her car parked on West Bank and the studio arts building, Maureen’s
blood seemed to pause and then maunder in its pathways. At her Honda
Civic, she put her new Minolta camera and her film case in the back
seat. Then she backtracked, walking under a twelve-story building
towards the flat-topped one-story where she had been developing film.
But then she paused again, looking back and beyond the vulgarly colored
vehicles and then across the Mississippi that reflected the downtown
ledges in a cold metallic mist. Maureen looked hard for the hunched
old building where she had worked that day and then she turned towards
the building where she could pick up an MFA application and where
a man named Hank was still developing film.
Five or six more cars towards the studio arts building, Maureen remembered that
she had forgotten to lock her car door. She about-faced, thinking that she should
simply get into her car and drive to her duplex in St. Paul. Still she dawdled,
delving for the keys in her shoulder bag. She was locking her car door and slinking
along the row of cars again, drawn to something she feared. Disliking its vagueness,
she decided that the fear was due to a Minneapolis vandal possibly seeing the
photography equipment in the back seat of her car. She paced back, put her Minolta
under the front seat of her car, locked up the car again, and then she glanced
at the many windows above her where students of social science or philosophy
might be observing her behavior.
Maureen felt like a two-dimensional metal carnival silhouette that turns abruptly
every time a shot goes off, a target without volition.
* * *
Once inside the studio arts building, Maureen went straight to the bathroom.
She looked at her dilated eyes, feeling like a mass of particles that had become
unfixed from their usual aggregations around water. In the darkroom was a tub
of water where she had contemplated approaching a man in the semi-darkness,
something she had not thought of doing until recent years. After a hallway and
two doors, she would stop thinking about a man who was not an artist. He was
hovering under the hood of a photo enlarger and he would be happy to show her
the lens he used when he took photographs with a microscope. He had already
explained that he was getting a Ph.D. and that he worked part-time at the DNR.
His brown hair was as rough as tree bark and his smile was boyish when he said
“I just wanted to know. About the lens you used,” Maureen began.
This was easier than thinking about leaving her job at Schilling Publishing.
Maureen was another person here, a woman who wore crocheted headbands and splashy
scarves that held her hair up.
She admired the cellular design of orange cup fungi. The boyish smile didn’t
have much zoom action and it had already encouraged her to tell about working
in an office with photographs of good children.
“I’ve got a catalog at home. Would you like to go out to lunch sometime?”
This was not what she had vaguely feared, Maureen realized.
“How about East Bank on Saturday? The place with the ranch French toast
lunches?” Hank said, as if he planned for this.
* * *
Maureen feels like the metal profile making about-faces as she walks
along the aisle between desk quads at Schilling Publishing.
Once a week, her managing editor Inez asks her, “Where are you going
with Hank this weekend?”
Every Friday, Maureen reports that the trustworthy and possibly brilliant student,
as good a catch as a woman should expect, is taking her to an event where the
program isn’t known because it is a runner-up on the weekend roster.
On Monday, she will tell what she heard or saw. But she hasn’t told her
co-workers about the unaccountable sense of sadness she has, smoking a cigarette
and waiting for Hank to pick her up. Hank calls every Wednesday night, as regularly
as Maureen had choir practice for the Sunday Lutheran church service when she
was a little girl. Just as regularly and while Maureen’s parents were
separating, her mother would put her cheek near her father’s as she put
his dinner plate on the table. The year before her father moved to his apartment,
he usually turned away.
* * *
like classical European songs?” Maureen asked Hank after she
sat down at a concert.
“I don’t know. But they said there was a song about a trout in the
music." Hank laughed. “I just wanted to relax.”
Another weekend, after attending an exhibit of robotic assistants at the Science
Museum and being jostled by spontaneous juveniles, Hank dutifully walked Maureen
to a watercolor exhibit in a nearby St. Paul building.
“I like this one,” Hank said, standing in front of one picture.
“I don’t know."
Either Hank's easiness made Maureen irritable or she didn’t like the
watercolor for a multitude of reasons. She decided to keep her awful discovery,
that Hank had no aesthetic sensibility whatsoever, to herself. Instead she
visualized two photographs.
