Summer, 2005 / No. 14
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Someone is stealing things from my drawers. I know this. Usually in the afternoons while I’m downstairs getting a hazelnut coffee, with skim milk, and a packet of sesame crisps, the benefits of which I feel have been unjustly ignored. At first it was occasional—once a week or so—and just a few things. Staples. Rolls of tape. Mechanical pencil leads. A sample vial of unisex perfume. I knew it was escalating when I lost an entire twelve-pack of large blue-marble-print adhesive notepads that I had, only the day before, stolen from the supply cabinet. No small feat considering how closely Erika-with-a-k monitors our access to the supplies. She is a stony, obdurate guardian. I respect and hate her for this. The theft of the staples and perfume I took in stride, but the notepads were a bit much. Maybe it was the size, maybe the audacity of the mid-morning timing, but in some tiny way, it hurt. I told this to Brunette Jennifer, but she gave me a dismissive look, a look that said I was not entitled to my own feelings, so I stole her staple remover and one of the Milky Ways hidden among her jumbled and dog-eared files.

I know I have secret adversaries. I know I am envied. My new highlights are lustrous: rosewood on mahogany. I am adept and charmingly solicitous with clients. My handwriting is a beacon of legibility, ensuring my position next to the whiteboard. Recently, I have lost a lot of weight (more than fifteen pounds) without much effort. While the Break Bar is always abuzz with debate over the newest and best weight-loss methods, I have sworn off the anti-carb fads, protein blasts, tea purges, and soy isoflavones. I have stayed true to the Clock Philosophy,” and, thus, to myself. Imagine your plate is a clock. Twelve to three is protein. Three to six is high-fibre starches. Six to midnight is fresh vegetables. The Clock Philosophy has a simple elegance I admire. Losing weight is just as easy. Simply keep the proportions and reduce the portions. Maintain the ratios while lowering the overall quantity until the air crackles like crisp autumn leaves and the daylight hours have an artful cinematic blur. That, and seven hours of spinning each week. I am proud of the results: the flat, milky stomach and the slender thighs. They are mine alone. Once, while hiding in the men’s washroom, I found a profane but flattering homage to my ass on the wall. It buoyed my spirits and helped steady my breathing. Praise is the greatest succour, a holy balm.

The boy who fixes my computer tells me that the thefts have become both epidemic and arbitrary. A coffee maker is missing from Finance. A crate of twenty thousand billing envelopes, creamy white and bristling with potential. A large succulent from the third-floor lobby. At least I am not alone in this. I lean in close to this boy in my chair, drawn to the black whorls inked on the nape of his neck, and the hipster check of his shirt. I’m filled with a warm, urgent desire tell him about my scattered years: the Ukrainian gangster, my dentist, short hair, Adorno, the nights in old, grimy gay clubs, slipping like a shadow into the back room, just to listen, the comical wet sounds of anonymity. He blushes painfully when I lean too far. He believes it is all a vast hoax, a training exercise by upper management. The last of my gel pens are gone, but I am unbowed. I fix the boy with a great wide, radiant, soul-crushing smile that is only great because I mean it. At least my computer will always work.

When they took my gleaming stainless-steel travel mug I knew it was a time for action. It was mine, and a thing of beauty. Girded in a custom-tailored chalk-stripe suit and a pearl-grey beaded silk corset top, I contemplated the opposition. Erica-with-a-c truly detests me, but she was at home, swollen with child. Her replacement, a small and good-natured Laotian gentleman, seemed far too stable. Brunette Jennifer had the necessary spite but not the follow-though or sense of timing. I arranged my top drawer to enhance its allure, leaving a rainbow box of coated paperclips dead centre, a ripe and low-hanging plum. Taking the tray from the electric pencil sharpener, I sifted out the wood shavings, reserving the graphite dust, and sprinkled a fine, glittering layer over the drawer’s contents. As a result, I was late for lunch with my business group: Mary, Maria, Carmen, and Lynn. Some call her Lynn 2, in acknowledgement of the blotchy woman who preceded me in my current position, but I don’t indulge in that kind of sentiment. There is always the persistent cured-meat smell in my office to remember her by. We talked of the pale-green armchair missing from reception. All four glared balefully from behind bales of spinach and strawberries at my well-proportioned, deconstructed seafood lasagna and baby greens. I ate quickly, in large, graceful bites.

