Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 2
E. C. O’Neal
It was raining again. Of course, this came as no surprise. The inbound
green line appeared pleasant as always, toggling like an overstuffed burrito
through the early morning drizzle. Flashing the conductor my monthly pass, I
wedged myself into the flux of passengers. The doors sealed with my
decision, a wet squelching noise. Shivering with more than chill, I observed
the crowd I found myself intimately pressed against. They poured from all
sides of the car; a sea of square toed shoes, starched shirts, blackberry
clicks, and camelhair coats. In the time it took our lumbering trolley to
reach government center, I had invented a variety of brief histories for my
fellow passengers. I had to see these businessmen as fathers; husbands;
grandfathers. They had to be sons, brothers, and groomsmen. I’d hoped they
took their coffee with extra sugar and filled their I-pods with Jimmy
Buffet. I’d hoped they owned quirky, printed boxers and occasionally fell in
puddles. I’d hoped they were failures. At our final stop, the train gave a
violent lurch came to a stuttering halt. Prying my clammy fingers from the
pole, I reluctantly left the safety of the T.
55 State Street didn’t appear to be out of the ordinary. In fact, it fit rather comfortably between the granite giants surrounding it. Or, I thought, as comfortably as one could in overgrown mausoleums. I checked the small, crumbled note in my pocket. Yes. Haystone, Wayward, Smitiker and Associates: 55 State Street. I had the right address. The daunting bronze numbers atop the foyer affirmed my assertion. A small, mousy man hopped beside me, tugging the door handle before I could lay my fingers upon the brass. I hadn’t noticed him upon my arrival. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to.
An expanse of marble flooded my senses. I felt immediately chilled. As I struggled to tie my stubborn umbrella I felt pained by the sudden urge to remain alone in the torrent outside.
Across the lobby, I noticed a security desk. A boyish, white-haired man dozing slightly in his chair gave a start when I addressed him; my voice cracking slightly from lack of use.
The old man considered me for a moment, his blue eyes clouded. I noticed his name tag.
“You an attorney?” I felt his gaze travel from my modest pumps, to the top of my headband.
“Me?...No, I’m…,” I rolled the words round my mouth; a bitter candy.
At that moment, my sopping umbrella chose to spring from its confines, effectively spraying myself and the security guard before flopping, spent upon the icy floor. Sighing deeply, I swept it from its resting place, finishing my sentence. “I’m Mr. Smitiker’s new assistant. I’m an intern.” The words felt more like chewing gum, sticking to the roof of my mouth as I attempted to spit them out.
Ernie smiled toothily, gesturing to an array listings behind his head. “27th floor sweetheaaht.” He chuckled, calling his best wishes across the atrium. My stomach fell as I approached the long line of bronze elevators. The din of the atrium fell away. I no longer heard the tolling of the lifts, the clacking of the heels across the floor, the plentitude of caustic discussion cresting over high ceilings. Shuffling into a crammed elevator, engulfed in a wave of cologne and aftershave, I pressed the 27th button and held my breath.
Horace Smitiker was not a patient man. This I had come to know through
experience. He enjoyed non-fat, extra foam, one-shot lattes, a variety of
racial slurs, and the company of much younger women. Careening through the
same atrium that I had first entered a few short months ago, I felt my heels
slip before I crumpled to the floor with a yelp. Mr. Smitiker’s dry cleaning
littered the foyer. Gathering my shame, and Horace’s Brooks Brother’s
jackets, I dusted myself to standing. Waving to Ernie, seated within his
usual perch, I clambered into the elevator. 9:00am. Perfect.
The steady torrent against the sky lights of the 27th floor granted a welcome static to the staunch atmosphere. Biding my welcome to Connie, our quirky receptionist, I hustled past the conference room. Pausing at the double doors to Mr. Smitiker’s office, I recoiled at the smell of cigar smoke. Discovering the source, I knocked timidly, clearing my voice. With heaving billow, a door opened, revealing an irritated Mr. Haystone.
Walter Haystone could have been someone’s grandfather, rather than the formidable shark he was reputed to be. Short, balding, impeccably dressed and heavily gutted, he vouched for belligerent penguins everywhere. His tufty eyebrows fused together as he considered me; Or perhaps struggled to see me.
“Horace…..” “Your….um…person is here,” scuttling to the side, jowls aquiver, Mr. Haystone tugged me into the office. Before I began working at Haystone, Wayward, Smitiker and Associates, I thought I knew, or at least presumed to know, notions of “taste.” I had been raised between the Cape and Marblehead. My parents had held respectable positions. My first car had been a BMW. I understood tennis whites. I knew how to wear an oxford “casually.” The difference, I soon learned, lived not in the practice, but in the humility. Mr. Smitiker’s office had been lacquered, floor to ceiling in rich mahogany. Expansive tomes lined the bookcases, window panes, and several sections of floor. Case files that had not found their way to my desk to be sorted, lined the even columns of shelving. Brandy and scotch decanters marked the sides of Horace’s inlayed, granite paneled desk, splayed astride several squash trophies.
Amidst the jumble of wealth, lounging in high-backed leather, sat Horace. Mr. Horace Smitiker could have been someone’s nightmare. A fiendish combination of jauntiness and plain nerve made him nearly impossible to work with/for and…as I had been told, against. Rising from his chair to meet me, he plucked his dry cleaning from my hand. Inhaling deeply from his cigar, he gave me a bleached grin and plucked at his monogramed cufflinks. Mr. Haystone had returned to his vacated seat adjacent to Mr. Smitiker. He fixed me with a reproachful stare. I knew what he was thinking. I knew he felt I was too young or too polite or too…anything to make it in law. He told me so the first time I ever met him. There existed very little softness to “The Partners.” I learnt this early as well. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he just hated women. What did I know after all?
