Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue
The Club made no allowances for guilt. No second guessing. No politics. No weeping. No apologies, no forgiveness. No regrets, no what-ifs, no relief, no thanks. No work, which we left back on our desks. No parties, because we knew each other too well. And no goodbyes, because we always came back.
We arrived separately and in our own time on the same path: across the shiny tiled floor of the reception area, down the accounting hallway, past the copy machine and break room and framed photograph of the CEO, through the storage room, and finally into an alcove tucked in the back. The most veteran among us cleared this space years ago to make room for the plastic chairs, the glass-topped coffee table, the contraband water cooler, the area rug, the spider plant, the betta fish named Monday, and the lavender curtains draped flat against the wall. The rest of us were brought here by a Club member. She would be a fellow employee of Alexander Brand, perhaps a high-heeled, hair-sprayed kind of lady who carried a mirrored compact to check her teeth for lipstick stains. Or maybe she was the youngest of our group, a girl in a long flowing skirt and sandals with pencil-thin straps. Or it could be Vicky with her designer imposter perfume, or Betsy with her bifocals, or Lisbeth with her day planner and mechanical pencils.
Some of us came to the Club under duress. Some came gladly. Some of us plopped down in a plastic chair as if to release a weight. The rest of us hovered in the doorway, unconvinced and resistant. We saw this space for what it was: a cement cube in the inner workings of a branding company in Hoboken, New Jersey. Together and as a group, we settled into our routines: the chipped coffee mugs, notes blotted on Alexander Brand stationery, and games of hearts played round that clear table.
We waited, too. For an ending, for a beginning. For someone new to step inside and take this all away.
On her first day, Sadie unpacked her personal items and arranged them on her desk: a word-a-day calendar, open to fuliginous; a juniper plant; a glass paperweight the color of lemons; a framed photograph of her three-year-old son, Ben; and a worry stone. Sadie hung Ben’s picture above her computer but slid the stone to an inconspicuous corner of the desk.
As the new vice president of project development, Sadie would manage some of Alexander Brand’s flashiest accounts, including Adonis Hotel Honors, the new AutoPilot self-driving vehicle line, celebrity chef Richard Wonder, and, fingers crossed based on the upcoming pitch, the memory-sharing software Calliope.
It was Calliope, Sadie knew, that had the potential to transform not only the company and her professional trajectory, but entire lives. Calliope connected people near and far based on their shared memories to generate reunions and new relationships alike. If a person who’d lost his mother in a drowning accident when he was twelve logged onto Calliope, he could be connected to someone on the other side of the world who had lost her own mother in the same way and at the same age, thus forging a new, lifelong bond. This could be accomplished in mere minutes after the user had installed the software, set up his account, and submitted to the memory capture process. It was, in a word, astounding.
“Mrs. Newcombe?” Angela, Sadie’s assistant, peered inside the office. She stayed there a moment too long, her gaze traveling from the cherry bookcases to the slippery expanse of desk.
Sadie tilted her head. “Can I help you, Angela?”
Angela smiled. “I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that we’ve never had a VP before.”
“Of course you have. John Hanley was my predecessor. Surely you worked with him.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Sadie gave Angela a closer look. She was perhaps in her late twenties, which meant she was getting a bit old to be an assistant if she had serious ambition. At Sadie’s last job, young women fluttered in and out of her office on a regular basis, all hoping for mentorship and assistance in rising to equal footing with their male colleagues. But Angela seemed to be something else.
“I’ve set up a lunch for you with some colleagues today,” Angela said. “The women here have so looked forward to meeting you.”
Sadie hesitated. She was already busy, but it wouldn’t look right to turn down the first friendly lunch offer that came her way. If women outside her department were so eager to meet her, they must be desperate for a female role model at work. Alexander Brand didn’t have the best track record when it came to placing women in positions of power.
“All right,” Sadie said. “Yes, I’ll join them. I look forward to it.”
“You say that like you have a choice,” Angela replied. After a pause, she laughed.
