(from Open City Magazine Number 24)
“Jenny,” she’d told herself when she had her degree in her hand. “Jenny, maybe you don’t want to be in the working world, but think of each thing that’s going to happen to you as just another part of an adventure.” She’d felt she could get away with saying such a thing to herself since she was moving to New York City—well, Brooklyn—that she might not get away with if she’d stayed home in Connecticut. That had been then.
It was more than two years later. She was sitting on her French Provincial bed in her small apartment in Brooklyn. Outside her window the last light of a cold Saturday afternoon was falling. She was still in her pink silk pajamas. She hadn’t been outside that day.
What can you tell yourself, she wondered, after you’ve joined a huge company, just after having convinced yourself that everything in life is an adventure, and you find out that your job is not?
She was in banking. What that really meant was she calculated whether the bank would make more money by lending money or by just doing nothing. It was a strong message she’d hand to strangers—maybe she gave the clients what they’d asked for or maybe she just sat there and killed everything, then waited for someone else. She’d seen all that clearly the day before as she looked into the face of a big-time borrower, one Michael Gregory Taft, an independent real estate developer. She didn’t have an answer for him about his loan.
He was handsome and confident, she thought. Older. He was telling her the details of his project. He’d smiled at her. She’d noticed a scar, which looked like a fencing wound, over his left eye. He’d paused. And right there, Jenny didn’t know why, he looked like he’d just love to get it all over with and die. She’d felt it, she was sure she did.
“Why do you work in a bank?” he’d suddenly asked her. “You obviously have the intelligence, but you also seem to have an imagination. You don’t appear to like loan approvals at all.” She was shocked that he had said such a thing. He hadn’t been smiling when he’d said it, either. She could feel how he wanted to die, right there; at that moment, so did she. And she was no less startled that she would be thinking of that, dying, during that interview, rather than just quitting and somehow getting married which, after all, could be an adventure, at least for a while.
When she’d started at the bank, she thought maybe she might kill herself, though it was only in the same way she’d thought of it years before, just after she’d fallen off a horse onto her back. Or once when she’d been sitting in a dentist’s chair, her mouth open and bloody, the idea being that dying would get her out of that moment. Of course, the idea had always passed. Recently, nothing had really happened, but the idea was not passing.
Jenny had just sat looking at her client, Michael Taft, for a moment. He’d smiled a little, then said, “I suppose I should apologize for saying what I did. But, what are you doing tomorrow night? Could I take you somewhere?”
The next day, wandering around her apartment in Brooklyn, she had to tell herself again, he wasn’t bad looking. With that scar over his eye she could actually have described him as “dashing.” He was older. She’d said yes. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to this date, but she wasn’t exactly not either.
Jenny stood for a moment by her window. Late Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, the winter sun just glowing over the rooftops, and she had time to kill. One second she was very aware of where she was, the next she felt she was flat on her back in the fine gravel of Connecticut, unable to breathe, looking up at the paddock fence, hearing the horse galloping away.
She supposed that if this Michael tried to take off her clothes, she’d let him, though she couldn’t quite picture the scene. The idea wasn’t too interesting, but she did have an evening to kill—and so did he.
“What dress should I wear?” she suddenly asked herself. Then she answered, “Oh, I’ll figure it out.”
Whenever she’d buy a dress, she’d have her good thoughts and her bad thoughts, yet it all seemed to work out. But, as she had to admit, a little bit of that same deathly feeling was lurking there even in those stores, just as she was about to step in front of a mirror—pushing and slipping herself between circular racks of whatevers—the feeling that this is not going to work out, it’s never going to work out, and it’s better to just die. But then the saleslady would come up to her, or she’d think maybe she’d like it more in another color, and she’d forget about dying.
It was probably getting colder outside. Jenny wondered if she should wear something black or dark blue. Maybe light blue and sheer—that could be exciting, that might knock this Michael out. Emphasize the age difference. Perhaps she’d braid her hair. God knows how he might dress, this dashing man; good or bad, that could take the breath out of her. She might want to kill herself—even for a minute—just to get to the other side of that moment.
The clock on her dresser had hardly moved. It was the same as waiting to get up for work when she couldn’t sleep, spending half the night thinking, I don’t want to go to work, until finally she’d just get out of bed at 5:35 a.m., and slowly, so slowly, get ready. But she’d always found she could only dress just so deliberately—she would look at the little bottles of perfume on her dresser, or hear faint sounds outside her window, footsteps, or a truck passing, and in the stillness that followed she’d get that I-want-to-die feeling.
Would he want to peel her clothes off slowly? Or tear them to shreds? She wouldn’t mind. She felt her heart accelerate. Who knew for sure if she’d like him—that would be something, to be wasting a Saturday afternoon all the way till seven, just to be back at nine-fifteen. Then what would she do? Stare at herself in the mirror? Count the stars in the sky? Can’t see many in Brooklyn.
“You don’t like anything, Jenny,” her mother was always saying. “You’re too critical.” But then when she was with her friends from school, one of them, usually Hannah, would remark, “You know, you’re too accepting. You just let people push you around.”
She wondered how she could manage all that. Still, she never said a word when they would talk that way. She just went on, waiting for something to happen, though nothing ever really did, good or bad.
Since late Friday afternoon she’d known Michael wouldn’t get the loan. The bank had moved on. But whatever he expected, he had to wait until the next business day, Monday, before he’d know—that left Saturday night, even all day Sunday.
She had heard that some women liken themselves to gladiators—they strap on their prettiest armor, pull back their hair, take their bra and thong with them and go off to the arena where everyone hacks at everyone else and who knows if they’ll come home again?
“But here I go,” she tells herself, “I can’t wait any longer.” She’ll walk slowly. Wait in the cold. All those shadowy people passing, she can just picture them.
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