The temp was at a lawyer's office in the bank tower downtown, the kind of building with giant windows lining the first floor, and if you have the slightest bit of bloat you have to avoid yourself as you walk in. In the atrium is the artwork of fourth-graders, pictures of cats and cars and families framed in light-colored backgrounds. The elevator is tucked in the back, empty, the one good thing. "There'll be a key," the agency tells me over the phone; I am supposed to stop at the insurance company down the hall from the lawyer's office and obtain the key to the office where I'll wait for the lawyer to arrive.

"A key?" the insurance company secretary says as she rifles through crap behind the entrance desk. Her name is boldly presented in nameplate - ELOISE - and she is not actually looking, or picking, or choosing, or even trying to remember. There is no hope, just a pretense of effort. "I don't think we've ever had a key."

I ask to sit in the waiting area until the lawyer arrives. Eloise offers a styrofoam of coffee. I take, with cream.

I subscribe to all the women's magazines fanned out on the corner table but I pick up the Vogue anyway and flip through it. Has anyone had more obvious plastic surgery than Demi Moore? I set that down, pick up Time, which has a cartoon of Ben Franklin on its cover. As a kid I visited his museum, the Ben Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. You can make your own music video. And walk through a giant heart.

About halfway through a recount of Ben's electric kite saga I notice: Men are looking at me. They're peeking out of their offices in their daddy's old suits and tasseled loafers. Peeking and frowning, peeking and scanning, peeking and taking leisurely gazes. One guy, a certifiable giant, has taken that trip across the foyer to the drinking fountain three times. It's a farm insurance company, and I get the feeling I'm amidst a bunch of horny hayseeds looking for dates to the Friday night saloon in their full size.

"So's Joyce in the hospital again?" Eloise asks me. Joyce. She who has a full-time job.

"What? I don't know," I say. "I came from the agency."

"She's probably in the hospital." Eloise makes that pitying sound with her teeth that old people make. "Poor thing. Got in a car accident eighteen months ago. Her car slid right under a semi. Lopped the top right off. We couldn't believe she even lived."


"So, anyway, since then she's been in and out, in and out. Her back, you know. Oh, her face, too. She had one of them slasher's scars on her cheek there? Really a gouge. But you know them plastic surgeons, they'll just plaster on some new skin."

I ask for another cup of coffee. Eloise is glad to get it. As she leaves this same water fountain guy, the giant in a pale brown suit, ambles by, stealing a glance all the way to the fountain, where he takes another weak gulp, before he crosses my path again, and then, for God's sake, acts like he's just noticed me. He gets this double take, oho! look on his face and makes his way to my corner seat. I notice his tie's about four inches too short.

"Well how you doin?" he says, extending his hand for me to take. "Doug Manchester."

I glare back. Put your clammy bearpaw down.

"I'm the temp waiting for the lawyer next door," I say. "The agency said you had a key to the office, but the front desk secretary said -"

"Eloise," Doug says, turning around. Eloise is just returning with my second Styrofoam of brew and her own company mug. "Eloise, we have a key to Larry's space, don't we?"

Looking at Eloise's face now it's fairly clear that, at some point, Eloise was in possession of this key, and though it may have eight years ago and at the end of the day when she was given this key, she is still expected to have it. I should note here that sometimes when people rifle through crap behind their desk, they know exactly what they're looking for, and know exactly why they aren't going to find it.

"I was never given a key," Eloise says. She gives me a look.

Doug frowns. "I thought I remembered Larry stopped by, gave you the key," he says. "Even had his little plastic key chain on it so you'd know it was to his office."

"Well I don't have it," Eloise says.

"But I've seen it," Doug says. "Right behind the desk there."

I'm feeling kind of sick in the middle of this. The key didn't matter so much that Eloise's streak of evasion and blame shifting be put on the line.

"Joyce took it," Eloise says. "I remember that now. She forgot her key at home and then never brought our copy back."

"Oh," Doug says. He turns to me. His smile might be bigger than my head. "Well, I guess we don't have it. Sorry."

I shrug. "S'okay."

The giant ambles away while Eloise turns for the desk. She's still holding my coffee.

"Eloise?" I say. "Ma'am?"


I point at the cup. "Could I have that?"

Eloise pads back over, hands it to me, seems to snarl, and turns back around.

I've lost my coffee ally. And men are still looking at me.