Sadie forced a laugh in response, her fingers drifting toward the worry stone. Just get through the day, she told herself. One day, then another, until the memories of this place could spin out like the long line of a jet trail fading into the distance.
We watched Sadie carefully that first day. She wasn’t what we expected. She was thin, with narrow lips and limp hair, and frankly didn’t look anything like a savior. She seemed weak, to be honest, though she must have been tough and smart to rise this high professionally.
It was like she belonged, but didn’t.
It was like she was one of us, but not.
Even amongst ourselves, we couldn’t agree what we wanted from her. Some thought if she did well, she could rise to the level of CEO, and maybe then she’d have the power to make this all go away. Those of us who rooted for her success looked to Calliope, the company’s great financial hope. If Calliope came on board as a client, and if Sadie was the reason they did so, then she was on her way.
Others among us thought Sadie was susceptible to disaster. This wasn’t necessarily a problem. Some of us had come to believe, over the years, that we could only be set free if the company as a whole crumbled around us.
No matter how divided our numbers might be, all of us were still stuck in the same place: slogging through our past in a windowless cube in the heart of an office building, where curtains hung against cement block and where our only companion was a fish who’d fight to the death his own kind if ever given the chance.
After lunch, Sadie followed a string of female Alexander Brand employees through the reception area and down the accounting hallway.
She followed them past the copy machine, the break room, and the CEO’s photograph.
She followed them through the storage room and into the alcove in the back.
She followed them to the circle of chairs, where she took a seat and crossed her legs, and where she sat thinking of the work on her desk, of the clients she had to call, the meetings she was to lead that afternoon. When she finally spoke, she said, “I don’t belong here.”
She said, “It was so long ago. It has nothing to do with my life today.”
No one responded. The curtains did not flutter in the breeze-less room. Monday the fish did not flash his fins or circle his bowl.
Sadie said, “I have so much work to do. Like the Calliope account. Do you know how complicated that software is?”
She said, “I cannot comprehend how you even know this about me.”
She said, “Are you religious? Is that what’s going on here?”
She said, “I think you all need to move on with your lives.”
She said, “I could recommend a good therapist.”
After many more long stretches of silence: “You’re wrong about me, you know. That’s not the reason I ended up here.”
But she wasn’t sure.
She said, “Are we supposed to share now? Is that what this is? Because I have nothing to say.”
And she didn’t. And she did.
Some of us were young women, politically left-leaning, college educated. Some of us were conservative, religious, or wore orthopedic shoes. A few of us were old enough for it to have been illegal back when we had it done. Others crossed state lines to circumvent new laws or age requirements or to simply find an open facility.
We did not know why this company attracted so many like us, why we drifted toward this secret room, and, most of all, why we couldn’t leave. Letters of resignation disappeared from our computers before we could print them. Firings and layoffs did not reach us. New job offers elsewhere were rescinded last minute. Vacations and illnesses and holidays came to an end and dropped us right back into this room.
Some of us thought we were being punished. Some of us thought we were here to help, to usher in the new women who arrived confused and unsure. Some of us thought there was no point in anything, that life was a string of random incidents one after the other, and that we marched through our days as well as anyone else.
Some of us were happy. Some of us were not.
At work, we were receptionists, accounting clerks, assistants, office managers, junior associates, support staff, typists, and backups. We were not CEOs or CFOs or directors or chiefs or general managers or corporate leaders or investment officers or presidents or vice presidents.
By the end of the week, Sadie understood, as much as she could, how the Club functioned: Every day around lunch time, she and the other members rose from their desks and strode separately down the hall, past the copy machine, past the break room, past the photo of the CEO with his subtle leer, and finally into the alcove. There, they claimed seats and got started. This meant playing hearts, which Sadie detested, and chatting about the care and feeding of Monday the fish before moving on to trade recipes or jogging routes or investment advice. Some women brought knitting. Others brought snacks, whole-grain crackers or baby carrots, and always there was a pot of green jasmine tea sending trails of steam into the air.
