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Diary 9: Man of Straw

Bitstrips - Diary 9

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At the table, with hands squeezing his cheeks, Mr Murphy makes a sandwich of his face. The effect only makes him look more ridiculous as his moustache becomes a tortured grey mouse trying to flee his mouth. And if he isn’t at as his cheeks, he’s obsessively rearranging the items on the table: the salt seller, menu, ashtray, Tabasco sauce and fake candle. He leaves our coffees alone, although mine is actually a latte.

 

An hour of this compulsive obsessive retard and I’ll do my nut in. But he knows I must stick it out. It’s his gig. If he wants to tell me about his warts and all, I’ll listen. I must jump through hoops and suffer total humiliation as a stranger drives me.

 

I daydream: his wife, she wasn’t that bad; how’d he land her? Maybe they’re brother and sister. It would explain their son. The inbredness. Before engaging with Mr Murphy I wondered if he was monied – it would nail the marital mismatch and make our meeting only about the principal of my actions. About an apology. Instead he’s a leech on life’s underpants. He thinks he’s hit the jackpot, planning to live off this coffee for years.

 

We’re back to handbags.

 

‘I’m meeting you in good faith’ he says. ‘But I can’t speak for what the Gardai will do.’

‘You made a formal complaint?’

‘You’d have done the same if it was your kid.’

 

I let it slide. The downfall is coming.

 

The police will interview me within six months. A file will be forwarded. Then the Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether or not to send the case forward for trial. Recently, I read about the case of a night-club bouncer who did less harm to a drunkard and got a year. Jail is on the cards. I don’t trust judges. They never lived. Ireland has gone mad.

 

As I endure Mr Murphy, I think, if I get through this, I’m applying to join the Law Reform Commission. I’ll hang my legal career on rewriting the law; change it to accommodate me so that nobody will be charged if, say, in a fight, the force of impact on someone is under 20kg. Call it the Louis Loophole. Mine is a borderline case. My left hook was probably 22kg of force. I see my laws weaknesses; how it mightn’t work. A kick on the shins might be 30kg of force and a slap in the face 18kg.

The slap might kill.

So what?

No law is perfect.

 

‘You married, have kids?’ Mr Murphy asks.

‘No.’

‘Know what it’s like to have your kid beaten up by a man?’

 

Another rhetorical head-fuck!

 

‘He’s not that small’ I say.

 

With these words he hides his pride.

 

‘Still, shouldn’t get tough on the wrong people. Christ, Barry’s only 16. I mean matching up – squaring up – I’m ok with that.’

 

And there it is: he eyes me for the first time. Is it an offer? I’d like to call fat-heads bluff. What would he do if I said you and me now? A fight to the death. Ok, he’s taller and has a good seven stone on me. Still, I’m thinking how big I might really be if I stood to my full height. Full of heart. Alas no, not here, not now. Into the black book he and his family will go. A few years down the line and the Murphys will drive off on a family holiday and the car breaks won’t work. You’ll see. Karma? Or me?

 

Call me karma. Karma Louis.

 

The waitress tries to pass. Mr Murphy has her arm. It reminds me how the Mountain held me.

 

‘Is it ok?’ he asks.

 

Oh, so I’m paying. I don’t know why but I look at my wrist. I don’t even own a watch!

 

‘Sure’ I say.

‘Same again, please.’

‘What was it?’ the waitress asks.

‘Our brewski? Can’t you smell the coffee?’ he says.

‘Actually, mine’s a latte. Can I have it in a mug, not a glass, please?’

 

The waitress potters off.

 

‘I can’t honestly explain it’ I say. ‘It’s like it wasn’t me. Know what I mean? My intentions were good. I was helping your wife. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be sitting here with you now. Ever.’

‘It is what it is.’

 

The muppet is feeding me lines from a sitcom. Perhaps he dosed up on Judge Judy or is permanently anaesthetised by his favourite soap. Or else, worse still, a man down the pub has his ear. Yeah, that’s it, some know-it-all type, probably a failed lawyer, is advising him. I can hear the begrudgery – Louis, so he’s a flash lawyer is he, then stick it to him. Somewhere an imbecile is coaching him and I’m helpless. Mr Murphy is my jail-keeper; my freedom in his fat grip.