Later in the day, I achieved concrete results. Naturally, my paperclips had disappeared by four-thirty. By five-fifteen, a culprit was discovered. When Mary swayed off for the day, the left back pocket of her pale pink denim skirt (hardly, I think, Tuesday-appropriate) was defiled by a black smudge so large and terrible, I felt immediate, gut-clenching tines of remorse. Perhaps it wasn’t Mary. Perhaps the real thief had rifled through my drawers, then pawed at her ass like an animal, leaving the telltale sign. Perhaps it was a man. Perhaps another woman. Doubt is a stinging nettle. Regardless, it was a pyrrhic victory. The next morning, my corkboard and all its contents were gone. As were Maria’s inbox, Todd’s miniature lava lamp, and Khamsing’s ailing spider plant.

I redoubled my efforts and reset my trap, this time with a three-pack of Liquid Paper. Clad in oxblood calfskin gloves, I crumbled a small cotton-candy clump of fibreglass insulation from the renovations on seven over the whole arrangement. The red welts on Carmen’s neck and hands were ultimately unsatisfying and utterly ineffective.

Deterrence wasn’t the answer. I was forced to admit that the problem was beyond my capacities. Larger than any individual person. I sat slumped in my office, absent-mindedly playing with the bicycle lock chaining my plush ergonomic leather chair to the radiator. I looked out my large window at the expressway and contemplated the impermanence of objects, the tenuous nature of life, both in a greater sense—great sandstorms of particulate time scouring us, all our collected bulk and wisdom, into multicoloured dust—and also in a smaller one. How quickly objects come in and out of our possession. Accretions of objects washing up against us and collecting, piece by piece, only to break off and vanish into the foam. I thought of all the possessions I had lost in my life as though I had stolen them from myself through carelessness. I enjoyed all of those things. Their absence rankled, yet seemed natural. In a way, hadn’t I stolen the very view I was viewing (among other things) from Lynn 1? Had she felt the same sense of ownership over the off-ramp, the impound lot, the Satin Hand-Wash and the Pleasure Chestz Lounge? Yet the view was not mine. It wasn’t even a physical thing. I had two margaritas for lunch and waited out the day in a sad and peculiar mood.

The weather is lovely these days, clear and warm with cool breezes in the afternoons. Quarterly profits are up significantly and falcons have finally moved into the expensive metal nests constructed for them on the window ledges. Yet none of this can conceal the fact that the place is a shambles. Thieves have taken a photocopier from Traffic and all of the vertical blinds from the fifth floor. Several of the backlit frosted glass letters are gone from our corporate logo in main reception, as are three of seven chrome fish from the kinetic sculpture in the atrium. Patches of carpet have been torn up. What’s worse, someone has begun leaving enormous trays of cookies, pastries, and squares in public areas. These trays are emptied as quickly and as secretly as they are left. Everyone is gaining weight. When no one is looking, I take handfuls of cookies out of camaraderie but do not indulge. I understand his (it must be a man) sick plan and my will is cold iron. I leave them in my bottom drawer, as my wastebasket has also vanished. In response to these developments, the Wellness Committee has started lunchtime tai chi lessons in the fourth-floor boardroom, now emptied of furniture. I find the slow, deliberate movements very soothing. I feel a bit guilty for not guarding my office at all times with improvised weapons, as most of my department has taken to doing, but it doesn’t really matter. My office has been stripped of nearly everything but the chair, a locked cabinet containing my immaculate files, and my computer, skilfully and lovingly bolted to the heavy desk with stout metal bands.

Still, I feel strangely hopeful. If this weather holds, I will eat my lunch outside after tai chi and maybe start running again. Next week I will ask the boy who fixes my computer out for a drink, and he will say yes, and for a short time it will be very nice. We will make love in the men’s washroom, my real ass pressed against the sacred words about my ass, smudging them, merging with them. We will breathe into each other’s mouths and talk in low voices. We will sit together in my office, alert and upright and smiling as the paint is stolen, then the drywall and ceiling tiles, as the whole building dissolves around us. Maybe we will dissolve as well, blur and separate into tiny coloured dots, collapse into outlines of ourselves. Flat shapes of opaque white, waiting in the sun amid the bare girders and metal ribs for someone to come and write upon us in big blue-and-red block letters, to give us names again.