These rituals were only the beginning. Once they were settled, the woman began talking about children. Not the children that never were, but rather the children they had now, or the children they hoped to have or thought about having or feared having:
Betsy discussed her seven-year-old daughter, Matilda, who had recently lost a tooth.
Angela complained about how her mother was already pushing for grandchildren, even though Angela was only twenty-seven and didn’t have a serious boyfriend.
Lisbeth talked dreamily about the three baby girls she imagined having with her fiancé.
Vicky discussed her grown sons, both in the upholstery business.
Others talked about C-sections and sperm donors and adoption and birth control pills.
Sadie talked about Ben. Sweet, rambunctious Ben with his love of penguins and hot air balloons.
Ben was the reason Sadie had returned to work. In the two years since her husband Tim had left and declared bankruptcy—after effectively hiding his assets—Sadie forged her way back to the top of her profession in order to support Ben. She thought back to just that morning, when she’d kissed Ben six times on the top of his head and then slipped out the door.
“What happened back then was a shame, but now I have Ben,” she told the Club members. “And I had him when I was ready.”
It had been the right choice, that long-ago visit to the clinic. It wasn’t something she felt guilty about. She didn’t celebrate imaginary birthdays, or the anniversary of when it happened, or any of that. It was gone, dusted away in her history the same as her marriage and so much else.
“But now you’re here,” one of the women said. Or maybe it was all of them who spoke; that was how disorienting the meetings could be for Sadie. “And you’re stuck like the rest of us.”
“We don’t have to have these meetings,” Sadie suggested gently. “We can put an end to the Club if we simply stop coming.”
The Club members stared back blankly. “Haven’t you tried to stop?”
Sadie averted her eyes. She told herself every morning on the way in to work that she would not pass reception, walk down the accounting hallway, or slip into the storage room. And yet every day that week, she had done exactly that. It was like the building contained magnets pulling her along.
“I should head back to my office,” Sadie said. “I have a lot of work to do on the Calliope account.”
“So go,” Angela said.
Sadie sat in her chair. She watched Monday the fish open his mouth and close it again. Her gaze wandered over the cards scattered on the table, her cup of tea growing cold, the little plastic bag of baby carrots.
“I’ll leave in just a minute,” she said, and remained in her seat.
Angela smirked. She leaned forward to shuffle the cards and deal another hand.
All our stories are the same, and all our stories are different.
One of us gave the nurse a fake name and cried the whole way through.
One of us marked the appointment in her day calendar and showed up in a skirt and stockings.
One of us was accompanied by her three best friends who took turns holding her hand.
One of us was taken to the appointment by her father, and the rest of us pretended not to understand why but of course we knew exactly.
One of us went out for pizza afterward.
One of us was given a car, as a reward or maybe a bribe.
One of us, years later, joined the protesters outside her local clinic.
One of us swears she still feels the pain of it down low in her abdomen.
One of us says she never felt anything at all.
That first week, Sadie worked with employees who volunteered to give their memories to the Calliope software. This included Club members, and every time Sadie inputted those memories, she rushed alone back to her office to run her own search. Time and time again, it happened: Calliope’s crawling blue lines connected her to the Club members, individually and together, women pressed close in their shared histories. But Calliope revealed more than just the choice that brought these women to the Club. It also connected them in smaller ways:
Sadie Newcombe is connected to Angela Jacobson through the shared memory of breaking a wrist during childhood. Sadie Newcombe is connected to Betsy Allamar through the shared memory of a long-ago car accident that left a slight ringing in the ears. Sadie Newcombe is connected to Vicky Underwood through the shared memory of standing on dimly lit stage in front of an audience and experiencing a deep humiliation.
