Jerseyworks fiction


                               ALMOST LIKE HEARTBURN

                              a short story by Kal Wagenheim


    So I'm back. Of course, the fact that Mister Kupperman had a very unusual office setup was a big part of the problem. But if it hadn't been for that girl, I'd still have the plushiest job any CPA could ever hope for, even in his wildest dreams.
    I've been a Certified Public Accountant for the last twelve years, practically since I got out of college. I've always worked in nice, normal offices; some better, some worse, but always normal and nice, if you know what I mean.
    Then about six months ago this Mister Kupperman comes into the office where I was employed. He gets to talking with Mister Honigfeld, my boss. Twenty minutes later he comes out of Honigfeld's office with his arm over the boss' shoulder; he walks up to my desk and all of a sudden he offers me ninety dollars more a week if I would make the change. Honigfeld smiles and nods like he's marrying off his oldest daughter to a medical school graduate. At first I felt indignant, like a slave on the market or something, but at ninety more a week, who's exploiting whom, I ask you? It didn't take me more than ten minutes to round up my personal things from the desk. I travel light.
    It turns out that Mister Kupperman is what you might call an "operator." He sells things to big companies. Anything. You name it. Like last month he contracted for five million matchbooks from Hong Kong imprinted with the name of a big insurance company. They're going to use them in a national sales campaign or something. This Kupperman is no schlemiel. The matchbook deal alone was proof enough for me. He makes two, maybe three, visits to this insurance company, then he comes back and calls Hong Kong direct -- direct mind you, person-to-person -- and before you know it he closes a deal that means thirty-eight thousand dollars in his pocket. Just like that.
    Mister Kupperman lives by selling, and since selling - I've come to find out -- takes a lot of socializing, his home is in a hotel; a very nice one right here in midtown. So when he drums up business with a client, he just invites the gentleman downstairs to the fancy cocktail lounge. And if it's a big client, he invites him to the even fancier restaurant next door.
    Well, it turns out that, to economize, Mister Kupperman also has his office in the hotel. He worked out some kind of discount deal with the management - I think he got them a boatload of ivory drink mixers from Zimbabwe or someplace for next to nothing - so he has a two-room suite. One where he sleeps and the other, which is tax deductible, where he does business.
    To make a long story short, everything was fine for a while. I really enjoyed coming to work at the hotel. Every morning, I'd walk through the lobby, which was very fancy, with marble floors and elegant chairs and the bellboy would throw me a little salute. Then the elevator boy always gave me a nice smile, and took me up to the fifteenth floor. Sometimes I'd share the car with other people, travelers; tanned, rich-looking people. Not at all the crowd one finds in the elevator of an office building. And the office had thick rugs, oil paintings, wall-to-wall drapes by the picture windows (I could almost see my building over in Queens, we were up so high), push-button lights, soft music - I tell you, it was right out of some magazine.
    And at ten in the morning I would dial Room Service and have my coffee brought up to me on a silver service. Imagine! Coffee break with a silver service! The coffee pot was so heavy that the first time I went to pour I nearly sprained my wrist. And instead of my regular bagel with cream cheese and jelly, they'd bring me those French rolls, shaped like half-moons, plenty hot. So I'd just sit there sipping my coffee, eating those French rolls dripping with marmalade - orange is my favorite - and reading The Daily News. "This is work?" I would keep asking myself. "It's a sin, a real sin," I would answer.
    Even my wife noticed the difference in me once I started to work for Mister Kupperman. She said that when I got home I was more relaxed, more easy going. I've always been easy going, anyone can tell you that, but I guess the nice pleasant life working all by myself in Mister Kupperman's hotel room made me even extra easy going. After all, coffee breaks with silver service, music, oil paintings; who wouldn't be relaxed?
    But then, like in every story, along comes the villain. By villain, don't get me wrong. She didn't have any bad intentions. Actually, I'm sure she's a very nice young lady. But believe me, she was almost like a Cleopatra in life, or an Eve with the apple.
