Birch takes charge of my training all week. He injects humor, including a healthy dose of sarcasm, in the driest sessions. I take copious notes, both as a testament to Naomi Bird’s beige existence and as a tool to discuss things back at home – a word I choose to limit confusion and the risk of slipping.
My cubicle languishes in the blinking fluorescence of a dingy corner. I bring nothing to decorate, leaving my slate as blank as possible. The slightly abused keyboard tilts from front-left corner to back-right corner as I type, and it still endears itself to me. Just over a year ago my entire life revolved around my relationship with my keyboard. Once settled in my fabric half walls, Naomi Bird feels real for the first time. Maybe I could make a life here. Maybe I could be good at this. Maybe I could do two of my favorite things – research and write – and get paid for it.
This fantasy pulses through my veins. No doubt dangerous. Practically everything I shouldn’t allow. But it’s so…comfortable. To be a girl with an education, a job, an apartment – how wonderful! And impossible. I know this and so I foster my fantasy under the excuse of defining the character. Never mind the complications.
Three days in, I attend my first staff meeting. The Senator neglects my existence until a few minutes before dismissal.
“Who have we here, Birch?” Senator X asks as if I’m a particularly unsavory lunch option.
“Senator, this is Naomi Bird, your newest analyst. I’m sure you remember her strong qualifications and tremendous insight from her interview.”
I get the feeling Birch does this often, reminds the Senator of information he may have never actually had. Senator X’s gaze falls across me; I stare at the table. The trembling is only partially false.
“Of course,” he says, “Naomi, everyone. Everyone, Naomi. We recruit the best. Welcome one of our own.” He lifts his hands, joined in some sort of victory prayer, giving a brief shake at the end. The others follow. I’m divided between repeating or accepting and settle on wide-eyed acceptance of their secret tiding.
After dismissal, Birch directs me to the Senator’s office but we do not sit. The Senator slides past me, a bit too close, and drops a heavy dossier on the otherwise empty desk.
“Naomi, what is your passion?” He props one leg on the other and stares greedily.
I look to Birch, swiftly redirecting to the Senator upon Birch’s tensing jaw. “Research, sir.”
“Oh, please call me Senator,” he says. I almost lose myself in a chuckle. “What political topic brought you to work here, honey?”
“I want to be a change agent.” Stipple warned me about this question. I avoid overt eagerness.
“Sweetheart, you’re making this too hard. There’s no wrong answer. Now, tell me what keeps you up at night.”
Heat ripples from Birch and I know he is somehow on the line for my responses.
“Well, Senator, I would never presume to redirect the important work of this office,” I say, pausing for effect just long enough. “But your influence on the pitfalls and opportunities of the internet age – well, it is inspiring.” I drop my gaze to the carpet.
“Good to have you here – Naomi, is it? Birch, see that she receives her wardrobe allowance before the end of the day.”
Birch turns to me, my signal to retreat. No one speaks again until we stand in my cubicle.
“Good job, Naomi. He can be—,” Birch ends with shake of the head.
“Do I really need new clothes?”
“I’ll set you up with Connie. She’ll get you two or so suits and whatever effects you might need. They’ll be kept here in her office. You can change when called upon by the Senator or when asked to attend a meeting. Otherwise, just wear whatever, you know, whatever you deem appropriate.”