Authors: Samantha Strokes
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to reality are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 Samantha Strokes
The smell in my apartment could’ve knocked out a septic tank worker. Weed, old socks, stinky pantyhose—I barely had enough time to clean out my side of the room, let alone my roommate’s.
“Can you not make so much noise?” Lindsay said, from the couch. She turned over, her stringy, sticky hair glued to her forehead. She lifted an arm, wafting over to me a blast of skunk. I wrinkled my nose, shaking my head. “You’re also ruining the view.”
I was standing at the window to help me change; the mirror in our bathroom came broken from the get-go. I had moved in when the semester started only a couple months prior, and now that finals were coming up, I was in no mood to argue.
Manhattan definitely didn’t have the glamour and glitz I thought it would.
This Jersey girl arrived totally unprepared.
“I’m leaving anyway,” I said, glancing at Lindsay in the reflection of the window. Down below sprawled 5th Avenue and Madison, although the streets were quiet during the daytime. I could hear the sonorous beats of Dominican rap music playing through the air, local vendors peddling their wares and hawking their goods in Spanglish. A Chinese man walked across the street. There were plenty of men gathered at the corners, breakdancing. Old Jewish men hurried forward wearing culottes and thigh-high stockings. I inhaled and exhaled. Then I analyzed myself: I would be going in for work. I was a professional now. A-line skirt. Red high heels. A straight, sleek cut down to my shoulders. The image in my eyes made me feel unconfident though. My hips jutted out. My breasts seemed too large and small at the same time, depending on the angle. I had curves in all the wrong places.
Or so I felt.
“Are you going yet?” Lindsay said. She raised both of her arms, yawning. “If you could, make sure to close the door silently.”
We had a spring doorjamb, with creaky wooden floorboards, both of which grated against one another when you entered or exited. Not much choice in the end.
“I’ll try my best,” I said, turning around, grabbing my purse. My keys jingled at the bottom of my wallet. I hadn’t driven a car in a long time. Fumbling around for my subway pass, I stepped up to the door, and rolled my eyes. “I’m leaving,” I said.
“Bye,” Lindsay said.
I grabbed the doorknob, the squeaking shrill traveling across the hallway and mingling with Lindsay’s annoyed shout.
“Sorry!” I said, giggling to myself. Sometimes I made more noise than necessary—Lindsay could be so obnoxious, just laying around in the apartment.
Our competition started the moment she entered the doorway. I remember being so excited for New York City, Manhattan living. And then I saw my apartment—nothing at all what the pictures were advertising. I mean, can you say false advertising? The couch originally had a film of lint. The floorboards, like I said, creaked, but they could have been banshees the first time we were there. We had to get a repair man—five times—to check around for loose spaces or nails or whatever it was keeping us up at night.
And then came the cockroaches and rats. Both. At the same time. They skittered in the dark, went around the corners of my bed. Some of the more feisty rats jumped up and saw me eye-to-eye, their tails slithering in the darkness like snakes.
Spiders kept themselves warm in our cabinets. We cleared them out using wet towels, or rather, I should say, I cleared them out.
Lindsay just stood there. Watching me.
Then she announced who she was, where she went to school: Columbia University, the same as me. Great.
“I’ll be interning at Alpha Suites,” she said. Coolly, of course. She had to play herself off as the chill, passive-aggressive beauty nerd. I hated those types. They were my worst frenemy.
Going down the stairs of the hallway, I slipped into a car door, and found the apartment complex’s shared elevator. I ringed the button, waiting around for what seemed like five minutes. Then it rattled on up, catching the door when it opened. A homeless guy came wobbling out, and I had a pang of sadness in my heart. Christ, times were rough, they were always rough.
Only hours before I had been in a finance class with Lindsay. The two of us hobbled home in the streets, saving our subway tickets by walking instead. Both of us came home sweaty and disgusting, so walking the streets again became increasingly unappetizing for me. In the middle of April, New York and the surrounding areas turned into one, hot bed of activity. They call it the urban island effect—I just call it swamp-ass everywhere. Steam rises from the vents, and you can hear all the birds out, squawking and shitting as they fly by en masse. Gross.
Clutching my purse close to me, I stepped into the foyer as the elevator opened up. On cue, a rabid group of business professionals—fellow interns?—tried rushing me without letting me out first. I sighed, battling them, thrusting myself into the distance—if only I could get to the door in the next three minutes, then I would be on time.
My heels clopped along the fake marble until I hit the revolving door. Just my luck. My purse squeezed between one of the panels, stopping the entire system. Fuck. Glancing nervously around, I shot daggers at the lazy front desk staff who sat on his ass reading a magazine. He didn’t even say goodbye to me. No one in this entire damned complex gave two fucks.
Eventually, after much rattling and stomping of my feet, the hotel guy came to my assistance. He unsnagged my purse, which wasted about five minutes, and then I was off, my heels clattering unsteadily on the warped pavement outside. It was like the city never came by to check up on this part of Manhattan. Sheesh.
The subway tunnel entrance opened up to me. I clobbered down in a rush of people, some guys in suits now, others wearing nothing more than raggedy sweatpants. Old women pushing carts. Younger women like me, dressed to kill. What was I even doing here? I asked myself this question often. Growing up poor, I was more accustomed to seeing the raggedy sweatpants than the Wall Street magnates. But as I rode from one side of the city to the other, I saw more and more of the well-dressed clientele I knew I would be in contact with for the rest of my life.