Blue ribbon: Maureen seems to be reclining in an almond, her feet stretching
from a lady’s swimsuit and resting on the thigh of a man completely dressed
in a shirt and jeans. The almond-shaped boat seesaws in the sun that spreads
like the segments of a grapefruit. She and the man are holding wine glasses
serenely, drinking the atmosphere.
is hunkered over a slippery piece of spare ribs that has already
made a mark on a picnic cloth. Opposite him are two people toasting
with large plastic glasses above a jug of Gatorade. Maureen is in
a nocturnal mist, troubled and rejecting the attentions of either
mosquitoes or gnats. Out on the lake are limbs waving in the last
gleams of dusk, limbs that seem to be a large mosquito’s because
they are extending from a shadowy paddleboat.
* * *
One Friday, Maureen
says to Inez, “I can’t see Hank this weekend. I have to
start looking for an apartment.”
Inez looks as concerned as if Maureen will go out to her car and find her photography
equipment missing from the back seat.
“Did Hank have plans for this weekend?” she pries, as if Hank is
a set of page proofs that is behind schedule.
“Hank suggested a discotheque.” She has said this so loudly that
the new editorial assistant in their desk quad, Jim, is sure to hear her. Jim
is planning his wedding as long as the word “obey” is maintained
in the vows. He is proud of bringing the basics back to a wedding.
Inez ponders the discotheque and then Maureen says, “I can’t afford
my duplex on this salary after my roommate gets married. I don’t see
why I have to go to a discotheque.”
Jim has found this conversation so disturbing that he is looking up from his
“I went from one food booth to another at ValleyFair and then Hank wanted
to go on a rocket ride,” Maureen has decided to complain. “What
if men don’t know how uncomfortable it is for women to obey sometimes?”
“I don’t think that the word obey in the wedding vows pertains to
situations like that,” Jim has to counter.
“Eve didn’t have to obey Adam in the Garden of Eden,” Maureen
states stubbornly, having opened up her Bible since Jim started this debate.
“Most people don’t live in a garden where God is walking around.” Jim
is watching Inez retreat. She does this diffidently, as if to demonstrate how
she retreated from her original marriage.
“That has to do with a person’s idea of God,” Maureen counters
and then she says loud enough for Inez to hear as she makes her getaway, “Didn’t
the standard marriage vows make the fallen world the ideal?”
* * *
Maureen still stands up to Jim because the problem is that she is not falling.
She has actually tried to fall in love with Hank. But at the end of a night,
Hank embraces her like a person who is trying on clothing that doesn’t
fit or that isn’t flattering. When Maureen looks at Hank’s hands,
she is perplexed. When she wants to fall for him, something in her pauses,
It’s like knowing that if she went to the discotheque with Hank and they
didn’t catch the beat or the strobe lights, it would be a relief to leave.
When Hank suggests an excursion to North Dakota, what he hopes will turn into
a hunt for a rumored albino wild turkey, Maureen says she needs to practice
photographing Hank. Somehow the wild turkey hunting season passes. Perhaps
if she creates a hiatus and has photographs of Hank, he would become familiar
and then she will fall into his arms.
“Someone is claiming that there is an albino turkey
near a certain farm. Other people think it’s a domesticated
turkey or a mix,” Hank was saying.
Hank stands at the open back door of his car, wearing a t-shirt over tennis
shorts and hiking boots. His hair gleams as if he has been in rain but the
car hood is dusty. His legs are large and rounded like the fender from the
last decade; the car across the street is newer and sleeker. Hank looks outdated
and tidy, especially since the back seat of his car looks like underbrush that
has endured a storm. Notebooks are strewn with bent paper cups, a duck decoy,
notebooks, windbreaker strings, a box of cartridges carelessly perched near
a magazine with Jimmy Carter on the cover.
* * *
Maureen’s father drank and divorced but his car was always
vacuumed so that there was no evidence of dissolution. Roland Werff,
her high school steady, kept a car as spare of extraneous objects
as if it was a tractor. The other metropolitan men that Maureen dated
could accommodate passengers in going-out clothing. And now, every
time that Maureen gets into Hank’s car and looks at the back
seat, she feels a disappointment akin to fear. Another woman might
be thrilled at the prospect of putting Hank’s back seat in order.
The morning after a night with Hank, Maureen’s roommate, Kendra, casually
asks, “How long did Hank stay?”
By this time, Maureen is looking for something wrong with Hank.
