New Year, same old bullshit.
I woke up with a head like it had been stuck inside Keith Moon’s bass drum, and a house that would give Kim & Aggie a coronary.
I blame Brendan, bloody Brendan.
‘Hey, I’ll come around to yours for New Years, it’ll be fun!’
He doesn’t do the cleaning though does he? The crafty bastard got a taxi at just gone 2am, I don’t even remember how the place got so messy, I know a few of our other friends came at around ten o’clock, we played drinking games, but none of that explains why there was half a can of red paint thrown over my living room wall. I didn’t even have red paint, who brings paint to a piss-up?
I suppose this means I have to redecorate now, Happy New Year, Denver! Time to get some new friends.
Back to work today, I was preparing for some major fall-out from the party incident, hopefully something that involved Gary and a trebuchet, but I was out of luck once more, as Gary was there, quieter than normal and sporting a fading bruise under his eye that was probably once an almighty black-eye, I chuckled to myself at the sight, as Gary tried his best to avoid eye contact with everyone in the office.
I went into Tom’s office to borrow his stapler, he showed me a picture of his kids from Christmas, their gurning faces painting a picture of joy as they hold a gaudily colourful bike, wearing a hideous jumper that looked like it had been knitted by their blind grandma, I need money to eat however, so I just smiled and nodded, before getting the hell out of there before he could tell me more about his improving golf game.
No sign of Tracy today, however. Her desk was neatly laid out, a pile of work sat in her tray like a fat frog. The desk being tidy was suspicious, as Tracy was never one to worry too much about putting on a professional front, hence her sneaky hipflask in the desk.
Brendan arrived at the office just after Lunch, whistling nonchalantly and carrying the local paper, The Herald, under his arm, the iciness from Gary’s desk could be felt as Brendan floated by, by the look in Gary’s eyes he was digging daggers into his adversary’s back.
‘You seen the paper? Michael Jackson’s been arrested.’ Brendan said, a little too cheerily.
‘Did the shop sell you a 15-year-old paper?’
‘Nah, it’s today’s’
‘Bloody Hell, they’re really pressing ahead with Operation Yewtree then! Something tells me they’re a bit late though.’ I said, voice heavy with sarcasm. Brendan’s façade of casualness dropped as a smirk stretched across his face.
‘Smart arse. It’s some mad fella in town, always shouting at the pigeons, you know that guy, well he chased a kid in the park with a stick.’
‘Not the worst thing someone called Michael Jackson has done to a kid.’ I deadpanned, as I did, Brendan’s crumbling façade finally fell into the ocean as he howled with laughter, so much so that Tom looked round his office door, Gary was taking an extreme interest in his computer screen, trying not to acknowledge our existence.
‘When you’ve finished chatting. I’d like a word.’ Tom’s voice stopped Brendan’s guffaws immediately.
‘With both of you.’ He continued, indicating at me and Brendan. We exchanged a questioning look. Maybe he’s a big Michael Jackson fan? We know he doesn’t possess a sense of humour, judging by his repertoire of anecdotes about the development of his garden, in which the falling of an errant sunflower was apparently so hilarious it was worth calling a full staff meeting, but I digress.
We slunk into Tom’s office like naughty schoolchildren seeing the headmaster. Tom was already sat down behind his desk.
‘I’ve got some news, I thought I’d let you both know first.’ He began, staring at the ceiling as if searching for the words.
‘Out with-it Tom, I’ve got press releases to write.’ I encouraged, something he quite clearly did not appreciate judging by his glare.
‘Tracy has put in a request to transfer to our Manchester branch, before you both start, it’s nothing to do with the ‘incident’ she quite clearly…’
‘Bollocks!’ Brendan’s interruption cut through Tom’s spiel like a hot knife through butter, I took a glance at my friend, who I’d known for 15 years, and saw a look I’d never seen before, it looked a lot like pure, unfiltered rage.
‘You know as well as I do that Tracy is petrified. No matter what corporate jargon you spin to this, she was driven out by that pervert out there.’
‘I assure you…’
‘No, I’m not having it, Tom. Either he goes, or we do.’
Hang on, we? When did I get dragged into this? As puzzled as I was, I was nowhere near as uncomfortable as Tom, who squirmed in his chair.
‘As I was about to say, we have another person starting here tomorrow, Melanie, she’s coming in from Leeds. Which as you can appreciate puts me in a tough situation.’ Tom finally managed to stammer out, for a second, I saw a look in his eye of agreement with Brendan, and so, I think, did Brendan.
‘Given what happened at the Christmas party, it is my responsibility as office manager to make sure everyone is confident and comfortable while working here, and although Tracy said it wasn’t why she was leaving, she did lodge a formal complaint against, well I can’t say who, but we all know who it is, so the company is taking appropriate action.’
Brendan rose from his chair, meaningfully. ‘I know what appropriate action is, Tom, a slap on the wrist, and a chance for him to do it again. We need assurances, Tom. Meaningful ones, we can’t let him do it to someone else. As I said, he has to go, or I do.’