 

‘What are you saying it is?’ I ask.

‘Assault on a minor.’

‘That’s for the cops to decide.’

‘Sure. But the civil side of things…’

 

I see his family laid out, dead before my eyes. I do. Really. It’s a knee-jerk visualisation response. Never could control it. I think pictographically. In my lifetime I’ve killed legions. Hey, do fantasies count? Nope. First you got to act on it. To make it real it’s got to happen. Only a question of time. A question of time.

Here’s to then.

 

Anyway. Mike envisages a family holiday in Hawaii on me. Strange that, how we have the power to destroy one another: he, to ruin my career and bankrupt me; me, to nuke his family. To think that our paths should never have crossed and now he’s encroaching on my life, crawling up the crack of my ass like colon cancer.

 

‘Come on man, I’m not a murderer’ I say.

‘It’s a bad break.’

 

His kids nose or my luck? I don’t ask. Instead I try to take the heat out of the situation.

 

‘Before all this I used to be nice. You know, it’s not like I’m a monster. At least not on a Frederick West scale.’

‘Still, it happened.’

‘You’re hanging it all on me! You want to take one of my limbs? Go on.’

 

I offer him my right arm.[1]

 

‘That’s not what anybody is after.’

‘Oh, so I’m not a murderer? Just made to feel like one. So what will satisfy?’

‘Nothing is that messed up you can’t fix it. You’re the lawyer, you tell me.’

‘I’m not fucking Houdini!’

 

He scowls and looks around expecting opprobrium for the swear word. Fucked if anyone cares.

 

Beforehand, I decided that no matter how much I might save on the pay-off, I cannot and will not say that his son is a good kid. He’s not. He’s a brat. Maybe it’s envy that stops you siding with me; me a nob becoming a yob.

 

But if I am going down in flames – in life, in this blog [2] –then hear this too: I’m all for corporal punishment. Tough love. The world’s a violent place. It’s unrealistic and irresponsible to pretend otherwise. I’m not afraid to call it. Everyday as I sip my (full-fat) latte in a café I realise that someone somewhere died for my tranquillity. For my peace. Know your history! The civilising process has always, always, involved stronger men killing weaker ones, to take what they felt was rightfully theirs. Because of their brawn. Civilisation is built on exploitation.

 

Anyway, violence did me no harm when I was a kid. I was routinely flogged at school and turned out pretty balanced. One time the headmaster kicked me around the floor like a football for kissing his daughter. I didn’t drug her. She wanted it, she made the move, she was the mature one – even taller than I. She was 11, me only 10.

 

If only Mr Murphy took a strap to his son he might better understand my point of view. But no, I’m on a wing and there are no conventions. I’m praying to a moron. To Mr Murphy.

Infurifuckinating

 

‘How can we put this right?’ I ask.

‘Like put Humpty Dumpty back together?’

‘Only it’s your Barry!’

‘Ya, it’s my Barry. What are you thinking?’

‘What about?’

 

He plays dumb; he needn’t bother. Stop dithering; spit it out. We’ve come to the crunch.

 

‘To make this go away. How much?’ I ask. ‘Look, give me a break, I’m only starting out. My life is supposed to be in front of me. Show some mercy.’

‘Did you show Barry mercy? … So go on.’

‘A thousand.’

 

He laughs and sits back in his chair, proudly displaying his belly. I can’t show disgust. He shifts awkwardly in his chair. As he inhales he loses two stone, then he raises his hips, thrusts one forward and ropes a finger into the pocket of his jeans. A condom and a mouldy sweet drop into his fat paw.

 

‘For Barry’ he says. ‘Want a sweet?’

‘No thanks.’

 

He’s back at his pants. This time he fishes out a piece of paper and tosses it on the table. It’s rolled up like the wrapper of a stick of Wrigley’s gum.

 

‘Not go far – a thou!’ Mr Murphy says. ‘I’m thinking more like that.’