I had this image built up in my head like the Empire State building. Tall and looming in my mind, wealthy and rich people could only be spoiled, impotent, angry, negligible, hateful, wasteful, miserly, wicked, evil, just… You get the picture. I never saw them as people, but only as a group of homogenous organisms to deal with. I had to. If you’re working for someone, then you’re making someone else much richer than your own self, so it stands to follow.
The train stopped. I had to catch myself a connection. Standing up, I maneuvered my way around the carriage traffic, a multitude of internationals speaking a variety of languages. Chinese, Swahili, Spanish. Pushing out from the train, I got on the opposite side of the platform, awaiting someone else.
Just then, clapping down from one of the entrances, ran my best friend, Angela. Her hair stuck to her face, but not because of her sweat: she had slicked it over in a nice ponybun. Her dress fluttered in the gas and steam from the trains. Waving at her, I smiled, and we met together by one of the steel pillars jutting from the platform. “Hey, you,” Angela said, squeezing me tight. “You didn’t answer my text.”
I checked my phone. She had written something about not forgetting my laptop. I unzipped my purse to check. Thank God. It was there underneath my blush, mascara, and several unused condoms both of us had jokingly bought.
“Sorry,” I said. “My roomie was testing my patience. Plus, I had to get out of my room ASAP. There really wasn’t any time too, you know, scan for messages and stuff. How’re you doing?”
Angela clutched her stomach. Rubbing it up and down, she watched as the train slowly pulled onto the platform. “Dude, I’m so hungry. I’ve barely had anything to eat today. I tried grabbing some fast food, but then the line got too long, and then, well, you know.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sucks.”
We worked so much. I tracked the amount of free time I possessed during the week—it came out to around 40 or so minutes. Homework, then there were classes, classes on top of classes, meetings with study groups, and then sleeping, eating, showering. Boring stuff. Travel. It all ate up pieces of my day. Slowly but surely, I found myself beholden to my career chasing ways.
Investment banking really killed me in a way.
After all, I was the president of my school’s homeless advocacy organization: Manhattan’s Concern. We had raised over $1 million in donations in the past year alone. I had risen to the top and was elected by virtue of my great credentials coming out of high school, as well as my good grades and networking. It all culminated in a fantastic role for me, but it came at the same time as my investment banking internship. Which made people skeptical of me.
How could I be majoring in finance and at the same time be president of a homeless advocacy group? I never saw it as contradicting until Zena, one of my subordinate members, decided to point it out to me. “It’s just strange,” she had said. “It’s just… Really weird to me. That’s all.”
She was lucky to be good at math, or else the entire club would have gone under petty arguing. No way I would’ve given up my spot for someone like her.
“Hey,” Angela said, patting my shoulder, “girl, I know what you’re thinking. And you’ve got to let it go. Both the club and Joseph need you.”
I smiled, blushing. “There’s just a lot on my shoulders right now,” I said. “Everyone has these expectations up in my head and I feel like I’m going to combust from the inside out, honestly.”
“Stay focused on yourself,” Angela said. “If we can get through this semester, then I swear, you’ll be the one graduating summa cum laude. Not me.”
I closed my eyes. I heard the ceremony bells and my name being called. For years, I had dreamed about breaking into the Ivy League. I was the Captain of everything in high school, broke my back doing volunteer work, got excellent grades and AP courses wrapped up. I killed school over and again. Top of my class. Literally, number one ranking.
Then I got to Columbia, and I became average. Everyone was smart, so no one was smart. The bar jumped away from me. I had to run. So many more were left behind. I wondered what the point even was. Why bother? My parents were proud of me, but we rarely ever talked anymore. They were busy with work and saving up for retirement. We lived in different spheres now.
“I get nervous,” I said, my eyes still closed. “It’s like I can see my world being taken away from me. If I’m not careful.”
“Keep yourself steady,” Angela said. “Oh, and by the way, don’t look so horny when we go inside the offices. You’re looking like you’re ready for sex.”
My eyes bolted wide. Did someone hear? Craning my neck around, I gave off an angry vibe.
Angela giggled. “I’m kidding. But seriously, you should think about hooking up with Joseph. Maybe he’ll make your load easier?”
“I’m not a prostitute. I mean, nothing wrong with them, but that’s not my goal.”
“Maybe you’re nervous because we’re almost there.” Wall Street would be coming up soon. Joseph’s domain indeed. “Do I look okay?”
I smirked. “Gonna steal my man?”
Angela laughed. “Of course, that’s exactly why I’m working at Placarm Rhodes.”
The train stopped. We rose and darted out along with the crowd of guys in suits. I’m not going to lie: the crowd was turning me on. I hated myself for being so in tune with the business world, but what could I say? I loved myself a guy with a nice tie and gelled hair. It got me going.
And Angela wasn’t too far off the mark. Joseph Videl, owner of Placarm Rhodes, the largest investment bank in all of Manhattan, definitely caught my eye the moment I saw him.
My interview is still clear in my mind. He wore a gray flannel suit with cropped spiky hair. Stark blue eyes, flecks of gold in the center. He crossed his legs at the ankle, resting forward over his desk. He had a husky, rasping voice that tickled my clit even from afar.
“And how do you do?” he had asked.
Back in reality, Angela and I step along the sidewalk, marking out buildings in our heads. One, two, three… There. Placarm Rhodes. A flagship investment office if there ever was one. It stood at least 200 stories into the sky, much higher than the surrounding buildings. Men and women on cell phones rushed out, talking hurriedly. The streets here were much cleaner, emptied out than my Harlem apartment. And no Lindsay. Thank Jesus Almighty.