They want her to edit the PowerPoint again. Can you just make a decision, Marnie thinks. “Of course!” she says. “We’d be happy to make those updates for you. By end of day?” From her desk she can see the windows flexing against the wind. If she held her hand to the glass she would feel its bend; if she looked to the other buildings she would see their sway. She knows that all skyscrapers possess a counterbalance, tanks filled with thousands of gallons of water, to stop these movements—but she still sees it.
Marnie drags a blue box across her screen, lines it up with the other blue boxes already on the slide. Clicks a button to even out the spacing between her four objects. Adds more boxes to many slides, as well as a comment to identify every new box she has added. “For review,” she writes in her comments. She stays an hour late to add several blocks of text and three new stock photos of smiling doctors with gray hair and white skin, all looking something like George Clooney. At 6:30 she attaches the PowerPoint to an email. She clicks “send.”
Marnie is standing by the microwave, waiting for her oatmeal to microwave, when her manager, Joshua, appears. “Marnie,” he says, “did you have a good weekend? That’s a great blouse.” You’re a great blouse, she thinks. “Thank you,” she says. His breath still bristling on her neck. The microwave beeps, she retrieves her oatmeal. She holds it by the barest pads of her fingers because it is too hot to carry. When she reaches her desk she realizes she’s forgotten a spoon, and returns to the kitchen. This time, Joshua is not there.
“You’re a real go-getter,” Marnie tells Samantha. The conference room blinds are drawn because today, it is filled with firm partners discussing their performance. No one is supposed to know what is happening behind that veiled glass. “You have a great attitude and embody our cultural values.”
“And you,” Samantha says, “you are always ready to pitch in. You burn the candle at both ends. Your clients are always number one.”
The conference room’s blinds are thick enough that they can’t make out any movement on the other side of the glass wall. The partners’ speech is muffled. A folding table sits just outside the conference room, covered with bagels and egg sandwiches and a fruit bowl and a yogurt bowl—all untouched. What a waste, Marnie thinks. “I really want a bagel,” she says.
A stranger has reserved Marnie’s desk. No one really “has” a desk, but this does not stop her from sighing as she collects her belongings from around the weasel-faced man in her space. The chair at B5 is set too low, the second monitor drifts deskward every time she’s managed to set it in the correct position. This fucking client, she thinks as she removes boxes from PowerPoint slides. “I fixed the deck,” she tells Joshua.
“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” Joshua says.
Next to the women’s bathroom is a nursing room equipped with an armchair, an ottoman, a sink, and a mini-fridge. There are no lactating women at the firm, but it’s an office feature that is mentioned every Monday to the new 22-year-old employees. The lock catches only when a hip is pressed against the door. Marnie sits in the armchair with a foof of stale air. After five minutes the light clicks off automatically. In the dark, the white noise machine in the corner masks the sounds of her own body, her minor and indecipherable clickings and burps. She doesn’t think anything, or say anything, because it is easier to just be quiet. When she leaves the nursing room no one will make eye contact with her; they will pretend not to have seen her. On the first-day tours the administrative assistant calls it the “crying room,” and the 22-year-olds think she is joking.
On windy days, the elevator goes into sway mode. Every fifteen seconds a robotic woman announces, “This elevator is in building sway mode.” It is never possible to predict how much this will slow the elevator: the windier the day, the slower it moves. This is not a windy day, but nonetheless the robot woman is present. Marnie’s biceps and shoulders ache beneath the weight of her box, her bag. I’m going to hit someone, she thinks. “My bookbag isn’t in your way, is it?” she asks in general, to the elevator. It is, but the man behind her says it isn’t. He smiles and looks up at the ceiling, which is shaped in imitation of the building’s roof. It is meant to give the idea, Marnie thinks, that they are on the highest-possible floor of the skyscraper and are looking up into the tower’s steeple. “This elevator is in building sway mode,” the robot woman announces. Marnie watches the elevator doors. She hopes for them to open.
Marnie presses her box against the revolving glass door to edge it forward, the man behind her shoving his door to speed their progress. The door clips her ankle as she steps outside into a furious rain shower. But not a rain shower: it is a pure sheet of water, shushing all around, so much water that when she steps into it Marnie feels she might be pressed back into the earth. In the street, her box’s sodden bottom bulging, Marnie turns back—looks up—and it is as if the building is urinating, its stream arcing across her, soaking her shoes. Probably no one on her floor has noticed the flood, she thinks, staring. The bottom of her box drops; her notebooks, mug, office cardigan, are lost to the water. Still, she is happy to have seen it. Only to sit on this sidewalk, here, and watch it happen.
Ellen Rhudy recently left her office job to join The Ohio State’s MFA program. Her fiction has appeared in Story, Gigantic Sequins, Split Lip, and Monkeybicycle, and is forthcoming in Cream City Review and The Best Small Fictions 2020. You can find her at ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.