 

The price of my freedom is written down. I look at the paper a few seconds too long. Life passes in slow motion. I pick it up, uncurl it, read the numbers, the zeros [3]. I’m going to be sick. I’m galled. I could smash the Tabasco bottle off the table’s edge and thrust the broken glass into his throat and bleed him to death like the pig he is.

Pig.

Pig.

Pig.

One day, I swear, you’re dead.

 

I take a deep breath. I’m incensed. It’s Barry’s college years, a family holiday to Hawaii with a stop-over at Disneyland rolled into one. There’s maybe even small change for a new double bed and a pagoda in the garden. I must resist. He’s insane. I take a few seconds to consider if the verbal ‘full and final’ settlement back in the car park would stand up in court. Hardly – duress and undue influence. Still. If I don’t sink the civil action and get them onside it will catapult into a criminal trial. I’m screwed.

Royally.

Really.

Still.

 

Although outraged and humiliated, I refuse to be an apologist for his pathetic life. For helping him stand up. To stand tall.  It’s sickening that Mr Murphy has the moral high ground; that he thinks he’s on the righteous path [4]. I don’t ask the sloth what he makes on the dole.

 

‘Look, this should be a small matter’ I say.

‘The consequences, huh! It is what it is.’

 

Now, where have I heard that before! I press him on the lottery numbers, ask him how he came up with the figures but the more I dig the more fuck-you he becomes. My homicidal rumblings emerge as a loud fuck-you-too burp in his direction. I don’t bother excusing myself. I hold his eye and get back to it.

 

‘This is just so fantastical, so far off the Richter scale. It’s crazy. You know, before your family showed up I almost believed in society. I contributed.’

‘Then you kicked the shit out of Barry.’

‘He provoked me in case you forget.’

‘Have it your way then.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Face the music!’

 

Consequences, consequences: the chain of life. And if this is the earth going around I want to get off.

Breathe, Louis, breathe.

We’ll get him later. I promise. My shoulders are talking: the angel to the devil. Cool it. Fake it. Hold tight a little longer. Stroke his ego.

 

‘Can we not be professional about this?’ I ask.

‘Sure. Your freedom ends where Barry’s nose begins! This buys you peace.’

 

He’s nodding at the piece of paper on the table. It’s the most coached line I’ve ever heard. A law student or underemployed second-rate lawyer is his friend. My balls are in a sling. It’s pay up or die.

 

‘This is blackmail.’

‘No, this is a result of your actions.’

‘And all because you think I’m good for it. My crime is that I’ve tried to make something of my life and as a result have more to lose. The irony of being more fucked for trying.’

 

What would he know? He has no intelligent problems. Really. This is it. His only move. The only ray of light. Really. Meanwhile I’m being punished for being a go-getter, for getting up off my ass. For not growing fat. Really.

 

He knows what I’m saying. His is a family filled with inconsequential lives masquerading as being noble. The Murphys have no scruples. They’ll bring anyone down to stay afloat. Parasites. If there is a God why does he allow such folk live? Why doesn’t he extinguish his kind; remove the chaff? And do I not get a discount for bleeding Barry of some of his innocence? Perhaps I read like a fascist but I’m not [5]. I read The Guardian. I’m fair. I front up. Just deserts and all that. Ok, there’s a little of this too: violence is a virtue. And anyway, remember, nobody pities me for my life being mugged by a shower of losers. It’s the honest hard workers who always get clobbered; the innocent always guilty.

 

‘Is there room to negotiate? Instalments? I haven’t that kind of money.’

‘No.’

‘I need to think about it.’

‘Don’t take long.’

‘Why? What do you mean?’

‘24 hours.’

 

As the meeting ends the world has revolved full circle. I don’t know which side is up. My entire life has changed. The salt seller, Tabasco, menu, ashtray and candle are back in their original formation. The work-shy Murphy’s go home and pray to me for a money miracle.

 

The next day I pull up alongside Mr Murphy at the scene of the crime in Dublin. I don’t turn off the engine or get out. I’m sickened and in a complete daze the way my life has unravelled. I wind down my window and toss three fat brown envelopes through his car window.

 

‘Give me the signed agreement’ I say. ‘No need to count it.’