No matter how mundane the connection, Sadie couldn’t pull herself away from the screen. The Calliope software was so nuanced, so complicated, and so frankly unbelievable that the average person—Alexander Brand executives included—could not fathom what it was capable of. But Sadie could. Sometimes she woke with a gasp in the middle of the night, shocked out of a dream about Calliope that seemed too fantastic to exist. But when she wiped the sweat from her neck and sunk back into the dark folds of the pillow, the knowledge that Calliope was very real settled over her, sweeter than any sleep.
Sometimes Sadie opened Calliope to watch the data from her memories rise and fall in line graphs on the screen: each skinny blue streak made up of thousands of pixels, tiny building blocks like atoms inside cells inside bodies.
We knew all about Calliope. We understood what it meant to submit to the memory-gathering process, how we would be linked in the Alexander Brand system. We knew how those blue lines snared us, how the glowing screen pinned us together almost physically, as if we were fused hip to hip. To connect on Calliope was nothing more than an extension of the Club. It was a digital version of walking down the hallway, past the CEO photo, and into the storage room.
Calliope could bring us together, and it could also tear us apart. We wanted both.
At first, the Club was a relief, a chance to finally say the unspeakable. But to stay in this room now is to stay in that room in the clinic. The papery cover-up, the stirrups, the poster on the ceiling, the sympathetic nurse. We could practically hear the waiting room full of all those girls on the other side of the door: nervous girls waiting for pregnancy tests or HIV tests or maybe counseling or treatment or birth control pills. Girls with boyfriends, girls with mothers, girls alone, girls reading pamphlets, girls closing their eyes. Or maybe girls and women who remembered the same things we did: the sedation, the cramping, the fear and anticipation that returns, unbidden, late at night or in crowded stores or under the hum of regular conversation.
Calliope was real. The memories it pulled were not merely from that day or that clinic but something broader, richer: the fluttery sense of relief that flowed over us hours, days, weeks, years later, all those things we never expected to speak of again. And we never did, not until the Club leached it from us day by day, hour by hour, while we were encased in the harsh angled insides of a storage room alcove.
Sadie sat back and rubbed her neck. She’d been at work on the Calliope pitch for hours that day alone, and countless more during the last two weeks.
“Sadie?” It was Angela, standing in the doorway with perfect posture. “Your appointment’s here.”
“I don’t have an appointment today.”
“Your nanny? She’s in the reception area with your son. He’s the cutest little boy, really.”
Sadie pulled herself to her feet and hurried to reception. Frieda sat on the white leather couch while Ben squatted, laughing at his reflection in the polished floor.
“I thought we agreed on Friday,” Sadie said.
“Friday?” Frieda stood up. In her jeans and over-sized pink sweatshirt, she looked completely out of place in the gleaming reception area. “I’m sorry, I must have gotten the date wrong. And here poor Ben was so excited about this lunch.”
“My pitch is this afternoon.” Sadie knelt down to Ben’s level. “Come on, sweetie,” she said, taking his hand. “We’ll sit in Mommy’s office and find something for you to play with. Then we’ll go to lunch a little late.”
Sadie showed Frieda and Ben to her office and got them situated in the club chairs by her desk. Frieda pulled out a coloring book with a cartoon woman wearing a business suit. It was called Mommy Goes to Work!
“Once the pitch is over, we’ll go,” Sadie said.
“We’ll be fine.” Frieda shook a plastic bag of cheddar goldfish out of her purse and dumped them on the desk. Ben was already coloring.
Sadie gathered her files and hurried to the glass-walled conference room to wait for the executive team. Every Alexander Brand higher-up had flown in for this meeting—including Mr. Brand, the CEO. Sadie would have quite the audience for her pitch. But she could tell by her quickening heartbeat and the bit of extra effort she put into each breath that it was happening. She was back on her game, in full pitch mode. She could do this.
We created the Club ourselves. We created it because we were once fantastically unaware of what our bodies were capable of. We created it because long ago, we made a choice we weren’t supposed to talk about, and because we would do it again without hesitation. We created the Club, in the end, because we are so much more than our decisions:
Because one of us fights daily with her mother.
