Susanna Salk


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The Bureau
Friday, May 25th, 2018

It’s these kind of soft spun spring breezes bearing bird song and tipping bushes heavy with lilacs that make me think of Cindy’s room. It didn’t resemble a college dorm room the way the rest of ours did.
It had a metal cafe table with matching pair of chairs like you see in Paris gardens and a large mirror with a circular gold frame had banished the brown rectangular one that came with the room. Her bed was all pillows: two decorative pillows you’d find in a real home neatly propped against large floral shams that in turn were in front of neat white square pillows that always seemed freshly pressed. My two yellow pillows looked like I had brought them straight from summer camp and bypassed high school to arrive just down the hall from Cindy. Her door was always just open, just enough so you could see that a fresh bouquet of roses had been placed on the cafe table, replacing the ones from the week before. No one had ever sent me roses. And if they had I certainly didn’t own the kind of tall vase in which to put them. I owned some clothes, a typewriter and a warped bedside bureau which I lugged from my childhood room with me, to prep school, to this my final year of education, painting it whatever happened to be on hand when it needed freshening. It was filled with letters and mementos from friends, family and boys (even a few men) and all the magazine ads that inspired me that I had been tear sheeting from Vogue and the New York Times Sunday magazine since I was ten. I guess you could say that the bureau was my vase. Weeks before graduation, it was stuffed with a rich variety I had plucked from my four years at college: notes for the creative honor thesis I had been chosen to write, play programs for the shows I had acted in as my unofficial major, match books, photos curled at the edges of my best friend Holly and me on the beach in Martha’s Vineyard during a debauched summer of waitressing and driving her father’s truck barefoot. The bureau was testament that my life was young and thriving and messy with potential.
And here I was, cresting the wave of my senior spring with Laird, who had started out as a friend and then bloomed into a soul mate. We had careened those last few months from party to classroom to every cranny of our shared scenic campus with a kind of fervor that was fueled by the unstoppable belief that we were special, as though draped under a great cloak that we both held high yet protectively above our heads. I was so intoxicated by our power that I started to not see the signs of little tears forming around its majestic edges. The first warm April night outside Laird and I ran across the hills behind the quad that were dotted with thousand of sprung daffodils. There were so many, it was almost impossible not to step on their fragile bent heads but we tried, giddy with the task. It was so late when I returned to my dorm that the usually raucous hallway was entirely dark. Only Cindy’s door was ajar, a triangle of light almost as alluring as the moonlight had been outside. I didn’t know Cindy at all: she was a sophomore and who had time for sophomores? Sometimes I caught a glimpse of her long blue black hair in the shower when I went in to brush my teeth, its sleek beauty reminded me of both a seal and a siren. One time we passed each other in the hallway as she was carrying a bouquet of fresh roses in to her room while I came out of mine, holding a broom, having tried to rid the dust that constantly gathered under my bureau. We scurried past one another, giving a quick nod as if we worked in some royal household. But tonight I felt as if I needed to connect with Cindy, if only to reassure myself that the rest of the world was still spinning and that my good fortune within it did have a context. She was brushing her hair and turned almost as if she was expecting me. She waved with her brush for me to enter. In her domain now, I was struck by the fresh force of beauty and it gave me pause. She gestured with her brush for me to sit at the café table that contained a neat stack of paper. I felt like we were meeting for an ice cream sundae on a double date. “I hear you’re a fast typist,” she said. “I manage,” I said still not sitting.
“Well,” said Cindy unplugging a flat iron. “I am slow as shit. And this is due by eight AM.” She picked up the paper stack filled with her slender handwriting. The roses on the table quaked. I knew where this was going: occasionally people had asked if I would type for them and I always said no. “I’m fast,” I explained, feeling suddenly like the ice cream parlor was a courtroom. “But I make tons of errors.” But Cindy was already opening a long leather wallet and pulling out some cash that looked as ironed as her sheets. “Will one hundred work?” I was broke. My small allowance for this last month of school had already been spent and I longed to buy some new earrings to wear at the graduation party my parents were letting me throw for my friends in the Shakespeare Gardens.
“You mean tonight, right now?”
As she handed me her paper I could see her breasts through her T-shirt nightgown. Their enormity were much more legendary around campus than my typing and thinking of this made me smile which she interpreted as consent.
“Just slide it under the door when you’re done. Like by 7:45. AM.”
I never pulled all nighters. I was an eight hour sleep kind of girl even at my own slumber parties but tonight I put the typewriter on the white bureau while I sat in bed to give myself the illusion of repose while transposing Cindy’s paper. Somewhere by page two I came to the realization that I couldn’t just dismiss Cindy, that her analysis of Anna Karenina was compelling enough that I began to enjoy it as a reader and forgot my role as detached typist. By six in the morning I was done and slid it under her door. The next evening I was dancing with a group of friends and Laird when Cindy stormed into our circle. At first I thought she was joining us until I could see that her mouth was moving rapidly at me. “It sucked!” she called out like a greeting.
“It was actually excellent!” I countered. “You write so well-“
“Your typing sucks!” she yelled, just as the Chaka Kahn chorus ended. “I want my money back.” I had already spent the one hundred on a pair of earring at the one jewelry store in town and the change for beers tonight.
Laird stepped in like the county sheriff and handed Cindy two fifties. His grandmother had recently passed away and he had come into a great sum of money which had both enriched and paralyzed him.
As it got warmer, Laird’s grip on our cloak seemed to get looser until suddenly one day he just let it- us – go.
There was one week left before graduation. I had nothing to do but smoke and sleep and slide reams of outraged letters under his door as if in direct response to the negative chain Cindy had somehow started. When my words went unanswered, I begged his best friend to tell me Laird’s whereabouts: I had to see him in person. His eyes looked down and he said “Alumnae House.” This was a grand hotel and restaurant just off campus where my Grandmother, an alumnae, (as I would be soon) liked to go to have hot fudge sundaes with her white gloved classmates.
I approached the porch, the insides glowed with good times. In old sweats and unwashed hair I hovered in a lilac bush, waiting, feeling like I was not part of the living. The lilac smell was so thick I rubbed a blossom across my neck in case I encountered Laird. The purple undersides were already turning brown. The door then opened: a swell of laughter until a couple strolled out and then it was just the two of them, embraced by the soft spring darkness. I could see the distinct curtain of her long blue black hair as it joined the night and swell of her chest. She wasn’t touching Laird but they might as well have been lying on top of one another. I let the bush fold over me protectively as they passed close by. I walked back to my dorm and took the elevator to the third floor, too tired to walk. My room was at the end in the tower and now like a tunnel, I could only see my door at its end. I entered my room and looked out the window. My family was arriving the next day. I could already see my grandmother smooth down her skirt as she exited the car. This seemed more her place than mine now. I’d stare down at her head, all of their heads, like a bird flying above, unsure where to land. But first, I slipped my new earrings into the bureau.