Cookies. All day long it’s fucking cookies. And when it isn’t cookies, when I get to switch modes and work on another project, it’s fucking wedding cakes. Can you believe that? I don’t care about wedding cakes. I’m as far away from getting married as I’ve ever been. Who would I marry? Not my boyfriend. Besides, there are far more interesting things to do than get married.
I lift my blue eyes from the grey computer screen, out towards the sky beyond the large window in front of my desk. It’s only a little piece of sky, a box of air between my wing of the building and the rest, a cut-out, a castle turret. The sky is bright outside my window, sweet blue, not grey, and my mouth drops open a bit as I stare out at it, my mind too numbed by tedious work to even formulate thoughts such as – why am I in this office on a beautiful day? Why am I stuffing binders with pictures of cookies? Why is there only one window in my apartment? Why doesn’t Vince love me like he should? I don’t want to marry him now, but maybe someday. I wouldn’t even want a cake. Maybe a whiskey bar…
“Emily,” my boss calls me from her little white cube of an office, a mere three feet behind my work station. “Your turn,” she says.
My turn for my review, and I’m grateful for it, for anything that gets me away from my job, out of my seat, taking part in something interesting to me, to me.
I am twenty-four and I work as an Assistant Editor at a magazine in Manhattan. It was and was not easy to get here. I had to work for it (though this, as it turns out, is not what I thought I was working for). I’ve always been an editor; first the high school newspaper then the college magazine. After I graduated I thought I should keep on editing so I went to the Summer Publishing Institute at NYU – publishing boot camp - and not long after that I got this, my first big magazine job. I like to write; that’s why I wanted to be in this field. It was supposed to be about thinking. It was supposed to be about making something. So why did I take a job here? At America’s premier “living” brand? Because they offered me money, more money than I’d been told to expect, to do it.
My cheap platform wedges squeak as I step across the hallway into the dim white box that is Andie’s office. Andie is young and pretty with a pointy little nose and dark black hair chopped short into a pixie cut. She wears a white button down shirt and I can see the slope of her pale breasts as she leans over black and white proofs on her desk. I like Andie. Even now that we’ve been transferred to the “books and special issues” department and our jobs have become boring and tedious, Andie is still sweet most of the time. Less than a year ago, me, Andie, and a couple of other editors all worked on the monthly magazine; then we had new content to write and edit every month. Now we spend many months on a cookbook, an eternity, it seems, on this cookie tome. Andie was happier at the magazine too, I can tell.
I twirl the ends of my black silk skirt in my fingers and sit down carefully on a cool metal chair. I wonder about Andie as I watch her clear things away on her desk, click “send” on a final email. Is this what she wants? There are countless options open to her, to me, to all of us. How does one make decisions in the face of all that? What do you base them on?
Andie stands and closes the door. The office is so small that our knees almost touch when she sits down facing me. Her “signature” salad from Cosi and her cup of coco from Pret sit half finished on her desk; my tummy rumbles as I gaze at them. I have a hummus, cheese, and red pepper sandwich in the staff fridge. I will eat it after this. Even though I make enough money to get by and to go out sometimes, even catch a Broadway show now and then, I still have to be careful. Like my mother always said - life is about making choices, and I’ll choose a concert over takeout lunch any day of the week. Still, that is a good salad… the coco at Pret though… a bit too bitter.
“Okay, so Emily,” Andie says. She holds one of the binders in her lap. It’s the fucking cookie binder that I’ve personally filled with dozens of pictures of cookies, all of which have been previously published by my company. My job is to go through our online databases, find every single picture of every single cookie we’ve ever taken, then cut, paste, print, and put them into plastic sleeves in a plastic binder. After that Andie and the other editors (then the head honchos above them) look at the pictures, pick the ones they like, and tell me how to reorder the binder. And then we all do it again. We’ve done it four times already for this project. The cookies are very nice to look at; that’s true. They are in fact the most beautiful, sensual pictures of cookies I’ve ever seen. And I hate them. I hate them so much. I’m choking on cookies and I feel like snapping my teeth, snarling, growling. I’m sure I’m losing my mind but when Andie looks up from the binder at me I smile.
