Eunice tucked her thin strands of pale red hair behind her ears, as was her nervous habit, and peered about the dining room. She was seated at her regular table in the Palace of Secretarial Eats. There was no sign of Amanda amidst the trill of anxious voices and the unsteady clatter of coffee cups refilled far too many times. The carcasses of single-serve packets of non-caloric sugar substitutes lay dismembered in unceremonious heaps on the other tables. The sight of this made Eunice swell with a perverse pride. Of the secretaries assembled, she and Amanda were the ones who ate.
They spent their secretarial paychecks on lavish meals that were anything but secretarial. There was nary a salad nor a sugar substitute in sight. Eunice and Amanda dined on bread with fresh garlic butter and shrimp cocktails, crepes with salmon and crème fraîche, washed down by bottles of Prosecco (at one o’clock in the afternoon!), followed by crème brûlée and coffee with Frangelico. On their (rare) demure days, they forewent the liqueurs and merely took their coffee with cream.
It was because their lunchtime personas—piratical, voracious, insatiably slurping, gulping, gnawing, devouring—stood in such marked contrast to the 40-hours weekly reality of their secretarial selves that Eunice and Amanda cherished their lunchtime excesses. Where in the office they nibbled timidly on crumbs, here they ate with unrepentant appetite. Where in the office they microwaved tepid cups of herbal tea, here they made themselves drunk in full daylight, daring neighboring tables to look askance at their debauch. Where in the office they starved, not enough to induce visions or euphoria, but just enough for a steady emptiness to whisper its dissatisfactions in the pit of their stomachs, here they ate until they had rendered themselves so sated that any awareness outside the voluptuous fullness of their bellies was subsumed entirely.
Having learned from their respective families and their society at large that pleasure was a dish best accompanied with a heaping side of remorse, afterward, the girls did penance for their excess. They flogged themselves with the label tape from their label dispensers and made graphically detailed itemized lists of their extravagances, which they proceeded to methodically white out. Upon completing these rites, they tucked themselves neatly under their desks until it was time to turn on the phones at 8:30 a.m. sharp and commence another day at the office.
Eunice glanced up, adjusted her round gold-framed spectacles, and saw a curvaceous blond in a tweed skirt making her way toward the table. Amanda’s face bore the pleasantly pained expression it always did when she walked. She was such a model secretary that her feet had evolved their own high heels, fleshy stiletto-shaped protuberances jutting from the bottom of her feet. It made shoe shopping quite a chore.
Amanda’s eyes, congenial ice pics, made contact with Eunice’s and she seated herself at their table.
“Sorry I’m late, but I wanted you to think my time was important,” she said.
Eunice fidgeted with the sleeves of her crumpled gray blazer. She never knew what to make of Amanda’s unflinching candor, which seemed to be made possible by the fact that the alarming nature of her bald-faced truths completely escaped her.
At dessert, Eunice cleared her throat.
“Do you ever,”she began, her voice wobbling like the spoonful of crème brûlée she held in her quavering hand
The crème brûlée slipped off the spoon and she made herself set it down.
“It’s just, do you ever wonder if there might be—um—”
“Ah, it just seems that, possibly, there might be a—better—way of—life.”
“But who would make the coffee?”
Eunice shivered as the cold cream made its descent down her insides.
“I guess you’re right.”