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Collateral Damage

by Leslie Haynsworth

W

hen Jenny quit smoking, she knew if she ever had even one cigarette again, she’d be right back to a pack a day in no time. So now when she needs one she gets Tim to smoke for her instead. They go out to the little patio behind their office building and Tim lights up and she stands right beside him, their shoulders almost touching, and he smokes and she breathes in the smoke-salted air with deep, greedy breaths, and every now and then he turns toward her and exhales, hard and fast, right into her face, and she breathes in even deeper. By the time he’s finished smoking, she’s okay again. Not as okay as she’d be if she’d just smoked a cigarette of her own, but okay enough to get on with things. He’s smoking for her now, this morning, because of the meeting she just had with the creative director, who told her she’s going to have to totally redo the copy on the Nestor and Seigleman brochure before the client presentation at 8:30 tomorrow morning. “This copy is dull as dishwater,” the creative director said. “You’ve got to jazz it up, sweetie. Come on, think outside the box.” Jenny and Tim both think that as alleged exemplars of creativity, creative directors should try to at least be sort of original in the ways that they insult your work. “He’s such a fucking moron,” says Tim supportively as he blows smoke into Jenny’s eyes. “You don’t ‘think outside the box’ when you’re writing copy for a freaking law firm, come on.” He takes another drag, then pulls his arms in tight against his chest. It’s colder out here than he’d realized and he can tell from the raw ache in the back of his throat that he’s coming down with something. He probably shouldn’t be smoking. Jenny skitters around beside him, chasing smoke, waving her arms at it to corral it toward her. It’s windy and a lot of the smoke is blowing away before she can get to it. She’s not getting enough of it; Tim’s almost done with the cigarette and that clutch of need in her chest remains almost entirely unsoothed. She wants to tell Tim he needs to smoke another cigarette, but when she looks at him, all huddled into himself and now his nose starting to run, she sees that she can’t. “You know, it’s exactly because he is such a moron that he has the job,” she says, referring to the creative director. “It’s why he gets along so well with the other managing partners.” “Yeah.” Tim nods. “You’re probably right,” he says. Jenny, he knows—actually, they all know—is having a secret affair with one of the managing partners. So whatever she thinks she knows to be true about the managing partners is more

likely to actually be true than anything hypothesized by the rest of them. He’d love to ask her about it, about what it’s like to have all that furtive, groping one-on-one time with Frank, the VP for New Business Development, whether it bothers her that Frank has kind of a paunch but practically a concave ass, whether they talk about work and the people at work and if so whether the things Jenny says to Frank are the same as the things she says to him, whether, when they’re in the heat of passion, Frank ever whispers insider knowledge about the agency’s future in her ear. These are all things that he’s dying to know, but he can’t ask. He’s not supposed to know, about Jenny and Frank, and she doesn’t know he knows, so he has to keep pretending that he doesn’t. “We should go inside,” Jenny says. “Craig wants the new copy by 2:00, probably so he can make me write it all over again after that.” She reaches in the pocket of her coat. “Here,” she says, and holds out a tissue for Tim’s nose. As he takes the tissue, she reaches for the now-almost-all-smoked-up cigarette. There’s a moment when their fingers touch and, as always when this happens, Tim feels his whole body wanting to curl toward her, wanting the touch of those fingers everywhere. He closes his eyes and presses the tissue to his nose. When the cigarette is wholly in her possession, Jenny holds it tight and stares at it for a couple of seconds, then stubs it out against the wall and drops it in the trash can. She often does this after Tim has smoked for her. He used to think it was out of consideration for him, that she was taking on the dirty work of disposing of the butt out of gratitude for his having done the dirty work of actually smoking it. But one day in a meeting, just after they’d come back inside, he caught her repeatedly raising her hand to her face and sniffing at her fingers. The smell of the smoke embedded in her skin is just another little thing that keeps her going. It’s not until 4:30, an hour before they’re supposed to go home, that Craig tells Jenny she’s going to have to redo the Nestor and Seigleman copy yet again before she can knock off for the day. “Can I just tell you, honey,” Craig says, “how much this new copy sucks?” He waves a sheaf of apparently-suckycopy-filled papers in her face, practically hitting her in the nose with it. “What exactly,” he asks, “do you think is your problem with this particular assignment, hmm?” What he wants, Tim can tell from the way he’s leaning in on her, is to loom over her and be all physically intimidating. But while

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Profile for Mark Pointer

undefined magazine Book 7  

No fluff, no filler. Just Columbia and the outstanding artists, musicians, architects, chefs, designers, painters, sculptors, craftsmen and...

undefined magazine Book 7  

No fluff, no filler. Just Columbia and the outstanding artists, musicians, architects, chefs, designers, painters, sculptors, craftsmen and...

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