Washington secretary, Miriam, is in her late twenties, she divorced recently and is living in a dreary apartment. What's more, she is stuck in a dead-end job and dreams of achieving fame, fortune and love. Miriam's two best friends where she works, Jocelyn, a flower child and ordinary Cass, harbour similar ambitions. These three secretaries discuss their dreams, and pursue them on occasion, uasually at the nightclub co-managed by Jocelyn.
The best way for a secretary to let off steam is to walk long distances at a rapid pace during her lunch hour. Miriam, on days when she didn't have anyone to eat with, often attempted to explore the streets of Washington, D. C. Setting off from her Dupont Circle office, she dodged a multitude of midday shoppers on Connecticut Avenue and bypassed the crowded parks around Farragut Square, making for the freer spaces of Pennsylvania Avenue. Here she picked up the pace, determined to glimpse a few symbols of power before returning to her own puny responsibilities. She rushed past the White House, casting a penetrating glance at the mansion that nurtured what she believed to be a potential monster--a warrior adept at picking fights he could win. Moving a couple of blocks farther east, she sighted the Capitol building, looking serene in the distance but harboring, no doubt, mini-monsters of its own.
By now Miriam was huffing and puffing in the summer heat, with her time more than half spent. She paused before the building on Seventeenth Street that was home to the International Communications Agency, the government entity that funded her own small shop, the Grants for Peace Council. She lingered near headquarters for a moment, trying to get a sense of the power that emanated from this segment of the Great Bureaucracy. Succumbing to hunger pangs, she bought a bag of chocolate candies from a street vendor and used the sugar boost to begin retracing her steps. Someday, she vowed as she chewed the candy to a sweet pulp, I'll start eating better--once my life improves.
The return trip, which lacked any sense of adventure, proved arduous. It was ten minutes after one when Miriam returned to her cubicle, sweating and panting, to face the wrath of whatever secretary had been covering the phones. Today it was Sally the Whisperer who came by to give her the evil eye and remark, "It's about time," as she left for her own hour-long break. Some days it was Ginny the Giggler, or someone equally interchangeable with Sally. Miriam had divided all the women colleagues who were not her friends into "gigglers" and "whisperers." She had, in fact, only two friends in the office--Jocelyn and Cass, both dear girls but polar opposites.
She dropped into her seat, clutching her fiery head in her hands. How stupid, she berated herself as usual, to take such a long walk in the heat. She was tired and depressed when she returned from these excursions, not to mention thirsty as hell, and indisposed to drink the rusty water in the building. Coffee made her feel hotter, but she went for the coffee pot anyway.
She had used up her after-lunch bathroom time. Most of the women spent the last fifteen minutes of their lunch hours primping, as if they thought they were models as well as secretaries. Miriam often skipped this ritual, feeling the hopelessness of it. If she looked at herself in the full-length mirror, what encouragement could she get? She'd see shoulder-length dirty blonde hair with out-of-control curl, makeup smeared with perspiration, pale arms that seemed to resist tanning, a slight bulge at the waistline of her skirt that betrayed too many hurried, junk-filled meals. She stayed in her cubicle, smoothing down her unruly hair and straightening her skirt as best she could. No doubt any second the phone would ring and trigger a headache.
The very thought seemed to set the main line on her phone jangling. She picked it up, and barely got out the name of the office before an irate voice assailed her. "This is Dr. Philip Weston. I'm an applicant for a teaching grant in Paris. I was told the decisions were to be made by August first, so I want to know the status of my application right now."
Okay, Miriam told herself, you can handle this. You're a twenty-seven-year-old veteran of the secretarial wars. You've been known to juggle three surly calls like this at once. You're a professional; more so than Jocelyn, the twenty-four-year-old flower child, although not so much as Cass, the thirty-five-year-old secretary to the Deputy Director.
"We're not really supposed to give out that information over the phone," said Miriam, staring at the two asymmetrical piles of folders weighing down her desk. These represented two sets of applicants for European teaching grants, all awaiting letters announcing the decision of the selection committee; the rejection stack, naturally, was twice as tall as the acceptance stack.
"Listen, miss, I've waited long enough. If you can't give me the information I need, connect me with somebody who can."
"I guess I can give you the information. Just hold on a second." Dear God, she prayed, please let him be in the smaller pile. If I can just give him some good news, my life might be saved. She rifled through both piles, finally locating Dr. Weston's folder at the bottom of the rejects.
"Sir, I'm sorry to have to tell you this." She had developed no method for imparting
bad news, other than to blurt it out. "I'm afraid your application hasn't been--favorably reviewed."