Other Fish
Robyn Detterline

you's the newest freelance talent with no professional graphic design experience, but the agents at the agency are quite young, and that makes a difference at an interview. they met him on the bus and they had an mp3 player the size of their clits and you seemed to fancy it.
they use the 145 to get to work, and you uses it to get to school. they work because they are graduated; you goes to school because he wants to one day be graduated. he wants others to measure themselves by the volume of his smile. they found you charming when he blushed and said, i wouldn't be high heels, that's for sure. (the question had been, if you were a shoe, what sort of shoe would you be?) they interviewed him on the bus, and the bus moved fast down the road, and they could not know that in two months the line would be cut. they are young, and they believe nothing possible.
they hired you as a freelance talent, called him and said, boy do we have a client for you. the client was a big advertising firm. it was you's first gig but he did so well the agents called him up and giggled with their legs hanging wide open. you thought maybe he could drop out of school. something felt right.
but the agency is unorganized; the agents dissipated. for that first gig, the name they gave you was all wrong. outside the building was an electronic list of names and numbers, and you's contact name was not there. he didn't know where to go. he found the office a half hour late. when he told his agents what had happened, they apologized and he gave them a second chance. they gave him another wrong name. you threatened to move his talent elsewhere.
now the agents email him and say they are going to get it right this time. they give you a medium gig, and the right name, but when the two weeks are up they don't find him any more work for awhile. eventually the agents text message him while they are eating carrots and hummus and they say, here's another big one: go to such-and-such address, ask for such-and-such person, you'll be working on such-and-such catalog. and by the way, they cut the bus line, so we have to move on.
the news of them moving on devastates you, because he is just getting used to the idea of being their steady talent. he feels lost and he cries and vows to end his life, maybe by mixing cough syrups, but the next day you goes in to work. he doesn't expect much from the experience. he expects to hate himself all day and die a little on the internet. he tells the security man on the first floor that he's the new freelancer, he's supposed to see mister such-and-such. the security man writes you's name on a sticker, slaps the sticker on you's blue polo shirt and says, go up to the fourth floor and ask for mister such-and-such.
you exits the elevator and on the grayish fourth floor is this woman. she is a silhouette in front of a window, looking down, composing a letter. she looks a tad lovely. but there is something more.
this woman says she don't know no mister such-and-such. she has pale skin that is iridescent at the hairline. the hair is pulled back and up tight in a bun. when he moves closer to her desk, you sees the softness of her cheeks and the openness of her eyes, and he smiles though the plan was to not do so.
you says, i'm freelancing. . . in production.
this woman is large, wears a navy blue suit and a maroon paisley ascot. she returns the smile but seems unsure of its necessity and says, what kind of production, this is a big company and we got more than one kind of production.
at this point the game is new, and you hasn't lost hope. she could be forgetting the name, or she may be flirting but it is too soon after losing his agents to think about any sort of free trade arrangement.
they didn't say, you says.
well there ain't no, she scrunches her face, no mister what? who are you looking for?
you doesn't mind her rough edges. they scratch his cheeks and make him feel secure, her honesty thick like her body and something to touch. it is a risk, but you decides to fall for her.
mister such-and-such.
this woman must decide quickly if a freelancer is the sort of walkie-talkie she wants in her holster. can she call up her army with this? she still wants to learn, and she wants to teach, and the hair has grown ten years in a bun and wants to grow down. she gives in to you's descent and for a time they are happy. mister such-and-such don't usually get in until eight-thirty, says this woman.
they said to come up here, you says. i can wait until he comes.
and so you waits for years, and he decides that all he needs to learn, he can learn from this woman, the contents of her ether being syrupy and more lush in his mouth than all the words of bound philosophy. but she wants him to graduate. she knows he needs more, and she convinces him of the same. she secures him, and in her security he springs on.
you forgets he had agents, and he forgets he was waiting. he dozes, wrapped in this woman's soft, raw body, and he has a vivid, green dream but wakes up and the dream he forgets as well. in the forgetting, he remembers something he used to want, and he says to this woman, how long now until mister such-and-such gets in?
this woman picks her nails. the grogginess is gone, and you can overlook her deficiencies no more. she once kept her nails manicured but she doesn't have time for that anymore. you wishes she had better hygiene. sometimes her nail shards tear holes in the bottom of his socks.
they must have given you the wrong name, or the wrong department, or the wrong floor. i don't know what you thought you would find here.
it is happening again, and you had thought this time would be different. he had looked at the woman, and she was radiant, and he had found direction. can you please call down? you asks, wanting her to look at him. they gave me this sticker. they seem to know mister such-and-such and where i'm supposed to go. she hasn't looked at him for some time.
this woman places her pink, wrinkly hand over the phone but she does not pick it up. you is always so quick to go to someone else. he is weak under his smile. she is not going to give in to his timidity again. she says, but there's no use in calling because i'm the security on this floor, and i don't know mister such-and-such.
you sighs and looks at his watch. it is over, but he cannot go. the agency said i was to see mister such-and-such in production at eight o'clock.
mister such-and-such don't usually get in until eight-thirty, this woman says. she lifts her hand from the phone and wipes away spit from the corners of her mouth. he is so young, but she can't help him. not this late. it is too late.
you says, maybe there is someone else in production i can see. he looks at the phone. he wants to pick it up, but there is no one he knows to call. this woman is the security guard. he cannot call her.
we don't have no production.
no production in the company, or no production on the fourth floor? you thinks she is playing mind games, and he can't remember back to the time when he didn't think this. he paces and chews his lips till they bleed blue. his whole cavity of guts emptying, emptying worse than it had before he came into her hallway.
you asks, can we please call downstairs? they said i should go to the fourth floor and so here i am. so i know i should be here. please, let me be here.
you grabs the phone. he's been looking at it for so long that the touch of its cold plastic is surprising. his hands jitter but he does not drop it. i will be strong, you says. for the first time maybe.
it doesn't matter to this woman. she grabs the phone and plays tug of war. she pulls one way, he pulls another. her fleshy arms sway like a violinist's, and the veins and the stretched rivulets mesmerize you.
don't touch my phone, she says, gritting her teeth.
don't fuck this job up for me. you grabs the phone tighter, brings his face towards hers and remembers when he first walked off the fourth floor elevator and saw this woman sitting at the desk, and the window behind her illuminated the murky hall and her iridescent skin, and he thought her a tad pretty.
this woman pulls you's arm into her body, twisting the hand around. you doesn't believe she is hurting him. he looks at his contorted fingers, the tips turning mottled-red. she looks at you, and he is just a kid, and how could he know that something he does is so misinformed.
there ain't no fourth floor, this woman says.
she releases you's wrist, and he looks at his feet, and they are on nothing. he falls four floors for four years and when he hits the ground he is graduated. he cannot rise from the concrete; he is useless. then a schoolgirl on her way to school picks you up and tucks him in her backpack. one day, when she is old enough to understand such things, she will fill you with hot perspiration and measure the volume of her warmth.