Because one of us set fire to a house while in college.
Because one of us stopped having sex with her husband three years ago.
Because one of us had a hysterectomy.
Because one of us buys herself tulips on her birthday.
Because one of us has her nose pierced.
Because one of us eats her pizza crust first.
Because one of us dreams of becoming a pilot.
Because one of us paints pictures of rivers and trees.
Because one of us sleeps alone every night under a gorgeous antique quilt.
Because one of us looked out the window just now and saw that the air was full of snow.
Because one day we found ourselves here, together, and because we did not have the heart to break that bond once it had already started to grow.
When Alexander Brand himself strolled into the conference room in his pinstripe suit, Sadie was standing at attention by the door, waiting.
“Good to finally meet you in person,” Mr. Brand told Sadie; he’d interviewed her via video conference when he was abroad. “Looks like you get a chance to prove yourself right from the start.”
“And I’m ready to do so.”
Something about Mr. Brand gave Sadie the chills. He looked too exactly like his portrait hanging in the office, as though he himself was a print produced and reproduced with careful calculation.
Once the Calliope executives arrived—the founders were two young men who ordered espressos and sat slouched in their chairs—and all the requisite greetings were complete, Sadie got to work. She opened her presentation with full-color slides displaying potential print, online, video, and mobile branding efforts for the software. She’d stayed away from the Greek muse and instead conjured the music of a calliope: an old-fashioned, whimsical instrument that could be heard from miles away, the one with a lilting tune that rang in the listener’s memory like an aftertaste. This, she thought, was an apt metaphor for what Calliope did.
The Calliope founders did not need a lesson in Calliope’s abilities. They had created this masterpiece. What they needed to see was what Calliope looked like, what it felt like, to fresh customers.
“It’s not harvesting your memories so much as connecting them with others,” Sadie explained. “These connections have the potential to create a stronger and more durable social fabric than ever before. It will make previous online relationships—previous relationships, period—look shallow in comparison.”
At this point, Sadie decided to veer away from the prepared pitch and follow her instincts. This was her specialty. This was why Mr. Brand had hired her as the company’s first female VP.
“I believe a demonstration is in order.” She logged onto Alexander Brand’s intranet. “Calliope’s networking functionality allows companies like this one to provide the memory search to all its users at once. The moment I hit ‘enter,’ my information will be linked with nearly every other Alexander Brand employee.”
It was a risk, but taking risks was what had earned her promotions and raises in the past. During the last two weeks, as Sadie ran tests with the employees’ volunteered memories, she saw that the results were never quite the same. That was the thing about Calliope: it was so complex that users could run the same searches multiple times and gain entirely new connections. The winding dreamworld of memory meant that Calliope would never get old.
She hit enter and waited. The screen pulsed with coded memories and soon produced thin blue lines that zipped from left to right and top to bottom. With every passing second, Calliope unscrambled the screen and the links became clearer. At first, the lines connected Sadie to every other woman in the Club. Those lines soon faded and redrew themselves, linking her to men and women outside of the Club.
The lines existed one way, and the lines existed another. The screen was undecided. It was full of life and it was not. It was starting something, and it was stopping it. In those agonizing seconds, Sadie waited to be exposed.
At last, the blue lines rearranged themselves to separate her from the Club members and link her to the CEO. For several long moments she and the Calliope founders and the executives stared at the screen, which read: Sadie Newcombe is connected to Alexander Brand through a shared memory of making love to a high school sweetheart under a fruit-bearing tree on a starless summer night.
The results were phrased in a way that could suggest she and the CEO had made love together on a hot summer night, but clearly that was absurd, considering that she’d never met him in person before that day. Even so, the lascivious nature of the memory was enough to stun the room into silence. The text continued:
Sadie Newcombe and Alexander Brand are further connected because this night was both the first and last time they were with their respective partners, and because they regret it, and because they cannot stop reflecting on it, and because they feel guilty for holding onto that memory with a sense of fondness and responsibility.