‘Still, best be safe.’

 

I’m waiting as Mr Murphy licks his fingers a dozen times to count the dough. He hands me the signed settlement agreement and we’re done.

 

‘Here’s to sorting things. I hope things work out for you’ he says.

 

He thinks he’s doing an act of kindness. He forgets the price tag.

 

‘Enjoy Coronation Street!’ I say.

‘Eastenders actually.’

 

It’s daylight buggery. Is it even Catholic? Whatever. I’m unrepentant. I don’t say goodbye. I’m already burning rubber out of the car park. I’ll never shop there again. It’s another one for the black book.

 

Pardon me, but, fuck him. Fuck his wife. Fuck the cunts that bore them. Fuck their sprog. Fuck the Mountain. Fuck society. Fuck justice. Fuck the system. Fuck the spongers.

 

I don’t order this outburst; this invective. Out it plops all on its own like a ready made turd: the person I’m pretending not to be. I’m screaming this diatribe over some classic old song on the radio. It’s Wham: ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right’.

 

But that’s not all.

 

I turn up the radio and accelerate through a red light.

I’m allowed; I’ve paid my dues.

 

And there’s more.

 

My enemies are my saving grace. They give me a target beyond myself.

 

There will be a day of reckoning.

 

You’ll see.

 

A hand was designed to make a fist.



[1] I’m left-handed  so I offer him the limb I can do most without.

[2] Clearly I’m down with self-incrimination. Hate to leave ambiguity. It’s not like I’m pleading the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution which states: “…no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Death to fence-sitters I say.

[3] Due to a confidentiality agreement I can’t reveal the quantum. Believe me, I’d love to tell you how much the stinking asshole screwed me for.

[4] This incident is the impetus for writing this blog. Therapy. Inadvertently the blog shows the danger of peace-loving fence-sitters who, in their apathy and indecision, ruin lives.                                                                                                                Ps. Fuck vegetarians.

[5] At worst maybe I’m a fat-Nazi, a fattist. Ok, and an arrogant prick. You think the humiliation will do me good? Right? Wrong. This confession is penance enough. It’s like writing a school detention essay.

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Diary 8: All Rise

Bitstrip - Diary 8

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When can withholding the truth be a lie?

 

With Dad hobbling back down the corridor I feel cruel. Like I’ve killed him. If there’s anything, anything, I can do to show him that I’ll make a go of things I will. I’m thinking noble thoughts until Susan saunters in. I’m in no mood for her. I want to lash out and bite.

 

‘You ok? Sounded heated.’

‘Hush!’ I say.

 

We listen a minute to ensure the retreating sound of Dad’s walking stick. Sometimes I think if he recorded its sound he could undo us.

 

‘Law?’ she asks.

‘Ya. But I don’t want to talk about it. Ok?’

‘Ok. Hey, you seen his latest addition?’

‘No.’

 

Dad has his eccentricities. He travels the world collecting stones; a pebble here or there, the real amateur geologist. In his office, mounted on 78 miniature shelves, he parades his prize stones. Ok, maybe there are 100 shelves. Who cares; I’ve switched off. Dad has given up on me or I’ve given up on the rocks. He’s used to it: ever since school I was into insubordination. Susan stepped in. She’s taken a shine to the stones or to Dad. I know what he tells her: how old they are, where they come from, that sort of thing. Suddenly, it occurs to me that Susan and I might be competing. Feeling a little addled, I force myself to be curious.

 

‘Granite?’ I ask.

‘No silly’ Susan says.

‘Silly? Me?’

‘No, SICILY. It’s volcanic, silly!’

‘Susan, no stones; not now please.’

‘Hard chat?’

 

What’s it to her? Women and their stupid urge to understand men. When will they get it: they can’t. You know what, now that I think of it, she’s not so prim and proper: I bet she’s one of those girls who keeps money in their bra and has big messy shits! Ugh.

 

‘What is it?’ she asks.

 

I’m force-feeding myself distraction, staring at Susan and trying to guess how old she’ll be when her breasts sag.

 

‘It’s nothing’ I say.

