Peggy's name boldly marks what was once Freddy's office door - the letters not etched, but raised, an announcement of change in status. Impossible for the rest to ignore her now. Along with skill, her name is all she brought with her to Sterling Cooper, and with it, she exerts her claim on the small space, one more sign her sphere of influence is expanding in ever-surprising ways.
She removes a glove and runs her fingertips over each letter in turn, pressing hard against the edges. They're cool and smooth to the touch, and entirely indifferent to her small, secret smile.
Her coat fits neatly on the rack inside the door and her purse goes in the bottom drawer, an aesthetic practicality. This desk is deeper, different in many ways than the one she never owned outside Don Draper's door. Here, she stashes three pencils end to end in the top middle drawer, their yellow paint worn away by nibbling, tips rounded short by constant use. Three steno pads clump together in the top left drawer, each filled with a mixture of shorthand and cursive, line after line of aborted ideas and brilliant tidbits for some future account. A second-hand book of business practices salvaged from business college hides in the top right hand drawer, words on the spine rubbed thin from constant handling.
Over the course of the morning, the long thin stream of souls bound to Sterling Cooper trickles in. Each secretary looks in through Peggy's open door as they pass by, glancing from desk to bar to window and back again, then marching briskly away before Peggy can offer a word of greeting.
She remembers the sensation of being among them, afloat in a sea of possibility, an anchor of furtive envy wrapped around her and growing heavier with every passing hour.
If you make the right moves, you'll be out in the country and you won't be going to work at all, Joan once told her. Joan, whose ambitions run as deep and true as Peggy's, but on an altogether different road.
Paul bursts in without knocking, unannounced, and stands staring at her with that peculiar mix of disdain and expectation she's learned to ignore. Once the mere appearance of it made her try too hard; now she feels she has less to prove, and more time to prove it. "There's a meeting at ten," he says, pointing a pipe at her like a loaded gun. "New account."
"Oh?" She stands up, folds her hands in front of her in a way paper dolls never do. "Who's the client?"
"I don't know yet." Paul stabs the pipe toward her one more time. She waits for some pronouncement of necessary teamwork, but instead he checks over his shoulder and then says, "Pete told me."
"Good to know."
When he storms back out again, she smooths her skirt and sighs. Nothing but another preempted warning not to cross his territory, one he didn't quite manage to carry out. She can easily ignore what isn't delivered.
There's work to be done, the business of searching hidden corners of her mind for some creative gem to surprise Don, though he's rarely interested in diamonds. More often, he brushes the shiny bits aside in favor of raw ideas he can polish and form.
She pours water into an expensive snifter and stands by the window, watching the street far below. Strange to know there is noise there in the crowd, snippets of conversation intersecting and indistinguishable, and yet made silent by glass and distance.
Don gives her ads to scrutinize, not the crisp pristine sheets bearing just-born thoughts, but second-hand sales, scraps torn from magazines at the doctor's office or liberated from his wife's collection of Vogue. She imagines the lovely Mrs. Draper keeps them neatly stacked on the coffee table like other women hang photographs, a monument to what she used to be in a former life.
"Study these," Don will say, bearing the latest in his hand. The edges are scalloped by a hasty tear, like hungry sharks have been at it.
Peggy looks at the two girls posed in leotards, the oranges sliding down the spears, ripe and juicy. She holds the paper in her hand, glossy-slick against her fingertips, and tries to mine from it whatever Don thinks she ought to find. "And do what with them?"
"Learn from them. Understand what makes successful copy." When he raises his eyebrows, looks at her expectantly, the weight of unspoken assumptions crash down on her: innate talent can't be enough. What he doesn't say, but what she still hears: not for a girl like you.
Unfair, and she knows it; the others might, but not Don. He had his chance to judge her, there in that hospital with his hat on his knee, staring at her like she was the mirror and he was the face before it.
It's quite some time before she understands that he substituted one kind of judgment for another, and she might have preferred the old-fashioned kind. When Don looks at her, it's hard for her to discern whether he's seeing the part of himself he loves, or the part he loathes.
She studies the lessons Don puts before her, and eventually Peggy begins noticing the difference between art and image, between words and copy. She translates her knowledge into refinement of each pitch, tuning the instrument to Don's specific frequency; he rewards her well by bringing her in on new accounts and giving her the lead.
Alone in the office on Friday evenings, she spreads the popular ads out before her and slowly dissects them into component parts. Wide-set blue eyes of the mother, cheek to cheek with a smiling baby; this is ideal motherhood. Astronauts blue and gray in their steel capsule; this is escapism for men. She ponders what it would be like to go into space, to fly planes, and finds herself wandering into unfamiliar territory.
Even so, if she closes her eyes, she can see stars outside her window, and the Earth below.
Sundays are for family, because that's the deal Peggy made with her mother when she first stood tentative at the door, bags packed and ready to push out of the smothering comfort of home. Now she returns home once a week, dreading the predictable sermon at church and the even more predictable lecture from her sister Anita that's sure to follow after. Sometimes she's deliberately late, a fact which should trouble her conscience much more than it actually does. She's not sure God is ready for this particular conversation to begin.
Before each visit she stashes child-ready trinkets in her pocket, matching the soft distant memory in her mind, her father's hands, the deep pockets of his trenchcoat, where candies and paper clips, loose buttons and gently mashed flowers could be discovered. Her sister's children exclaim with delight, clamber into her lap and besiege her with requests for stories.
All she can conjure up are tales of adventure: Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. Her sister's lips purse with disapproval. Peggy sits with her knees together, her back straight and stiff, refusing the lie of princesses and dragon-slaying princes and thinking only of men who stink of booze and lack moral courage, whose only use for a sword involves turned backs.
