debbie millman

Friday, April 11, 2008


The office is fifty-three narrow steps up on the second floor of a dilapidated warehouse on Mott Street, one block north of Chinatown. The walls are a cool parchment grey, the ceilings smoky and cracked. There is a faint odor of fried pork, likely emanating from Excellent Dumpling, which is around the corner on Lafayette Street. The woman at the desk has soft, dreamy features: big lips, moon-like eyes. Her fishnet stockings camouflage six mosquito bites on her legs, and her uncomfortable black sling backs add three inches to her petite frame, though she still appears slight. She is smoking a cigarette with soft sucking, somewhat exaggerated, rhythmic exhalations. She is designing a poster for a peace rally. She is fumbling with the type and can’t get it right. Should it be bolder? Should it be italic? Should it be red? She gives up and pushes her mouse away. She thinks posters are the cruelest thing to design—there’s no place to hide if she has nothing interesting to say.

All she really wants to do is tell the man at the desk next to her how she feels about his shimmering pale skin, that she is afraid if she reaches out and touches him that her hand will pass right through him. She wants to tell him that the lazy green grey color of his eyes makes her heart ache. She wants to tell him that this makes her happy and everything she sees is sharp and clear and she smells every smell as the air hits her and all this makes her feel as if she could make the impossible possible. She wants to tell him this, but she doesn’t. She looks down, she pushes her black, messy, curly hair away from her round face and she checks her email. Then she looks at him again as she exhales from her cigarette.

The man has black gold hair down to his shoulders; he hasn’t shaved in several days, his Liz Phair cotton tee shirt is un-tucked and the singer’s pouty mouth is yawning. His khaki’s are starched, the pleats profoundly apparent, his sneakers are as white as his skin. He is confident and beautiful and bored. He too is struggling with the poster. He glances at what is on the computer in front of the woman next to him and believes that his work is less terrible than hers and he chuckles to himself. He thinks about the night before and wishes he was back in the dirty bar with the bad martinis or better yet, that he was back in bed with the dirty girl from the bar. He could still smell her sweat on his fingers and he licks them. They are salty and musky and slightly bitter. He likes this and he remembers that this is the way she tasted and he runs his tongue back and forth across the inside of his teeth. He takes a sip of the cold, murky coffee that has been sitting in the white Styrofoam cup for the past two hours. What was her name again? He can’t remember. He grimaces and plays with the type on his screen.

The woman next to him sighs in frustration. She slides away from her desk with an exaggerated motion and examines a mosquito bite. She looks up at the man and frowns as she takes in Liz Phair, the white sneakers, the black hair. She tells him she feels like going downstairs for a Starbucks, and as she stuffs a twenty into her jacket pocket, she asks the man if he wants one. He looks up, glances around the dingy room, squints at the curly-headed girl and says, thanks, but no thanks, he’s good.


Anonymous Ben said...


4/14/2008 03:08:00 AM  

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