Excerpt from 'Office at Night,' by Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hunt

  • Updated: March 24, 2014 - 3:02 PM

This excerpt comes from the middle of the novella and is an interlude where an unseen narrator asks questions about what is going on so far in the story:

– is Marge Quinn some sort of spy? Is Marge Quinn a seducer? Is Marge Quinn a good girl? Is Marge Quinn working late out of the goodness of Marge Quinn’s expansive, kind soul? Are these questions too conservative, maybe? For example, did Marge Quinn participate in activities related to forgery, specifically did Marge Quinn, before she became a stenographer — she is suspiciously practiced for one so low in the field — did Marge Quinn work in an illegal art form? Did Marge Quinn have a hand in selling the work that got people killed? What’s Marge Quinn trying to hide? Or is Marge Quinn trying to find something, is that what it is? Does Marge Quinn have an innocent interest in art? What would that even mean? It’s about possessing something so it cannot be innocent, but maybe it can, because it’s like love. Marge Quinn just suddenly appeared here — took center stage in the painting and everyone pays attention to her. She’s not so interesting, or maybe she is, but Hester Chan’s more interesting, and she’s not even depicted. Why is that?

Marge Quinn hasn’t worked long enough to know that Mr. C. took that painting off of the wall. She doesn’t even know to ask: did Mr. C. even paint it, or, that time the electricity failed, that time he was in the office at night, in the office at night alone just like always, ever since Janice Jones quit and just before Hester Chan came on the scene: did Mr. C. smoke a red-paper wrapped cigarette with Chinese lettering on it, and then did he draw on the wall? And if he drew on the wall, who erased what he drew? And why did she do it? And what happened next?

Reprinted with permission of Coffee House Press. The novella will appear in installments beginning March 31 at www.walkerart.org/office-at-night-a- novella and will be published in June as an e-book by Coffee House Press.

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