Sadie stayed still, waiting for Calliope to dive into her memory with even more specificity: how Evan smelled that night of cologne and horseradish, how when they stood up she had thin crisscrossed markings cut into her skin from the grass, how she broke up with Evan when she learned she was pregnant, how she never told him, how she was glad she never told him but also sad. How after high school she never saw him again, how she thought of him sometimes still, especially when she reflected on what Tim did to her by leaving, how certain things had been undone in ways too complicated to understand, how she moved on, how years later she gave birth and her son looked like Evan in certain lights, or how she sometimes wished Ben looked like Evan in certain lights, and how appalling it was for her to even think that, or any of this at all.
Calliope’s screen stopped moving. It was finished. The silence in the room was excruciating.
“That was unexpected,” Sadie said hesitantly. She refused to look up and meet the CEO’s eyes, to see how he might react to having such a personal memory exposed. “Though that’s part of Calliope’s brilliance. The surprise of it, of what we each remember from so long ago.”
“Like something from a past life,” Mr. Brand put in. His tone was neutral. “Something you never expect to resurface, until it does.”
“Exactly.” Sadie paused, fidgeting with the cuff on her left sleeve. She didn’t quite know how to proceed. She had expected that the Club would be revealed by now, but instead it remained stubbornly hidden, a secret forever encased within the office walls.
One of the Calliope founders broke the tension in the room. “There’s a boy,” he said, and gestured to the other side of the conference room wall, where Ben stood alone with his little face pressed up against the glass. Sadie gave him a quick wave, an order to stay where he was, and hurried to click out of Calliope’s search engine.
By the time she turned to face Ben again, he was gone.
We lured her son toward us with a bag of licorice fish. He reminded us of our sons and daughters, or the sons and daughters we planned to one day have, or maybe our nephews and nieces, all things considered.
He loved penguins and rainbow-striped hot air balloons. She had told us this.
He threw five of the licorice fish into the air and popped the sixth into his mouth. We laughed and called him precious, poo-bear, little bottle rocket. He screamed happily and ran down the hall, his tiny sneakers pounding the floor.
He ran past accounting, past the break room, and under the framed portrait of the CEO. We stumbled after him as he turned and dashed into the storage room. His little legs moved so fast. Already we were out of breath.
By the time he had done the impossible—entered our meeting space, skidding to a stop on the area rug and pressing his nose against Monday’s bowl—we could hear the nanny calling his name down the hall. Ben like bean, Ben like been. Past tense, over.
The nanny came panting toward the alcove but stopped just before the entrance. “Ben?”
Ben turned in a circle, the only member of the male species to set foot inside our space. “Where am I?” he asked.
It was a place we once needed that we created ourselves, we wanted to tell him. Instead, we let our eyes travel around and around the room to the sad flat curtains, the way Monday hung suspended in water. We saw the space with new eyes. There, with the child standing firmly in our secret room, the spell broke. We imagined the walls toppling down, leaving us exposed to fresh air.
“We have to get out of here,” is what we said. We rushed Ben out to the hallway and past the framed photograph, down the hallway, and through reception, where we directed Frieda to take Ben to the café downstairs for ice cream. Once they were gone, we headed back to our cubicles and caught a glimpse of Sadie standing inside the conference room, her face red, her fingers moving in fidgety, frustrated circles.
When Sadie at last extricated herself from the presentation, she hurried out of the conference room to search for Ben. She checked her office first, but it was empty aside from Frieda’s coat and the coloring book. She headed for reception, that shiny floor, but no one was there, either, so she turned toward accounting.
She walked past the photocopier, then past the break room with its rattling refrigerator. She kept going, past the framed photo of the CEO with his dirty little smile. That familiar portrait image lingered in her mind as she proceeded into the storage room, and so what a shock it was to find the real Mr. Brand standing there before her. He had stopped at the entrance to the alcove, leaning forward as if drawn toward the Club space on an invisible string.