“He stayed through Mr. Bill on Saturday Night.”
Kendra had once witnessed how Hank laughed uncontrollably at the clay man being
manipulated by the sadist hands. And now, Maureen has found out what is wrong
with Hank. Hank’s friend from childhood was diagnosed as manic-depressive.
When Maureen excused herself from another excursion into the woods, Hank told
her how Duane had acted badly the last time they went duck hunting. He locked
himself in a cabin with a gun and refused to leave the woods. Someone had called
the sheriff because Duane was making wild statements about the land, threatening
to move to Montana.
Maureen lies awake nights blaming Hank for her relapse into insomnia. At three
o’clock one night, Maureen knows that she wants to stay in her duplex
and that she wants to set up a darkroom there. She thinks a darkroom would
solve her insomnia.
“There’s certainly free love in the animal world,” Hank says
when Maureen tells him that her sister lives with a man in the San Francisco
area. “But that’s what makes animals such easy prey. The irresponsibility
of the male towards its young and the multiplicity of partners. The male competes
with the family for food.”
Hank has never thought about living with a woman.
Maureen decides to have a party in honor of Kendra leaving the duplex for a
house in the suburbs. For Maureen, the party is a disaster since she is looking
for someone to share the duplex with her, someone who is not female. A typical
Twin Cities party, people stand around holding tumblers of beer as if they
are cocktails and they eat hors d’oeuvres as if they are potato chips.
Roland Werff has managed to be in town and to arrive with Maureen’s hometown
friends. And as Maureen promised to do someday, she has called a Minneapolis
man she dated, Milt Blaisdell. Milt’s arrival is announced by too many
people because they know who his father is, Dr. Mort Blaisdell from the Confound
the Doctor program. Milt is annoyed, introduces his brother Mick, and
then he becomes engrossed in talking with the only person who doesn’t
seem to think that he has met Milt’s father.
“Have you ever been out to Montana?” Duane asks Milt, having broken
the ice with everyone this way. Duane has started his own party game. Magazines
are strewn on the coffee table and he challenges Milt Blaisdell to find in the
photographs the little pictures that are hidden for subliminal persuasion. He
says that slick propaganda and camera tricks are affecting the minds of America.
Having been warned about Duane, Kendra pulls every cat out of her California
wedding bag. Her dress can be viewed in her bedroom and she has her cineraria
flower arrangement near the cheese ball and the wine. The officiating priest
is present in a stand-up photograph near the candles. Presents can be left
on her bed and coats are going on Maureen’s.
Hank stands around like a human floor lamp, keeping Duane in observation. But
then he tells Roland’s friend Cal about the albino turkey that was sited
in North Dakota.
“No! They’re domestic!” Cal and Roland both protest. After
they find out that Hank grew up in a suburb and tell him that they grew up in
a town that processed turkey, Roland’s eyes, prominent because they can
be seen above most party-goers, become unpleasantly glaring.
Maureen ducks around him as he gets another beer. She hears her women friends
saying, “Hank seems like such a good man.”
“I don’t feel badly about leaving Maureen alone,” Kendra is
Kendra is not pleased when Maureen is left alone with Roland at the end of
the night. His arm is comfortably around her on the couch while Cal snoozes
in a chair.
“Who’s Hank?” Roland says.
All Maureen can really say is that Hank is a friend. By now, Roland has become
a first love twice-removed, an old friend now.
* * *
her bed and her future alone, feeling that she is looking at an undeveloped
roll of film and knowing how a woman can add subliminal persuasions
to facts. Her stomach feels like a white emptiness. She puts a pillow
on it, hoping to sleep, and admits that she couldn’t have a
baby with anyone at the party. When she looks at the wall, she sees
the flat profile of the carnival target that she can count on going
across to the other side and abruptly turning around to march back
She must have fallen asleep for a minute. Someone gave her a large vase to
hold. She could see crazing around the rim and small cracks on its sides. “Don’t
drop it!” someone says. Maureen has laughed herself awake, looking at
the vase again and seeing stretch marks obtained between 2:15 a.m. and 2:35
The next night, Maureen is out west somewhere, probably Montana, and going
too far with her camera, she is falling into a blackness for all the minutes
between 1:35 and 1:55. When she wakes, she is terrified of falling out of her
bed. She puts pillows and a throw blanket on the floor and tries to sleep there.
