The Associate
     Paul McLaughlin

1.
The evening sun sinks slowly through the luminous
clouds above the crenelated Rocky Mountain crest
west of Calgary, spilling its golden dusky glow
through the floor-to-ceiling office tower windows
onto the burnished boardroom table and splashing it
into the weary eyes of the fourth-year associate,
breaking her concentration.

Angrily, she glares at the sun
flips a switch to close the drapes
arches her aching back and shoulders
tries without success to rub away her headache
(being well into her twelfth billable hour of the day)
then doggedly locks her mind back onto the shopping
center lease on the table in front of her. By ten
tomorrow morning, every piece of paper in the three-
foot-high stack of documents she is reviewing must be
flawless, quadruplicated and ready for execution.

2.
The setting sun sinks slowly behind the snow-capped
Rocky Mountain crest, pouring its dusky crimson glow
into a large room, well-stocked with toys, in a
thirty-five hundred square foot custom-built home on a
rich suburban ridge west of Calgary, with
a three-car garage
a view of the shadowy foothills to the west
a view of the towering city center to the east
and a 90% mortgage
where a loving nanny hugs a little girl and tucks her into bed.


Where's my blanky?

It is a dirty thing,
you shouldn't have it any more.

I want my blanky!

But you are too old.

No, I'm not! Where's my mommy?

You know your mommy has to work tonight. She wants
you to be good a good girl and do what I say. It is time
for you to go to sleep.

Where's my Daddy?

He is far away, in London England.

Can I call my mommy on the phone and say goodnight?

You called her twice already.

But I have to
say goodnight again!

Okay, you can call her
one more time, but then you must go to sleep.

3.
This is Courtney. I'm in the office today but I can't
come to the phone right now. Please leave a message and
I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Hi, mommy. I called to say g'night again. Philo won't let me have my blanky. Will you call her please and tell her I can have my blanky? Nighty, night, mommy. Sleep tight.

 

4.
It's past midnight. Courtney pulls back the drapes,
looks out over the city, sips a keep-me-going coffee.
Only seven more documents to check. I mustn't forget
to change the date on the guarantee. I'll open with,
"Let's get started," and then when everything is signed,
I'll say, "Gentlemen, you just bought yourself a building."
When they're gone, I'll celebrate--the youngest female lawyer
in the firm to do a closing on her own!

What if I blow it? The other associates are jealous,
especially the guys; some of them think I got special treatment
because I'm a woman. To hell with them, I deserve this.

The younger women will be watching too.
Who'd've thought I'd be a role model!

I wonder how Jessica is doing. One day,
she'll be so proud of me.

Everything has fallen into place: she has felt the thrum of excitement
in her solar plexus for days now; it's radiating up through
her body, now that everything is nearly ready.

This must be how a singer feels
the day before a concert.

The partners will be watching. I know I have the talent.
I'll pay my dues and then I'll be partner--
and I am going to make partner:
everyone has always said a bright girl like me can be whatever
I want--and I want to be a partner in this firm.

5.
You are restless tonight.

I can't sleep.

Do you want me to sing you a lullaby?

Sing to me about the sailboats and the palm trees
and the beautiful sun setting over the islands.
We don't have islands in Calgary, do we?

Not like my islands. Some day I will take you to
my islands.

Promise?

Promise.

6.
It's three in the morning. Courtney can hardly see
as she makes her way through the dim, silent halls
to her office to record her time; her head feels like
it is about to split open from behind her eyes
to the nape of her neck, and she knows she has to be
ready to deal with the morning's crises by eight o'clock.

And she's tingling with anticipation! She's ready! All the
transfers, leases, subleases, guarantees, debentures
and assignments are done. All the checklists have been
double-checked. It's like she's finished a massive tapestry
and every stitch is perfect.

She notices her voicemail light is on.

Hi, mommy. I called to say g'night again. Philo won't let me have my
blanky. Will you call her please and tell her I can have my blanky?
Nighty, night, mommy. Sleep tight.

She feels
the joyful serenity of a little girl
lying between fresh sheets in a newly made bed
a puff of cool air on her face as
her mother floats her special yellow blanket over her
her blanket enfolding her with security as she gently rubs
its soft silky edge and sinks safely into sleep

the bewildered loneliness of a little girl who can't have her blanket

and the unquenchable grief of a woman watching someone else
raise her daughter so she can make partner.

No one ever told her there would be compromises. No one
ever told her you can't have it all.

January, 2000