All the Office Ladies ~ fiction by Cathy Ulrich

If I were an office lady in Japan, I’d be in charge of making copies. They wouldn’t trust me with anything else.
You couldn’t even figure out the office toilet, they’d say.
The office toilet would be the kind that says konnichiwa when you sit on it, and has four different buttons for flushing. On my lunch break, I’d run to the sushi-ya across the street and use their restroom. I’d order sushi, even though I don’t eat fish. They wouldn’t let me use the restroom otherwise. I’d hide the sushi at my desk until it was time to go home, then throw it out at the train station.
Does it smell like sushi? my coworkers would say when they walked by my desk.
I don’t smell anything, I’d say.
If I were an office lady in Japan, all the other office ladies would want to get married. They’d be just like the characters in a manga from the 1980s. They’d wear pink lipstick and sheer nylons. They’d be so efficient. They’d have wedding dates set before the man they’d picked even met their eyes.
It’ll happen, they’d say. You’ll see.
If I were an office lady in Japan, I’d be the last person to leave the office. I’d pretend the copier was jammed, or there were some last-minute copies to make. The other office ladies wouldn’t want me to walk out with them, three inches taller and American.
Only one of them would try to make friends with me, or at least pretend to.
Would you like to go for drinks? she’d say, and we’d go to the izakaya where everyone from the office gathered after work. Tanigawa from the second floor would already have his tie wrapped round his head, drinking shochu. The other office ladies would eye me and my friend suspiciously. They’d think I was there to steal their potential husbands.
If I were an office lady in Japan, I wouldn’t need to steal their potential husbands. I would have a Japanese boyfriend. He’d have long fingers, and glasses like Clark Kent.
I would only tell my office lady friend about him. The others would never know.
Don’t you want to get married? she’d say over a plate of yakitori.
Why? I’d say.
She wouldn’t be able to tell me, except that her mother had done it, and her grandmother had done it, and her older sister too.
I’d say: How sad.
If I were an office lady in Japan, that would be the final straw for my office lady friend. She’d stop inviting me out for drinks. She’d avoid my desk, and the lingering odor of sushi. She’d give me stacks of paper on my way to the copier.
Copy this, she’d say.
If I were an office lady in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend would be sorry I couldn’t make any friends at work. He’d get me a balloon to cheer me up. It would be red and tied to the stapler on my desk.
The other office ladies wouldn’t like my balloon. They’d whisper in rapid Japanese as they approached my desk. They’d pop my balloon while I was off making copies. They’d feign innocence.
Maybe a wasp flew in and popped it, they’d say, and laugh.
At the end of the day, everyone would leave together, except me. I would be hiding in the bathroom, my feet up on the toilet seat, my deflated balloon in my hand.
The toilet would say to me: Konnichiwa.

Cathy Ulrich is the only one who knows how to get the copier unjammed at work. Stories from her Japan series have been published in various journals, including Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf, Booth and Menacing Hedge.

Show Cathy some love via PayPal at csulrich(at)hotmail(dot)com.