‘Come on, confide! You and Dr. La Roc, what was it?’

 

The hounding bitch.

 

‘Was it about the O’Donnell trial?’

‘Ya.’

‘And?’

‘And what?’

‘What you think?’

‘Don’t you mean what does Dad think?’

‘Ok. Ya.’

‘Susan. I know my father is perfect but sometimes he has human failings.’

‘Oh?’

 

There isn’t a hint of irony. She’s all ears. It’s time for a lesson: my law, street law.

 

‘What if I told you that Dad brought me around to his way of thinking.’

‘Of believing in the law?’

‘That’s not funny. That was a boy who was beaten to death.’

‘Ya. Its terrible.’

‘Circumstantial evidence is all they have. Unlikely the guy will be done for murder. Lucky if they pin anything on him. So, you see, sometimes justice needs to be served outside the system.’

‘Louis, what are you saying?’

‘Well, you say you don’t believe in fighting, in a knifing, so you don’t come to a stranger’s aid. Good for you, you voyeur. But ever heard of the Bystander Effect? Fuck sitting silent, doing nothing! Smash the chair I say. Chair leg rule. It’s where you get a nut-job – like that murderer, alleged murderer, whatever – and due to the legal cunning he has and how he wont get caught you … beat him to a pulp with a chair leg.’

‘Why?’

‘Because somebody must act, especially when the system is broken, and ‘cos nobody is as hard as a chair leg!’

‘And Dr. La Roc thinks this?’

‘Lets just say one of the two of us do. Susan, there are nasty criminal sub-cultures the law has no way of handling. Like in Love/Hate. Where do you stand on that… or are you afraid to?’

‘Afraid to what?’

‘Take a stand.’

‘On Love/Hate?’

‘No! On doing good. To do some good!’

‘You mean if it had to be black and white?’

‘Ya. And think of who’s going to avenge the murdered kid.’

‘But what about forgiveness?’

‘Forgiveness punishes the innocent victim. Hurt and get even. It’s called justice.’

‘Then I’m in purgatory.’

‘Mmm, Purgatory Girl… it has a ring to it. Hurts your ass though – fence-sitting.’

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Diary 1: Exhibit “A”

Bitstrip - Diary 1(ii)

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Guess who’s fucked? You’d be right: me.

 

Today another Moan-day and I’m running late. I slide my feet into my slip-ons feeling yesterday’s dampness and no sunshine to ease matters. With a look of rain I button up and shovel off to work feeling cursed. I’m in a rut, feck-arsing about, vegetating like a prisoner. Sinfully, I’ve become boring. Uneventful. At a standstill.

 

It usen’t be so; being nobody.

Despite my inner turmoil, I harbour dreams of conquering the world. Truth is, a reality check is only around the corner then depression will have me in its grip. I feel its onset. The start of the end. The end: a shotgun in the mouth and a sidebar news-story in a regional newspaper – 70 words? Meanwhile I’m playing survival as I look for a way out. An excuse. An exit.

 

But isn’t everybody? I’m no dim-wit; I know a thoroughbred doesn’t stand still. A guy has to shake a bone to be remembered. As I make over the bridge and work coming into sight, I egg myself on, screaming at my lot. You see, today I’ve come to a momentous decision: I do not belong here.

 

I roar into the blustery wind again: I DO NOT BELONG HERE.

 

It’s absurd, if not illuminating, for this reason: right now, at this precise moment, I begin thinking of myself as somebody else, as an entirely different person, a different life-form, a passenger no longer and instead at the wheel, driving my life. Perhaps something might happen, something good, a bonanza of some kind. Now I’m trucking along, growing in confidence, imagining my hour has come.

 

Only it hasn’t. False alarm, a false dawn. Reality hits. Nothing has changed. These past few years I often have the same escapist urge and do nothing about it. My mood dampens in keeping with the foul weather. There is no life-changing event. In fact, nothing has changed save for a revelation: mortality anxiety. I’m timing out; dying by degrees. My life is a wasteland. I’ve peaked. It’s downhill from here and I never made a jot of difference.