“You can’t be here,” Sadie said.
He didn’t turn to face her, just kept straining toward the alcove. “I thought maybe he came this way,” he said. “Your son.”
Sadie stared at the CEO’s back and thought of what Calliope had revealed about their shared connection. She thought about all those years ago with Evan, and how it had led her to this Club, and how, if Mr. Brand had a similar memory, then maybe his night with a high school sweetheart had ended the same way, waiting in the stiff chair of a clinic’s reception area. And now here he was, all those years later, hovering at the entrance of the Club.
“Follow me,” Sadie said. She stepped forward with Mr. Brand just behind her, and for a moment she was convinced the alcove would be wiped out, disappeared. But it was all there: the area rug, the circle of chairs, the curtains, the water cooler, the coffee mugs, and Monday the fish. Even so, the space felt different. Emptied.
“Ben?” She couldn’t shake the suspicion that her son was there, hiding. She circled the room, looking under all the chairs. There was no sign of him.
Mr. Brand stood in the center of the circle of chairs, bewildered. “Is this some sort of employee lounge?”
Sadie sank into one of the chairs and looked around at the emptiness. She’d never before visited the Club meeting space without the other women. She hadn’t known it was even possible. After a few moments, Mr. Brand lowered himself into a chair next to her. Sadie waited for him to say something, to recognize this place for what it was or to at least suggest they head back to the Calliope meeting, but he said nothing.
If she left right now, resigned from the position and never returned, maybe she’d forget about the Club altogether. She would no longer share anything with the women who sat in this circle, with the fish who unfurled his fins like bits of tissue or blood. All she had to do was stand up and exit. That was all.
“God, I feel trapped,” Mr. Brand said at last. “Don’t you feel trapped?”
Sadie stayed seated. Any moment now she would leave, and she would carry on. She would do it at this moment, or maybe this one. Now or now or finally now.
That afternoon marked the first time we did not feel the pull down the hallway and into the storage room. During those strange hours, we walked in complicated patterns throughout the office, giving each other looks over the tops of cubicle partitions. Without the benefit of our meeting space, we felt lost, exposed.
At last, Sadie stepped out from the alcove. We admit we were surprised. We had pictured her languishing there forever like a fairy tale maiden trapped in a tower. But there she was, striding into the accounting hallway, though the CEO, it seemed, had not followed her. The rest of us huddled in reception, where we could stand in place and peer down the hall.
We watched with tingling fingertips as our fellow Club member lifted the framed portrait of the CEO from the wall. She struggled a bit under this weight, but none of us offered to help. She carried the portrait at an awkward angle to the break room and stashed it behind the refrigerator. None of us said a word. She stepped between us on her way back to her office, where she grabbed her things and the nanny’s and slammed the door behind her on the way out.
We waited some more, but the CEO didn’t emerge from the alcove.
We had thought of ourselves as an intricately connected group, like a school of fish or an aspen grove: separate but the same, individuals keeping the whole rooted or afloat. Now one of our members had peeled off from the group. This made us think. Maybe we’d apply for promotions, which suddenly seemed possible. Maybe we’d take other jobs, or retire at last, or go to graduate school, or join the Peace Corps, or stay home with our babies.
The possibilities expanded before us like a pinprick of light growing brighter and brighter. It was like the removal of something unwanted. It was the beginning of something new.
Laura Maylene Walter is a writer in Cleveland. Her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Poets & Writers, The Sun, Chicago Tribune, Ninth Letter, Michigan Quarterly Review, and many other publications. She is the author of the story collection Living Arrangements (BkMk Press), which won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize and a national gold IPPY. She has been a Yaddo Fellow, a Tin House Scholar, and a writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institution and Art Omi. Laura is editor-in-chief of Gordon Square Review, blogs for the Kenyon Review, and teaches writing workshops in Cleveland. “The Abortion Club” first appeared, in slightly altered form, in the Spring 2016 issue of Beloit Fiction Journal.