He allowed his words to hang in the air for a moment, before collecting his coat and leaving the office. I watched him take his seat at his desk, as if nothing has been said.
Tom coughed awkwardly. I stared at my shoes. Each second of silence was agony.
‘I’m letting him go, Gary I mean. But I’m probably going to have to suspend Brendan too, at least. This is a shit-show, Denver. A real shit-show.’
No need to tell me twice, Tom.
The mood in the office is still icy. Gary cleared his stuff out yesterday, and Brendan promptly withdrew his resignation, although the threat of suspension still looms.
Melanie seems nice, she brought in brownies, so she’s cool as far as I’m concerned. She hadn’t sat down for 5 minutes before Tom had photos of his kids out, she seemed unimpressed, I think me and her will get on.
My reliable old Vauxhall got a puncture on the way to the office today, which was just what I needed on my morning commute, my day only got worse after I was given the bill.
50 quid, it cost me. I wanted a regular tyre, not one made by the noble elves of Mordor.
So, fifty quid poorer and two hours later, I arrived at the office, Gary is gone, which is a positive, but so is Brendan, which isn’t. Now there’s just me and Tom, well for a few hours, as our new colleague Melanie was arriving today. Her arrival was unremarkable. Tom tried the whole ‘introducing a new person to the office’ thing, which was a bit redundant as the only people in the office were me, and Barry the spider that’s been in the corner of Tom’s office for 6 months.
I didn’t get much chance to introduce myself properly to Melanie, Tom was too busy showing her his collection of photos, I felt a strange compulsion to swing in and save her like Errol Flynn, I didn’t though, maybe she’s more interested in children than I am.
The shitstorm of a day reached boiling point on the drive home, as my radio broke and got stuck on Radio 2, which was having a celebration of the music of Coldplay, which to me is like celebrating Hitler’s military tactics. Luckily the ride home is not too long, which is just as well, as had I listened any longer, I’d have been tempted to drive off Spurn Point.
I arrived today to an empty office no sign of Tom, or anyone. Still, I wasn’t complaining, the peace and quiet was lovely while it lasted. Melanie arrived an hour after me and was none the wiser as to where Tom was.
‘Maybe he’s ill?’ She offered, trying to be helpful.
‘Doubtful.’ I responded. ‘Tom hasn’t taken a sick day in the 7 years I’ve been here.’
We resigned ourselves to working in silence for the time being, I was corresponding backwards and forwards with a potential client, dancing the usual business jive.
‘Cup of tea?’ Melanie’s voice made me jump slightly.
‘Oh, I’ll make them…’
‘No, don’t be daft, the new girl makes the tea, everyone knows that.’ She smiled, for a second, I saw a glint in her eye, a glint of playfulness, perhaps?
The tea she made was far from satisfactory. Firstly, she put the milk in first, which is the action of a psychopath as far as I’m concerned, and she left the tea bag in, which, in any civilised society, should carry a prison sentence.
Still, I thanked her to be polite, and got on with my work.
Tom arrived just after lunch, looking flustered.
‘What time do you call this?’ I took great joy in teasing Tom whenever he made the slightest mistake, but he’s so oblivious that it hardly registered, this time however, it seemed to ruffle him.
‘Not today, Denver. Long day.’
‘Did one of your kids fall out of a tree again?’
‘No, and it wasn’t a tree, it was a wall they fell off.’
Melanie watched this exchange like a confused meerkat. She was out of the loop on office banter, being new and all that.
‘Were they okay?’ Melanie seemed genuinely concerned
‘What? Oh yes, normal kids play, you know, a cut here and a bruise there. Anyway, you can both go home, we’re closing early.’
I was in the middle of a particularly important email, so while my inner voice was jumping for joy at an early finish, my business brain was furious. I really am changing, maybe this is what it feels like to be assimilated?
‘As much as these words almost physically pain me; I’m kind of in the middle of work, Tom. Can we hold off on closing?’
Tom looked bemused, then suddenly, he seemed to realise why we were closing and became sombre again.
‘We’re closing early due to a bereavement. My mother died this morning.’
I suddenly felt like the worst person in the world for thinking about work.
‘Shit, sorry Tom. The email can wait. Let’s get home.’
Apparently, my local pub has closed. According to Brendan it shut six months ago, shows how much I go out I suppose.
Still, it’s hard to not feel sad whenever a pub closes, a new slice of local life taken away. I blame the smoking ban, always have, it should be no business of any government where and when someone smokes, not to mention the tax imposed on alcohol, it’s almost as if they wanted pubs to shut.
I suppose I’m more pissed off that my local is now a bus ride away, life just seems determined to piss on my shoes at every opportunity.
As much as this annoyed me, at the back of my mind, I kept thinking about Tom. I know I say some harsh stuff about him being boring, but to tell the truth, he’s a decent guy. What makes it worse is he had a close relationship with his mother; it plays on my mind given my at times strained rapport with my mother.
