by Lydia Williams
Our new secretary, our minx. One morning we opened our shared email folders to find her secret rendezvous plans with a lover. She'd mistakenly sent her private emails to the company account. "Let's animal," one email said, addressed to someone named Paul. Obviously, we were troubled. What a thoughtless metaphor! (And yes, "Paul" is a husband kind of name, to be sure, but it's not her husband's name.) Ironically, the prose became rather too proud of itself in swift progression; the next email directed Paul to knock three times on the meat locker door at Patton's Meat Market for a "chilly thrill." Oh, God, the cute rhyme. Still more obscenely ambiguous in the next email, she'd be at the park on Tuesday morning, leaf-blower in-hand "to blow a love nest." Her pen leaks the snot of an allergy to deep thinking.And could it be that these epistolary crimes were committed by one of our own? Why knock on the meat locker three times? Who else would be knocking? And what about the hapless Dairy Queen smack of "chilly thrill"? Clearly the pen was not mightier than the thigh. The rest of that week, we contemplated her kinky expressions over piles of paperwork. Let's animal. If the mind were cliché, we wondered, would the sex be as well? Was cliché sex really possible? And who might be the judge of that?
We acted as if we hadn't seen the emails, highly sensitive as we were to how mortified we knew she must feel. Surely such a vamp could not be so unaware. Here, after all, was the same secretary who wore pencil skirts and heels every day, touched up her lipstick in the bathroom, wore her hair long and always down, wore blouses that invited touch, wore sex on her sleeve. If trashy emails were a purposeful erotic strategy, how were we to know? Besides, our discretion meant that at least we were relieved of having to divulge any untoward information to our new secretary's husband, a man easy to avoid because in fact no one has ever seen nor met him, although he has nonetheless had two birthdays this year alone that have necessitated her absence from work.
When our new secretary's husband had his second birthday of the year, she told us she had to leave for a few hours and pick up "special pictures" of herself she'd had taken for the occasion. She must have sensed our suspicion and wanted to prove herself, yet we were shocked when she came back that afternoon willing to prove her story by showing off the tamer pictures. A button or two of her shirt undone was captured to tawdry effect, and she showed the pictures to us all. More authentic than typical fashion shots, and more titillating than internet porn (the little we've heard of it), the pictures indeed promised better sex than the emails, as her strength was clearly a visual one. Our sales calls took on a righteous tone the rest of the month and we outsold our goal by twenty-five percent.
Her arrival almost three months ago right away raised ire. She did not seem the reliable type, the type to cozy in and find a comfortable niche. Immediately clear was that she would not, like Lisa, bring cinnamon bagels to the office every Thursday, or pick up Chik-Fil-A for lunch like Candice. She might stroll in at ten with a whipped cream coffee concoction, or she might be waiting outside the door at seven-thirty with a slice of cold pizza. Who knew if she'd even been to bed, or where she'd been sleeping if not in a bed? All previous employee transgressions were immediately forgotten as we united against the office trollop. We became more reliable, the better to contrast ourselves with her unreliability, as we certainly wouldn't want to be spontaneous if it meant being like her.
We were taking turns manning the front desk one Friday afternoon during one of her absences and discussing how to have her fired when we discovered that she had her computer set to log-in to her private email account automatically. We couldn't help but notice that one of her subject lines read, "Friday, two, the rainforest house at the Botanical Gardens." Of course, we all knew what that meant: more Harlequin alphabet-poop. Showing uncommon restraint, we didn't open it. We would have self-control, even if she couldn't. This happened in the same week her husband called to speak with her, apparently unaware that she'd taken the afternoon off for a doctor's appointment. We all saw Rodney with the phone to his ear, waving his hands and snapping frantically to get everyone's attention. When we rushed over, he pointed to the Caller I.D.: "Martin P. Cantrell." We blinked. "P?" As in Paul? No, no, someone said, I think his middle name is Peter or something. Someone else half-remembered seeing his not-Paul middle name as well. And that was that.
All told, our new secretary has missed sixteen of the ninety days she's been with us, not counting extra lunch hours here and there. She has made habit of late arrival and early departure. Checks are lost, appointments are overlapped, and the filing is nonexistent: any and all functionality reasonably expected to be well within any secretary's purview has gone to hell. But the rest of us are more productive than ever and simply put, we have changed our minds: we never want her to leave. Each day around her is like watching a different episode of a new fall drama. She's our real live Must-See TV! No one calls in sick anymore; no one wants to miss a minute. We can hardly look away. Most remarkable of all, even though none of the secretarial duties are being accomplished, we've exceeded our sales goals for the year and everything in the company is up, up, up!
Every night, the rest of us wade through the same traffic to get home, scurry through the same chores, worry the same over money and children, watch the same new instant-riches and talent-competition shows, have the same sex, discuss our various material possessions, and sleep the same sleep. And even though we do pity our secretary, her bad secret even in her job title, and we're almost embarrassed that her emptiness provides so much of our entertainment, nevertheless, we're so proud. We're so proud of us, we say all the time, compared to her. Poor girl—really, she's so pitiful. We wouldn't trade places with her for the world, not even for a few minutes of undressing slowly for a photographer's lustful eyes, or for twenty minutes of getting stripped and fucking in a meat locker, or for the damp and earthy smell on our arms and legs after an hour carousing naked in a gigantic pile of fall leaves.
Lydia Williams is working on her first novel, Good Christian, at Georgia State University. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dead Mule, Fresh Boiled Peanuts, The Rose and Thorn, The Armchair Aesthete, and SN Review, among others. Lydia is a contributing editor at The Chattahoochee Review and lives with her husband in Atlanta.