Linda Winkelman’s cubicle. Linda minimized her word processor and jumped to her feet as the latest chapter of her book—a work in progress—slipped away to the bottom of the computer screen. “I’m on those proposals, Will. Due tomorrow.”
“It’s not about that. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.” A stunning, statuesque woman in her early 50’s elbowed Will out of the way and strode up to Linda, hand outstretched. “Me. And we are going to be the closest of friends, I’m sure.” She was dressed like a woodsy Venus and braided her strawberry gray hair into a single heavy pigtail.
“Uh, yes. Hello, ahh...” Linda took the hand.
“leFaye. Norma Jean leFaye.” Norma Jean plopped herself into a Le Corbusier swivel chair that had set Linda back two weeks’ pay. Her feet went up on Linda’s desk, wrinkling a stack of printouts. Linda grumped but kept any misgivings to herself—in the corporate world getting a roommate was tantamount to a demotion. Linda Winkelman had over the years, by skill and attrition, crept ever closer to residence in that coveted corner office on the forty-third floor. She made a show of moving her things closer to what was now her end of the cubicle. Will Lambert backed out.
The Woodsy Venus was pleased to tell anybody who would listen that, a survivor of the 90’s organic exodus, she wintered in her summer cottage and heated with wood. “Keeping warm is a fulltime job—you are stacking wood, splitting wood, hauling ashes. And I spent a lot of time screwing a nice man who had a chain saw and a pickup truck. We counted Canada geese and listened to the loons together. I dropped out. Now I have dropped back in again.”
Linda struggled with a sprawling ficus plant that occupied the space just inside the doorway. Norma Jean didn’t raise a hand to help, just lounged languidly in the Le Corbusier chair and rolled a cigarette. “No, let the tall timber stand,” she said. “And don’t worry about your job. I’m a temp. They don’t know that yet, of course.” She held a finger to the side of her nose. “That’s a secret, just between us girls. You may yet get a corner office with a window.”
When Linda had excavated enough open space, the Woodsy Venus carried in a brace of L.L. Bean totes. “My book,” she explained. “It took ten years, Linda dear. In the winter you’re so busy chucking wood into the stove you hardly have time to do anything else. I do most of my writing in the summer.” Linda now shared a cubicle, a secretary and a word processor with a woman who got herself up in L.L. Bean dressy tweeds with hiking boots for work, a fellow writer whose novel—historical?—was of an unspecified length and theme.
That the WV might be older than she appeared she felt to be an important bit of information to share with her cubicle neighbor. She was beautifully maintained and was studiedly aware that her appearance and anecdotal lifestyle did not reflect the norm for an advertising copywriter at Glasgow/Finn and Westcott. The Woodsy Venus made her connections, put on her persona, and flowed through the workday.
Linda was envious. “Uh, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but—how old are you? I mean you look like a goddess. Is it your moisturizer?”
“You doubt me? Linda, you are a pretty girl, I like you. You will forget much of what I am going to tell you, it is for your own good. I am an old friend from work, am I not?” The goddess got a far away look in her eyes. She searched the middle distance, a shepherdess seeking lost innocence. Wrist to brow, she felt for a fainting couch with her spare hand. The pose reminded Linda of a Sarah Bernhardt poster she had had over her bed in the dorm for all four of her undergraduate years. The goddess leaned backwards, then fell down. “Shit! There should have been a velvet couch.” She rolled a fresh cigarette.
Linda pointedly coughed and waved her fingers under her nose. A klutzy goddess, thought Linda.
“How perceptive of you, my dear,” said the Orange Virgin. “And you must give yourself completely and of your own volition to my service. As my powers fade, which I am afraid will continue irretrievably, I am going to have to depend on you to look after yourself and our own shared best interests. I want you to have positive feelings for me and a predictable, calm, constructive and circumspect attitude as regards your own personal safety. We are going to change your mind in just the littlest way imaginable to make you amenable to reason. I seek a safe place for you. Go to sleep.” Linda’s chin fell forward to her clavicle. “All events that will or would ever occur in each and every universe or imaginable universe from the innards of the dust mote to the googolplex of stars have already happened. All and at once at the moment of creation.”
“Uh. Oh, sorry about that, I must have dozed off.” The woman was a head case. In advertising, some eccentricity was de rigueur. She seemed nice and Linda realized if word of her delusions spread beyond the walls of her cubicle, there would be a rustling of termination papers. Things must be lean in the woods to come back to the city and work as an office temp, thought Linda. But the WV had made her break for freedom; what had she, Linda Winkelman, done for herself lately? All she had to do was to do it, make the break from the rat race. Linda wanted “more.” More of just what she was not quite sure, but she was sure there had been a short-changing somewhere along the line. “A goddess. One of us said that. I think so, anyway. Aren’t you, uhn, voluptuous for, for…”
“You are confusing me with the Virgin Mary. It happens all the time—all pale and white they keep her out in the yard winter and summer. They place a pot of flowers—in season and usually dead—at her feet. You have focused on the nub, Linda dear. They have robbed me of my attributes. The Little Flower they have demoted to a spirit guide for their afterlife. She is the Mother. I am a triple goddess—the Mother, the Lover and the Destroyer.”
