It’s 15 December 1992 and if I was able to produce a snapshot of that particular night you’d probably be surprised at the improvement in my appearance. The girl on my arm would be another publishing type named Dawn: strong thighed, long blonde hair, big tits, skirt all the way up to her shaven armpits. Hovering on the sidelines, buried in the crowd, you might just about be able to spot the waspish figure of Marie: cute looking, very short black hair – almost a man’s haircut, no chest to speak of. The more rational among you may find yourself wondering what on earth was going on in my head at the time.
The Gravity Publications Christmas Party 1992. That was the night when Marie made her move, or, if you want to see things from her perspective, it was the night when I made my move. I’d been going out with Dawn for a little over a year at the time and although you couldn’t exactly describe hers as the most challenging intellect you’re ever likely to come across, being with Dawn certainly had its plus points. Dawn worked for a rival partwork company and in all probability was drawn to me originally because she thought I might be able to offer her a more senior position at GP. We’ll never know. I suppose what I enjoyed most of all – even more than the sex, which is saying something – was the effect that she had on other people when I was with her; more specifically, the effect that she had on other men. I know it’s a cliché, but to my mind there’s nothing quite so attractive as a woman that can make other men jealous. A woman who can make other men envy you. A woman that can make other men’s jaws literally drop open. Such a woman was Dawn.
But while Dawn wore her sexuality like a great big glow-in-the-dark banner that read: “Oy! All of you men out there! Take a good look at this, take a good look at what could be yours, if you’re really, really, and I mean really, lucky!”, Marie had other things to offer. Prior to that historic night we had been working on a project together at GP for about three months. Of course, it had been obvious right from the start that she was interested in what she saw: I might not have admitted to noticing back then but all the signs were most certainly there. Marie seemed to treat me differently than anybody else on our team. She’d stand a lot closer to me than was really necessary, she’d search out my eyes when we spoke, give me long, deep meaningful stares, she’d over-react to my jokes and ask lots of questions about Dawn whenever she got the chance. At office parties I’d somehow always find myself sharing the same table with her. Marie was employed as a senior sub editor on the team that I was running and I suppose you could have claimed that she was only showing me the respect one is supposed to show one’s boss, but both of us knew that it was more than that. And I – subtly, I thought at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight not so subtly at all – actively encouraged her attentions.
Even though Marie was not the usual sort of girl that I went for, I found myself attracted to her. I don’t know if it was her intelligence that drew me to her – frankly, up until that point intelligence had been a perennial relegation struggler in my league table of female attributes that I found attractive – but I found myself thinking about Marie more and more. One night I even caught myself lying on top of Dawn and actually imagining that it was Marie I was having sex with, substituting Dawn and her mighty bosom for a woman who was a sort of cross between Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Olson. It was kind of ironic, really, because Dawn was the epitome of everything I thought a woman should be, her and that body of hers could have walked straight onto the pages of Penthouse magazine – and I probably wouldn’t have minded in the least: the thought of all those men uttering audible gasps over her gleaming torso as they did what they did would only have made her even more attractive to me.
Don’t imagine I haven’t thought about this over the years, because to be honest on more than one occasion I’ve found myself re-substituting Marie and her boyish chest and hollow backside with the awesome structure of the woman she replaced. It’s the old, old story I’m afraid: what really settled it more than anything was nothing but plain ego. The fact that this woman at work was obviously wetting her knickers at the very thought of little old me was too much to take: my irresistibility to her made her irresistible to me.
We kissed for the first time behind a pillar on the dance floor of some hall that GP had rented out for the party. Dawn had gone off to the toilets when Marie seized her chance. Of course, nowadays she denies this, claims that it was me who made the first move, but in any case, that was when it all began. Thereafter events took a hold on themselves: we arranged to meet somewhere quiet for an after work drink, upon which an hour or so of awkwardness steadily degenerated into the undignified spectacle of a boozy snogging session involving two people in their thirties in full view of everyone else in the pub. Next it was work excuses guilty delivered to Dawn and frantic fucking in the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, the hallway of Marie’s one-bedroomed flat in Clapham. I never thought it would happen, with me and the girl from Clapham, I used to sing to her.