The lens is like an eye without another eye, a wink, a pirate eye, a person
without a partner. The more Maureen thinks about it, the more she feels unbalanced
and needful of the common cure. If Maureen just keeps going out with Hank,
she should be able to marry him because Hank has such a righteous conscience.
But Maureen can’t imagine being part of Hank. If she has children, she
can’t imagine that they would be hers. Hank’s children will admire
him. She will dutifully take care of Hank’s family. Since she is attractive
enough, people won’t know that her relationship with Hank is really adulterous.
She might be tempted to have an affair that she thinks is real marriage, an
affair that would ruin her sleep. Then Hank might call someone, what he did
with his manic-depressive friend. She will find herself in the fallen world,
a bad woman married to a friend.
* * *
Sorrow is two
o’clock when it is not two-thirty at Schilling Publishing. Maureen
knows that she has no right to this sorrow. One day, Donald Dimester
finds Maureen in the break room when it is only 1:45 p.m. She is reading
a newspaper and drinking coffee as if she is an editorial director
like Donald. Besides that, she has been persuading people to eat lunch
with her at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune cafeteria. Twice
in the last month, Maureen has returned late from lunch.
“I wanted to look at a photograph in the newspaper,” Maureen says
A child is living in a frost-white tent. The tent is in her bedroom for
medical reasons, not because the child is in a tropical country. The child’s
parents wave at their child through the tent where pure air is piped in. The
tent is spacious, allowing the child to walk about her room and even through
a large tubular area into the hallway. The child seems to be preparing for
“It’s because of a newly discovered disease.”
“Medical science. A wonderful thing,” Donald Dimester comments.
Maureen had wanted to deplore the tent and to feel sorrowful for the child.
But she has strayed out of her walking perimeters at Schilling Publishing.
She also suspects that the newspaper wants to convey another message.
For the next day or so, Maureen should emulate the behavior of the model employee
in her department. Even though Maureen might be promoted to assistant editor
in the next year, she has made jokes about the model employee who sits near
a wall approximately thrity-five feet from Maureen. The model employee doesn’t
seem to mind not having an office of her own. In her corner, she can dig into
her manuscripts inconspicuously. The only person who approaches her casually
is Donald Dimester and then he does this politely, saying, “Can you be
disturbed?” Usually, he stands above a screen and raps loudly on the
wood ledge if a person doesn’t feel his presence.
The model employee is not unattractive but she is as sensible as her Earth
Shoes. At break time, she walks on her Earth Shoes for ten minutes and returns
to her desk with a few minutes to spare. If she isn’t a saint already,
she has an aura of urgency which reminds her colleagues that she worked overseas
in the Peace Corps nine years ago.
“One of these days, that woman is going to stand up and scream,” Maureen
projects. “How boring was her life when she was in the Peace Corps?”
Maureen’s cronies look around the hallway where the model employee might
be walking quietly on her Earth Shoes. They are returning from the break room
with Donald Dimester at their heels.
“She’s already at her desk,” Maureen assures them. “But
how many years can she live this way? I’ll bet she even has legs.”
No one can say that they have seen the model employee’s legs. She wears
pants suits, ten different ones to be exact, alternated in a two week period.
“She’s wearing her safari style pants suit today. What if they are
actually a Yves St. Laurent design?”
The pants Maureen wears are usually a new style worn with India cotton blouses
or crocheted vests that she made some time ago.
“Do you think she would scream if someone tried to look at the label on
her jacket?” Maureen says.
“Maybe if you asked her,” Aggie suggests.
Still, no one has ever talked to the model employee about her clothing.
“I wonder if Schilling Publishing has a photograph in its files that could
make her scream,” Maureen muses.
Donald walks ahead now, knowing that Maureen is afraid of standing up and screaming,
apparently an unprecedented act at Schilling Publishing. When the office is
an extension of a sleepless night, Maureen decides that her insomnia stems
from permanence, the permanence of the job and the permanence of Hank. After
a night when Maureen has begged for scraps of sleep, the permanence becomes
And then, Maureen knows that she is becoming unpopular. When the most admired
woman sails through the office, Maureen stays at her desk, puzzling about gut
dislike. Nell is not much older than Maureen but she wears close-cut vivid
suits that might be the office flag. She can sit for hours in her stiff suit
and nylons. She seems to have the same barber as Jim, the man who wants to
be obeyed, and that amazes men when she saunters to shake hands. Her forehead
of bangs, her little sideburns, and her hair being slightly shaved up in back
contrast with a figure very well-adapted for women’s suit styles.
