"The supervisor loves her because she's a total fucking fag hag," complained another proofreader. "That's why she's here all the time."
"I get a kick out of her myself," said a temping actress. "She's like Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings combined."
"My God, you're right," I said, so loudly and suddenly that the others stared. "That's exactly what she's like."
I cross a little footbridge spanning the canal and pass a giant drugstore that takes up the whole block. There's an employee standing outside, yelling at someone. "Hey you!" he yells. "I saw that! Come back here!" Then more uncertainly: "Hey! I said come back here!"
Hey you. Veronica sat in a doctor's office, singing, "We've got the horse right here; his name's Retrovir" to the tune of a big Guys and Dolls number. The receptionist smiled. I didn't.
Come back here. Veronica burst into laughter. "You're like a Persian cat, hon." She made primly crossed paws of her hands and ecstatic blanks of her eyes; she let her tongue peep from her mouth. She laughed again.
More employees come out of the store and watch the guy; he just keeps walking. It's obvious why. The police can't get there fast enough and these employees are not going to fight him, because he'd win. This animal reality is just dawning on the employees. It makes them laugh, like an animal shaking its head and trotting away, glad to be alive.
I pass the bus depot, where people are hanging out, even in the rain. I pass closed restaurants, Mexican and French. The knot of traffic at this intersection always seems a little festive, although I don't know why. The bus depot changes: Sometimes it's sad, sometimes just businesslike, sometimes seems like it's about to explode. John's office is in the next block. He shares it with another photographer, who mostly shoots pets. He seems to be better off than John, who sticks to people.
I let myself in and sit down behind John's desk for a cigarette. I know I should be grateful to John for letting me clean his office, but I'm not. I hate doing it. It depresses me and it tears up my arm, which was injured in a car accident and then ruined by a doctor. John shares a bathroom with the pet photographer, who has filthy habits, and I have to clean up for both of them. I used to know John; we used to be friends. Even now, he sometimes talks to me about his insecurities, or advises me on my problems--smoking, for example, and how terrible it is.
Excerpted from Veronica by Mary Gaitskill Copyright © 2005 by Mary Gaitskill. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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