- The Huntsman
It was the early aughts, and she was working with a group of married men on Forty-Seventh and Ninth. They were transferring newspaper stories onto the internet. Her coworkers' wives were long-nailed and harmless back in Long Island and New Jersey. These men couldn't wrap their heads around city girls, who didn't crave houses but parties. They wanted for women more now that they were married. Their faces keened with middling greed. In the end they were satisfied with free drinks.
The regulars sat on their regular stools. They stared at their well drinks and the bartender's hands in that habit that regulars have of looking at something and nothing and owning the real estate in between. One vaporized accountant was eating chocolate ice cream. It melted in a silver cup while he sipped whisky. He reminded her of Christmases past. There were some underage Australian girls. Some Irishmen who should have beards and some young men who shouldn't. [End Page 629]
Her coworkers stood in a loose circle by the dart board. At twenty-four, she was wiser than them, with their mini bagels and their gray pants.
They talked about public golf courses and never touched the jukebox. When she got bored, she slipped out for cigarettes.
Her friends wanted to know where she went on Thursdays. She could not say, Midtown. She felt it was more restful to hang with encrusted men than with a bottleneck of girls her own age, most with nicer hair and clothes. That it was advantageous, even, to be with these guys. Especially Mac.
Mac was the new boss. He was fat and balding. His pate shone like a frog.
In Montclair he had a wife and a slow son and a skinny daughter. She spied pictures of them on his credenza. He talked about the girl, about her riding horses. Mentioned hunters and dressage as if they weren't any different.
He wore expensive ties and smoked only when she did, to ride the elevator with her and go through the revolving door behind her. The coders feared him. All week they affixed the right tag to a certain story with doggedness. They had done it sloppily for years, but when Mac was hired it became poetry. He made them feel like sons.
She sensed his infatuation at the first meeting. It came across the kidney-shaped table. She wore a vintage peasant top and blue jeans. Her shoulders were young and pointed unreliably towards heaven. Mac looked at her and couldn't thereafter look at anything else. Forty minutes or however long it lasted. She accepted the gaze. She didn't put it in her pocket but let it hover in the air around her forehead.
She was weekendly in love with someone at the time, some thin boy inside her phone. Being cherished by a kind, fat man in New York, in the middle of all the loathing and long lines, is like Popeyeing spinach. [End Page 630]
For several months she received the usual favors. Coming in late without consequence, leaving a meeting early. She took her lunches in the museum, lingering ten, fifteen minutes past the hour. When September came, she enjoyed glasses of crisp white wine at outdoor tables, reading books and magazines. In turn the work she produced was golden. Being teacher's pet will do that. Girls her age had Labor Day plans, Montauk and heartless. She had Mac.
She didn't have to do anything to maintain his reverence besides exist. She had to keep being pretty, but even if she had a breakout, or chopped her hair too short, she would still retain the early effulgence. A man must only see a woman as beautiful once. For one minute she must impress him and thereafter, nevermore.
Mac's hiring had coincided with nightly happy hours for the group. He always paid for the first few rounds. He used the company card but occasionally slid across his own. The men drank beers; she drank Merlot, at seven dollars a glass, out of plastic goblets. Generally the wine tasted of puke.