While the world waits on her next novel, the author is tackling many of her signature issues — wealth, race, class, and competition — in the upcoming short story Simplexity. Part of the Amazon Original Stories collection Currency, which includes work from Jia Tolentino, Emma Cline, and more, it follows a 28-year-old working at a design firm rife with corporate microaggressions. It will be available free to Prime members, as well as Kindle Unlimited subscribers on February 25, but you can read the first excerpt below.
Yumi Parr used the last and largest bathroom stall on the empty floor below Simplexity Design. She'd only been employed for six and a half weeks, but early on, Yumi discovered this faithfully vacant bathroom, and now confidently used it when she had to go for more than five minutes. But today, with her shorts around her ankles and her cell phone in hand, Yumi began to hear footsteps.
A woman's voice said, "Are you gonna go?"
Another voice said, "Absolutely not." The bathroom door opened. These voices belonged to business designer Paige Keener and business strategist Gianna Abdul. Yumi held very still and thought, S--- s--- s---.
"I don't know why she even said that." Gianna's voice skipped off the bathroom tile.
"She would literally never just 'get on a bus' or whatever she said you should do," Paige said. Yumi could tell that Paige was leaning over the sink and inspecting her reflection: prominent collarbones, dark brown hair, and big, orthodontia'd teeth. "And what does she expect?" Paige went on. "Like you're just gonna spend fourteen hours in Boston and then come back to work? Hard pass."
Yumi thought of forcing a cough or flushing the toilet to make her presence known, but if Paige and Gianna had smelled the light stench, they'd know that it belonged to her. And despite the fact that they, like everyone else, had light stenches of their own, it seemed rude and awkward coming from Yumi. There was only one of her and two of them.
Yumi did not recognize the coworker about whom Paige and Gianna were gossiping. There was a bit of movement, but still, no one went to use the toilet. Yumi assumed that Paige was retying her chambray shirt around her waist, just above her tight jeans, as she'd seen her do this many times. It seemed as if the two women just wanted to get away from the office, and that they would be leaving the bathroom soon. This is what Yumi told herself, but just in case, she carefully raised her feet so as not to be seen.
"I can't go anyway," Gianna said. "I'm gonna end up sending my own proposals. I have like, six of them, and there's no way I can get them on Denise's desk by four."
Paige turned on the faucet. "Wait, you're actually gonna go down to UPS?"
Gianna said, "Probably? Maybe I'll do TaskRabbit?"
"No, no, don't do that," Paige told her. "They take forever. Why don't you just ask Yumi to do it?"
Yumi's chin went down and into her chest. She listened to Paige pump the soap dispenser.
Gianna said, "Really?"
"Yeah? I've had her deliver a package before."
"She's a project coordinator, though, isn't she? It's not like I'm on a project."
"Well . . ." Paige finished washing her hands and turned off the water. "I reconcile my receipts but I'm not in accounting. And isn't 'project coordinator' just like"—she snatched a paper towel—"a catchall for bitch work?"
Gianna laughed and said, "I have no idea."
"Same." There was a small bang as Paige opened the trash can with her heel. "But I told Emilio that if he didn't give me an assistant, I would take one for myself."
"Good for you." Gianna opened the bathroom door and her voice curved into the hallway. "Okay . . . also? Why does this bathroom always smell like s---?"
Yumi listened to their booties go up the stairs in unison. She waited a few minutes before she flushed the toilet and zipped her shorts. In the mirror, she ruffled her black bangs against her forehead.
Aside from Yumi, there were seven Asian employees (out of sixty-four) at the product and industrial design agency Simplexity New York. Three were Chinese, one was Korean like Yumi, and three split their time between New York and their hometowns in Singapore. But unlike Yumi, none of them lived in Washington Heights, none of them had white fathers, none of them were gay, and all of them were designers. They wore muted colors with delicate jewelry, boxy shirts and dresses, and they often stayed late with beers nudging their laptops. They said their eyes hurt from coding or leather-making classes, and they'd been to places like Toronto to visit old friends from design school, or to restaurants that served tapas and cocktails opened by people they knew.
Yumi didn't do any of these things, and if she ever did have tapas, she didn't know it at the time. When Yumi told anyone that she worked at Simplexity, she watched them assume that she had her own website, and that she'd designed it. That she stayed in Airbnbs more often than hotels. That she conversationally knew another language, or that, in high school, she was a reluctant but obvious choice for class valedictorian. Yumi wasn't any of these things, but while she hadn't found a way to imply the contrary, she'd also stopped trying. She welcomed the impressed response and raised eyebrows she received when she said she worked at Simplexity. Sometimes, people who had only heard the name asked her what exactly Simplexity did, and she'd say, "It's a product and industrial design agency." But then she'd quickly ask the other person what they did for a living because she wasn't exactly sure what products Simplexity had industrially designed. There were no products on display; the office was high ceilinged and white and stark, aside from what looked like random toys for adults that appeared on counters and tables: Nerf guns, Slinkies, remote-controlled cars. It seemed as though the time to ask and clarify what Simplexity actually did had come and passed with Yumi's first day. The website didn't help. It said Simplexity did things like cultivating, innovating, processing, navigating, and creating change through . . . design.
Yumi's last job was in catering, before that she did administration at a public school front office, and before that she did filing for her dad. Before that she went to a state school in North Carolina—not the two good ones but the one in Asheville—where for three years she highly considered joining one of the two Asian American student-led organizations, but something or nothing always stopped her. Before her senior year, after spotting one of these groups smushed into a corner booth at a TGI Fridays, nine students eating from a large plate of what looked like wet nachos, Yumi stopped considering attending altogether.
Yumi's roommate was dating a guy who had until recently worked at Simplexity. He wanted to quit his job as a project coordinator and do this thing where he walked across America raising money to buy milkweed for monarch butterflies, and Yumi had been looking for a job that offered better pay and benefits. After a recommendation and two interviews, Yumi became Simplexity's new project coordinator. Her job consisted of setting up meetings and tours at factories and museums, ordering catering and supplies for large client meetings, and prepping meeting rooms with water and workbooks for interviews and surveys. Her role didn't seem vital to what Simplexity did, whatever that was, but she didn't hate it at all. In fact, she'd been surprised at the pride that she took in placing Post-its squarely in the middle of visitors' guides, with Sharpies and pens on the side, waiting there like cutlery. Sometimes she did in fact deliver things for people; she instantly remembered the moment Paige had said to her, "Yumi, can you help me? I'm in a bind." And Yumi had helped her, gladly. But delivering things for people; she instantly remembered the moment Paige had said to her, "Yumi, can you help me? I'm in a bind." And Yumi had helped her, gladly. But delivering things for individual people, or serving as a personal assistant, had never been in her job description.