“Thanks again for picking up these Cassidy,” Horace boomed. His voice, clear and carrying through the vaulted room. “There’s more files to send out to Suffolk Superior on Tuesday waiting on your desk.” He let the sentence hang, sliding his hands through slicked black hair. The ends of his moustache curled with a smirk.
“Sir,” I smoothed the edges of my inflection, masking the crack in my voice.
“Mmmhm…” he had leaned back against the chair, tipping it onto two legs, a habit my parents had forced out of me by age 10. His eyes were closed and the cigar remained clenched in his sharp jaw.
“What happened to the smoke detector?” As if to affirm my statement, I pointed at the piece of ceiling, nearly two men above Horace’s head. The smoke detector, usually present had been removed, leaving only a gaping hole in its mounting.
Horace laughed, a raucous, peeling sound. Soon, he was joined by Mr. Haystone. Two of the more formidable attorneys in Boston sat idle, a pair of laughing lunatics; me, a lowly intern the only witness to their hysteria. I’d reduced my bosses to mania. Fantastic. Put that on my resume. Straightening up, Mr. Smitiker gestured to the ceiling.
“We unscrewed it with a butter knife.”
“A butter knife.”
“We thought we might have a smoke before the deposition,” “We can hardly have one with that blasted thing going off.”
“No…of course not.”
“Case files Cassidy.”
“Of course sir.”
Sweeping myself from the smoke, I shut the door behind me. Hearing only their muffled voices, I plopped unceremoniously at my desk. There was next week’s billing deposits, a dry cleaning slip, documents for Mr. Smitiker to sign, a gift basket from the firm of Reinburg and Harris (to Mr. Smitiker of course) and…of course…the case files. Piles of maroon cardboard file folders, vomiting their contents across my workspace. Letting loose a gust of air I returned my attention to my tedious task ahead.
The midmorning sun did
nothing for my nerves; blazing through the exaggerated windows and shining
directly into my eyes. I twiddled my fingers across the arms of my chair. I
crossed and uncrossed my legs. My palms began to sweat. This was it. It felt
as though the room itself knew my position; knew the pull. The position had
been offered to me. The full-time, paid position of legal assistant that
would certainly approach a down payment on a personal loan for law school.
It had been offered to me. All I had to do was interview. I felt ready. I
needed this. I wanted this; the opportunity to work under one of the largest
civil litigation firms in the city. I had this. I could almost taste it.
Waiting for Mr. Smitiker, I took inventory of his office. A room, when I first arrived, had frightened me. Hell, it still did. It looked the same. Gleaming, pretentious, marinated in cologne and brandy. A framed degree above the desk caught my eye. I crossed the room on shaking heels. Horace James. Smitiker, Collegium Bostoniensis Doctorate of Jurisprudence. I ran my hand tentatively over the degree; the entitlement. I turned, sat in Horace’s chair and smirked to myself. I no longer faced the sun.
Suddenly, the door creaked open. Horace stood within its frame. Leaping to my feet as though scalded I careened into the chair I had vacated.
“Sir..I…”I began. Horace placed his coffee upon his desk. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly.
“Let’s begin shall we,” he grinned, slinking into his seat. From his position, back to the sun, Mr. Smitiker approached the final question of my interview. I felt it slip from his mouth and coast the air before he spoke it. The room was ready to swallow me whole. I heard it growl.
“So, Cassidy….Why do you want to go into law? What about it draws you in?” He finished with gusto, reclining back, allowing his words to permeate, the smugness radiating from his body.
I knew the answer. I had rehearsed it. I knew my answer, and it was a lie. Yes, I loved law because of my English major. I loved language. I loved the rigorous manipulation of text, the careful analysis of speech. I loved the smell of old books, and the staunchness of the legal system. I loved the stillness of libraries, the decided thwack of a Judge’s gavel. But that wasn’t the entirety. It wasn’t the whole. Mr. Smitiker didn’t want a piece. He wanted it all. And I was prepared to give it to him.
“I want it because of the title. I….I want it because of the power. I want someone to fear me like I was afraid of you. I want the courtroom to shiver with my words. I want my intern to fetch my useless errands. I want to know my language has power…I..I..want the power. I want….I want….,” Raising my eyes to meet Horace’s I clenched my hands upon my knees and swallowed the persistent lump within my throat.
“I want the money.” My words stung the air. Rising, they mounted the room to fill the hole where a smoke detector should be.
A devious smirk crept across Mr. Smitiker’s jawline. It stretched from his ears to his over manicured moustache, down his jugular vein and into his over-bleached teeth.
“Well then…,” he began, tipping his chair upon two legs again, rotating it precariously.
“I’d say you’ll do just fine Cassie.”
Bidding adieu to Connie,
I waited until the elevator doors sealed behind me. I did a little jig. I
had landed the position. The sentence felt heavy on my tongue. Rummaging in
my briefcase for my phone, ready to share the news, my eyes fell upon my
reflection. Starring back at me through the bronze doors of the
elevator…there I stood I looked a little like Senator Barbie. A Senator
Barbie whose proper, yet nevertheless ill-fitting business attire seemed to
pucker, dip, and billow in all the wrong places. Jerking my heels, I wobbled
slightly. I still looked like me; plain, unimportant me. Only now, a plain,
unimportant me vested in a far too expensive, ass-kissingly perfect suit.
Taking a deep breath, I fastened the brass buttons on my blazer, smoothed my
skirt, and stood to full height. Plain, unimportant, me dialed my father’s
number. Leaving the elevator, a smirk curved the corners of my mouth. I
stole one last glance at the bronze, recognizing myself…
One day. I knew I wouldn’t.
© E. C. O’Neal