Originally published in A Public Space 03, Winter 2007. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 26.
Four vaguely themed vignettes that explore a typist's insecurities about "femaleness": "Why, I wondered, did being female seem to depend so heavily on reception, as if the radios (so to speak) of other people were always threatening to distort the the female signal or lose it altogether?" Though the stories were written years apart, the voice of this sounds like Yiyun Li's recently published "The Science of Flight," in that there's some tight summaries of life, but beyond that, too much ambling and stretching for meaning. However, at least the voices of Cooley's piece give the story some legs:
May was petite and voluptuous.... May, claimed April, was saucy--and she was, in her way. Saucy and well-organized. For her part, April was cool and aloof.... According to May, April looked like Faye Dunaway, and this was accurate: April did possess that same sexy haughtiness. June was very tall--easily six-two--and big-boned. Her appearance was relaxed, even a bit droopy; she reminded me of a contented female cow, thinking her bovine thoughts and paying little attention to other people.
May speaks of an ex-boyfriend, who she believed to be a chronic liar, especially when he spoke of his happy childhood in Haiti--such a thing, she thought, would be impossible, though perhaps that's because May doesn't know happiness herself, and sees every man as a boy crying out to be rescued. April explains her gray wardrobe clothes with this story: her father had her mother secretly committed (she still doesn't know where) and then threw her, his daughter, out of the house so that she would grow up and--hopefully--not turn into his wife. Of course, this only served to make her do exactly that, and though she's not crazy, she has shut herself off from her father. As for June, she surprises the word-processing pool by revealing that until recently she's been an adulteress, but now feels as if she's been mistaken about love all along, in the same way that she might be terrified to learn she'd been mistaken about gravity, that we all might fly at any moment.
Between each story, the girls interject their own comments and interpretations, though they seemed forced by the author to revisit the concept of being "rescued"--from the sound of love, apparently. It doesn't really work, and one wishes instead that the author had spent more time with the humorously named narrator, Merry, who was abandoned at an orphanage upon her birth and now sees her mother both in everyone and no-one. She hopes to find parts of herself in the lives of her more confident co-workers, especially now that she's been divorced, but I don't really understand her motivations, and I hate to think that's because I'm a man who just doesn't get the mysteriousness of "femaleness." So yeah, I can't say this story worked for me.