    As I said, in the beginning, it was just me and Mister Kupperman. Then we started getting lots of phone calls about his business, and he was on the road all the time, selling his matchbooks and all the other crazy tchochkes he had printed up in his catalogue. To tell the truth, I don't handle the phone so well. First, I'm not the salesman type - I'm not very pushy. Second, I sound very nasal on the telephone. Especially when my allergies are acting up. Even my own wife sometimes doesn't recognize my telephone voice. And in the third place, I wasn't hired for that. A man with twelve years' experience as a CPA isn't going to waste his time talking on telephones. So Mister Kupperman hired an answering service. But this didn't work out very well either, because all the answering service girls sounded nasal, too. Or they had strong Bronx or Spanish or Indian accents. And since Mister Kupperman was dealing with mostly large Gentile firms, he wanted us to sound like a prestige company.
    So one morning I walk into the office and sitting there is this young lady. For a minute I thought I was in the wrong place. But I looked around and this was the right place, all right. There was my own desk, and the filing cabinet and everything. But now there was an extra desk, which wasn't there yesterday. Mister Kupperman must have moved it in during the night. As for the girl, she looked as though she'd just walked in on her own, for all I knew.
     "Hello," she says to me with a big smile, reaching out for my hand. "I'm Alice Sutton."
     "Martin Farber," I said. "The pleasure's all mine."
     "I'm just starting out this morning," she says. "I'll be Mister Kupperman's new secretary and Girl Friday."
     I nodded, and, not knowing what to say, I sat down at my desk and just kept looking at her with a friendly smile. Just then the phone rings and her attention was distracted, so I got started on my work. Let me tell you, it was a relief to hear her say "secretary." For a moment, I thought maybe Mister Kupperman had fired me! He's not a man to diddle around, this Kupperman. But then she had said "secretary", and after all there were two desks now, so I figured Kupperman must have closed another matchbook deal. Just figure it out, thirty-eight thousand dollars was enough to pay a secretary the whole year.
     Actually, it wasn't bad having Alice around the office. That is, in the beginning. She was about thirty, give or take, and pretty nice looking; she had reddish-brown hair, blue eyes, and very nice even teeth. And she had very ample breasts, which for some reason I've always liked. A friend of mine who went to college with me and was majoring in psychology once told me it's because my mother didn't breastfeed me. But what does he know? What about a man who likes nice legs? What's the difference why a person likes something, anyway? If I found out, would I stop liking?
     So anyway, as I was saying before I got carried away on the subject of breasts, it was pretty pleasant with Alice around. There was always someone to talk to, and I really wasn't that busy, because to keep books for Kupperman you didn't have to be a genius. And when it was coffee break time, she would call Room Service and order coffee and those French rolls for two. I especially liked it when Alice would come over and pour my coffee for me if I was a little busy. When she bent over my desk, out of the corner of my eye I would take a good long peek down her front. She always wore very low dresses. And boy, I'll tell you, she was really tops in the breast department. When she bent over and I got a good whiff of her perfume at the same time, it made me dizzy.
     As we talked, I learned that Alice was married to a shoe salesman. She always worked, but she had a baby two years ago, and now, after getting tired of hanging around the house, she decided to take a job again and leave the little girl with her mother. So there she was.
     To be perfectly honest, there were a few little things I resented about Alice being around. Before, I was alone most of the time, so I could work without my shoes on, which was a great relief, since I suffer terribly from corns, and the floor had a nice soft carpet. And sometimes, since I didn't have to deal directly with the public, I would skip a day shaving. My wife said it sounded like I was on vacation instead of working.
     But when Alice Sutton started working there, I couldn't sit around in my socks. And when I wasn't clean shaved, I felt pretty grubby, because she always looked so freshly showered and neat.
     Well, so you take the good with the bad. Things went all right for a few weeks. Alice didn't really have that much to do; every fifteen minutes or so someone was calling Mister Kupperman and two or three times a day he would call to take his messages. The rest of the time, she would file things away, or read mystery stories, or do the crossword puzzle.
     Then came the day which, believe me, I wish had never showed its face on the calendar. Or I wish I had come down with a terrible cold that day. But I guess it was kismet. In case you don't know, that means "fate"; I learned it watching an old film on AMC.