 

I’m appalled. By me. By my everyday. Feeling more antsy than usual, I dwell on it. When an idea takes hold how can it sit quietly, at odds with the body’s goings on, living a lie, mind and body, the self divided, acting in concert as one? Faking it.

 

Opinion has it you stop feeling things after a time, only I don’t. I’m uncomfortable in my skin and I’ve grown more conscious of it, of my existence: how peripheral, parochial, its become. Maybe it’s what made me lash out and deck someone. Oh, then there’s that. The fight and its consequences. I’m staring down the barrel of a gun.

 

Dad, he wants me to stick, to establish continuity. To invest in a life. One life. He knows I’m the eternal stop-starter, that I’m in the habit of discarding my life every five or so years. Nine is nothing, me, I’ve lived a dozen lives. I’m this, I’m that, then, hey presto, vamoose. I disassemble and restart in a new location with a new career, culture and friends, wandering the world to find home. It’s my reoccurring life-cycle, people and places always failing me. Or vice-versa. And I think if I start over one last time I’ll stop looking, a make-over bringing rebirth, bumping into the real me, finally. This dad knows, that if it’s stick or twist, I’ll always twist. Well, not always, see, these days I’ve lost my bottle; all will power is gone.

 

Instead I’m being pushed. This dad doesn’t know: fight then flight.

 

Or go to jail.

Yet, nobody is on my case.

Nobody knows I’ve a problem.

Yet.

 

Folk even think a guy like me has something. Sure, I’m a flash git in a suit but everything is relative. I’m being pulled under, caught in a world of ifs.

 

If only I was somewhere else I’d be doing something else.

If only I hadn’t taken so many wrong turns.

If only I bucked the trend.

If only I wasn’t everyman.

If this and if that.

 

Fucking ifs.

 

I start to wonder about it.

About regaining my individuality.

About becoming someone different.

 

Different to this ……

 

A snap-shot of us.

 

There she is at my door. In a skirt. A tight little number. Sexy brat. I wish I had it over her head. Instead:

 

‘You OK?’ I ask.

‘Just a little tired.’

‘Late night?’

‘Don’t start.’

‘What’s up?’

‘Notalot.’

 

I think she might strut. But no, she just stands there toying with me. I hold my own. With hands behind my head I bask, leering with fuck-you abandon. My x-ray eyes are on her, counting how many items of clothing she has on. Four. Maximum five (including panties). I’m allowed; I pay her wages.

 

We know what we’re doing; circling, sniffing. I’m like a five year old looking for hidden sweets. Perhaps she’s imagining me naked. She draws first.

 

‘What you looking at?’

 

She runs a hand over her blouse then paranoia climbs over her face. She goes to rub it off; she’s pawing at it, at her mug. There’s nothing there but it’s good because she submits to my stare.

 

I’m in control. And although the dominant one, I can’t condense it down. How do I explain I’m wondering what kind she is? Would we sleep as spoons? Would she wake me up with eggs Benedict?

 

‘Would you mind…’

‘Mind what?’ she asks.

 

She almost stops me; I almost turn away. I torch the idea but can’t be bothered making something else up. This is how it went down. Period.[1] We’re breathing it out. Making fists. Pissing the poison from our minds.

 

‘Oh, nothing’ I say.

‘Everything is nothing with you. You’re such a child.’

‘The way it is.’

‘Why?’

‘An exit is an exit!’

 

We keep saying nothing though she wonders about this. Deal with it, I think of saying.

 

‘Exits! Louis, what’s that supposed to mean?’ she asks.

‘Know what, I’m free-associating!’

‘… to dig yourself out of a hole?’

‘Like I’m in one?’

 

We stare. She’s only arrived and already acts bored. It’s true, she’s the only stimulus around here.

 

‘You do know I don’t take you for granted.’

 

Is it a question or fact? She awaits clarification, going limp, lifeless, praying on a confession. I continue:

 

‘You know sometimes ….’

 

Sometimes, I interrupt myself; cut myself off. Like now. She releases a huff. A sour face. A look of dislike. Meaningless questions; meaningless answers. And we’re only starting; warming up. I’m frustrated, fucked off I didn’t jerk-off last night. Then I might have slept. Now I could forcibly rape a sheep.

