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Packing up, emptying out, I’m about to disassemble, to give up being me.
The flat-pack boxes are still flat so I hunker down and set to building some. Susan landed them in my office. She thinks I’m filing away closed cases. She knows nothing about events of late, that a notion took hold, an urge to become someone else.
It feels odd removing my effects from an office that bears my name. It’s like I’m abandoning myself, erasing my existence. I urge calm; after all, crisis is life. It says so in ‘Adventure Man’- chapter 7. I quote: ‘the real adventurer has to wander far to find his home’. Then it goes on to describe the fight or flight syndrome, applies it to Brent geese or is it swallows? Whatever. Anyway I’ve worked myself out, who I am: I’m more the hunter-gatherer type. Okay, maybe I’ve muddled the theories up a tad but I’ll get to the point.
The point: I seek things out, go in search; that’s what I’m trying to say. The other kind, they sit tight and knuckle down; they build the establishment. Literally. The bridges and buildings. The don’t-rock-the-boat types. But me, I won’t dedicate myself to the wrong cause. Towing the line. No sirry. Not anymore.
I’m shovelling my belongings into a box when Susan interrupts. She nimbly steps over me and sets down a latte and sandwich on the desk. Then, apropos of nothing:
‘A new haircut?’
‘Not like you to notice, Susan. Bit of a change’ I say.
‘That the only change?’ she asks.
‘Ya, why, what you mean?’
‘Nothing. Well, actually, is something up?’
‘No, honest. Nothing.’
‘It suits you. Your hair.’
‘Is that a good thing?’ I ask.
‘Makes you look like, um, a pony.’
‘I could be a stallion!’
‘It collects, clumps, gathers in the middle.’
She’s making an imaginary wall of sand with her hands; a wigwam on her head. I get this all life long. My hair has no business standing up. Yet it does. Blame the cows-lick.
‘It’s a sign of virility’ I say.
‘My mane, I’ve been training it! Isn’t that the in thing, sky-high hair?’
She gives me a look: what would I know? I’m sending myself up. It’s an older guy thing; self-parody. You relax into insults; pick your fights.
‘Can I have the O’Leary file so I can prepare the Brief to Counsel?’
‘I could give you something else.’
Poised momentarily over me is what does it. What sparks me. She registers confusion. I say it over: want something else? She’s slow to the point but then gets it. Flustered, she makes a move. In the wrong direction.
‘I’d like to try it. The case, I mean.’
‘Who’s talking about work?’ I ask.
‘Bit early to be starting don’t you think?’
‘Shoulder rub works wonders for headaches.’
‘Ugh. It’s cleared up. I feel better.’
‘Then it’s easier if I prepare the O’Leary Brief.’
You snub me and I’ll snub you! Still, it’s a bit strange as I’m on all fours beneath her. I can feel the heat off her legs. Her proximity makes her all the more desirable. I suppose not having had sex in a while will do that. I can smell her shampoo. Or else she’s hiding apples.
I’m enjoying the uncomfortableness. She’s eating me; I’m eating her. And all without touching. If only I reached out my hand. If only I pulled her down onto the molten earth, onto the floor, onto me. If only. If only she succumbed to lurid sex. If only she gave me a few seconds of her time. If only. Six seconds. One lunge. Bam. A lifetime’s release. Almost worth a life sentence. Be out in ten.
If, if, if…. Instead, I linger where I am, beneath her and picture-worthy.
‘Honest, I’d like to do it.’ she says. ‘It’s good experience.’
‘So is my shoulder rub.’
‘It’s quicker if I do it then’ I say.
‘That’s not the point. I’m your apprentice; I’m here to help.’
‘My granny used say that.’
‘That she loved to help.’
‘Louis, I’m not following?’
‘Meaning it’s quicker if I do it.’
I often have to say things twice. It’s a blonde gene thing. Sometimes she’s foreign to me. No kidding. Like now. And there she is, acting up, huffing.
‘I’m not stupid you know. Being young and dumb aren’t the same thing.’
We ignore the elephant in the room: her hair colour.
‘You’re sooo mean.’
She’s complaining that I’m keeping control, albeit only of the O’Leary file. No out-sourcing to her unless she puts out with me! You’ll notice I’ve become smart, keeping my harassment strictly verbal. No more writing myself into a guilty plea. I wonder if Susan notices this tactical change.
‘Stop it’ she snaps.
Susan slaps away my hand. I crossed a threshold, touched her on the hip. I did. It wasn’t a conscious move. My hand had a mind of its own. Truly. I touched flesh, sending her a message unspoken yet tacitly understood. After all, only one sure way to find out if she wanted it! Only she didn’t. Not yet. Now I’m in a jam. Frozen. Where to next? I’ve crossed a boundary: got touchy; now here comes feely!
‘Just lay off me and be yourself’ she says.