“Good old cookie book,” I say, clenching my thighs together under my skirt.
“Yes, it’s coming along,” Andie agrees. “But… Emily, this is an editorial job. I think maybe you are forgetting that. This is an editorial job.”
“Sure,” I say. “Yes, yes, I know it is.”
Andie sighs. I wonder when she gets time to go to the gym. She works here until 6 or 7 every night and then has to take the train all the way to Pelham, and she has two children under six. But she looks so good in her white denim capris, her shapely dark ankles poking out into pointy-toed flats, so she must get to the gym some time.
“I know you would like to do more writing,” Andie says. “I know you want to edit. I’m doing my best to get you the chance to do those things. You’ve already had some good opportunities. But you have to do a better job with the binders.”
“I know,” I say, and I do. I know Andie is only telling me this because it’s true. My binders suck, probably, and that makes other people’s jobs harder. I know I need to do better but I don’t know how, and I’m not sure why. I don’t want to work here. Ever since Vince and I broke up and he decided to leave the North East and I’ve had nothing but my job to turn to I have had no choice but to face the fact that I hate this job. Even the stress of talking about it right now in my review is giving me a headache. I don’t talk about it with anyone, not my mother or my sister or Vince. Only Jenna, my friend in the Art Department, she’s the only one I talk to about how much I hate my job.
“I know this is easy for you,” Andie says. I think she can see I’m having trouble listening. I’m afraid she can see insolence on my face, just like my high school teachers could when I thought their classes were below my intelligence (and they so often were). But Andie carries on boldly. I really do like Andie. “If you step it up with the binders,” she says, “I promise you’ll get more writing.”
I smile at her, trying to convey a regret and embarrassment that I don’t feel. “I know,” I say. “I’ll do better. Thank you.”
What else can I say? I’ve never been good at lying. I’d like to say a lot of things but of course I don’t. I’d like to ask Andie if she likes her job. Does she ever get to make any real decisions? Who makes the decisions? Is it the publisher? The board of directors? The art department? The focus groups? The founder? Do you think I should stay on here? I want to ask. Do you think I should I look for a job at a magazine I’m more interested in? Should I move back home to Iowa? Should I stick it out? I always think of going back to Iowa but of course there’s no way I could really do that. I hated it there even more than I hate my job now. Oh, poor, poor miserable me.
Andie smiles. She is very fetching, her wide red lips sliding over her white teeth, her big brown eyes looking at me. Her husband is an art director at a music magazine. Maybe she could introduce me to him sometime and I could get a job there… “So,” she says, “other than that everything is good. That’s the only box I marked. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
I smile at Andie and shake my head. My earrings tinkle in my ears and make me think of heat, steel drums, the tropics, someplace steamy and wet. They are pretty, too, tiny wind chimes of silver and black, a gift from Vince. He brought them back from Africa when he went there without me. He went to Czeckoslovakia without me too. He went to Panama without me for six months and still I didn’t see it, didn’t understand our relationship. How come you get older only to start to understand how tragically young you are?
“No,” I say to Andie, “It’s all good here.”
“You’re free to go then.” I leave the office and walk down a couple of long white hallways to the kitchen. I take my homemade sandwich from the refrigerator and open it up, tinfoil crinkling on the white countertops. The maid comes in and refills the coffee pot. We smile at each other. I like the maid. I like the kitchen. What I hate is the subway, the angry people, how hot the city is in the summer, how cold it is in the winter. I hate the rats in the trashcans outside my house. I hate my tiny, windowless apartment and the retarded boy in the yard next door to mine who sings at the top of his lungs at 7 am every morning. I hate how angry I feel and how resigned everyone else seems. I hate that despite working forty hours a week I still can’t afford yoga class.
I bite into my sandwich, loving the soft wheat bread and the thick, creamy wedge of extra-sharp Cheddar. I love the snap of the red pepper in my teeth and the cool, spicy hummus on my tongue. I know that I have to do something. I need time for yoga, for being in the sunshine. I need time to sit and eat, time to watch and look. I need to write something, not cut and paste. The time has come. The high time has come.