Smack – Chapter 37

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Friday: 7.04 p.m. After we spend a quiet day together alone, I inform Marie that I’ve arranged to go into town for a drink with Dave from accounts and meet Louise, as agreed, in the Ship. Louise is already there when I arrive. She is sitting at a table pretending to read an Evening Standard; it looks as though she put a lot of effort into our date: her face is layered in make-up, she is wearing blue eye-shadow, her mouth smeared with glossy crimson lipstick. Nil pointes for presentation, however, I’m afraid. It will take more than just a lick of paint to cover up the flaws in this particular model: major surgery would be more appropriate.

I look around and notice one or two people from GP milling around the bar and quickly suggest that the two of us relocate elsewhere, which Louise seems happy to do. Either she’s a little embarrassed that we might be seen together, too, or she’s hoping for some privacy so that we can declare our undying love for each other or I can snog her or whatever else she thinks is on the menu. We walk along Wardour Street awkwardly together, keeping our distance, and end up in the Dog House, an establishment which has the advantage of a dark and gloomy basement bar, in which I will be able to spare myself and any innocent bystanders the unpleasant spectacle of Louise’s Medusa-like features.

It begins slowly: we make small talk for the first half an hour or so; Louise asks me if I’m feeling any better about losing my job, I lie and tell her that I’m glad they did it. We sit facing each other at a table and go through the motions. I light the first of several cigarettes and order a round of drinks. Then, as the alcohol begins to kick it in, we get down to the nitty gritty:

Louise tells me how much she enjoyed the other night, although she feels a little guilty about it because it’s not the sort of thing that she normally does. I tell her that it’s not the sort of thing that I normally do, either; I fail to mention how much I enjoyed waking up in her bed, which does not go unnoticed. After drink number two I point myself in the direction of the toilets and when I return I see that Louise has re-positioned her chair, so that when I retake my seat we are now sitting thigh to thigh. Another half-an-hour goes by and this enforced closeness begins to loosen Louise’s inhibitions. By the time that we have finished our third drink Louise is looking decidedly more relaxed, as if the tricky manoeuvre of getting over the awkward business of that first meeting with the other half of your recent one-night stand has been successfully negotiated.

By nine o’clock the Dog House has started to fill up and someone has put some music on, which makes talking a little more difficult. I hide in the shadows, hoping that nobody I know will appear to witness my illicit liaison with the lovely Louise. If my heart was really in it, now we be just about the right time to start the hand holding and the thigh clutching; in two or three drinks time the snogging that I mentioned earlier would be due to put in an appearance. But I’m not following correct procedures: Louise realises this and attempts to compensate by reaching over to me and gently kissing me on the cheek. I shake off my revulsion and say: “What was that for?”

“Oh… you know…” she smiles shyly. “I just felt like doing it…”

In an ideal world it is at this point that I should be now sitting up straight, pulling myself away from Louise and looking at her firmly between the eyes and saying something like: “Ah… Louise… I’m sorry… but…”

But I can’t do this. My hands are tied. I can’t afford to risk rejecting Louise; I have to seek out another conclusion to this scenario. Marie and I spent a lovely day alone together yesterday, the best that we have had for years and years; we lolled in bed together until gone mid-day like we had just met for the first time and I have no intention of letting Louise spoil things by ringing Marie up and telling her about the birth mark on my left buttock. No… the rapids that lie in wait me further upstream will require the use of a steady rowing arm.

However, as I have already proven in the morning room of Carol’s rich and famous father, I am no actor. Louise realises this immediately, even though I manage to overcome my instinctive urge to get up and run when she places her lips on my cheek a second time. She says: “What’s wrong?”

And I say: “Nothing…”

And she says: “Are you sure?”

“Yeah… it’s just feels… well… a little strange for you to be doing that, that’s all.”

Louise grins happily to herself. “Yes… it’s strange for me, too,” she agrees.

“I mean… it wasn’t so long ago that you we’re telling me that I was the most objectionable person on earth and that I should go and see a psychiatrist.”

Louise flinches a little, she looks embarrassed.

“Yes… I’m sorry about that… I was just… a little angry with you…”

I light up another cigarette so that I can do something with my hands. “Why?” I ask.

“Well… we already talked about it that night.”

“Did we?”

“Yes – don’t you remember?”

I shake my head: “No I don’t.”

Louise seems slightly unnerved by this comment: she’s evidently wondering what else I don’t remember about that night.

“You know…” she says. “You started to get all dictatorial on the project. Everybody was really pissed off about it…”

The penny drops. “But I’ve already told you,” I assert. “I was only doing that to keep everyone on their toes because of the rumours about job cuts and everything…”

“Well never mind,” she says suddenly holding my hand in her own and smiling. “It’s all forgotten about now… I’m sorry I was so nasty to you.”

Then, just as I’m thinking of an excuse to free my hand from Louise’s grasp, maybe another trip to the toilet or the bar or something, Louise moves even closer to me and whispers: “… and anyway… I’d never have gone through with it…”

Never have gone through with what?

“Never have gone through with what?

“You know…” she continues.

“No… I don’t know…”

“You know… the… um… Michael Dean business…”

“The Michael Dean business?”

She lowers her voice so that I can scarcely hear her: “Yes… you know… the…the sexual harassment thing…”

I feel an electric shock run through my body. My face whitens and I glare angrily over at Louise.

“You mean it was you!” I exclaim.

Louise pauses for a moment before answering:. “Well… um… yes… I thought we’d already been through this… you know… when we were sitting in that booth in Browns that night…”

“Browns?”

“You know; the club that we went to after your leaving do…”

“No I do not remember talking about it… you mean it was you all along? …I knew it!”

