I am a cliché — the hard-working administrative assistant who is in love with her boss. For months my friend, Celeste Pierre, who works in word processing, and I have been discussing different ways for my boss, Kip Townsend, to notice me beyond my regular role. Celeste feels a preternatural remedy is my only hope. She wants me to meet her Haitian grandmother, Maman, as she is called. Maman is a mambo, a priestess of voodoo. Celeste tells me voodoo is folk religion. I tell her I’m a lapsed Catholic, with few religious convictions left. I don’t believe in voodoo dolls.
“Marie,” she says, “no one sticks pins into little dolls; that’s only in the movies. Voodoo magic is slow. The real magic comes from your head. Come to our house Saturday night. Maman will teach you how to make a charm lamp.”
Celeste informs me that Maman keeps a snake as a pet. It is a little black garter snake that she found in her garden. He lives in a tank by her altar. An altar; a snake; I am alarmed. “How big is the snake?” I am worried that I may be asked to hold it. “Don’t worry, Marie. It is harmless.”
I agree to meet them on Saturday. Celeste and I work at the Sullivan Group, a construction management firm. Kip Townsend has left for what I am sure will be another extended lunch hour. I return to my desk and begin editing the final draft of the proposal for a viaduct he hopes to build for a prospective client. I field his phone calls and e-mail Kip’s design team with revised meeting schedules. Kip lives a charmed life. At forty he is handsome, with the fortuitous accident of good genes and privilege. He has an innate self-confidence springing from his lifelong experience that his most difficult conflicts would be resolved by powerful others before anything went too far. Kip can do things I have never tried, like downhill skiing, sailing a catamaran, or selecting an array of sushi platters for a cocktail party.
I fell in love with Kip my first day on the job. I felt insecure, just dropping out of junior college and breaking up with my boyfriend, Frank. Kip knew that I had limited office experience but hired me anyway. He showed me my desk and took me on a tour of his department, introducing me to the staff. Of course, it was the only time he was that attentive of me.
I sense that Kip is in love with Linda Sawyer. She is at the same professional level as Kip, and ten years older than him. Tall and brunette, she is reserved and alluring. Persistent dark circles under her eyes give her an air of decadence. Recently transferred to the New Jersey office, people whisper about her, saying her husband had been killed in a plane crash — leaving her financially well-off. Men in the office talk among themselves, speculating about her sex life.
When Linda speaks to me about Kip, she refers to him as Mr. Townsend, knowing full well I call him by his first name. At meetings I observe her come to attention when Kip speaks to female staff members. Her eyes follow him in a proprietary way, screening his interactions. I have also seen Kip put his hand on the back of Linda’s chair, leaning close over her shoulder. The residual sizzle between them is almost palpable. I know that their cars arrive at the same time most mornings, although one hangs back while the other walks into the building first. Maman and her voodoo skills are my only hope.
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