* * *
men have made Nell the office star because she is editor of a new
series about the modern family in various countries of the world.
One day Maureen blurts out, “I don’t think the multi-cultural queen
trusts my sense of family. She’s rejected the photographs I sent her
When Nell irradiates their department, sparkling her eyes at the men and sparkling
her teeth at Maureen, Maureen stays at her desk, the familiar floozy now. Her
co-workers have wondered aloud at her dating four or five men in her two years
at Schilling Publishing. Judging from the way Maureen slinks into her chair
on Monday morning, Hank might be another man that Maureen slept with instead
of marrying. No one has ever seen Nell slink into a chair. And no one minds
if she gets the photos from the New York photo service first.
* * *
One afternoon, a man named Cal comes into the office and asks for Maureen.
Cal is obviously athletic, wears a zip-up jacket, and is in the habit of grinning
at secretaries. Maureen is in Donald Dimester’s glassed-off office, watching
Donald watch Cal as he stands six feet three inches high, looking for Maureen.
After Cal gives Maureen a little wave with his long fingers, Donald looks at
her grimly as if she is always running into men on the streets of Minneapolis.
“Cal is from my hometown.”
“This doesn’t mean that you can have a longer lunch,” Donald
says and then he adds, snatching up some finished proofreading from his in-box. “There
are new graduates who might treasure an opportunity like yours.”
Donald did not hire Maureen, she recalls.
Eating lunch with Cal revives a boldness and vitality that Maureen had in high
school. She runs a folder of photographs up to Nell’s division instead
of using inter-office mail. Nell sparkles her teeth from inside a large walled
office that is decorated with framed illustrations. A textbook editor is basking
beside her at a round table where manuscripts are spread thick as a mattress.
This textbook editor is Schilling’s idea of intellectual; his eyes seem
hollowed out and his body is lanky to the point of neglect. Once he smiled
at Maureen and she saw that his teeth, like his hair, were a low priority.
It would never occur to Maureen that Nell could possibly want a man like that.
It did occur to Maureen that Nell’s secretary had too much imagination
for Schilling Publishing.
“I make a lot of noise when I enter that office. They work together at
that table all day sometimes,” the secretary says, her eyebrows like hyphens. “I’m
just putting my husband through school right now or I wouldn’t even sit
“Under Nell?” Maureen conjectures with some satisfaction.
“I hear you lunch over at the Star and Tribune cafeteria. I haven’t
been there yet,” the secretary rewards Maureen.
The next time Nell sails through the downstairs department as if the weather
in her office is beautiful, Maureen knows how balmy, even sticky it must have
become. Today she stands up to Nell, near the desk of a dark-haired secretary
who might be the office beauty if she looks up from what seems to be a mini-model
of skyscrapers and machinery.
“The blessed virgin,” Donald Dimester once said when a few other
men were standing around her desk.
Maureen holds a photograph and she motions to Aggie, gathered in the circle
of awe. Nell has just had a meeting about Book 7, Today’s Family
in Portugal, with Mr. Manez, the writer who has put a big smile on her
“Did I show you this photograph that Cal gave me?” Maureen says
Aggie looks at the photograph and screams a laugh.
“It’s a domesticated turkey. So that if I ever think I see an albino
turkey, I can compare it to this.”
Maureen has had the effect of a fan ruffling up Nell’s febrile calm and
Donald’s eyebrows. Strangely enough, if Donald learns about Nell’s
affair with a colleague closer to his age than hers, he won’t think she
is hard up. She’ll probably get more respect than the secretary whose
virginity has become an office issue. He probably won’t even think that
Nell is a bad woman.
But if Maureen doesn’t settle down with Hank, she might go from bad to
excerpt from the calmer middle of a book manuscript, this was slated
to be easier writing. But the everyday pettiness and the relationships
that are more in limbo than in love made it difficult to know what
to keep and what to skip. Writing this became verisimilitude since
I had both a desire and a dislike for getting to work. Still, if
I have a whole lot of fun with a draft, that isnt the one thats
fun to read.