She wants to feel relevant. So, she walks in with a proverbial inability to speak what’s on her mind.
He signals to her to come sit by him. With the obedience of a handmaid, she does.
They were all sitting at a roundtable. A King Arthur semblance, only they feign equal authority and status. Ties loosen and suit jackets draped over their chairs. Chivalry dissipates like a fog at dawn when the sun rises. The atmosphere is cloaked with formality and boisterous banter of women and sex: “I made her meow,” he says, as he shows everyone a picture of his wife wearing a risque Halloween costume. A collective hubris is acknowledged by everyone with a round of high fives.
She had only been living in New York City for a year when she met him. He would watch her as he waited for the elevator. After several weeks, he approached her while she was pouring herself some coffee. “Hi,” he said. She was drawn to the softness of his eyes and his magnetic aura. He was an attractive man, but short and pretentious. Yet, there was something that intrigued her. One day they go to a bar after work. They sit close to each other and she pretends not to notice their knees are touching. After two rounds of martinis, he tells her he wants her to come work for him, promising a lot of money and autonomy in the position. It was the quintessential role for someone who thirsted for both. A week later she was his assistant.
With the appearance of a man who deserved things, he turns around and gawks at her. “You’re beautiful,” he says, inhaling her perfume with eyes closed. His musk cologne assaulted her nostrils. Bewitched by her hair hanging loose and falling upon her breasts, she recalls the day she picked up her voluminous hair in a bun. “Oh no. No. No. Get out of my office,” he said waving his hand. That day she wasn’t beautiful. She was disposable.
Tonight the waves of her brown hair fall again below her breasts. “Are you ok this month,” he consoles. “I’m ok,” she responds. He gave her money from time to time. Kindness was a pretext to the pity that he expresses towards her. She is a college dropout, an aspiring writer, and lost. A culmination of everything he always found despicable. Yet, he esteems her for her beauty and appreciates her self-oblivion to her own intellect and self-worth.
“Stand up. Let me have a look at you again,” he commands. She is wearing the backless red dress he asked her to wear. She revels in his desire for her. For that moment, she is the dominant one. For that moment, the thrill is intoxicating. “I love the color of your lips. I bet they match the color of your nipples,” he says in a dream-like trance. Grappling with awkwardness, she searches for something in her purse. Much as lascivious coquetry was their connection, she didn’t respond. She never exchanged crude pleasantries with him. He would inveigle her to play his game and in spite her apprehension, she always did as she was told. Though she wasn’t sure why this time it all struck her differently. Rotten different. A shift in their relationship unravels while she sits there. She surveys the table as the other men took shots of tequila. The clear disconnect was overwhelming. He inches his seat closer to her, and for the first time, she comprehends his frustration, accumulated by months of rejection, in each of his fingers. His grip, emblematic of his resentment, is strong. Her right thigh was hurting. Would she be able to unbind herself with grace? He wasn’t even looking at her. He was talking to someone across the table and no one knew, at least everyone pretended not to know, there was a struggle under the table. All they had to do was take a peak. Drop a napkin on the floor and look. They would witness a man’s impunity and a woman’s resistance. She can sense his index finger moving in a wild circular motion. He’s looking for it; for her pussy. He’s trying to reach it. Fascinated by her resistance he glances at her with a smirk. “Relax. Don’t be so uptight,” he says. That’s how he manipulates her. By making her feel inadequate. It was just like the day he asked to give him a peak of her panties. She opened her legs and crossed them. But now he was touching her, encroaching the rules of a don, a refined man, a gentleman. He stares at her, unrepentant.
“Stop,” she whispers. He looked at her with a casual smile not removing his hands. He winks and tightens his grip. How was she going to unbind herself without everyone else at the table knowing what is going on? She knew they would all talk about her and embarrass her. Thinking of seeing them all again at work tomorrow is distressing. “Please stop,” she says. Anger rising along with her voice. He squeezes a little harder and then releases, now running his fingers gently up her thigh. Should she let him? It was an indignity she could not endure. Ashamed of the predicament, she elbows him. “I have to go. I… I’m leaving.” He gives her a sinister look. Somewhere between disregard and disgust. He waves his hands at her dismissively, lights up a cigarette, and diverts his attention to the next round of shots.
Out of the bar, she scrubs the lipstick off her lips, and with fervor picks up her hair in a bun. With tears in her eyes, a smile forms. She breathes in the crisp fall air and heads home. Tomorrow she will resign, perhaps write again. Tomorrow she will begin the journey on finding herself.