‘I am. I’m red-blooded. It was an involuntary-hand-reflex. Natural instinct, nothing I could do. I swear.’
‘Stop it. Can’t you just be NORMAL?’
‘Or what, a spanking?’
I say that last bit with a cheeky grin. I’m pulling her back to normality; to having a sense of humour. To being an us! The danger passes only time doesn’t permit me to explain falling in love.
‘Maybe I could make a resolution!’ I say.
‘About being normal?’
‘I’d like to see that!’ she says.
‘I’m a natural normal.’
I do that last little ditty in her voice, well, acting like a ditzy blonde.
Dad ghosts in and shakes us down with his eyes. Where did he come from? Neither of us heard him. No walking-stick tapping along the corridor. He practises without it half an hour every day. A siren should warn us when he roams without it.
‘What’s going on?’ Dad asks.
‘Difficult to explain really’ I say.
To outward appearances nothing happened. Still, he’s perplexed. I start fighting with a cardboard box to draw his attention away from us. He remains suspicious. Why? Well, I’m kneeling at Susan’s feet and there’s little pivot room between us. Jump and she’ll land on me.
‘Just filing away closed cases’ I say.
‘Doesn’t look very legal!’
He speaks gravely. He doesn’t buy it. I’m like a dog on raised paws. I wonder if he has the gears in his head to consider hanky-panky. More eager than me to extricate herself from any hint of impropriety, Susan explains.
‘The O’Leary file’ she says.
‘That not gone to Counsel yet?’
‘Dr. La Roc, I was just telling Louis that I might save him the trouble of preparing it. I’ve briefed Counsel before.’
‘And so you have. Of course you should do it. Save Louis to do other things.’
‘File is over there’ I say.
I’m making false nice. Fearful that without Dad’s presence she mightn’t get her hands on the file, Susan lunges for it, almost breaking her back lifting it and whisks it off to her dungeon . Dad and I look on astonished and with gentlemanly concern. I never knew she – such a frail little bird – was so strong.
As soon as Susan is gone, Dad gets conspiratorial. Presumably to talk about all those other things: my interesting life. He closes the door. I know what’s coming.
‘You think she has potential?’
I didn’t see that coming. I assumed it would be something about me, me the eternal solipsist. Me, me, me.
‘Eh, sure’ I say.
‘Legally bright and dedicated, you think?’
‘Definitely. And diligent.’
I’m miffed, slow to figure that I’m not the only one in the office with a life. Dad seems to be doing what he can to survive. He’s plotting. But plotting what?
‘Coming down for coffee?’
He knows I’ve started getting mine out. He sees my steaming latte on the desk. Still, he’s saying I should coffee with the others if only for memory-sake, to create memories.
In the canteen Dad has prepared a legal quiz. I’ve sat this out for a while – his weekly interrogation. Its a republic of opinions, Dr. La Roc judge and jury. It’s why I coffee alone. Anyway, I’m better out of the way to let Dad and Susan bounce legal shit off each other. They’re into that sort of thing: knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
I’m not up for a legal test but Susan has the O’Leary file. It’s a defamation matter. She gives me a look, studying my tie. She smirks. I look down at my tie. There’s ketchup on it.
‘It’s actually ratatouille’ I say.
She takes me to task.
‘Lou, are you sure there isn’t more it, to this case?’
‘It’s a try on’ I say.
I turn my back to her, feigning interest in the ingredients of a packet of chocolate Hobnobs.
Anyway, where the fuck did ‘Lou’ come from? Be my friend in bed but not when sticking a knife in my back. It’s a set-up. I’m being shown-up. For sloppiness. Carelessness.
‘Susan has a point though’ Dad says. ‘Has the reputation of the Plaintiff been lowered in the eyes of right-minded members of the public?’
I pretend to think and no sooner give up. Fucked if I care. I’ve that sick school homework feeling. Then a dawning: I despise what I stand for. Civilisation isn’t worth this. Give me anarchy any day. I’m tired of playing solemn and dignified. I make an excuse to see my secretary. To bide my time. Then, an half and hour later, when I’m pumped up and ready, I confront Susan. To remind her who’s the boss.
My office. Now.
Come. Here. Now.
I’m not a dog!
And in another 5 minutes you won’t be my apprentice.
Susan marches into my office. There’s entitlement in her. She makes like she belongs here; like she actually knows things. Her confidence is growing. Dad is undoing my work. He’s encouraging her. This makes me all the more angry.
‘You angry with me?’ she asks.
‘No. Why? Though in future knock before entering.’
She gives me a canine look, tilting her head, you know, a curious look. Master what’s up? Although I haven’t taken my eyes off the computer screen I can see her. I’m raging but remarkably conciliatory as I haven’t yet called her a boot-licker. Her presence has a strange effect on me, when we’re in private. In my privates.
‘Is it the defamation thing?’ she asks.
‘It’s beside the point. But now that you mention it, hearsay isn’t heresy! And the norm is first to make a legal presentation to me.’
