“To Be Relevant,” Rachel Askinasi

Her fingers slipped through the gold and brown locks that hung from the crown of her head. Starting at the underneath of her scalp, forcefully digging upward, then pulling away until the slightly-split ends fall between her nimble digits. She repeated the motion ever so slowly while staring at the silver and black monitor so close to her face that had she sneezed, it would be covered in germs.

Amanda kicked her loafered foot to the left, swiveling her chair clockwise to face the rest of the closet. Her supervisor sat at a lifted desk by the wall with the floor to ceiling windows. Amanda willingly fit into her place as an intern. In order to be the best, she had to get everything done quickly and correctly and better than anyone else. She was constantly striving to be the best. She was good at being the best.

Each corner of the closet offered something different; like a candy store set up with chocolate, sweets, sours, and suckers. Beginning at the start of Amanda’s spin, there was the US/UK desk. That’s where the ready-to-wear team sat — she had learned on her first day that ready-to-wear was just a more workplace-appropriate term for clothing. They had three large desktop monitors that allowed for their work to be done efficiently. In the corner of their space, there was a tall narrow closet that housed the company’s safe — that’s where the expensive jewelry went. Turning slightly farther, there stood the ten-foot-tall isle of cubbies. Each cubby was about two and a half feet wide, one foot tall, and three feet deep. There were the hats, then the gloves, then the miscellaneous accessories like tulle and tutus and feathers. Next hung the belts, attached to the wall as if they were sitting at the head of the table, organized by color and designer. Following around, were more belts, the less frequently used ones, neatly rolled up and placed in boxes organized by color, although they often were left unorganized after being sorted through. Next came the socks; bags and bags of socks. Knit, wool, sheer, ankle socks, calf socks, knee socks, thigh-highs. Then stockings and tights. Then scarves; those wonderfully colored fabrics made of everything from small patches of silk to almost blanket sized works of the thickest wool and cashmere. Lastly on the floor to ceiling horseshoe of accessories, came the handbags. Quilted Chanel, snakeskin Dior, itty bitty Fendi, cross-bodys, totes, purses, clutches. Around the corner following the room’s parameters were the two women in charge of running the closet. Margaret was to manage the French/Italian ready-to-wear team; Jordana, accessories. Tracing her hazel lookers along the window panels that kept the people from falling out of the 32nd floor, Amanda landed on the enlarged past-issue covers stacked in the corner. There was a full length mirror next to them, angled ever so slightly upward to give the illusion of longer legs and torsos. Fittings were seldom held in the closet, but everyone else who walked by certainly enjoyed the view of a model-like version of their average selves. Next came the wall that seemed as though it was made for Amanda — so that she only had to look in one direction to see all of her favorite things. These file cubbies were also about three feet wide, but only about seven inches deep. The ten-foot-tall column was home to nearly two hundred pair of sunglasses. Beautiful. Radiant. Reflective. Matte. Thick-framed, thin-framed, no frame. Now, part of the same wall as all of the sunnies, were the glamorous, beautiful, classy shoes. They were all simple yet each commanded their own attention. They were meant to compliment just about any ensemble, but as soon as someone would see them, they would instantly know how valuable they were. It was a world where Monolo Blahnik played with Jimmy Choo and Giuseppe Zanotti on the playground. Their elegance bouncing off each others’ mix of suede and patent leather. Pale blues, moss greens, and blush-rose pinks integrated themselves with the seasonal blacks, whites, and browns. Navy and red stood tall as staples of every season. Cornered up against the Frye boots was the French/Italian and accessories shared desks. Amanda made it full circle once again for the third time that morning.

She got an email from Hermes Public Relations asking for a pair of men’s lifts back. Amanda walked over to one of the two large white tables in the center of the closet that has cubbies underneath, the tables she learned to call mounds, bent down, and retrieved the shoes. She placed them on the other mound that rested on top of the jewelry; the jewelry that isn’t deemed expensive enough to go in the safe. Packing materials took up the other side of that mound closest to the French/Italian and accessories desks. Tori, another accessories intern, started to check out the lifts and package them up. Amanda returned to her seat at the desk and made an outgoing label. She sent a reply email with a pick up number and the task was then complete. Not too difficult.

“Amanda, can you come’ere please?”

Unsure if she was in trouble, Amanda stood up, flattened out her sack-dress, and walked over to Jordana’s desk. She stood as she always did, behind the short cabinets that separate the employees from the interns, this allowed her to be close enough yet a respectable distance away so that she did not infringe on any personal spaces.

