Thursday May 10
“Have you been sitting in for the receptionist again?” Billie asked.
I flashed her a look full of frustration.
“How do you know?”
“Because it always seems to put you in a bad mood,” she said.
We were lolling on the verandah steps tickling Juniper’s belly and watching Jacob and Allen set up the court. They had decided to stretch the official boundaries, which would mean playing across the whole of our scruffy lawn.
“We don’t know each other well enough for you to know that,” I cracked, then bit my lip. We don’t know each other well enough for me to snap at her like that. “I’m sorry,” I said. “And you’re right. I’m not even supposed to be doing it.”
“She’s martyrs herself,” said Kate.
“I do not!”
“You do, too. You get lonely in your office, so you wander out and start gossiping with Betty Sheffield —
— the office mom,” I explained to Billie.
“— and she manipulates you into working for her.”
“Maxine was out all day.”
“Of course she was, and old Betty’s not about to sit in for her. So she sees you and knows you’ll do it. Admit it.”
Instead of admitting anything I changed the subject.
“You can’t just ask a group of people to stop talking about food without having another topic.”
“Why do you want them to talk about?”
“Oh, anything interesting,” I said. “Me.”
We all laughed.
“It’s just that every morning they talk about what they made for dinner the night before or what they’re looking forward to tonight. They always seem to be eating or talking about food.”
“Well, think about it. It’s safe. Everyone eats. It’s not political until you walk in the room.”
A scary thought, but true. Whenever I join an office group I turn out to be the token tacky bitch.
“You’re bored,” said Kate. “If you were engrossed in your job, then office conversation wouldn’t bother you. You wouldn’t even hear it.”
“I wouldn’t be a secretary again if my life depended on it,” said Billie.
“You’re in a tough situation,” said Kate. “You’re not faculty and you’re not really staff. You have to keep yourself separate.”
“I know, but it does get lonely.”
“Maybe there’s a way to get together with some other publications people and faculty,” said Billie.
“At Tech we had a women’s forum,” I said. “We had a different speakers each month and raised funds for a scholarship.”
“Quick and dirty bake sales, raffles. Then we put together a cookbook and made a ton of money.”
“That’s an idea!” said Billie. “You could put together a cookbook for the college.”
“Who do you want to benefit?”
We thought about this.
“Who were the scholarships at Tech for?” asked Kate.
“Female working their way through. You had to have a certain GPA. Above a 3.0, I think. And you had to be paying your own way.”
“But how did you choose from there?”
“They had a cook-off,” laughed Kate.
“No. The girls wrote essays describing how wonderful they were. Hardly anyone read the assignment.”
“Oh, there’s a shock,” said Kate.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Finally, I got to one that wasn’t even typed, but written in a notebook as if she’d just dashed it off. But it wasn’t. She just spilled it all out. Her four waitress jobs, her studies, her upcoming wedding. She wanted the money to rent a wedding dress and give a big reception. She couldn’t believe it when I picked her.”
“What was she studying?” asked Billie, reaching for her mallet.
“You’re saying you have to be a rocket scientist to win an essay contest,” joked Kate. We all stood, ready to play.
“Yeah, that dime didn’t drop until the interview.”
“Let’s do it,” said Billie. “Let’s make a cookbook.”
“It would mean talking about food,” said Kate.
“True, but there would be a point,” I said. I imagined the new conversations in the office that would end with nods and determined steps instead of the sighing drifts as the women floated back to their desks.
“That’s the important thing,” said Billie.
“Kate! You’re slowing the game,” called Jacob. I wondered again how such a pleasant woman could be married to such a miserable crab. But Kate seems always to take him in stride, accepting his bad temper, which tonight seemed directed, once again, at Peter.
“So which of you is going to organize this?” she asked, swallowing the last of her gin and tonic.
Simultaneously, Billie and I pointed to each other.
One of us will. By the end of the evening, Billie had outlined the categories of food. I had remembered the need to keep the entries balanced and we’d both begun a list of women we knew on campus who could provide the core of our network. Like all cooperative ventures this one would center around a handful of women who knew the most people, who had the most time or energy to spare and who enjoyed the bustle of involvement.
And I would have a way of connecting to the people around me. I could almost feel the threads, like a spider’s web, issuing from my fingertips. Only this time, the image didn’t feel like a trap. This time, on this fine clear evening, free of the cloying heat and scents that would descend within the month, the threads of all the possible connections—interest, commitment, effort—inspired me.