     First, you should know that, after all those weeks, Alice and I had built up a very cordial friendship, which was perfectly natural, since we spent so much time together. Sometimes Mister Kupperman didn't show his face for two or three days at a time. So I began calling her Alice and she called me Martin. I don't remember who started the first name business. But after all we were both mature, married people and it would be silly otherwise. Right? And we would talk to each other informally, or relaxed, if you know what I mean. Just anything that popped into our minds we would say. And jokes, too. I'll bet during that time we must have told each other at least a hundred jokes. I told her a few I hadn't thought of since college. And some were pretty risque, if I might say so. But after all, two mature, married people. Why be hypocrites?
     So, anyway, on this particular morning in question, Alice comes in looking perfectly normal. And the morning goes by perfectly normally, too. Then she goes out for her lunch. She always went out for lunch by herself, because she liked to window shop and buy little things. We were right in midtown, all the department stores are there. It's a very convenient location.
     So she comes back about one o'clock and then, about an hour later, while I'm busy at my accounts receivable, she says: "Boy, am I sleepy."
     I look up and there she is, drooping back in her chair, slumped down deep. And the way she's sitting there, her belly puffed out and her legs spread just a bit apart so that I could see up past her knees, I all of a sudden got excited. You know, you can go along knowing a person for so long, but never quite think of them in that way. But all of a sudden I started thinking of Alice in that way. My blood seemed to heat up a few degrees in temperature. I got this heavy feeling all over, and then this lump in my throat.
     "Stay up late last night, Alice?"
     "I watched a late movie till all hours. I honestly feel drugged now."
     "Well, also remember you just had lunch, which could do it, too."
     "Yes, that's true."
     "Then, too, it's air conditioned in here. No fresh air. It's pretty stuffy, matter of fact. And that could make you sleepy, too."
     "That must be it."
     "Probably a combination of everything," I say.
     "But boy, am I sleepy. I feel almost drugged."
     Then - why, I don't know, without even giving it a thought - I said: "Why don't you take a nap on Mister Kupperman's bed in the next room?"
     She says nothing. She just sits there, slouched down in the chair, with her legs still spread a little apart.
     "He won't be back until five or maybe later," I said, my heart pounding a little. It had just occurred to me, for the first time in all those weeks, that Alice and I were actually alone. In a hotel room. Call it an office. But it was still a hotel room.
     "I can just imagine," she says, smiling, "Kupperman lying down to sleep tonight and smelling my perfume on his pillow."
     "Oh, you can always say you didn't feel well, or something."
     "Boy, I could sure use a nap. I feel drugged. Absolutely drugged."
     "Go ahead," I say. "Catch yourself forty winks. Nobody's coming up here. If the phone rings, I can answer it."
     "Thanks, Martin. I really appreciate it."
     "Not at all," I said, feeling the blood bubbling around behind my eyeballs.
     So she gets up, takes off her shoes and walks barefoot into the other room. Somehow, seeing her walking along barefoot, her nice hips wiggling a little bit, I felt like jumping up and following her.
     But I sat tight and tried to concentrate on my accounts receivable. I had all kinds of crazy ideas. I imagined that any minute now Alice would peek her head around at me from the other room and motion with her finger for me to come in and join her. Who knows? I thought. Maybe she's taken a liking to me. After all, I'm not bad looking. I'm still very trim, because I play handball twice a week at the "Y", and I jog on weekends. Then I tried to fight down a prejudice which I knew wasn't really true. But still, she was a shiksa. I can remember how my mother - may she rest in peace - used to keep pounding it into my head; play around as much as you liked, Moishe, but always marry a "nice Jewish girl." She never really said anything about shiksas being bad or anything. Just the way she said the word shiksa made it sound bad. Sure I know it's silly. My God, I've been through college and I've had lots of fine Gentile friends. But still, Alice being a shiksa made her seem more sexy to me, if you know what I mean. Don't ask me to explain it. It's just like the thing I have about big breasts.
     Well, by now I couldn't do my work any more. The figures on the ledger page were all blurry. I still felt that heavy feeling all over me, and I was perspiring. I kept thinking to myself: what is Alice thinking about in there? What would she do if I started something? I tried to concentrate on my books, but it was driving me crazy. I just had to take a look. When I got up, I had to sit right back down and try to concentrate on something else until I was back to normal again. I thought about The Weather Channel - which I see every morning before starting out to work - and it did the trick.
     Then I got up again and tip-toed over to the door leading into Mister Kupperman's bedroom. It was part open. I looked in. The room was kind of dark - the shutters were closed --- and there she was, stretched out on the bed, right on her back.
