One morning when I woke from anxious dreams, I found myself transformed into a monstrous, four-foot-long insect. I lay there on my shell-like back, and when I lifted my head a little I could see my brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections.
I had always wanted firmer legs, and now I had many of them, though they were pitifully thin compared to the rest of me.
What's happened to me?
I thought. This wasn't a dream. I was still under my desk, where I had dozed off on a 4 a.m. power nap just moments earlier. My office, a cramped but otherwise proper human office in a giant law firm, lay before me as it normally did: small, airless, and filled with boxes of documents to review for an ongoing white-collar litigation that was at once endless, yet urgent enough to merit this recent string of all-nighters. Looking up, I could see papers, so many papers, hanging from the edge of my desk. Then just a few feet over, I could see the one other desk in the room, which belonged to Laszlo, another second-year associate who shared this tiny office with me. He wouldn't be in for at least another two hours.
As much as I wanted to just lay my head back and sleep for another two or twenty hours, I remembered that I had so many documents left to review. The lead partner on the deal, a man named Slager whom I'd never met face-to-face, had demanded a status memo by noon, and I had barely started it. I had to get up.
This, however, was proving difficult. I wasn't used to my new breadth, and my many legs just flailed about uselessly, leaving trails of brown residue on the underside of my desk. After struggling in place, I realized that if I puffed up the lower portion of my body, I could slide out from under my desk, and once out I was able to rock back and forth until I could flip myself over. Finally, relief. But where was my BlackBerry? I cringed, remembering I'd left it on top of my desk.
I started to contemplate how I might try to pick up the BlackBerry, and then I heard Laszlo fumbling with the doorknob to our locked office. Was it already 7? Maybe 8? Dear God.
"Dude, you in there?" he called.
I didn't answer, but my antennae, which I realized only at that point had started convulsing involuntarily, caused the papers on my desk to crash down on my head. I hoped my BlackBerry might tumble down with it, but no.
"Dude, what the hell? I hear you in there. Open up. Come on."
I froze. "Just a second," I called out, startled at the sound of my own voice. It was hardly recognizable - small and tinny. "I'm ... I'm just getting ready. I'll be right there."
"Whatever. I'll get the key from Vera." Of course. Vera was our secretary. She always kept a key to our office in her desk drawer.
I heard the door unlocking and hunkered down near my chair, bracing myself, but Laszlo strode in, coffee in hand as usual, barely looking at me. I thought I saw him glance in my direction on the floor, but he didn't make eye contact. Thinking about it, though, I realized that he hadn't made eye contact with me since last March. I felt my exoskeleton relax.
"Look, dude," he said, gesturing in my direction but looking at his computer, "if you're going through some personal ... business or whatever, that's your thing, but just keep it on your side of the floor, 'K? Breuer's gonna have my ass if I don't get this draft out to him by 11."
Breuer, right. He was a senior associate who had been terrorizing Laszlo with a brutal debt deal for months now. Last night was the first time Laszlo had left our office in days.
Over the next several hours, Laszlo and I worked on our respective matters, he at his desk, I under my desk. I had managed to slide my laptop onto the floor with my antennae and realized quickly that, with my endless sets of nimble little legs, I could now type faster than ever. I fired off my summary memo to Slager earlier than expected and started back in on the next round of document review.
Just after nightfall, I felt the air in the room stiffen as Breuer stepped in and started growling orders at Laszlo. After a few minutes, though, he looked at me and stopped abruptly, and I thought he was about to become hysterical. But all I heard him say was something that sounded like "... the hell?
" then a few seconds of deafening silence, then, "Whatever." And then he barked something about a draft indenture at Laszlo and was gone. A few hours later, I felt the air shift again and heard Laszlo leave for the night.
I had put in a long but productive day - 14.4 hours billed
, thank you - and I thought it would be reasonable for me to leave as well. But as I shimmied my bulk toward the door, I began to think, How will I navigate the 405 freeway without arms? And what if I get pulled over?
No sooner did I entertain these doubts, though, than I realized there wasn't much to be gained by going home. Sleeping in a bed seemed unnecessarily labor-intensive at this point, and as far as I could tell, I no longer needed to shower. Might as well stay here under my desk. If nothing else, I would save a fortune on gas, not to mention the jump I would get on my daily billable hours without having to waste time on a commute.
Days passed and I remained in my office, reviewing documents and billing, billing and reviewing documents. I kept to myself, and aside from one morning when Laszlo walked in to find me napping on the ceiling and let out a startled "DUDE!" he kept to himself, too.
But I admit I was starting to get lonely. So I started venturing out into the halls, at first only after midnight, but soon during the daylight hours as well. Every time I passed an associate hurrying by, I would brace myself for a scream, or even just an acknowledgement, but aside from the occasional stiffening, there was nothing. No whispers. No cries. No eye contact. Nothing. My future at the firm appeared to be secure - and not so different from my past at the firm.
Then one morning, as I headed back into my office after a loop around the hallway, I saw him: Slager.
I recognized his face immediately from the firm's internal website. I rushed toward him, eager to introduce myself. At first he didn't notice me, but when I tugged on his pant leg with my jaw, he finally stopped walking. I tried to tell him who I was, but he didn't seem to hear me. He just kept backing up with his hand pressed over his mouth, eyes widening. I gestured with my antennae toward the nameplate on my office door, trying to show him, "Hey, it's just me! The associate who billed 330 hours for you in the past month! ME!" He stared at the nameplate, stared down at me, stared at the nameplate again, then widened his eyes further, spun around, and sprinted down the hallway.
I retreated into my office, dejected. It looked like I would have to meet Slager another time. And going forward, I was probably going to have to limit my daytime hallway constitutionals.
As I sat balled up under my desk, depressed and contemplating a lateral transfer to another firm, I heard a series of knocks on my door. It sounded like Slager. And a woman. Maybe two. My rear legs shuddered. He was probably here with Human Resources to tell me to pack my things. I poked my antennae out from under my desk and heard one of the women squeal. All of a sudden a blond head appeared under my desk - with a face I recognized from Human Resources. But she didn't look upset - in fact, she was smiling. Salivating, almost. She looked up at Slager and the other woman, who were still standing in the doorway.
"You devil," she called to Slager. "How long have you been hiding it from us?" They all laughed. "It'll be perfect for the Diversity Committee," she purred, whipping her head back down under the desk to size me up, eyes gleaming. "Perfect
She reached out tentatively to pat me on the thorax with the tip of her shoe. "Well then," she sang, "we'll just let you get back to your work. Our ... secret superstar."
She straightened up, lowering her voice as she addressed Slager and the other woman: "Get someone from Diversity down here, stat
. And find out if it has a uterus - Women's Initiatives might want a piece of this, too ..."
Their voices trailed off, and just as quickly as they'd arrived, they were gone.
From under my desk, I swelled with pride. Our secret superstar
, she had said. Finally. Finally
, some recognition.
Barely ten minutes later, Slager sent me an email demanding another status memo by morning. If I had lips, they'd have been curled into a relieved smile. Because say what you will about the people who run big law firms, at the very least, they understand
. They understand tolerance. They understand talent. But most of all, they understand that it doesn't matter whether you're a man, a woman, or a hundred-pound mutant insect who lives under a desk. As long as you keep billing, you're perfect.
B. A. Roche is a pseudonym for an associate at a large national law firm.