I went out and bought a condolence card, and some flowers. I felt it was the least I could do.
Today was a real good news, bad news day.
Good news: I’m now on two weeks holiday.
Bad news: mum’s coming to stay for a few days.
I’m sure the crafty cow waits to maximise my misery. I was going to do a last-minute deal trip to Tenerife, but that’s out of the window now, she mentioned bringing Princess, but I accidentally said that I had a dog now, so that gives me two days to borrow, steal, or worst-case scenario, buy a dog.
If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.
I am now the proud owner of a Labrador. Although, I think he’s broken. Today he spent an hour running up and down the living room, he’s a rescue dog, in case that wasn’t already obvious. Sometimes adopting a rescue is like taking in a convict as a lodger, they share that same far-away ‘I’ve seen things you couldn’t believe’ look that’s exclusive to convicts and Vietnam veterans.
The bastard took a liking to mum as soon as she arrived, bloody Judas.
Mum thinks she’s Doctor Doolittle sometimes, I swear. She always says how much animals love her, and I always remind her of that time a cow chased her over the dales, or the time a horse almost bucked her off its back, or if I’m feeling especially spiteful, that time an owl shat in her perm.
Mum’s new thing is asking me when I’m going to settle down with a ‘nice girl’. I keep reminding her that there’s no such thing, and if she needed an example, to just look in a mirror. I made the mistake of mentioning Melanie, like a bloody fool.
‘You never know, something might happen with that new girl.’
‘Mum, she’s an attractive, young woman, what on Earth would she be interested in me for? Besides, ‘new girl’ she’s not just started a new school.’
‘I’m just saying. It’s not right sat stewing on your own, love.’
‘I like being on my own, it’s the only time I have intelligent company.’
I busied myself with menial household tasks to try and block her out, eventually I just took the dog for a long walk, any peace I can get is welcomed.
I came across Brendan in the park, apparently Gary might be pressing charges on him, the slimy fucker, I’ve known Brendan since we were kids, and his actions were incredibly out of character for him. He’s crestfallen about being dragged through this.
‘It’s not just me though, it’s Tracy. She wanted to put this behind her, and it’s just being dragged up again. It’s really put a strain on us.’
Hang on, a strain?
‘A strain? How do you mean?’
‘You didn’t know? Some bloody mate you are! Me and Tracy have been an item for months.’
Oh, what a blind fool I am. That’s why he lashed out; it makes more sense now. He was protecting her not only because she was a colleague, but because she’s his girlfriend, how did I not figure that out?
‘I suppose I don’t pay much attention, never had you pegged down as a match for each other to be honest.’
‘Me neither, not at first anyway. But we bumped into each other at Heath’s, you know, the wine place? We got chatting and, well, the rest is history.’
‘You’re a clichéd prat.’ I chuckled, back to my usual act of lightly teasing. ‘Still it gives me something to talk about around the water cooler when I get back, that’s if I can get a word in edgeways during Tom’s usual thrilling conversation.’
‘You should come ‘round, while your off. Meet Tracy, out of work I mean, she’s a totally different person.’
‘I don’t fancy being a third wheel mate, my life’s depressing enough as it is.’
‘Bring someone along then.’
‘Oh yeah, because there’s practically a queue of women waiting at my doorstep.’
A moment of silence hung in the air, we sat on the bench looking into the distance, the dog sat beside me, sniffing a leaf. Brendan broke the silence.
‘Why don’t you bring the dog?’
My worst fears have been realised.
Christ, has a month nearly gone already? Only seems like yesterday we were bringing the New Year in, at least I think we were, that night is a bit of a blur.
Mum went home a few days ago, and I had Brendan and Tracy around to celebrate.
Brendan was right about one thing, she is a completely different person outside the office, she’s not as on edge for a start, we had a relaxed night, with not a sneaky hipflask in sight.
The conversation turned to my writing, after a few glasses of wine.
‘You write?’ Tracy seemed genuinely surprised.
‘A bit. Don’t sound so surprised, anyway. I was a poet for a bit, in my younger days.’
‘Didn’t have you down as a poet.’
‘I aim to surprise. It doesn’t pay very well though, being a poet, so I moved on to script-writing.’
‘Written any big scripts?’
‘I work for a publisher that makes textbooks, what do you think?’
I realised that might have sounded overly harsh, and apologised, Tracy laughed it off.
‘I suppose it was a daft question. Working on anything now?’
‘You know, this and that. I spend too much time watching films, as opposed to writing them.’
The talk of my writing dissipated. I found out that Tracy used to be a writer too, she had written novels, even. But she had a nervous breakdown in her 20’s and that brought an end to that.
‘It’s a hell of a writer’s block, I’ll give it that.’ She spat, venomously, and with that I sensed that the evening was coming to an end, we said our goodbyes, and I had a few more glasses of wine with the dog, who I’ve called Bill, next to me.