     Alice's head was facing away, so I couldn't tell if her eyes were open or not. But she was lying there with her legs spread apart a bit, and her dress was just above the knees. Boy. I've always had a thing about thighs, too. You figure it out. I wondered if maybe she wasn't wide awake, just waiting for me. But I got frightened and went back to my desk.
     I couldn't sit still. I couldn't work. All kinds of thoughts kept running back and forth in my head. What if it was all a misunderstanding? What if she became very angry and all this got back to my wife? After all, I have a very happy home life. We have two children, a boy age seven and a girl nine. We have a nice garden apartment, a one-year-old Toyota and a nice mutual funds account for our retirement. Could I risk all this for a moment of pleasure? To tell the truth, I've never fooled around before. Sure, I've seen lots of women that were tempting, but it was always on a bus, or the subway, or on the sidewalk, or in some office; public places where I would get a quick urge -- almost like heartburn - and then it would die down again. But this was different. Alice Sutton was in there, in the room next to me, lying on a bed, and we were all alone, completely private, the door locked, fifteen stories above the rest of the city.
     I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to find out what's what. But I had to be smart about it. I would make believe I was going to the bathroom, which you had to pass through Mister Kupperman's bedroom to get to. I would size up the situation.
     I got up and walked in on tip-toe, right past her - I was afraid to look - and right into the bathroom, closing the door quietly behind me. I put on the light and inspected myself in the mirror. Not bad, I thought. I wet my comb and fixed my hair a little better. Then I just stood around for a couple of minutes, thinking about what to do next. I flushed the toilet in case she was awake and listening. It was exciting, just standing there. My heart was beating as I kept imagining Alice naked in the bed, with her big breasts staring up at me. And then every other second I would imagine her being very angry. I just didn't know.
     I turned out the bathroom light and peeked. Now Alice's feet were towards me and I could see her face. She really seemed to be sleeping. Her legs were still apart, and from where I stood I could see way up her thighs. How could I turn back? Am I made of stone? I went out of the bathroom and slammed the door loudly on purpose. She opened her eyes.
     "Sorry," I said. "I had to go to the bathroom. Didn't mean to disturb you."
     "What time is it?" she said, yawning, and stretching like a kitten.
     "About three."
     "Gee, I've slept almost an hour."
     "Feel better now?"
     "Mmmmmmmm." Alice smiled and closed her eyes again. I walked over next to the bed. She looked up at me.
     "Any phone calls?" she asked.
     "Nope. I guess they didn't want to disturb your nap."
     She smiled, and then she raised her arms and stretched again. I swear, chills ran up and down my spine. I couldn't help it. I sat right down on the bed next to her. I just sat there and looked at her. She looked at me. I would have given a million dollars to know what she was thinking. I just didn't know.
     So I leaned over very slowly and gently, and went to kiss her on the neck and - pow! - did she give me a smack in the head. She jumped up on the other side of the bed, and stood there, glaring at me with her hands on her hips.
     "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
     She's shaking all over, and I'm shaking all over, and I made a clumsy try to straighten out all the wrinkles in the bedspread, while I figured out what to say.
     "Here I just lie down to take a simple nap and all of a sudden you think that's an invitation?"
     "Please, I"
     Well, to repeat every detail of the miserable time I went through is just too embarrassing. First she said she was going to tell Mister Kupperman, and I begged her not to. Then she said she ought to tell my wife, and boy did I beg her not to! I kept telling her I lost my head, like temporary insanity, and that she was a very attractive girl, and to please forgive me. I guess she liked the part about being attractive, or maybe she just felt sorry for me. She even made a nasty crack about her always having thought that Jewish men made such good husbands, and now she had her doubts, but I let that pass.
     Well, we both went back to our desks and tried to start working again. But it was really hard. I just couldn't face her. And when I did, Alice shot daggers at me with her eyes. I took a whole week of silent treatment, and finally I told Mister Kupperman that I'd been offered a job more to my liking. He couldn't believe it, but he shrugged his shoulders, shook my hand, and as a good luck token he gave me a cute little imitation jade paperweight, made in Thailand, which was selling for only a dollar seventy nine each in lots of five thousand or more.

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