She met him on the first hot day that April. She was walking back to work during her lunch break. To break up the monotony of the hours in her cube, she had taken to eating her lunch at her desk and walking the neighborhood during her lunch hour. She would walk up 68th street towards Lexington, fantasizing as she passed Hunter College that she was one of the students. She was in the habit of fantasizing about being anyone who was not her. She passed the Hispanic nannies with their white charges sitting in the park, talking on their cell phones. Some even smoked, only feet away from the pristine heads of the children they took care of. The few upper-class mothers who hadn’t farmed their kids off looked at the smokers in disgust. She would have traded places with either of the warring parties, though she certainly would have chosen to be the smoker first.

he thought about being the Mr. Swirley man. This was a nice person to think about being, because anywhere you went you were met with delight. Instead of walking into a dim felt-trimmed office and sitting down in a dim, felt-trimmed seat without arousing the notice of anyone, Mr. Swirley was met with fanfare everywhere. This was a nice way to live, it seemed.

She thought about being the crazy man who stood on the corner of York and 67th street every day. He had erected a tiny cemetery out of popsicle sticks in a bank of flowers that sat upon an office building’s retaining wall. He wore a security guard’s outfit and motioned for you to cross once the “walk” sign had appeared. At least he got to be outside.

There was something rewarding about being selfishly consumed by her hatred for her job. She had flare, the way she trudged around. She wasn’t about to be one of those depressing people who hides her depression. And so, when she got asked what she did at parties, she quickly said, “I’m a secretary.” The mixture of embarrassment and pity she got as a response was delicious. Fuck all your fellowships, and degrees, she thought. She remembered an Onion headline that read: “This receptionist’s job is just a stopgap till I die.”

She hadn’t always been like this. You might wonder what it says about Sarah’s character that her first taste of professional adversity left her rejoicing in bitterness. Don’t. It won’t profit the story at all for you to think along those lines.

She hadn’t been like this at all. She had been a freaking skipping fool. She had been a person who had sometimes been so filled with love that she had embarrassed those around her by telling them how she felt. But it isn’t quite right to say that either, because she hadn’t always been like that. The truth is, she had always been happy and then sad.

This particular day she finished her cigarette about a block before returning to the hospital’s campus. This denied her the pleasure of giving dirty looks to the people who gave her dirty looks for smoking outside a cancer hospital. She looked around guiltily, considering dropping her cigarette in the gutter before deciding against it. She chucked it on the ground, crushed it with her heel and then bent down to pick it up. Before she could grab it, though, a black lab that had been watching her movements carefully bent his head to eat it.

“Your dog is eating my cigarette,” she said before looking up.
When she did she saw a man with curly red hair looking down at her from dark glasses. She smiled. “I don’t normally chuck those on the street. I was just about to throw it out.”

He nodded. “It’s okay. He eats rocks too.”

She stood up. She had to fight the urge to dust herself off, though she hadn’t touched anything dirty. “Those are carcinogens, though.”
“That’s true. He also eats broccoli.”
“Maybe that will counter act the cancer.”
He smiled. “I was thinking so.” The light changed. They crossed the street, both looking up every once in awhile to see if the other one was looking. They were going the same way. “Do you work around here?” he asked.

“Unfortunately. Right down the street. At the hospital down on York Ave.”
He nodded. “Ahh—know it well.”

“Oh yeah?” she raised her eyebrows. “I hope not too well.” His silence told her not to pursue the topic. “I’m Sarah,” she said, turning sideways to face him and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk. She extended her hand.

The lab sat down dutifully under her hand. He laughed and reached to shake her hand. “Jake.”

Sarah ended up running into the same man, walking the same dog, the next day. The day after that was Wednesday, and every Wednesday she ate lunch at the diner with Mary and Ernestine, but on Thursday she saw him again. And they planned to meet for lunch on Friday.

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