Susans small office contains a desk, a chair, a telephone,
and, of course, Susan. There is room for nothing else. At her
left is a window. Through it she can see down a short hallway,
through double glass doors and out into a parking lot. Through
it, she intercepts visitors to the office, signs for packages,
and watches what weather she can. To her right is the doorway
that leads to the outer office. The outer office is populated
by what Susan has termed the office girls. However
pretty or well-dressed they may be, Susan thinks. They do not
have their own office. I do. Susan has termed herself receptionist
which she deems to be quite different from office girl.
Susan is watching her employer, the owner of this large company,
Irina, as she walks across the parking lot and into the building,
past Susans little window, into the outer office, past
Susans little door and into the other side
of the building. The other side of the building is an area full
of executives and their executive secretaries that Susan, while
seldom needing to visit, often does.
Susan sits in her little office and watches. Susan sits and
watches and thinks about her secret life. This is what Susan
is thinking: I have a secret life.
So Susan watches Irina, as she always does. Irina tramps through
the outer doors, nearly pulling them off their hinges as she
does so, smashing her stiletto heels down as she walks, the
fabric of her too-small, lime-green suit straining with each
thrust of clearly powerful thighs. Susan notes that this is
the fourth day in a row Irina has worn this suit. Susan estimates
Irina will wear it for another eight (including this weekend
and the next). As Irina walks, her Prada clutch falls from where
it has been lodged in her humid armpit and it lands with a jangly
ring and a leathery thud on the floor. Irina continues to walk,
her lipstick smeared, her hair in a tangled and flopping bun
at the top of her head. Her ever-present dark glasses obscure
her eyes. Susan imagines they are beautifully made up. She imagines
they are a clue that Susan could decipher should they be revealed
Irina storms into the outer office and passes the closet that
serves as Susans office. Susan closes her eyes for the
blast of scent she knows will follow only moments after Irinas
passing. Ah, there it is, she thinks. Patchouli, Opium...and...
of course, B.O.. Strong enough to strip paint. Susan thinks
she smells something new. She must have gotten a cat.
Susan watches Irina and thinks: Now theres a woman with
a few secret lives. So many, in fact, they are impossible to
contain. They are tumbling, spilling, oozing out of her. Susan
thinks some more: She is like a child who insists on colouring
outside the lines.
Susan knows that Irina doesnt see Susan watching her.
Irina doesnt see Susan at all. Irina thinks the mousy
woman in the receptionists cubicle may be named Carol
or Beverly or maybe even Sandra. Sandra sounds good, Irina thinks
- when she thinks of such things at all. Susan knows this.
When Irina leaves the office and enters the other side, Susan
steps gingerly out of her little office and reaches down to
pick up the dropped purse, thinking it will provide a wonderful
opportunity to make a trip to the other side. Perhaps even introduce
herself to Irina.
Leave that there, barks one of the office girls,
which one matters not. She knows its there. Shell
be back for it in her own good time. Therell be hell to
pay if we move it.
The office girls skirt is quite short and her blouse is
opened quite low. Susan assumes the girl thinks herself quite
stylish. Susan thinks this girl does not have a secret life.
Susan feels snubbed. The office girl did not need to be so abrupt.
So Susan leaves the thousand-dollar purse in the middle of the
floor. No, She thinks. Theres no secret life in that girl.
As noon approaches, it becomes clear the other girls in the
office are excited. Susan knows this must be a birthday
- whose birthday in particular never seems to matter. What is
important about a birthday is that it means a
cake will be bought at lunchtime and consumed at exactly
15 minutes before quitting time. At 4:45 pm, all the office
girls, including Susan, who thinks it rude to stay in her little
office, will gather round the cake and sing and clap and then
cut, cut, cut that cake into several little pieces and place
them on torn scraps of brown paper towel from the washroom.
And then all the office girls, except for Susan, who has a secret
life and therefore has no need of the cake, will daintily, messily,
greedily eat up the cake and laugh and smile and ask vague questions
about the birthday girls plans for the evening.
Susan thinks about the cake and she thinks about the Prada purse
on the floor. She is anxious about it, knowing Irina must need
it. I could just scoop it up, thinks Susan. And keep on going.
Ive got to give a copy of that report to Irinas
secretary, she might say. Or maybe she could mumble something
about a broken photocopier. She imagines herself walking down
those carpeted halls, her feet sinking softy with each careful
step. In her mind, she can taste the scent of expensive coffee
and expensive perfume. She can hear those conversations of hushed
tones and soft laughter. The polite inquiries, thinks Susan.
Yes? Can I help you? Why, thank you Susan. Have a nice
day, Susan. Susan imagines it all.
Dont even think about it. The office girls
sharp remarks bring Susans mind back to her little office.
Dont even think about what?
You dont need to go to the other side. You need
to answer the phone and screen the visitors. And dont
even think about touching Irinas bag. Shell come
back for it when she needs it. The office girl turns and
walks away, stepping neatly over the Prada purse.
While Susan is gone for lunch, as she always is (where to no
one but Susan seems to know) one of the office girls goes out
to buy the cake. At 4:45 pm the girls gather round the cake,
clap their hands and cheer carefully, with restraint. They do
not want those on the other side to hear their glee. They do
not want people who are normally rude to them to walk over to
their side of the building and eat their cake. So they clap
and cheer and sing quietly. As they sing, Susan mumbles a little,
not knowing whose birthday it actually is, and not worrying
about it too much, knowing it really doesnt matter and
claps softly, not wanting to make any noise, feeling too much
noise, somehow, will give her away. A piece of the cake, as
always, is offered to Susan who declines, as always, politely
but firmly, and thinks to herself: I have no need of your cake,
I have a secret life.
When all the pieces are distributed, Susan smiles cryptically
and nods to no one and at nothing in particular and returns
to her little desk. There she sits, as always, from 4:50 pm
to 5 pm, her telephone no longer ringing, her messages distributed,
her purse on her lap and her hands folded neatly in front of
her. It is invisible, she thinks. My secret life is invisible.
And she smiles. Just a bit. Just a bit in order to make sure
she does not give herself and her secret life away to anyone
who might be watching.
But no one, as always, is watching.
At 4:57 pm, Susan notes, Irina passes through the office again,
kicking her Prada purse as she nearly trips over it. The sight
of it skidding across the cheap carpeting seems to remind her
of something and she says Oh? and picks it up and
places it back under her arm as she exits the building, speaking
to no one.
At 5 pm Susan rises and exits, walking with careful and tiny
and quick, quick, quick steps. She arrives at the bus stop,
as always, with only a moment to spare. She displays her bus
pass as she steps up onto the bus and sits quietly in a seat
at the front. She sets her purse on her lap and folds her hands
neatly in front of her. I have a secret life, she thinks. She
is very pleased with herself.
She arrives home one hour later and uses her key to unlock the
front door of her apartment. As she turns it, she thinks: This
could be the key to my secret life. Lips closed, she smiles.
Her mother is waiting for her, as always, and is lying despondently
on the couch in the living room. She is watching Jerry
Springer. The remote control is in her hand. Her eyes
are focused not on the TV, but somewhere through it, beyond
Susan kisses her lightly on the forehead and changes the channel
to something more uplifting. She sees that the homecare worker
has been in and bathed her mother. She prepares dinner while
her mother watches Highway to Heaven and thinks
to herself: I have a secret life. She smiles a Mona Lisa smile
as two pieces of liver sizzle in the pan.
just made something. For more than.