Friday, August 16

The Meeting/Crops

THE MEETING WAS on the twenty-sixth floor of the building, in a bucket of drywall and single glazing. The blinds, ruffled by whoever walked past, were hanging in disarray, unevenly, tangled. In the tilted light of whatever hour it was, dust could be seen upon the glass. I sat there, shaking very visibly among twelve other people. All of their eyes went here & there. Coffee; the taste of it in my mouth. I felt stale. Perhaps I would collapse any moment now. I was out of my depth. Outside of the window was a long drop holding the view steady like a folded napkin placed underneath an unstable table leg. As they talked, these people who fill my working hours, I was distracted to look outside. I could see the vast distant distance. From the hills of the City’s skyscrapers the land descended into the flats around the outskirts; no green—of any county—could be seen. The different shards of buildings faded in the summery haze, stretching out, onward and seemingly forever. To be on the twenty-sixth floor was making me giddy. ‘How much have we got in the comms rooms? N-plus-one?’ I was distracted. ‘No,’ I replied—‘No, just N in there. Dunno where we’re rising up yet but we’re gonna look at that after the meeting, if we can get the lift and head off the units … shouldn’t be a problem. We’re maintaining that at twenty-four. It’ll be fine.’ Then I was free to let my mind wander again. Across the window—at the height of my ribs—was a bar. ‘So,’ I thought—‘That’s to stop me falling out … How fast would I have to fun at that window for it to give way?’ I began to consider a plane crashing into the tower and whether or not I would choose to burn or to jump. I could not decide. I took a sip of water. My colleague next to me smelled of chocolate, a diet of which he somehow managed to sustain himself.
He came back from a loop of the office, past the meeting room where the interviewee was being interviewed—‘A bit too blonde,’ he told me. I checked her out for myself as there was nothing else to do. I saw only her blonde hair and, unimpressed, took my seat again. It wasn’t until she sat by me as a friend talked to me about a girl I was seeing at the time that I paid attention to her: to the long legs that, apparently, she struggled to maneuver at all times. Even then I paid her little mind as my girl at the time was tall and had limbs that astounded me. One day it happened, sneaking up on me as things sometimes do, and I found that she appealed to me for many right and wrong reasons. Slowly, day by day, it grew; her constant presence or … what? I could not be sure. We lunched together often, her childish ways interested and appalled me simultaneously and I wished to find out more.
After the meeting was over I went for a piss with the project-manager. We talked and once he had finished he stood next to me, conversing, while I held onto my penis. How uncomfortable I felt that he should see my penis. I supposed it didn’t matter, and wished him a good day. My chairman, colleague and I went out to survey the roof. The grass that had been planted up there was the greenest I had seen in months; most grass was dying or dead from lack of rain; the chlorophyll had been exhausted and a rich smell always came off the dry, prickling remains, a scent that reminded me most vividly of my youth and the football we played. The tall buildings arose around us like the stretched arms of children in a classroom, eager to answer questions. I saw life coming and going down below; I said playfully to my colleague—‘Let’s spit over the side!’ ‘Why, man?’ he gave me a smile. ‘I dunno!’ I said—‘But let’s get one of those bastards.’ (We didn’t spit.) Continuing with the survey, as our chairman walked up ahead, was a relief to feel the sun on my shoulders and to once, in this engorged capital, look around me and not see hurrying people but the weathered facades of buildings older than I.
Very quickly, at a time when I had no interest in other women, I put all of my infatuation into her. Bored with my life, I projected on to her and fell further and further for her as a result. We often went for walks at lunch. Sometimes we would sit in coffeeshops and talk and watch the people walking past in the cold sun of winter; those were my favourite times. I found out she had a boyfriend just before the work Christmas party. That evening I set about to destroy myself with drink. I did. I broke down, recovered myself, drank enough that I blacked out, threw up in the morning over and over and then had a hangover for two days. I wished to destroy myself because I was a fool! Things changed after that. I vowed to forget about her. We stopped going for lunch. After I had lost interest, I invited her out again. Those walks were a lot easier than they had been before.
The nights are drawing in as it gets closer to my birthday. Nervously I draw the blinds down in my room to block it out, ignore it; what had been bright and colourful before is now darker and cooler. I see the fields on my way to work as the crops become heavily pregnant. From one day to the next they fall. They are beheaded; their bodies shiver unsteadily for one more day, then they are felled, too. It is all one very big countdown to the end of summer. Across this huge field the fallen hay has been rolled into bales; there are hundreds of them, all facing the same direction, compassing the sun, the odd one coming undone; the farmer in his home eating dinner, the hay bales watching and waiting expectantly. All the remains is the bristle. I remember walking across one such field with my dog who lagged behind. ‘These stalks are poking into my belly,’ he told me—‘It’s a joke!’ So I walked over and picked him up and carried him the rest of the way. He licked my face.
After I met Helen, all other girls paled in comparison, including my colleague. I stopped going for walks with her altogether. Our friendship deteriorated as I withdrew completely, going for walks on my own. When she told me she was looking for another job, I was hoping she would get it, for her sake. When she got it, I was happy. Today she left. We didn’t say good-bye because I was out of the office. It is another mark in time, another crop felled. It is part of one very big countdown.

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