Friday, January 28, 2011

Cosmic Rationale - an excerpt

Here is a tiny excerpt from the middle of my story "Cosmic Rationale" which appears in WORDS TO MUSIC, a new short story anthology written by 40 authors from 12 countries. Inspired by the Billy Joel song "Pressure," my story portrays one evening in the life of a man looking for someone to blame.

...Which brought Ed, as usual, to the subject of Agnes Gottschalk. Named for one of her three maiden aunts. Deceptively slender, striding around the office on beanstalk legs, no stockings, blocky shoes. She got away with wearing ugly, oversized dresses because she had a smoky beauty that was rare in someone so young. Brains, too. So said the president of the company, who was a douche.

Agnes the Princess was top of her class at some Ivy League school, the most likely to be somebody, etc. And she was Ed's boss for the foreseeable future.

Christ. Ed had been under her foot for so long, sweating this useless report. Why, he wondered, would they compare marketing tools for three ad campaigns when all of them had failed? Agnes was probably setting him up. That must be it. This waif with her old lady eyeglasses squinting at Ed, staring at him like a kiwi she might buy if the seller knocked five cents off the price.

For weeks he had tried not to think of Agnes as a girl. He knew he was supposed to think of her as a woman. No, not that either. Actually he was supposed to see her as his "team leader." But how could he do that? It was enough, Ed decided, that he saw her as a powerful albeit naïve and loudmouthed but otherwise-under-different-circumstances-highly-fuckable girl.

She was a powerful child, this Agnes named for a maiden aunt. She was his boss, his superior, the person who told him what time to show up (earlier) and how long to take for his lunch (less than he took) and who wore granny clothes to torment the male staff (in every sense of those words). She might think otherwise, but in fact she was only successful because she was a girl.

He smiled at her tart, maddening jokes without understanding them. He held the elevator for her. He picked up coffee she forgot to pay for. He nodded approval during her bubbly, interminable updates at team meetings. Even this had backfired on him.

"What's so funny about Haitian relief, Ed?"

That was yesterday. Agnes had finished up a speech about something. Ed's brain was on fire and he only heard snippets. It was something about people on the ground and an indigenous culture. He missed the context and assumed she was talking about one of the insipid games she played online. He had nodded and chuckled at the last bit: "Haitian relief."

"This is a terrible situation," Agnes said. There might have been real tears in her eyes. Everyone glared at Ed the hater. He was the whitest and oldest man in the room. Then, as Agnes wiped her eyes, two of her associates moved in close to comfort her, because she was just so nice, so fucking nice...

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