“But I wouldn’t have gone through with it… you know that, don’t you?”

If Louise was a man I’d be smacking her in her big ugly mouth right now; as it is it’s all I can do to prevent myself from reaching out and twisting her mangled head from her shoulders.

She fills me in on the missing background information: It had apparently all started the day after Sarah from Personnel’s leaving do when Michael Dean had called Louise down into his office and asked if the idea of promotion appealed to her. Initially, Louise had had her reservations about doing it but Michael had been so charming, so persuasive, that when she thought about it, it didn’t seem like such an awful thing to be doing. She was pissed off with me at the time walking around the project like I was god so it seemed like a good way of clipping my wings a little. Nothing, Michael Dean had assured her, would ever happen about it. All she had to do was put in a complaint about me and I’d shuffle off into the sunset with my tail between my legs. He’d transfer my services to another project, he told her, leaving her to take control and earn herself a hefty little pay rise in the process. Everyone would be happy.

But didn’t you think that maybe he was doing this for a reason? I ask her. Didn’t you think that perhaps he wasn’t telling you the whole of the truth? Did you really believe that he’d convince you to accuse me of sexual harassment and then not use this loaded gun when the time was right? Are you really that stupid?

Louise flinches again at my last comment. For a moment I think that she is going to cry. “But… but…” she repeats. “I’d never have gone through with it…”

“You wouldn’t have fucking had to!”

“I’m sorry…”

“You’re sorry! Well that makes me feel a lot better… I’ve just lost my fucking job because of you!”

Now it’s my turn to fill Louise in on a little of the missing background information: I tell her about my phone call with Mary Bridges from personnel, about how Louise’s lies may just have happened to have cost me twenty-four fucking grand. About how Mary threatened to provide witnesses and evidence if I tried to fight this gross injustice. Then Louise really does start to cry. A young couple sitting at a nearby table peer over at us anxiously. In the background the robotic drum beat of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ starts up.

In the midst of all her whimpering Louise says: “Yes… sniff… I know… she told me that I’d lose my job if I tried to retract the accusation…”

“And just how exactly did Mary Bridges find out about this alleged rape?” I ask.

“I think Dave Bennett from accounts told her.”

“What!”

Dave from accounts? Dave from accounts? What is Louise talking about?

“Well… people are saying that he got an official reprimand for something or other and told her then.”

“What do you mean ‘people’?”

“Well… everybody …”

“You mean the whole office?”

“Yes… sob… I’m so sorry…”

I cast my eyes over at the blubbering form of Louise, this woman whom I had sexual congress with only a week ago. Her tears cut though her make-up like cracks in plaster, her nose is running, her eyes swollen up like a boxer’s after a twelve-round fight. And as I do so I suddenly have a moment of divine revelation, of pure equanimity of thought, of a sense that maybe the world is not really such an unjust place, after all; that what goes around comes around, that for every negative there is a positive. And I can hardly stop myself from smiling, something which would be an entirely inappropriate thing to be doing if I’m to pull off what I intend to do next:

“Well that’s it…” I say dismissively. “If you think I’m going to see you again you’ve got another thing coming.”

“What?” says Louise.

“There’s me thinking that you and I had something together and all the time you’re plotting behind my back… what sort of a person are you?”

“But… but… I didn’t mean to get you into trouble… I didn’t think that anything like this would happen…”

“You didn’t mean to get me into trouble? You know, Louise… it’s you who ought to go and see a psychiatrist… I think you’re off your rocker…”

“But…”

“I think you’re dangerously stupid… Just what did you hope to achieve by all this?”

Louise looks up at me from her seat. It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for her. I have a feeling that our rendezvous is not going quite so well as she anticipated. For a moment I even have to fight off an urge to reach over and give her a consolatory hug.

“But John…” she sniffs. “I thought that…”

“You thought what?”

“I thought that… we liked each other…”

“Yeah… I did too… but evidently I must have misjudged you… I don’t think that what you’ve done is exactly the best basis on which to build a relationship – do you?”

“Oh… John…”

“I mean… what are you going to do for your next trick… accuse me of stealing your underwear?”

“John…”

“No… that’s it, I’m afraid…there’s no point in carrying on with things if I just can’t trust you…”

 

 

 

Louise is still sobbing when we leave the Dog House. I walk alongside her in the street indignant, angrily refusing to allow her to come within two feet of me. In truth, I’m not very comfortable at inflicting such misery on her; even Louise does not deserve to be treated in this manner. Silently, however, I’m thanking god, I’m converting to Catholicism, I’m offering up my allegiance to whatever supernatural deity it was that allowed me to escape from this potential disaster with such flamboyant ease. I had been expecting the Louise situation to linger around for months on end like an old sore; and here we are now, three-and-a-half hours later, me looking all injured and hurt, Louise fighting back tears of guilt. In terms of how to dump a woman whom you’ve just had a one-night stand with, this is actually as close to perfection as one can get.

I leave Louise at Tottenham Court Road tube station, telling her that when I’ve had chance to calm down I might call her some time and we can do lunch. I’ve added the last comment in order to give Louise a little hope to cling to, so that she will not risk burning her bridges entirely by calling Marie, not that I think she’s likely to do that any more after destroying my career in the way that she has. I climb into a cab and even though I’m aware that everybody at GP now believes me to be a sex offender, I find myself whistling contentedly during the journey home. I give the driver a large tip and arrive back at the house just before eleven. Marie seems pleasantly surprised by my appearance: I really have turned over a new leaf – I’ve just been out drinking with Dave from accounts (Dave from accounts… I’m going to be having a word with that little bastard) and managed to make it back before pub closing. What a good boy I am.

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