Lead Flashing Like the Rim of a Glass

A director of the firm, his skin darker from the holiday he had just jetlagged back, a trifle disorientated at all the bold emails, called across to me at my desk. He did not look in the best of moods from where I sat, although some might argue his lazy eye and plump lips gave him the appearance of someone who was constantly unhappy—quite angry, in fact—with what he had just said but lacked the courage to deliver a prompt correction. He requested—‘A quick word.’ I knew what it was regarding, so I cleared my throat, sighed and drained my cup of coffee. Following him to the fishbowl, I thought to myself—Be strong now, say what you think, what you believe, what you have believed for months now; you know you are right. Past all the engineers, the monitors, black screens and white lines, I went, attempting to imbue my very steps with confidence. He closed the glass door behind me and we took a seat opposite each other in the fishbowl.
    Calling my boss and friend while I was walking to the petshop would have been hampered by my breathing, the swish of traffic, perspiration collecting on the inside of my elbow. I cannot concentrate on much else while walking. He did not know I had been looking, but every time he spoke of other companies he said he would bring me along. So I felt impatient, skeptical and finally guilty. Instead, I placed the call in a coffeeshop chain, among the mothers & toddlers, few elderly, a pair of teenage girls, and a summerskinned woman behind me with a complimentary local newspaper that she notsodiscretely placed facedown on the table when she heard what I was saying just a few inches from her ear.
    Two years ago in the boardroom with one of the partners who had asked me why I was leaving, I looked at the lead flashing on the building opposite to steady the quiver in my voice. Lead flashing ripples nicely in its imperfections and reminds me of where my father used to park his car. It was not so at that moment; there was neither the romance of history or family’s pardon, there was only gullshit and the weight of fourteen years. However, this time I was more assured, staring him down, meeting his pockets of the skull with my own. Without hesitation, I lay into his company—‘It’s just a bad group of engineers,’ and I delivered my reasons. Feebly he might retort and defend, agree or shrug. It was us and quiet, a fishbowl. One gets four-and-a-half billion years into things, and they realise that the delicate subtleties of the human hand are not comfortable around the armrest of an office chair; fingernails pressed tight and white. Twenty minutes. When he said—
    ‘It’s always the ones you don’t want to leave who do.’ I realised then that neither he nor the firm would ever change. We did not shake hands. I walked back to my desk, sat down quickly and gathered all my thoughts before ruffling the mouse’s screen out of sleep.

    The tailend of a celebration. My mother and father, dressed for the evening party, clenched each other close, and danced to the music I had chosen, although the song had been chosen over forty years previous. Everyone was in good spirits, celebration-of-love good spirits. Being the barman, making cocktails, flustered about it, about things, yes, but that was my problem and the secret of perspiration’s beads down my chest. The crowd accumulated at my shoulder, smalltalk caught in puddles of gin, liqueur, champagne, lime juice and sherbert, but, all things considered, I was good. The wife-of-a-friend-of-the-family asked me how I was, how I really was, beyond that moment; I was unprepared and underdeveloped, the licking tickle of gin now down my wrist, pausing to look at her challengingly. In the card, I had written—‘You are the blueprint of love and relationship that I will always carry with me. You remain my favourite people.’ Forty years is a long time. It is two longer than me, nineteen-eighty-three. One day the length of time they have been married will be shorter than my age. She was merridrunk in a ruby dress, the only ruby dress she owned, bought two decades ago, still fitting, a flute balanced perfectly twixt thumb and index, telling everyone she loved them. As I played the music, from one song to another—What You Won’t Do For Love, Thinking Out Loud, Roses Are Red, What So Never The Dance—I noticed that it was only I of this surname who stood alone. Couples held each other and danced on the kitchen floor, smiling. I hung my head. Although they likely paid me no mind, it was my ego that cried out—And look at you! all alone, single! at this age! no one to hold! how pitiful! If I met and married now, only at seventy-seven could I boast the same accomplishment, the same lifetime of love, and I do not suspect that I will live so long.
    ‘One of the senior management drinks in the office, openly.’ The H.R. representative looked up from her notes. She was at home on a video call, her background a .png. I was at home on a video call, my background a rotating fan. ‘O yeah,’ says I—‘Everyone knows about it. And it’s… you know, it’s not good.’ She thanked me for telling her. I did not have therapy that afternoon. The H.R. representative was as easy to talk to as anyone who listens and says little. O my goodness, I was so unkempt with perspiration, but, you know, she listened to every one of my words, writing them down, and you can see the tip of her pen working there.
    After five, she starts to wake me up with a frequency that could be considered by some as excessive, and many more as irritating. The evening before, I had—prompted—locked away all of her toys before I lay on the bed, above the sheets, a fan turning, perpetually, its sound background. The early rising July sun picks her up and dumps her on the very edge of the mattress where she pats the rim of the duvet I had pulled myself beneath during the night. As I lay dozing, she crept onto my left arm and began making biscuits until she salivated marbles on my shoulder. I had struggled to sleep but she cared not, and now that she was inches from my nose, her green eyes charmed me wakewards. I had to be up for my new job shortly. Her kneading claws pricked into my chestmeat until it was raw pink and weeping. Purring like Richter. She blinked at me, stood up, stretched and trotted off but I knew she would be back. I lay there, thinking about what would happen on my first day.