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Susan Thinks Some More
by Christina Decarie

Susan’s 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 Susan’s little window, into the outer office, past Susan’s 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 to her.

Irina storms into the outer office and passes the closet that serves as Susan’s office. Susan closes her eyes for the blast of scent she knows will follow only moments after Irina’s 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 there’s 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 doesn’t see Susan watching her. Irina doesn’t see Susan at all. Irina thinks the mousy woman in the receptionist’s 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 it’s there. She’ll be back for it in her own good time. There’ll be hell to pay if we move it.”

The office girl’s 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. There’s 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 girl’s 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. “I’ve got to give a copy of that report to Irina’s 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.
“Don’t even think about it.” The office girl’s sharp remarks bring Susan’s mind back to her little office.

“Don’t even think about what?”

“You don’t need to go to the other side. You need to answer the phone and screen the visitors. And don’t even think about touching Irina’s bag. She’ll 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 doesn’t 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 it.

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.


Christina Decarie just made something. For more than.

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