The answer was about what Linda expected—right in character for a sprouts and granola back-to-the-woods nutcase. “Uhn, sure... a statue. You are—were—a goddess. In another life?”
“And what a life it was, Lindy-me-love. But don’t get me wrong; I’m still hot stuff.”
“You are a neglected goddess, then.”
“The neglected goddess.”
Linda reached for her phone. “Maybe some of the guys in marketing, Creative, could get a handle on goddessness, uh... you know: religion?”
“...from the Latin,” said the goddess, “religio, religionis—a moral obligation.”
“A shrink, then. Professional help? Even the Pentecostals or the Catholics most likely will get a better handle on this than I can. I mean, um—religion is a fulltime job.”
“I have always found it thus. You are dithering. Forget everything that has passed between us.”
Linda was thereupon suffused with a runner’s aerobic high as endorphins flooded her body. The line separating dream and reality blurred and a cobwebby glaze covered her eyes. Her knees and elbows felt weak and warm as dream filaments twined about her feet and she swooned onto an enveloping pile of eiderdown coverlets where she gently bounced in slow motion, again, and again, and again. She had found a new religion, and it would not be denied—a faith of joy and, well... faith. Faith that kindled a small, desperate flame of hope in the Winkelman bosom.
“Faith. Joy. Warm elbows,” promised a voice. “Bounce and forget, bounce and forget.” Linda watched placidly as a flip card flow of her life was changed with a nudge here, a suggestion there.
A chips and nachos conglomerate was introducing Pork-A-Dillos, a low cholesterol fried pork rind product, the latest scientific breakthrough. Linda had been named project manager for the new product’s test marketing; if it flew she would be in line to direct the national campaign. At the brainstorming session with relevant personnel from Creative, the brand manager reached into a carton plumped onto the table piled with mechanical art, tore open one of the cellophane bags, 69 cents retail, and dumped the contents all over a billboard proposal.
“Here’s a little something extra the guys in R&D thought you could get a handle on, Linda.” The little Pork-A-Dillos were uniform tiny curls like the tops of Dairy Queen soft ice cream cones. “Little piggy tails... cute, eh?”
“Curvature of the swine. Very evocative, Sid,” Linda said. “This is bullshit. I quit.” And who the hell was Norma Jean leFaye anyway? There was no such person at the agency.
“Oops sorry, my dear. You are becoming agitated; I’ve been letting you drift. The corner office with the window—remember?”
A whispering in her head, must be the stress. Linda brushed at cobwebs in her eyes. “Like I said, bullshit.” She had blown it all away. If she handled the account right—and the product was a shoo-in, she couldn’t lose—the next stop was a vice-presidency, then a full partnership. Pork-A-Dillos was the step up she needed. Linda stomped out of the brainstorming and back to her cubicle. Grasping at the partition wall, she felt dizzy, disoriented. As if there were two of her. There was a rubbing against her leg. Affectionate. She looked down to see a black and white spotted pig untying her shoelaces. “Wha...” The dizziness returned in wave after coruscating wave. Linda sunk to the floor. The pig licked her face. “Relax,” said the pig, “there is another of you—safely distant and with no memories of you or me. Or of this day, for that matter. She is in love. Isn’t that nice? This is my mercy.” The pig faded away and Linda stood.
Giving in to all the spleen she had saved up, she dragged a 30-gallon Rubbermaid waste container in from the copier bay down the hall. She emptied her drawers one by one into the garbage and stuffed her attaché case in on top when she was finished. She held a cup of pencils and paper clips poised over the attaché case as she stared out the window at the cityscape unfolding beneath her. No job, no money—that figured. And no office with a view. This was the last goodbye. She set the cup on her desk; this was no time to be sorting paper clips. Now she had nothing but time. And who the hell am I not to go to the woods and write my little heart out, too?
She should have been elated. Wait a minute! I am elated.
She had lost her job, she and her husband were growing farther apart with each passing day, and life was grand. The habit of work was ingrained, the rhythm of her life—security, the paycheck, rent—food, even.
But Tom! How to tell Tom?
“Why tell him anything? Tell him goodbye. He is a sponger—a good lay, a pleasant dinner companion, but a parasite.” The voice was that of the pig.
“Hello?” There was no reply. “Huh.” The pig was right; dinner and sex were Tom’s survival skills, not hers. “Get on with my life. Make the break. Human Resources has my number.”