This is it, this is us: the waking day. Our everyday. The more I question the more alert she becomes. It’s our natural rapport, our intimacy. At least that’s how I have it in my head. Us, waking up in the office. Together. Courting.

 

Today her blonde locks are pinned back. Tightly. Her forehead is higher up. It’s how I like it. She’s quick to advertise her strengths: the acres on her face. Some famous ballerina said lashing her hair back was the cause of headaches. I suppose her suffering is fine with me especially if it’s for me. I’m down with penance.

 

She lingers. I register awe. Lust. I look. Gawk. Longer. Harder.

 

‘I look ok?’

‘Ya, fine.’

 

I don’t say ravishing. Instead.

 

‘Panadol in the canteen.’

‘I don’t have a hangover’ she says.

‘Wowa, frosty, hold up. Don’t pin anything on me!’

 

I’m holding my hands up. She draws breath. I like that she’s overstepped the mark: it shows how close we are; that I’m big enough to let it slide. She thinks I care about rank. I don’t. It’s why I passed on joining the army. Now there’s one General less. https://vine.co/v/hH1HMQLrn3z

 

‘You know the root cause …’

 

I’m swirling a hand between us but pull myself up mid-twirl, holding myself in check. Refraining. After all, why bother, why confess? She doesn’t care for my feelings, she only wants dirt. Gossip. Maybe she’s laying a trap. Tick tock, the sexual harassment clock! No more complacency for me, thank you very much. I change tack.

 

‘I thought you might have replied.’

 

It doesn’t need explaining. She ignores my text messages. I’m sending them into thin air. At least feed me a lie.

 

‘I swear I have this mobile that writes slower than me’ she says.

 

We’re looking at the guilty phone in her hand. It becomes a person. We’re having a three-way conversation. It’s what 22 year olds do. Discuss their mobiles.

 

‘Are we chatting about your phone?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. Why?’

‘I don’t do that.’

 

It shuts her up; stops her in her tracks. Now we’re back on track: back at work, all the while sailing away from nine o clock. She makes to leave. I pull her back. Pulling rank.

 

‘Any chance of a bagel. You don’t mind, do you?’ I ask.

‘You’ve never cared before.’

‘Well, what with your headache. Would make anyone narky.’

‘I’m not narky.’

‘Jumpy then.’

 

A huff.

Then.

 

‘You really should look at your diet’ she says.

 

Instead I look at my belly. And smile. I can easily see my dick over it.

 

‘At your age diabetes is likely’ she adds.

‘I’m sporty.’

‘More risk then.’

‘Is this you plugging your thing?’

‘It’s not a thing. I’m a celiac.’

‘Thought that was a type of car! You should try one – a sandwich; not the car.’

‘I only eat for one.’

 

She’s snappy and won’t let up. I’m not fat so it’s a wasted energy trying to pin a complex on me.

 

‘And eating three meals a day is feeding a family?’

 

She knows I’m right. But she has her ass to think of. Anyway, she can’t afford my diet. It’s rich in every sense.

 

‘Bacon and brie?’ she asks.

‘How you know me. Oh, and a latte. Thanks.’

‘No pastry?’

 

She thinks she’s being funny. Facetious is actually the word.

 

‘No thanks, though it beats eating tofu as a treat! I’m thinking of going celiac. A two litre diesel.’

 

I smile, patting my gut. She makes eyes at me – this isn’t her life. But it is. I go to reply but she beats the rush. She has already turned tail.

 

In her wake: a floral waft.

***

That was first thing in the morning. At 9am. After an hour I’m bored waiting for events to happen; for things to brighten up the day.

 

Then, later on. At 10:26am. My office. There she is, framed in the doorway. Again.

 

‘Maybe you shouldn’t be like, I dunno, so familiar with me.’

‘How so?’

 

She’s in the habit of saying no without actually knowing how to. I play innocent. We exchange nervous glances. A thought courses through my mind: what does it take to be a pervert? Is there a test of some kind? I go to pin her back, deliberately misinterpreting while revealing my bargaining chip.