‘You wouldn’t listen’ she foot-stamps.
She’s right. Still. A look and I could break her.
‘Susan, can I ask you a personal question?’
‘Truth is a defence for libel but what’s a defence for stupidity?’
‘Hair-dye’ I say.
‘Louis, you’re weird. Can I ask you a personal question? Do you use hair-dye on your grey chest hair ‘cos in your summer holiday pics last year you suddenly had a hairy black chest…’
‘What? Susan, enough of this shit. We’re at work! Review my live cases and give me a status update.’
Grunt work is hell; it’ll take an age. She doesn’t know what’s really going on; what we’re really yapping about.
‘Is this a power trip?’
Ok, she fluked it.
‘Nope. It’s called work. Real life.’
Now I’m riled. I hate when she’s right; it should be a crime.
‘You’re such a lawyer’ she says.
‘I thought that maybe I wasn’t! Anyway, it’s news to you?’
‘We have to quote-unquote: insure against mistakes.’
She does that last sentence in my voice, being me, mocking me. I look up, open-mouthed. Wide-eyed. This is new. Let the cat out of the bag, have we? I gather myself.
‘That’s right’ I say. ‘You have to hang errors on people. It’s what they’re for.’
‘And without doing that we’re out of a job’ she again mimics.
‘Susan. Excuse me to fuck!’
I’m outraged. The insolence, parroting me. But truthfully I don’t know how I feel about it: about her impersonating me. With time to consider I might find it titillating. It might give me a stiffy. Who knows. Then I think: I thought I was mimic-proof. A complete one-off. Uber-unique. Although Susan is slightly taken aback she’s more interested in huffing. It’s time for a lesson. To master her. Goodo.
‘Susan, what’s the worst possible crime?’
‘No, actually it’s treason. And the second worst?’
‘Does murder ever get a look in?’
‘It’s down the list’ I say with murderous intent. ‘So go on. I’ll give you a clue: it’s the little sister of treason.
‘No, it’s when a team doesn’t act like a team. Lack of unity caused by the quest for individual glory.’
‘Bit sanctimonious! What is it you’re saying?’
‘Disharmony. One-up-man-ship Susan. The weakest link in the chain. It has no place in a team and we, us.’
I’m circling a finger between us, creating an imaginary orbit.
‘We’re supposed to be a team.’
Susan looks at me as though aliens have landed.
‘Last word freak’ I shout.
Sometimes she can be quite a dose. You know, the kind of girl you’d like to punch in the face while fucking. I know what she’s doing; I have her moods down. She’s prettifying herself. I can hear her at it in her office, brushing her hair, stroking and tugging her long blonde hair.
She doesn’t know how much I adore it. And her hairbrush, it’s in the top drawer of her desk. I’ve removed it numerous times. On two occasions when I’ve used her hairbrush to brush my (non-pubic) hair I’ve stumbled upon the solution to a case. It relaxes me. There, I’ve said it: Susan is my lucky charm. Or at least her hairbrush is.
I remove a lock of her shiny hair from my top drawer. I’ve reconstructed it from the single hairs I’ve robbed off her hairbrush over the weeks, months. I took great care not to remove too many loose hairs all at once lest she’d notice. CSI _________.
I hold the lock up to the light. It’s luminescent. Luminous Susan. It sends me into reverie: the things she could do with her hair – head-banging, air-jamming, plating. But she’s too straight-laced, not the fiddling type.
I gently fan the lock over my lip. It’s delightfully ticklish. I wonder about the matting on her genitals, the texture. Soft downy pelt or clean shaven?
Six minutes later and her first email arrives. It’s like receiving a love letter.
Thanks for the pep talk. Look, just to say that I deserve the chance to prove my legal worth. You can trust me with the O’Leary file. I’m more than capable of briefing Counsel and, you may not know this, but defamation of character is an area of law that greatly interests me.
On page she reads fine except for the ‘legal worth’ baloney. There’s almost clarity of purpose.
Sure thing. Run the attendance by the client; have them sign off and only then brief counsel.
In the flesh Susan isn’t self-assured. She can scarcely get to the point. I like to think it’s because of me, my sexual allure. At the keyboard she’s clearer; more decisive. It’s as though she has a mandate. The blonde in her is no more.
When typing, she could almost pass for a brunette.
 Sometimes I ask the hairdresser not to use a thinning scissors, like now. Personally, I don’t like my hair so thick but guys ten years younger, all with thinner hair, hate me for it and it cracks me up.
 p.s. It’s the first time I notice an imperfection as I spot a safety pin holding up her skirt, pulling it tighter. I bet Dad didn’t even notice. pps. You think this is why Susan was so upset when I touched her hip, in case her skirt fell down?
 By the by, ever since I scored Japan, and in case you want to buy me a present, I’m an Issey Miyake man. When I wear it girls cling to me.