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To Aliyah Whiteley's previous piece
Valentine’s Day in one of the new towns - clean offices made of glass and shiny surfaces, with the family homes pushed to the outskirts smothered by baby trees and B-Roads. On the tenth floor of this office the executives swap golf stories. On the ninth, middle management hold meetings where they take it in turns to supply the biscuits. Coffee is free.
The eight remaining floors are scattered with workers on desks in clumps, all trying hard to get paid without having to live up to their job titles. Today the sinks in the ladies’ toilets on every floor house red roses in cellophane twists, all bearing cream coloured cards from pressured husbands and boyfriends. The women who haven’t received wait with tapping fingers for their phone to ring and Reception to ask them to collect their delivery. A few even contemplate ordering the flowers for themselves to avoid the social stigma, but they know in their hearts they have already proven themselves to be lonely. Something to do with the shoes and the hair, apparently.
Muppet works on the fourth floor and Human Resources swear floors are no symbol of status in this company. He didn’t receive a Valentines Card. He’s seeing Cheryl on the fifth floor in a casual way, but she would never admit it if asked so he hardly expected a card.
His real name is Simon Willoughby, and the man who sits opposite him is called Marcus Blaine. They went to the same public school for boys. Strictly speaking, Marcus belonged to a group who regularly bullied Simon’s group but now they feel safer together than apart.
Lunch has come and gone. It’s the slow part of the afternoon, seven minutes past three, and the early spring sunlight is landing annoyingly on Muppet’s computer screen. He squints and turns away. It’s practically a justification not to work.
“Marcus?” Muppet asks. He speaks quietly in a bland accent that has a trace of good breeding and Sunday School lessons. His pink, thin face jerks in a habitual movement. He was the one who made up his nickname of ‘Muppet’ to get himself a few moments of office popularity, but the name does suit him.
Marcus looks up from the doodle he has been elaborating on since January. It covers all of his folder cover, and he is in the process of re-inking the faded part.
"Was that your bitch I saw you with earlier?”
Marcus shakes his head. Marcus has a bitch; they see each other every weekend at the stables with their parents in tow. They gallop through the green belt to find a quiet spot and fondle quickly with all their clothes on. He tries to imagine her chest through the padded green jacket she wears.
“Was it your sister?” Muppet asks. Marcus nods. “Scorching! Is she single?”
“Lay off,” Marcus says. “I’m not setting my sister up to be your bitch.”
“Why not? I won’t knock her about.”
“I don’t give a toss what you do to her. It’s me I’m thinking about. Like I’d want you for a brother in law.”
Muppet smiles widely. “Yo, Bro!,” he says in a loud voice, fantasising about sharing biscuit money in middle management meetings and even progressing to golf stories.
Marcus ignores him. Muppet fiddles with his fountain pen, and gets blue ink on his fingers. “What gives?” he asks, knowing that, out of the three months of working here, Marcus has never once been seen in his lunch time with his sister.
Marcus clears his throat. “Buying new threads. A sharp suit.”
“Suits you!” Muppet says as a gut reaction.
“Suits you!” Marcus replies with equal enthusiasm. “No, I needed some threads. On a mission to impress.”
He stresses the words, so Muppet knows to pick up on his cue. “How come?”
Marcus leans over the break in their desks and lowers his voice. “I’ve got a job interview at the place my sister works. There’s an opening in Accounts. There are some nice openings in that office full stop,” he says.
“Excellent” Muppet breathes, and then remembers that the word ‘excellent’ isn’t cool any more. “Cool” he corrects hurriedly.
“I’ll pull a sickie on Tuesday and travel down to Windsor in her BMW. She’s staying here for a long weekend.”
“How will you get back after the interview?”
“Train. My parents are paying. They want me to further my career.”
“Parents,” Muppet says, trying to hide his jealousy. His father refuses to get him into stock broking, claiming that a basic level of intelligence is needed.
“It’s a walk over,” Marcus continues. “I’d have to turn up covered in melted cheese with a stick up my arse and announce that I’m a fondue set to lose out.”
“Fucking great,” Muppet says, filled with despair at Marcus’ guaranteed departure, but warmed by the knowledge he had been confided in. He was being used as a safe house for information; he was being considered as rock solid. A suspicion crept into his mind. “You aren’t shitting me?”
“Get over yourself! Don’t tell anyone,” Marcus says, in a rush of schoolboy seriousness.
