"The Temp"

Updated: Oct 9, 2021


The minute I laid eyes on her, I noticed something different about the woman seated in SMP’s 5th floor reception area. I don’t mean just the 60’s-style Marlo Thomas hair, which looked like a wig, nor the black cat eye frames of her faux-diamond-studded glasses, nor her pink sleeveless A-line mini dress, another retro affection on a par with her glossy white vinyl go-go boots. I did the double-take when I saw her white-gloved hands, folded demurely in her lap. Who the heck wears white gloves these days, except for actresses on Mad Men? I thought as I strode past her to my cube buried in the windowless core of the building.

Now, don’t think me rude for saying nothing to the young woman. As the only female on the floor, I scrupulously avoid doing anything that risks my being mistaken for a receptionist. In fact, after the promotion of our last receptionist, George, to the QA department, we put a large sign on his former desk advising visitors to dial the number of the person they’ve come to see. We’d hire another receptionist as soon as we hired all the coders we needed, a mission-critical task, as my know-it-all boss, Mitch Testa, reminded me whenever I asked for a permanent marketing assistant instead of a still another temp for a few weeks.

When I reached my cube, my VOIP phone’s message light blazed red as a Christmas tree bulb. I grabbed the receiver, punched the button for messages, and listened to a raspy voice, “Uh, hi, this is Trixie, Trixie Starr. I’m, uh, the temp who’s here to do a project for, uh,” here, the message paused as Trixie rustled papers, apparently seeking a name, “Gloria Stern. I’m waiting in the lobby whenever you’re ready, Ms. Stern.” Setting down the receiver, I clucked to myself. The speaker sounded male, the voice vaguely familiar. Did he remind me of someone on an old YouTube video about Gamezilla, the company SMP acquired five years ago? I shook my head. The person in the lobby clearly presented as female. Maybe Trixie smoked or naturally possessed a throaty, Marlene Dietrich voice, I decided as I retraced my steps.

The woman looked up as I approached. “Hi, I’m Gloria,” I offered my hand.

“I’m Trixie,” she squeaked, despite her voice’s generally low register, as she rose and demurely squeezed my palm. “Nice to meet you, Gloria.”

“Likewise, Trixie,” I replied, surprised how far I needed to crane my neck to meet the deep brown pools of her eyes. I filed this peculiarity, along with Trixie’s other eccentricities, under “things for later consideration.”

“Let me show you where you’ll be working,” I led the way to the empty cube near mine.

***

Two days later, I’m sitting with Mitch for our weekly 1:1 in one of the few conference rooms that haven’t morphed into offices because of our chronic space crunch. When I first suggested to Mitch that we meet here instead of his office, as usual, I congratulated myself on my cleverness. Sitting here, not in front of his computer screen, meant my boss no longer faced the irresistible temptation to do e-mail while we talked or, to be more precise, ignore me while I talked at him. Now, as he tapped away on his iPhone, I wrapped up my current point, “The social media campaign for the 5-year anniversary of Gamezilla’s acquisition is going great. There’s lots of fabulous content, plenty of opportunities for customer engagement.” Determined to switch things up, I pushed aside the sheet with my typed agenda and asked, “Do you have any questions?”

Sensing a challenge, he glanced up. “So that temp we hired to help you with the campaign is working out okay?” he grinned, proud of himself for coming up with a relevant query so quickly.

“I think so,” I hesitated, unsure how to pursue this ticklish subject. “But, uh, how much do you know about her?”

Mitch shrugged, “She’s just whoever the agency sent over.” He again consulted his phone’s screen, apparently seeking a response to his last text. “Why do you ask?”

“She’s a bit, uh, unusual.”

Mitch chuckled, scrolling on his phone with his index finger. “Aren’t we all?”

“Most of us don’t dress like we came off the set of Mad Men.” I crossed my arms. “Who wears white gloves anymore? Or miniskirts and go-go boots?”

Mitch shrugged. “Sounds like she dresses retro. Plenty of people do that. Remember, we don’t have a dress code here.” He eyed his phone’s screen again, as if willing a new text to appear.

“Have you seen how tall she is?” Of course not, I thought furiously. You never leave your office and mingle with “little people.” “Or heard her speak?”

Mitch sat up, startled by something that popped up on his screen. He looked up, confused, as if he’d only just noticed I sat across from him. “What are you getting at?”

I dropped my voice. “I think she wasn’t always a she. At one point, she was a he.” I leaned forward. “And he, I mean, she sounds like someone I heard talking on YouTube about Gamezilla. He, uh, she may have worked for that company.”

Mitch shrugged. “Okay, the temp’s transgender. So what?” He focused again on his phone and began tapping as he spoke. “I can’t legally inquire as to her gender. She presents as female. I can’t stop her from using the ladies’ room. Are you uncomfortable with that?”

“No,” I shrugged. “He, uh, I mean, she behaves herself in the women’s room.” I emphasized the non-sexist term. “She doesn’t bot