After the call she slumped back in her chair, drained.
"Ms. Beach?" a voice called. "Ms. Beach? Marilyn? Are you all right?" A girl of about 23 stood at the doorway. To us, she would have appeared concerned. Marilyn stared out the window and knew that her assistant stood in the doorway by the increase in volume in her voice, by a slight change in the air pressure.
"Where have you been, Sally?"
(An unfair question borne of frustration and the need to find someone other than herself to blame. Of course Sally had to have been at lunch. She was entitled to lunch, by company policy and by state law. Freud said that actions are overdetermined, and as we've seen, a number of factors influenced Marilyn's snappish remarks; the theft not the sole cause.)
"You don't look well."
"I didn't hear you."
The girl looked at her strangely. (We might ask, how does one look at another "strangely"? No doubt the adverb means to convey the assistant's reaction: confusion, uncertainty, concern, a feeling that Marilyn is not acting as Marilyn usually acts. Marilyn is strange in this context, not the assistant.) "Are you all right?" the assistant said.
"My purse was stolen."
"I was at lunch."
(This we surmised. The retelling of the robbery restates exposition that we, as reader, are already aware of. Zbigniew Herbert wrote: "When we carried him away under machine-gun fire, I believed that his still warm body would be resurrected in the word. Now as I watch the death of words, I know there is no limit to decay." Herbert, a Polish poet who lived through world wars, Hitler, Stalin and Russian subjugation, wrote of important things with an understated elegance. Whole worlds changed under his hand. Marilyn worries about the theft of a purse, about a life spent pushing papers from desk to desk. Elsewhere at this moment, a catalogue of crimes against man unreels: assassination, bombing, civil disorder, domestic violence, execution, fratricide, genocide, homicide, incest, jew-baiting, knife attacks, lynching, manslaughter, no blacks allowed, ochlocracy, poisoning, queer burnings, rape, sodomy, torture, usury, violation, wife-beating, xenophobia. No crimes yet for "y" and "z." Her assistant looks at her strangely.)
"Everything was in it," Marilyn said. "Everything."
(Nothing was in it, Marilyn, this is what you cannot see. They will write on your tombstone: She drafted superb contracts. The contracts themselves will moulder in dusty files in dusty boxes on the shelves of warehouses. Long forgotten, as she will be forgotten.)
The phone rang. Sally reached across and answered. "Ms. Beach's office." She held out the phone. "It's Security."
(But I have gotten off the track here. My anger at Marilyn is misdirected, much the way her anger at her assistant hits the wrong mark. This should be the story of a fallen poet. Instead, we have stolen purses, empty lives. We are never born in the right time, at the right place, nor among the right company. The gifts we are given we squander. But that is my story.)
"Captain Lantana, ma'am," a voice on the speaker box said. "We just missed him. A couple of officers gave chase but he got away."
"He had my purse. Everything."
"You should call your bank. Cancel the credit cards. Put in a report with the police too."
"You're taking it so well," said Sally after Marilyn switched off the box.
The wood veneer on the desk directly in front of Marilyn was not taking it so well: Marilyn chipped at it with her thumb. She said: "Would you take care of all that for me. I think you've got the numbers in the rolodex."
To continue the story, go to Part 36
To learn what prompted the story, go to Part 19