Jordana waved her closer.

“Okay, so Leandra is leaving with the trunks for Barcelona at 3. KCD still hasn’t delivered the Celine we’re waiting on. I need you to go get it and bring it back ASAP. This is super time-sensitive so you might even need to meet Leandra somewhere along the way.”

Amanda nodded along, attempting to take in every piece of information. There was a lot.

“Take this,” Jordana placed the yellow Metro card with the “ACCESSORIES” label stuck on in Amanda’s hand. “Take a cab if you think it’ll be quicker and we’ll reimburse you.” She scribbled on a pale yellow Post-It; KCD Public Relations’ address. “It’s a lot, I know, but I need someone I can trust.”

“I got it,” Amanda said. “No problem.”

With that Amanda walked back to the accessories desk. Jo, another intern on her team had taken over at the computer. Amanda started to take off her suede, ankle booties and pull on her cushioned flats. Grabbing her black faux-leather cross-body, she pulled the heavy glass door open, and stepped on to the elevator. Ding. Going down.

As she stepped out of the building and into the humid, sticky summer air, Amanda, gripping the railing beside her, moved her feet with urgency and purpose — right, left, right, left — until she reached the platform for the downtown A train. She watched the coffee stirrer on the ground get kicked by seven different people, the man playing the pan-flute made it through what she thought was a song, and a dog had sniffed a baby for long enough that the baby started to cry all before the train pulled in.

The metal speed box finally slowed in front of her and, pushing past commuters, she found herself in the middle of the car. After about ten minutes, 14th street was finally visible through the dirty, fingerprint-filled, rectangular window. She pushed her way out and climbed the steps, leaving behind the underground city.

Amanda’s feet pushed hard into the concrete, sending her through Chelsea with purpose. Up to 15th Street, then west toward the Hudson. Passing 9th Avenue, nearly reaching 10th. She pushed through the door and waited for the elevator. The small door crept open from the right with a low squeak. The same low squeak Amanda felt in her chest as she waited to jump in. Amanda stepped on as quickly as she could, without losing whatever classy Façade she managed to build with the security guard to whom she had not spoken a word, and used her finger to turn 7 from a pale white to a glowing orange. Ascending the building, slowly, nails digging into the bottom of her scalp and pulling outward again. Ding.

“Hi my name’s Amanda I’m picking up for Poise Magazine.”

“Jaz!” the woman in her presumably late twenties yelled from behind her makeshift desk. She had hair that Amanda figured would be shoulder length if it weren’t so frizzy. Her white blazer illuminating the tan she had from last weekend — assuming it wasn’t fake, in which case, Amanda needed the name of whoever did it.

“Jaz Poise is here!”

Then a woman staggered out from a back room wearing an ankle-length split dress. It was an olive chiffon complemented by worn black combat boots. Jaz’s hair was clearly just thrown up in a bun with pieces flying out into her eyes. Amanda decided the look worked for her. It bounced off of the loud music blaring and the strangely organized chaos that was the KCD showroom.

“Hi, love! So sorry we’re waiting on the messenger to get back with your shoe. He should be here in five. Sit tight.”

“But, I only-”

Amanda was cut off by Jaz’s disappearance. Her heartbeat mimicked the ticking away of precious minutes.

The worn leather of the seat cushion welcomed Amanda. It seemed to draw her in, preparing for a wait longer than she anticipated.

Jaz came back after what seemed like an hour, but not for Amanda.

“Hi, sorry, any update?”

“He’s five minutes away! Promise!”

Another hour in daydream time passed and Amanda felt the salty drops pool under her eyes and in her palms. Her heart raced. Ding. The door opened from the right, slower than it had before if that was possible. It was a man with a bike and a water-proof sack on his shoulders that was large enough to fit a small, crouching child. The woman in her twenties who sat behind the makeshift desk in her white blazer with the decidedly fake tan signed him in and opened up the sack.

There it was. Amanda saw it in the clear drawstring bag. A single, eggshell, platform slip on. Clunky and clean.

“Okay so can I just take that? That’s all I need!” Amanda was standing, cringing with impatience.

“Relax, we need to check it in and then out again to you…Jaz!”

Jaz returned, this time with thick smokey-wood colored frames jutting out from her face. She grabbed the shoe and took it away.

