I peer at you through a chip in the frosted window glass
in my office. You stroke the floor with a wet mop, methodically,
back and forth. It's 4:30 p.m., my day is just ending, yours
is just beginning, and I'm falling in love with you.
You could be a teenager, but from here I can see a few strands
of silver in your black hair. But they could be highlights
from the sun that flows into the hallway where you're mopping,
warm rays that never make it into my cubicle behind the glass.
I should stop staring. My eyes roll over to the snapshot of
an orange cat thumbtacked next to my computer.
Soon you're just a few feet away from me, gazing at the liquid
streaks you trace along the floor, thin lips barely parted,
gravity pulling them toward the grey tile.
I wonder if you groan silently when you come in for your shift
and see the way we've dirtied the sparkling floor you left
us late last night. The salt and dirt we track in from the
sidewalks, if we were children we'd be yelled at by our teachers
for the mess we make. But I have a feeling you don't care.
Back and forth. Your shoulders are hunched. It looks painful.
But I know how you work. When you finish this corner, you'll
stop, stretch, roll your shoulders and stoop forward again.
I imagine holding you, laying my cheek between the shoulder
blades that stretch the fabric of your baby blue work shirt.
Do you wrinkle your nose when you empty the garbage of our
half-eaten lunches? Do you know by heart the stains on the
carpet in reception, the ones that no matter what toxic cleaners
you use, won't come out?
The meticulous strokes of the mop control you, pull you further
away from my corner of the window, and then out of my sight.
Today, when you came to work, I saw you in the elevator, a
tight black wool cap pulled over your eyebrows, shoulders
hunched as you slumped in the corner near the buttons. Just
before you stepped on the elevator in front of me, you snapped
your silver cell phone shut and tucked it into the pocket
of your dark denim jacket. I spent the time climbing to the
15th floor wondering who you were talking to.
Now, I see you again, a light blue ghost sliding into the
corner of my eye. Susan, the receptionist at the front desk,
is the only one who says hello. The others in the office don't
notice when you push your yellow cart laden with lemony fresh
cleansers along the hallway, stopping at each cubicle before
you lean over, reach under the desk and pull out their identical
black garbage cans. But I do.
Three more cubicles, then mine. I stare fixedly at my cat,
willing my fingers to start typing, look busy, do something.
Two more cubicles. I look from my cat to the wallet-sized
photo of John, the boyfriend I have to see later tonight.
And soon you're next to me. The wheels on your cart rumble
along the industrial beige carpet and I count the seconds
until I see the cart first, then you, stopping next to my
Everything slows as you lean over and reach an arm coated
in coarse black hair under my desk. I wasn't expecting that
fur-coated forearm. I stare down at my keyboard and as your
arm disappears under the desk, inches from my pale legs, I
The arm retreats with the half-full garbage can and I hear
the swoosh-thump of my day tumble into the big black bag on
the cart. My eyes are pressing against the corners of their
sockets, straining so hard to track each movement. My forehead
starts to throb.
Your arm slides the can back under the desk and then I feel
the sandpaper scraping of your hand on my calf. At first,
I think it's an accident. Then I start cursing you for making
it real. I thought we'd agreed you wouldn't be real.
Aware of the curve of my leg, I feel each finger tracing up
toward the ticklish spot on the back of my knee, fingers so
rough I think they must be broken glass.
Your hand snakes from under the desk and I see black dirt
embedded in the cracks of your rough knuckles and lining your
damaged cuticles. This is all wrong; this hand could not be
connected to this man. The quiet mopper, the studious cleaner,
the taciturn garbage can emptier just copped the cheapest
I want be indignant, shocked, outraged. But I can only be
disappointed that you had to ruin it all by being real. I
am ready to be furious at you for forcing me to find another
fantasy but when I gather the strength to look up, you are
already two cubicles ahead.
I look back at John, smiling affectionately; at my cat, a
ball of fur curled up in sleep. My leg burns like a warm rash
where you touched me, the feeling heating me up and wearing
me down. I shut off my computer and put on my coat as I see
you wheel that yellow cart out the back door of the office.
I wrap my scarf around my face to cover red cheeks, and for
the first time since I had that dentist appointment three
months ago, I leave the office
10 minutes early.
is always glad to see you.