The girl, because in this way she seemed no more than a girl, stood in front of my desk, tears lining her face, telling me she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that she’d gotten fired by my partner. I listened, my hands intertwined in a show of importance. Her belly fell over her skirt’s belt. A string poked upwards off the side seam, peeking out above beige.
"It's wrong," she said. Of her reasoning, only a few words wormed their way to me. Screaming. Every task assigned. Harassment. Deadlines always met. The best.
Stories down, the coffee cart scooted from side to side, from tree to tree, seeking shade. Easy world, that, a taking of money, a giving of a filled cup. Clean, no strings attached. No sides to pick. Vanilla shot? Fifty cents extra. Foam? Free.
“We’ll make sure you get your vacation paid out no longer than 72 hours from the close of this business day,” I said, a phrase pulled out of the employee handbook.
"More than that," she argued. "The firm is responsible for the things he did." More worms I sensed, slime beginning to touch me. Hostile work environment. Late meetings. No warning. Good evaluation. Lawsuit. I noticed a tiny run in my stocking, at my knee, and smoothed my skirt.
Back when I was a secretary, when women dominated the field, before the days of the "administrative assistant" and sexual harrassment, a former boss thought it was fun to flick rubber bands at me while I typed his correspondence. He thought it was funny to snap my bra as he passed by. He always stared at my breasts when he talked to me. The day I learned I passed the bar exam, I felt permanently empowered.
“I told you about him,” the girl said at last. “Why didn’t you do anything?”
“We held a meeting where I presented your complaints. You had no evidence - no witnesses, no documentation. It was your word against his. We have thoroughly complied with the employee handbook and the law. You're free to retain counsel, at your cost, of course.”
Page 78, paragraph 2.
The girl glared one last time, then chuckled, throwing me a distinct spray of bitterness. She turned sharply and left, wiping her eyes. I caught sight of her unpainted fingernails. Her rubber-soled shoes didn’t make any noise on the brand-new marble hallway of the Wilshire office building.
I opened a trial notebook so I could start work on my opening statement for trial the next morning. My coffee was cold now. I buzzed my assistant and told her to come in. When she reached my doorway, I told her to get me more coffee with non-fat milk, to make sure it’s decaf. Use money from the jar.
As I spoke to her, I noticed her nipples showing through her blouse. One word slid down my throat. Powerlessness.