The boxroom smelled like her cunt. Naya was unsure if the room had always smelled this way and her cunt had taken on its scent, or whether these sagging towers of paper had absorbed, had inhaled and held onto, the tang of her sex. She’d had so much sex there, it was impossible to know.
Naya surveyed the collapsing towers of cardboard containers, overflowing with curling, yellowing documents. The small, grated window, set high in the back wall, allowed in a grid of greasy, golden light. Each small shaft captured its share of floating motes of disintegrating paper. Wills, deeds, pre-nuptial agreements, divorce proceedings, partnerships, dissolutions, contracts, all quietly turning to dust. It would take, she estimated, another five hundred years for time to do its work completely.
The box room had always been Taylor, Graham and McBride’s guilty secret. Clients imagined their legal documents were stored with auspicious care in gleaming metal filing cabinets. And for a while – while they were still active – they were. But after a few years of dormancy, the files would be dumped into sturdy boxes and transferred here, to the box room. In the thirty-six years that Naya had worked at the firm, she’d never had to retrieve a file from this place. This was where the affairs of men came to die.
She settled her rump on a chipped typing stool. Her knee joints cracked. She took a sip of tea from her mug.
“What a mess. I didn’t even know this room existed,” said Evaline, the young, pretty paralegal who had only started working at the firm a year ago.
Evaline had high, shining cheekbones, enormous amber eyes, walnut brown skin and a penchant for expensive shoes. She was intelligent and ambitious, Naya thought – wasted as a paralegal. Should be studying law herself instead of doing the grunt work for men with mediocre minds.
“Was this your office once?” The young woman leant a shoulder against the open door frame, long arms crossed over her chest. It was obvious she was attempting to be kind and supportive, but Naya sensed she was uncomfortable and bored.
“It was always full of rubbish – just like this,” said Naya. “Run along. Let me sit here quietly for a while.”
Evaline looked relieved and glanced at her mobile phone. “Well, I do have some work to finish. But don’t be too long. We’re popping the champagne at five. You can’t miss your own retirement party.”
Listening to the woman’s heels retreat down the painted wooden stairs, Naya closed her eyes and breathed in deeply.
* * *
Naya was seventeen, she’d finished a Pittman’s typing and shorthand course, and had just been hired as a junior typist at Taylor & McBride’s – Mr. Graham having not appeared on the scene at that time.
It was summer and Joseph, a lanky runner of nineteen, had just come back to the office a little tipsy from a pub lunch. The sweetness of the sun seeped from his wool jacket, the hair at the back of his neck was damp with sweat. He shone. Under his skin, there was an emanation itching to be trapped between her legs. She took him up the back stairs, his moist and eager hand silently caught in hers, to the secret boxroom.
“What if someone hears us?” he whispered, even as he reached beneath her full skirt and tugged at her plain Marks and Sparks underwear.
“Don’t make a noise and they won’t,” she whispered back, amazed that she could string two words together for craving him.
Inside her. That’s all she could think about. To feel him filling her and have her face pressed to the shoulder of his shirt. It smelled of starch and a hot iron, and the cider that leaked from his pores. Wanting him so badly, she felt her cunt was a vortex that would suck everything in, and turn her inside out.
They fucked. With her perched on the old, battered desk and he between her knees, his trousers around his ankles. Grinding each other to dust. In the silence of the room. Their fragments joining the many floating in the beams of light from the latticed air vent.
Naya remembered his hands, splayed on her buttocks, his fingers dimpling the flesh so hard that, next morning, there were four little bruises on each of her arse cheeks. The glorious hiccup of his hips as he sank into her at the end of each plunge, as if his body was assuring itself it had truly reached the end of her passage.
For two years, she’d catch his eye, passing him in the main office corridor. Or he’d let the back of his hand brush against her arm in the mailroom, and that was it. She’d finish whatever she’d been tasked with, and then slip up to the boxroom to take him into her again.
He’d asked her out once, in a shy and formal way. “Why spoil things?” she’d replied. “Why ruin something so lovely?”
Joe went to apprentice as a clerk at a barrister’s chambers closer to the city. She told him she’d miss him.
* * *
But then came Hugo, who was a toff. A junior solicitor who was following in his father’s footsteps and smelled faintly of cats. Hugo shone, too. It was a different shine to Joe’s, but a shine all the same. The first time she took him up to the boxroom, he was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. Naya unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and squirmed her hand down the front of his trousers. She stroked him until it became obvious what should come next.
Hugo loved breasts. It didn’t matter whom they belonged to. Whenever he had to speak to a female member of staff, he invariably addressed himself to their chests. In the boxroom, he’d unbutton her blouse and push up her bra, just to look at them, to touch them, to nibble her nipples.
It felt strange and dangerous to be exposed like that, which only made Naya wetter. Hugo would push her back onto the desk and watch the thrust of his hips set her breasts a-jiggle as they fucked. Then he’d bend forward and press his face between them when he came.
* * *
Simon shone. He shone for ages. He’d leave notes under her blotter and in her pencil holder. Rude notes in his beautiful, looping handwriting. “Your pussy needs petting.” and “Guess what I want?” and “I’m going to shred your knickers.”
He knew better than to speak, and he wasn’t in the least bit shy. He had fucked her from behind with her face pressed to the closed door, he would kneel between her legs, with his head under her skirt, and lick and suck her until she left half-moon gouges in the wooden lip of the old desk with her fingernails. He took a manic pride in not coming until she was gasping and jerking and strangling his buried cock with her cunt muscles.
He died one weekend in a car accident and Naya stuffed all the filthy notes he’d written her down the front of her knickers and went up to the boxroom on her own, to remember him.
She lay on the floor of the boxroom, her skirt up around her hips, and ground all the words he’d written into her pussy until the ink stained her labia and made blue blotches on her crotch of her underwear.
For almost a year after Simon, Naya couldn’t see a shine on anyone. But it passed eventually.
* * *
There were many others. Not so many that Naya couldn’t picture each one of them, or put a name to them now. And it wasn’t that she felt nothing for them. They all shone in their way.
When she became office manager, a man called Reg, who owned the News Agents in the tube station near where she lived, proposed to her.
“That’s very nice of you, but I don’t really want to get married,” she said with what she hoped he’d understand was regret.
“You’re not getting any younger, you know. Don’t you want kids?”
“I just love where I work. I don’t want that to change,” she said. “And it would, wouldn’t it?”
“You modern career women,” Reg muttered. “There’s no pleasing you lot.”
Naya had never thought of herself as a modern career woman. She was just happy the way things were. And, she thought, she was very easy to please. But she didn’t tell Reg that.
* * *
The dust motes had disappeared and the light was waning in the boxroom. Naya stood, smoothed the back of her skirt and picked up the mug of cold tea. Once again, she closed her eyes and inhaled the soul of the room.
From the bottom of the back stairs, Mr. Graham called up in his reedy voice. “Naya? Are you coming down, or do we have to start this party without you?”
“I’m coming,” she said, as she started down.
“Saying goodbye?” whispered Mr. Graham as she reached the bottom step. He had a glint in his eye that winked like the silver on the watch-chain on his waistcoat.
Naya nodded her head, and smiled. He slipped a hand around her forearm and led her along the corridor toward the boardroom. “You can always come back for a visit.”
“I don’t think you’re up to it, Sir.”
“No, probably not. More’s the pity. You?”
“Nah, my boxroom days are over.”
“I’ve signed up for a course to learn Mandarin Chinese. Maybe I’ll try my hand at gardening. Who knows?”