“Double Shift”

Hilary Leichter

June 3, 2024 
The following is a story by Hilary Leichter from the new issue of Conjunctions. Leichter is the author of the novels Temporary (Coffee House) and Terrace Story (HarperCollins). She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

I had worked at the company for fifteen years when the job became translucent. That morning, I arrived at the office on time and through the office I could see another office. There were now two places of employment stacked against each other. I could look down at my desk, pretending to accomplish a small task, and the desk revealed the presence of a different desk. Should I have stuck my hand through the desk, it would have easily touched the other, newer desk, which seemed to also belong to me. I did not recognize the items stacked around the distant monitor, but they looked like items I would intentionally purchase and bring to work, and so I knew they were also somehow mine.

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What instigated this transparency? my friend asked me, some years later. I supposed it could have been a simple fluke, a misfiled work order or an unlabeled spreadsheet. I sorted through the events in my mind but could not pin the change to any one incident. It had happened the week I fell in love, but I was always doing that, and how this related to my job I couldn’t have said.

The whole ordeal was inconvenient at first. It made me a bit dizzy. “You ill?” my supervisor asked, placing a folder on my desk. Then she walked down the corridor, which seemed stapled to another corridor. No one appeared to acknowledge the second, slightly longer corridor, but I felt sick just noticing it. I ran to the bathroom, the one I recognized, not the other, brighter bathroom slinking past the tile.

At the coffee station, when I accidentally grabbed a sweetener from beyond the sweetener, Derek from accounting took my hand. He put the packets back out of reach.

“It doesn’t taste right,” he said. “Trust me.”

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There was only one Derek, but now, looking at his kind face, it was as if a hidden Derek had approached me. I thought I could be friends with that second, sweeter Derek, or even with the former. I tried that for a while, but both Dereks politely refused.

When I received my paycheck at the end of the week, there was of course a subsidiary paycheck flapping underneath the first. Both sums hit my account without a problem, one a little larger than the other. It tasted right. That’s when the dizziness waned.

After many lucrative quarters, I had saved enough to take some time off, and I splurged on an extravagant trip. Bottles of fancy sparkling water lined the bureau in my room. I went to the hotel restaurant every night and sat near a couple who had been together long enough to sit in total silence. They ate off each other’s plates without saying a word. They reached from one plate to the other, farther plate, crossing forks. I did not reach out at all. Their table was a different table. On the last day before my flight, I went to the ocean and dipped my hands in a clear wave to clean the sand from a shell. Under the water, my feet looked like someone else’s feet, but they were only mine, for better or for worse.

My inquisitive friend asked, as kindly as possible, if I could have imagined the whole thing. Was it possible I had misremembered? It was so long ago.

“After all,” she said, “you couldn’t even tell me Derek’s last name, or about the folders your supervisor used to place on your desk.”

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“She might have been just storing them there for later,” I said.

No one was left around me to corroborate, but I could still see the clear procession of all those hours I put in, and the items on the unfamiliar desk that was also mine. The large shell, the pen canister, the snow globe with an ambiguous city inside.

When I returned to work from my vacation, the office was opaque. There were no second sweeteners or paychecks. It was just life, and it would continue. My desk was solid, and in its rigid frame revealed nothing at all.


From Conjunctions, Issue 82, Spring 2024. Used with permission of Conjunctions. Copyright © 2024 by Hilary Leichter.

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