Amanda’s bag buzzed. Jordana.

“Hi! They’re packing it up now!”

“You’re still there?!” Jordana was shocked and Amanda was scarred to answer.

“The shoe just got here. It was with a messenger.”

“No worries, not your fault. Just hurry.”

The line went dead and Jaz handed Amanda a white paper bag, stapled along the top with a label that read “Poise Magazine, 300 W 57th St.” Amanda grabbed the bag and headed for the steps. She was not waiting for that elevator. Walking out the door she turned right and headed toward 10th Ave. Traffic on 10th goes north so catching a cab there would be easier than getting in one on 9th and first having to go around the block. She made a left on 10th and started searching for those little yellow lit-up numbers. Nothing. Her legs moved faster and her head spun in all directions, searching for that little glimmer on the horizon of traffic. Found one!

Amanda ran up to the yellow Nissan and tried to open the door. It was locked, feeling her forearm pull away from her elbow with the force of her tug. She knocked on the passenger window, “What the hell? You on?” The man in the short sleeved button-up shook his head. No time to argue.

She found another on the corner of 17th and 10th. Again, locked. This time, the man in the paperboy cap rolled down the window and barked, “You’re not gonna find someone to take you uptown in this shit.”

“Fuck.”

Amanda started to run. She ran east on 17th, holding the white paper shopping bag in one hand and pushing her dress down with the other. Right, left, right, left, right, left. Pushing through the tourists who actually waited for the light to turn before they cross the street, Amanda burst across 9th Ave. She felt something on her leg and thought it was beginning to go numb. But that wasn’t it, the buzzing returned.

“Hi Jordana, I’m running for the subway the traffic uptown was awful-”

“Ahh okay just hurry.”

Again, the line went dead.

Amanda started to panic. She was given one job; a job that Jordana gave to someone she thought she could trust to get it done. She wanted to prove she was the best and this was her chance. She was ruining it.

The entrance to the underground city was on 14th and 8th, and only had one turn-style. A mother was trying to fold up her stroller that carried her three-year-old mess of  peanut butter and crumbs. Amanda watched in horror as the 2:59 A train whistled past.

She made it through, looked down at her watch and her heart sank deep into the cavity of her chest. Leandra had left. Amanda’s head hung low as she stepped onto the 3:04 A train headed toward Riverdale, 263rd Street. The metal vehicle came to a stop at 34th Street. Doors opened, ding. They closed again as the conductor’s muffled and barely understandable voice said, “Step away from the closing doors.” Finally at Columbus Circle, Amanda raced out of the ninth car — she had positioned herself at the back of the train so she could exit closest to 57th Street.

Taking the mountain of stairs two at a time, Amanda was once again dripping with the salty moisture. It soaked her sack dress in the places where her cross-body pressed against her skin. Her hair was falling out of the ballerina knot she tied while next to the putrid-smelling man in the ninth car. Pieces were flying out and into her eyes, sticking to her face because of the wetness.

At the top of the steps, just as the humidity crashed into her like a tidal wave, she started to sprint down 8th. She passed her building and two street corners’ worth of tourists waiting for the light to change.

She finally reached the corner of 54th and 8th. As she flung open the door to the high-end grocer that she herself would never shop in, she saw Leandra. The 32-year-old editor was calmly flipping through her phone, waiting for whatever it was she ordered, probably a chai.

Amanda took a breath and approached the legend, nerves taking over her hands.

“Leandra, hi, I’m Amanda.”

“Oh awesome, thanks!”

And with that, she took the bag from Amanda, barely even looking at her, and resumed her waiting. It was as if timing was no issue, there was no rush.

That was it. All the running, the panicking, the sweating. All of that work for the half pair of ugly, clunky, eggshell sneakers.

***

It had been three months since Amanda was last at Poise. The leaves were changing and she was on the other side of the country from the underground city and the tourists who waited for the light to turn. Her mother came home one day with the October issue of Poise tucked under her arm — she had bought every issue that came out since Amanda had interned there for the summer.

Amanda flipped through the glossy pages, drinking her chai. That’s when she saw it. Down near the centerfold, three-quarters of the way covered by dark, boot-cut jeans. She’d know it even from just the sole. In the credits on the upper right corner of the page was the proof: Shoe, Celine. 


Rachel Askinasi is junior at the University of Maryland, College Park studying journalism and creative writing. She will be studying in South Africa for the spring semester.