“Of course not,” Muppet whispers triumphantly. At that moment, he has every intention of living up to his promise. The excitement is almost too much for him. “I have to take a whizz.”
Marcus nods and Muppet strolls with calculated relaxation out of the main building and through the adjoining corridor. He sees the door to the men’s toilets, and beside it his secret woman, Cheryl. She offers a welcoming smile to him and waits for him to approach. This is a first for Muppet. Today is turning out to be an interesting day.
“I just wanted to say thanks for the flowers,” Cheryl says shyly.
Muppet knows better than to kick such an opportunity back. He could have sworn that she would have spat on him from the fifth floor staircase if he had sent her flowers, but the way she’s touching her neck with one finger suggests otherwise, and it looks as if a reward might be coming his way. He takes all the credit, and hopes that her real admirer won’t appear and confess all.
“No problem,” he says.
“They were beautiful. You took me by surprise, you know?”
“Yeah,” Muppet says knowingly. “I know.”
Cheryl looks sharply around her, seizes his hand and drags him into the empty toilets. He does not protest as she hustles him into a cubicle; he has heard of other lucky dudes being on the receiving end of bitches at work, and he’s nervous, but excited. Very excited.
It’s all over a few seconds after Cheryl places her hand on his trouser zip. He tries not to mess up her hair as she kneels in front of him, but it’s difficult. Just before the crucial moment he gives way and presses his hand to the back of her head, urging her on. She looks at him accusingly after she spits his sperm into the toilet bowl.
“Is it mussed?”
Muppet pretends to look at her hair. “It’s fine. How’s your day?”
It slips out before he even decides whether its a good idea or not. “Okay. Marcus is leaving. He’s got another job with his sister.”
“Marcus always was an arsehole,” Cheryl says. “I better get back. See you later.” They leave the toilet with a five second interval between them. Muppet can’t help his swagger. A precious thing has just happened to him, a memory he can hold to his chest. His first blow job. Not that he would ever admit that to anyone. And besides, if he keeps quiet, he might lose his virginity as well one day. Cheryl has proved she can be easily persuaded by a bit of romance.
Marcus looks at him with a bored expression as Muppet sits back down. “Everything pukka?”
“Yeah.” Muppet smiles a secret smile.
“So these threads are really natty. Classic Pinstripe. Cost a packet.”
“I’m gonna wave this dump goodbye,” Marcus says gleefully.
“Thanks for your interest, mate.”
“Yeah, well, all the best,” Muppet says. His eyes are on Cheryl, who has just walked through the double doors across the office. Her sidekick, Allie, accompanies her. They walk in tight formation and approach him for a fly past, giggling all the while. He realises slowly that Allie has been told about his performance in the toilet. And also, perhaps told exactly how the performance was lacking.
Cheryl and Allie pass within two feet of Marcus’ desk. Marcus gives them a curious look, and watches their backs until they have reached the coffee machine at the far end of the room.
“Bitches,” he snorts. “What are they fucking staring at?”
“I just had her.” It slipped out before he could prevent it. It’s too late to cover up. “I had Cheryl. In the loo, just now.”
Marcus recovers quickly. “Fuck off.”
It is Muppet’s indifference that makes him believable. “Fuck me. You’re a dark horse. How was it?”
“All right.” It is, after all, only just a lie to say that he had her. He got pretty close. But she and Allie have got their coffee and are slowly walking back, eyeing the lads expectantly. He shuts up, and hope that Marcus gets the message.
“Hello Cheryl,” Marcus says. “I’m just off to the bogs. Fancy holding my.. hand?”
Cheryl turns shiny red as Allie pretends to look shocked. “You always were an arsehole, Marcus,” she retorts automatically. “Can’t wait to wave you goodbye.” They turn in formation pattern and dummy-walk away, bodies stiff and bottoms clenched.
“What did that bitch hoe mean?” Marcus asks in his most clipped accent. Muppet has nowhere to go and tries to lie even as he feels his throat tighten and his eyes dart from left to right, like reading an autocue that's moving too slowly.
Marcus stares. He shrugs. “Doesn’t matter anyway. Decided not to go for that job. Too much like hard work.”
Muppet has just lost his status as confidante and his chance at a permanent bitch because of one mistake. He mentally punishes himself for thirty seconds, then he allows himself a small smile. Cheryl didn’t deny it happened. Within two hours every floor except nine (middle management) and ten (executive) will believe he got laid. Kudos.
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