Linda was staring out her window, her desk clear and empty but for the cup of pencils and paper clips. The cold, heavy rain had started about 3 o’clock. It must be just about freezing out, Linda figured. Wet enough to make a mess and cold enough to be snow around the rush hour. She dumped the cup’s contents into the trash and put it in her gym bag with her sweats and sneakers. She squared her shoulders and shook her head. Must have been daydreaming. Time to get a move on, there were things to do. There was another fluttering of the pages of the day. She steadied herself with a grip on the edge of the desk. The dizziness would pass.
“I am so proud of you, my dear. Things are coming along swimmingly.” It was Norma Jean, the Woodsy Venus; she sounded like the pig. “And forget Tom. He will be happy.”
There was a crunch, accompanied by shouts from the street. A taxi, avoiding a delivery truck turning right from the left-hand lane, had climbed the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians and coming to rest against a light pole. The world was fraught with hazards for the unwary; there was a potential for sudden, unforeseen and lethal happenings here in the city.
It was still raining, becoming what would be a wet, heavy snow as Linda Winkelman cast one final look at the polished brass revolving doors, shrugged and headed for the trains. The thought of reclining in a hot tub with a Kahlua and brandy close to hand gave her the strength to carry on.
“Oh, shit, my book. It’s on my hard drive.” She caught the brass revolving door while it was still spinning and rode the elevator back to Glasgow/Finn and Westcott.
The Woodsy Venus must have gone home. The L. L. Bean totes. Ahh, there they were, behind her door. Linda emptied the totes and neatly squared the loose pages into three piles on her co-logger-on’s desk. She left a note—Emergency, I owe you dinner. I took the totes. Linda.
She undid the cabling from the computer case and stuffed it into a tote. The desktop computer went into the other bag. She picked up a well-thumbed Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary from the mess scattered where she had missed the trash barrel and chucked it in, too. She latched the door and it snicked shut behind her. Linda put some effort into acting casual with the security guard. It was the company’s computer. Linda was writing a tell-all exposé on women in advertising in the hours she freed up daily by being better organized than anybody else.
“G’night again, Ed. Forgot my homework.” They shared a chuckle.
The cold blast of wet air in the street came as a relief. She could feel waves of body heat rising up to her face from her open collar. Linda felt the sweat trickling down from her armpits. Her face felt pink and moist and her sweater was starting to itch through her cotton sleeves. Her rolled umbrella, trendy with a shoulder strap, was slipping. She plumped the totes on the street and adjusted the umbrella, thrusting it under her arm.
Wrestling herself down the stairwell where Gimbel’s basement had been in the
years of her childhood, she decided on the
Silence, a barrier of practiced denial; the offending party is not there, a non-person—blonde, with shoulder-length hair that he tried to keep looking clean. He had bushy eyebrows and a floppy handlebar moustache. He was homeless and slept in the subway tunnels under Grand Central Station. He had a key to the dispatcher’s signal tower lavatory at an abandoned station. Linda knew him by sight. She brushed away the alms-seeker.
“Hey, be that way. Get cancer. Have a nice day,” said the panhandler.
Linda threw him a smile. He smiled back; they belonged. She was drenched with sweat. Godammit, it must be eighty degrees down here. Linda put her token in the slot and slapped it through a residue of chewing gum with the flat of her palm. She advanced, sliding her stuffed totes over the slipway that covered the turret with its three metal bars. A comforting clunk as she hit the pipe with her hip. The next bar popped into place, pushing her through. The machine had found her offering acceptable. There was no going back.
She was trapped. The Woodsy Venus spoke reassuringly in her mind. “Animals are part of their environment. Remove, damage their dwelling places and they are extinct.”
“Pithy. You think that up all by yourself?”
“No. You heard it on a nature show—TV. What is your environment? Maybe we could get you back where you belong.”
“The collective human mind. The collective unconscious. I am an archetype. You made me, I created you. Get it? And so we go on, hand in hand, for all eternity.”
The rumble of her arriving train summoned a burst of speed. Crying, “Hold the doors! Hold the doors!” Linda looked around defiantly, claiming her space.
“You are pushing.” A large bearded individual stared accusingly at her over a pair of thick, half-frame spectacles.
“So?” Linda turned to look. Her accuser appeared to be an Orthodox some-thing-or-other. A rabbi, clergy at least. “Uh, sorry.”
“You were pushing. Admit it. Not to criticize, just a statement of fact.” The large, bearded individual gave a classic shrug as he clapped a handkerchief over her nose. A heavy perfume filled her head. Linda recalled the smell from a childhood operation.
“Ether. But I already had my tonsils out.” Linda said, aware how inane that must sound. Here I am being assaulted by a large, smelly person on the subway and that is the best I can come up with.
“Nope, chloroform,” said the large bearded person. “Happy dreams.”
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