Then, gradually over the months, without really being aware that it was occurring, the time we spent exchanging bodily fluids and the time we spent talking slowly began to even out. An attack of tenderness set in and we found our lovemaking cushioned by long and heavy planning sessions, in which we’d lay tangled together in bed with the radio on: smoking cigarettes and drinking wine and deciding how we’d like the future to pan out. These were my have my cake and eat it days, because on the evenings when I wasn’t shacking up with Marie I was invariably sharing my bed with Dawn. Naturally, I didn’t go out of my way to let Marie know that the person who had been granted access to every crevice, every nook and cranny of her body, was still finding time to have his wicked little way with Dawn whenever the fancy took him. Don’t get me wrong: by now I knew with every fibre of my being that Marie was the one that I wanted to be with; it’s just that this feeling had not yet reached the levels of intensity sufficient to encourage me to go through the awful procedure of breaking it off with Dawn. My desire to be with Marie wasn’t yet strong enough to put up with all the tears and the recriminations that were bound to ensue. And as for the sex? Well as far as Dawn was concerned we were still an item and it made sense to go along for the ride, so to speak, whenever she chose to put that body of hers through its paces. I was, after all, only a man; and I was, after all, nearly thirty-four-years-of-age by then and beginning to realise that sexual encounters with women who possessed such abundant physical perfection as Dawn ought to be taken advantage of while the going was still good.
Then one day our secret stopped being a secret, at least it stopped being a secret as far as Dawn and Marie were concerned. Naturally, rumours had been circulating around the office from day one: after all, an office affair is something which, by it’s very nature, is impossible to keep secret; in actual fact, Marie and I didn’t even manage the first kiss without being spotted by at least half a dozen pairs of eyes. In many ways it was a miracle that we’d gone on for so long. The end – or the beginning – came sometime around early spring 1993. It goes without saying that I’d had to endure one or two false alarms by then: having to explain away the smell of some other woman’s perfume on my clothing… having to somehow keep Marie’s careless(?) scratches away from the eyes of Dawn… the usual things, but there was really no way of explaining away the sight of Marie and I canoodling like a pair of teenagers at the table of an Italian restaurant one lunchtime after Dawn had called around to surprise me at work and had been cheerfully pointed in our general direction by a colleague who remains nameless to this day.
For the record I was wrong all along. There were no tears, there were no hysterics, Dawn didn’t get angry with me, there were no scenes. Dawn simply took one look at the two of us and laughed: she didn’t seem particularly annoyed or concerned that I was sitting there at that table with another woman. It took her no time at all to digest the facts and decide upon her reaction. I tend to think that more than anything Dawn’s pride was a little stung. The idea that I could abandon an amazon like her in favour of a pint-sized tomboy such as Marie seemed to immediately convince Dawn that there was something terminally deranged about me. It would be like replacing a Playstation II, complete with millions of colours and a DVD drive, with a whip and top. I’m sure she felt a little sorry for the strange little fluffy animal that I had suddenly become in her eyes and with the minimum of fuss she turned on her heel and quickly erased me from her life. The last I heard she was living with some actor who played a minor role in the movie Notting Hill.
The last I heard I’m lying in bed once again having another sleepless night recalling the mistakes of yesteryear. For some reason I find myself recreating the scene in Michael’s office the day before yesterday when Louise had paid him a visit and accused me of being Fred West. When had she done that? I don’t particularly remember her being away from her desk for any amount of time. There were the usual absences, of course: the visits to the latrine, the frequent and completely understandable re-applications of make-up, the coffee breaks. But never at any stage did I find myself looking at my watch wondering where Louise had disappeared to. So when exactly did she do it?
Tomorrow Michael Dean’s promised to take Louise or whoever it is that has complained about me out to lunch and try to talk some sense into that unnamed person. He reckons that a little smooth talking might be enough to make her admit that she’s been overreacting. Actually, I’m rather touched that he would do this for me at such a time of personal crisis for him. Maybe I’ve been reading him wrong all these years.
I hate nights like this: there are really fewer things more frustrating, more irritating, than lying in bed unable to sleep because your thoughts won’t let you. If there’s any consolation at all to be had from a day that really couldn’t get much worse, it’s the fact that my mother stayed away this evening. Maybe she’s finally getting the message.