Our office was a carnival of massive men with thick necks; big women with immense breasts; and tall, skinny, tattooed me with huge feet. Most of the women regarded me with that stew of pity and disgust usually reserved for hookers. Most of the men, with twitchy lips and sad innuendo, intimated I could be their dirty little secret.
As personal assistant to the CEO, my day also consisted of dictation, typing, travel arrangements, and his Grande Americanos. Some work mornings, I could hardly drag myself out of bed. I’d force myself through the motions and dream of quitting, of being able to make a living from my illustrations and comic books.
At least the job paid well and my boss traveled a lot. However, whenever he was around, he insisted I cover up my tattoos. One night, my boyfriend suggested acid or his razor to remove them, only half-joking. A bicycle messenger, he didn’t hold himself to any high prospects and preferred my paycheck over his. I threw my size eleven shoe at his head.
A Monday, the sun turned violent. My co-workers and I suffered inside the stifling office, dripped sweat, melted. My boss was off-site at a meeting, so I risked removing my turtleneck. From her bright orange cubicle, Fanny gaped at the tattoo on either side of my thyroid, of a shot glass and a bottle of whiskey. She asked why I’d do something like that to myself. I told her it was a picture of my daddy.
She carried over her can of soda and parked a quarter of her enormous rump on the edge of my desk, asked to see some more. I pulled up my sleeves, revealed a pirate’s treasure chest, King Arthur’s sword, a fire-breathing dragon, and a naked, buxom, black-haired pin-up.
She grunted, said “At least you put a half-ways real woman on yourself.”
A few more co-workers gathered round, including those in suits. Ken asked exactly how many tats did I have? A gallery, I smirked. He wanted to see more. The others murmured in agreement. I kicked off my size elevens, peeled free of my opaque nylons, and hitched up my skirt. Gasps went up, the sudden charge in the air palpable.
The phones went unanswered and the clients in reception were ignored. My thighs revealed a troupe of lions, elephants, blue and yellow striped zebras, and miniature, short-necked giraffes. Fanny grabbed at the back of my swivel chair and wheeled me out from behind my desk.
Brian, from accounts, was the first to ask to touch the tattoos. He was muscled, as hard and broad as a door. I snagged my lower lip with my teeth, nodded. His fingers grazed my skin, traced the portrait of my mother on my left calf.
“She’s beautiful,” he said.
The growing crowd drew closer.
Someone else in the back asked to see more. I pulled my tee-shirt up and over my head. On my chest and stomach, bright illustrations of the superheroes I’d created. My co-workers rushed me with questions and fingertips, fascinated.
I stretched out on the carpeted floor and allowed them to move around me, stroke me, to flip me over, and over again. They babbled, exclaimed. Fanny wanted to know about the pain of the needles, how I could stand the shame of forever. I didn’t tell her that those pictures made for great company, my best friends.
Brian ran his wet tongue over the red, flaming rocket on my pelvis. The group released pained, aroused sounds.
Shouts sounded from the reception area. Our boss drew closer, his voice growing louder, angrier.
I scrambled to my feet, dressed only in scant, leopard-print underwear.
My boss stared, his eyes bulging and color high.
I stuttered and spluttered.
He ordered me out, fired.
I stared at what had unwadded inside his pants.
He whirled about, and slammed his office door.
I packed up my desk, still in my itsy bitsies. He watched.
On my way out, my now ex co-workers cast withering looks. Only Fanny waved, seemed sad. As I exited, Brian turned his back on me, even his neck ringed in hot embarrassment.
Out on the street, a jumble of feelings hit me. I told myself what a riot and recalled the wet trace of Brian’s tongue on my stomach. I’d held everyone mesmerized. They’d come more alive than I’d ever seen them. They’d admired me, envied me, wanted me.
Yet I also felt the jolt of falling. I thought about how narked my boyfriend would be when he heard, how no one cared nearly as much about my illustrations and superheroes when they were on the page instead of on my skin. Also, the extremes I had to go to just so people would notice me.
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