Office Girl & University Hero, Chapter One: Change
Maya Jewell Zeller
(With some lines from Anne Carson, T.S. Eliot, Ghostbusters, & Stevie Nicks.)
Somehow Office Girl made it to adolescence.
There were stop signs on the way and red glimmering sharks and there were lamps lit only in the afternoon dark. There were loads of boring masses and laundry and things like place settings with multiple silverware. Office Girl dreamed of one day being a Real Person.
Office Girl continued toward adulthood.
Suddenly she was what she suspected might be a real person, working in an office, no less, with Chairs! And Fish Stamps! And Company Stationery! She liked to make piles of work and finish them that day. She loved the Inbox and the Outbox and she loved pulling the sticky notes from the edges of the computer screen and throwing them into the recycle bin. She liked to read trashy novels on her breaks; and at night, alone in her apartment, with the sky stitching up the day like a gash, she liked to read things like Anne Carson and Heraclitus and Ada Limón and Charles D’Ambrosio and Zell Fink. Or was it Nell Zink? She got them confused. They had so many Interesting Ideas! And Strange Shadows.
Then she met University Hero and all the shackles she didn’t know confined her fell into heaps of writhing snakes. She met University Hero and was like, Well, Fuck!
Before this she rarely swore. She’d had a moment in first grade when she’d smacked her principal in the face, but other than that she mostly followed the rules, except for when she didn’t. (Times she didn’t: when the rules were in the way of her getting what she really wanted, when the rules seemed grossly inconvenient, when the rules went against her inner ethics, when the rules had poor rhythm, when the rules were written without thought to diction and concerns of imagistic fluency.) Her teacher had once told her she was headed for hell in a handbasket, which sounded quite charming. A tiny hell, in a basket of flowers? Lovely. Or a tiny hell, all mixed in with the rolls and muffins for the new neighbors! What would that be like? Burnt toast? Ha, ha—Office Girl laughed at her own joke. She went on to become head of her class.
Her aspirations were low, of course, as College Itself felt like a huge accomplishment. Hooray for laurels! said her relatives. But they didn’t attend any of the ceremonies. Office Girl went on, as one might expect, to a well-paid Administrative Assistant 3 position.
Office Girl met University Hero when he was on his interview circuit. He happened to step in to ask where a particular office was—he was meeting the head of multimodal at ten—and when their eyes met they were a pair of ragged claws scuttling/ across the floors of silent seas and they were a pair of horses in a field, doing what wild horses do, perhaps galloping side by side and perhaps copulating and perhaps eating flies from one another’s withers, and perhaps gazing intently into one another’s furry/furrowed brows.
They recognized each other like Italics. The world poured back and forth between their eyes. Once. Or twice. As did the universe.
Where is the office of the multibrodal—ultimatefrisbeefcake—multiplescreens—catchersmittwellcuckoo—University Hero was having trouble forming speech, but somehow, Office Girl knew she could hear his thoughts. Indeed: already his scalp had begun to tingle. What disease might that be? He vowed to spend some time on WebMD. Tonight.
Floor three, Office Girl heard Office Girl say. But wouldn’t you like to come with me to the roof instead–first? Your schedule says you have fifteen minutes, Office Girl heard Office Girl say. She reached into her secret key place. University Hero nodded. He muttered, exuberantly, those lines from that movie: I am the gatekeeper./ I am the keymaster. He chuckled. This is going to be so fun. I’d been hoping for a portal to Authentic Adventure.
The ladder to the roof was sixteen feet long, and each rung felt like a kind of ascension, or a sort of very advanced kegel, the kind when you can feel the rings of muscle in your vagina and you think wow this is like a tunnel ladder, and wow, spring coils, and holy shit vaginas really are quite strong, I’m so glad I started doing these exercises. Office Girl could feel University Hero behind her, and she knew, instinctively, that if she fell, he could catch her in his cape. This was maybe like the opposite of feeling you have a strong vagina or maybe it was similar in that things like feminism and all the other isms fell away for a moment and you were just two people who “Get It” together. She had never felt more afraid of falling, more alive, more afraid of not falling. She knew this was crazy. She thought of Leonard Cohen and she thought of Kurt Cobain and she thought of Stevie Nicks. She thought I’ve been afraid of changing cause I/ built my world around you.
But she knew those were the wrong lyrics in her case. Someone else out there needed them—someone afraid to make the change they needed to make their life right, to be more than merely content, to be real, to be transcendent. Sure, comfortable can happen even in a transcendent state, but that’s not the same as mundanity. Or settling for something because of history and nice people. That sort of fear of changing. She, Office Girl, was not afraid of those changes. She was only afraid of not reaching the roof. Would they ever reach the roof? (His breathing behind her felt like a song. His breathing near her ankles made her feel stronger.) And then they did (reach the roof).
Somehow, though it was 9:52 a.m. and the sky had been bright outside her office window, the roof was dark and the firmament scattered with twinkling stars, mostly blue, some occasional yellow. Across them was written, as if in ink or blood or semen, or something less basic, maybe particulate mica mud on a rockface, Office Girl, will you go to lunch with me? It seemed a normal-ish request but given they’d only just met, during his interview circuit no doubt, it also seemed very forward (also there was the fact of it being scrawled there in the firmament, though University Hero stood next to her—how did he do that???). Yes, thought Office Girl. She’d read Pride & Prejudice. She thought, A thousand times yes! She could feel the whole castle shaking. Or maybe just the whole thousand acres of this campus. Or maybe she really did, wonderment on wonderment, understand the vibrations of the earth. Was she a seismograph? Was she a god?
It’s time for your meeting with multimodal, she said aloud, and you need to go. But meet me in the coffeehouse on the corner of 8th and Walnut at noon, and I’ll buy you a coffee. With cream. We’ll see from there.
Between them flowed a current like the one that moves the ocean in its deepest crevasses, where the little fish with lights on their heads swim about, looking prehistoric, smelling like detritus. Between them flowed a current like the one that holds the moon to the earth, something gravitational, something forgiving and graceful and terrible and worthy. Holy shit, they both kept thinking. Is this happening for real? It was. (Though one of them may deny it later, for reasons of some sort of preservation.)
University Hero could hardly descend the ladder. He had been certain angels did not exist, and yet, here was one, glimmering shimmering and sparknet and clayhammock island and the catch of a treebranch filled with bursting blooms and pollen knees. Crashing through brush! A summit with yes!! Yes, he said to her, again and again. Yes. Fuck Yes. (He, too, was not accustomed to swearing. For her, he would have anything leave his mouth. He would have anything enter it. He wanted to unfold himself like a map, like a tulip, like a foal emerging from the birth sac. He wanted to push her off the roof and then swoop to save her. He wanted her to be the thing that made him dive to save her. He thought, This is simple. I’ll just nail my interview.)
He had to nail this interview. It was imperative.
(He hummed Tina Turner to himself on his way to Multimodal. He was unfolding into his new name.)
Originally published in Moss: Volume Four.