The annual Office Stationary Convention was always held in Chicago in the winter, something to do with cheaper hotel rates if the temperature outside was below zero. The poster of palm trees on some sunny beach was there to piss me off. Posters aren’t meant to be taken personally but there was something about it that taunted me as I sat waiting for Mr. Ellis the Regional Manager to come down from his room. The higher the floor the more important you are. I was on the third floor, Mr Ellis on nine and in the penthouse suite on top of the whole shit pile was Frank. C. Blaine Jr., heir to the paperclip and buff folder millions.

I had chosen my dress with care, slightly colourful but not brash, no cleavage on show, Mr. Ellis did not approve of cleavage in the office. The sign of a sloppy thinker he had whispered to me last night in the bar after a lady from a firm somewhere warm like Florida had bent down to light her cigarette from the match one of her colleagues was holding out to her. She had laughed a lot and the men surrounding her had seem mesmerised as if the cigarette she waved was some sort of magic wand that could enchant them into submission. She probably had real palm trees outside her apartment, she probably only had to stroll across the road to walk on the beach.
Mr. Ellis doesn’t smoke, I tried hard to hold mine low so the smoke doesn’t drift into his eyes, which always seemed slightly watery anyway. My mother used to tell me that cigarette smoke could weather a woman, dry her face out so she would end up looking like a yellowing piece of old paper. So I hold mine low, I cross my legs in a way that says nothing going on here chum, no cleavage to show. I’m no sloppy thinker. I imagine the woman from Florida becoming desiccated and floating out to sea beyond the palm trees like a dead leaf.

Story by Andrea Porter

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