Once, she carries home a sketch or two for the Teem campaign on tracing paper, though art is not her talent. Beneath the crude drawings she scatters test phrases, an illustration of how she spends her hours, easy enough to share in an effort to explain things she can't put into words.
She spreads the thin pages out on the dining room table and watches as her mother and sister lean over them, heads tilted like curious birds. Her mother traces the smudged lines of an outstretched arm, a wide smile, but never touches the words beneath. Her fingertips come away charcoal-gray.
"Mrs. Linville always did say you could be quite an artist, if you'd just put your mind to it," her mother says, a hint of fond reminiscence in her voice. She wipes her hand off on her apron. "So this is your latest?"
"The art isn't really the point." Peggy patiently taps the copy. "This is what I'm paid for now."
"It seems very...rough," Anita says, leaning sideways a bit, as if the lines will rearrange themselves into something she can approve of if she comes at them from the left.
Mother's face brightens with a smile. "See how clever you are, holding your own on Madison Avenue." Her hands on Peggy's shoulders are warm when she squeezes her. "The roast will be ready in ten minutes. Peggy, will you set the table?"
By the time Peggy turns around, her sister has already scooped the test pages up. Her silver bracelet jingles as she hands them to Peggy without comment.
Peggy folds the delicate sheets and puts them in her pocketbook, their message lost. A failure of imagination on her part, Don would say; not fully considering what her audience wants to hear, how they imagine themselves, what she wants to communicate to them about the product.
After dinner her mother lures her toward the hall closet with the promise of a surprise and presents her with a box of things from Peggy's childhood. "I've been keeping them, but now..." Mother gestures about the small space, hand close to her body. "It doesn't make much sense to hang on to things. No room. You can take them home with you."
In the background, Lowell Thomas gathers the news and distills it into bullet points, his voice droning from the radio as Peggy moves to the couch. The box is light in her lap, only a few items she somehow overlooked when she migrated her life to Queens. There are a few drawings from first grade, cheerful stick-figure representations of Mother and Father under a yellow crayon sun. Two-line birds curved overhead, the best a six-year-old could do with the concept of happily ever after. A few used crayons, black and red, blue and silver, litter the bottom of the box.
There's a tiny journal with a broken lock, and on every page, her childish scrawl brings back the past of one Margaret Olson, Aged 9. Here is the evidence that she has always been at peace with words, with internal conversations. Now some simple concepts seem foreign to her, and words she knows well unmake themselves on the page, becoming strange and unfamiliar: mother, baby, home.
She grasps the frayed edge of the pale yellow baby blanket beneath the journal and holds it tight.
"Father Gill has been asking about you," Anita calls from the kitchen, where there are dishes to be dried. "He was going to stop by tonight, but he had an engagement."
More words tumble through her brain: prayer, confession, duty, obligation. Comfortable words and phrases which have formed the foundation and structure of her life. She hadn't realized she was repulsed by the sound of them, until now.
For a moment it's as if she's forgotten how to speak, and only knows a language too garbled to be spoken aloud, one with a broken alphabet.
She puts everything back into the box, sideways and overlapping, and sets it on the coffee table. "I have to go," she calls, looking for her coat.
Mother emerges from the kitchen, a red-striped dishtowel in her hands. "So soon?" she says, those sad lines appearing around her eyes.
"Yes." Peggy smiles and shoulders on her overcoat, then presses a kiss to the soft skin of her mother's cheek. "Thank you for dinner."
"We'll see you next Sunday," Mother says, ever sure of the patterns of life.
On the subway headed back to Queens, Peggy curls toward the broad window. Always before, leaving Brooklyn has given her the sensation of sitting still while the rest of the world passes by outside. Now she feels as if she's hurtling forward, and everything else is falling behind in the dark.
Monday morning Peggy chooses a tan pencil skirt and a black sweater, and her favorite black heels. She pulls her hair back with a wide brown headband and holds her chin up as she primps.
There's a presentation to Coke at eleven sharp. She thinks now of clients as the product they sell and the truths she's supposed to subvert in their service; this is one more way her practicality, and Don's mentoring, serve her well.
From the corner of her eye, she watches Don while she presents this latest bit of whimsy: a girl in a white dress, and a man in a tuxedo. One must presume he's a handsome man, but his back is turned to the customer's eye so his face can't be seen, can never be known or evaluated. The girl's beautiful face tells the story.
"We all want something to make us feel alive, don't we? We want to love, and be loved, put our hand in the hand of someone who's waiting." Peggy sets the art board down and beams at the clients. "Coke gives you that special zing that makes you fall in love with living."
The woman in the white dress smiles silently at an obscured profile, hand forever outstretched and frozen in time.
Don nods at Peggy, once, and every male executive at Coke smiles with approval. Peggy tugs at her skirt and sits down. She rests her elbows on the arms of the chair, crosses her legs and leans confidently to the side. When the clients begin to speak, Paul reaches for a pen to take notes, but Peggy listens and remembers.
She glances at the presentation on the easel and takes in the way the words in love with living pop from the page, notices how the woman's hand never quite connects with what's within her reach.
Each of the clients compliments her. All of them shake her hand. She knows they will ask for her on this account; it's in the way they whisper to each other, confirmed by the small talk they're making for her benefit.
"Nice job today," Don tells her after, as she gathers the boards and places them in a portfolio.
"Thank you, Don." She tucks the materials under her arm.
"Don't get cocky," he adds, his eyes narrowing just enough to make the corner of her mouth turn up in a faint smile.
In her office, she examines every aspect of the art for the next presentation, and sends the preliminaries back with changes. Copy flows out of her like water. She wears down a pencil, breaks another, and salvages a third with a piece of masking tape.
There is a new language to be formed here, and a subtext Peggy will shade in softly, until everyone believes it was there from the very start.