 

‘Don’t be your boss?’

‘No! God no. That’s great, Louis. Really. That’s not it. It’s just …’

 

She stamps a foot, revealing how misunderstood she feels. Neurotic cow! The thrust of it is that I’m crossing a line. But I won’t let her say it.

 

‘Go on’ I say.

‘Hey, you seen the You Tube video about work practises?’

‘What? I’m not with you.’

 

I give a blank look. Yawn. Boring. You know sometimes, in ordinary day to day life, I die a little. Like now.

 

‘The video. I posted it on Facebook.’ she says.

‘Oh, ya! I’ll take a look later on.’

‘Ok. But I posted it two days ago!’

 

We’ve jinxed ourselves on Facebook. Cross-pollination. First week in the office and we’re FB friends. It would be unseemly to unfriend. I act like I don’t stalk her on-line. Of course I’ve seen her stupid video I just thought she’d keep us privileged. Instead twenty-six of her friends ‘liked’ the link. That really pissed me off. I know what she’s doing: they’re ganging up on me. All of them have me under suspicion.

 

Know what I’m thinking? How to make us an ‘us’. Why not? Aren’t we already involved? Otherwise this – work, training period, whatever – is pointless. I mean, why bother sleeping with her in my dreams if she’s going to carry on like this? https://vine.co/v/hHmYtIWPE5i

 

‘It’s good stuff. You should check it out’ she says.

‘You trying to educate me? Remember, I’m in law, not HR!’

‘Still.’

 

And ‘still’ sticks in my head. Still, it’s a warning before she drops me in it. Still, maybe I should keep a distance. She could pull reassignment. She could. Yeah, she might. I’ve mucked up before putting things in writing – those emails which I know she has kept – and now she’s saying …

 

Enough.

Still.

You.

The cheek!

 

I’m not desperate; at least I don’t have to be. I get a lot of come-ons so this is a mite unfair. Remember, it’s not me that’s supposed to be auditioning for something. So why am I under the kosh?

 

She finishes her little ditty. It’s rehearsed no doubt. Her Facebook friends put her up to it. But she’s holding back. She’s gone all squirmish. Girlish. Is it to protect her career or is she hiding her true feelings for me? Or else, maybe, just maybe, it’s a me thing?

‘You look crazy!’ she says.

‘Crazy?’

‘Ok, crazed. Louis, mind if I ask you something?’

‘Sure. Try me.’

‘There’s something wrong with you.’

‘That a question?’

‘Ya.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘You should see a doctor.’

‘For what?’

 

My lust? For losing my mind?

 

‘Being retarded!’ she says.

‘That’s not cool… or PC.’

‘Ok, sorry, for having a mid-life then.’

 

I let out a laugh, ok, its a ridiculous high-pitched squeal.

 

‘I’m only in my 30s! Oh, I get it – is it because I’m not brazenly hounding you!’

 

Now I’ve put it out there, she’s speechless. She watches me, horrified.

 

The pathos. Still, what do I care? Contrary to social etiquette I’m happy to sit out the performance. I button up. Spectate, watching her silently self-combust. Staring. Carnivorously. Disrespectfully. Are we terminal? She holds my gaze. Resolutely. We are sexual equals her look says. I cede ground. Blink. Withdraw. Retreat. Still, it’s not her, at least not the real her. She isn’t bred so. Bred posh. Assertive-like. Or defiant. It’s an act. The staring. An acquired put-on. She probably adopted it from some dopey character in a TV box-set. https://vine.co/v/hX35AYq21gX

 

‘It’s just everyone wants, you know …’ she says.

‘No, I don’t know.’

 

Truth is, I’m irritated. She’s such a hit with herself. She’s the kind of girl who volunteers she’s intelligent, the real blue-stocking, only she’s a phoney. She’s not hitting high IQs.

 

‘Well, you know, everyone …’

‘Ya, everyone – I got that bit. What is it everyone wants?’

‘Oh, nothing. Forget it.’

 

But I know what she means… So do you.

 

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[1] The events described herein are all real save for a few parts that aren’t. I’m cataloguing events as they happen unless amending bits of legal necessity.