Thursday, February 12

Business Cards

NICK GORDON-ELLIS is towering over me as I am seated in the office. He has a large jaw, a body like a former rugby player and his blonde hair is swept back so that comb’s teeth can be seen in it. For all his efforts, he is much higher in the company than I, yet only a couple of years my senior. He finds as much relish in patronising me as I do in antagonising him and his foolish comments. He is asking me a question and my attention is elsewhere—‘I think you should come to the meeting. I think it’ll be good for you.’ A friend of mine, who had the good sense to leave the company, once told me that Nick Gordon-Ellis would sell his own grandmother to progress his career. Fervently he tries and tries to succeed, to better himself above his colleagues, to make his name top of the pile. At times, his idiosyncrasies would lure me in, tempt me to appreciate his mad ways, and then he would smite my affection a moment later with an utterly soulless comment.
My boss agrees—‘Yeah, it will. Go along… Listen… Explain things if need be, but I think it’ll be good for you.’
I don’t want to go to the meeting.
‘Dress smart,’ Nick says.
‘Yeah, dress smart.’
‘Suit. A tie.’
I do not tell them that wearing a suit and tie to the meeting would be quite impossible: my suit jacket has been splattered with vomit since late June, and the only tie I have is thin and black, so, without a jacket and only the tie, I will surely look like a bible salesman.
Between the two of them they talk, give their orders and leave, before I have a chance to object; but I am too exhausted to object so I let them have it. All evening I think of the meeting, how important it is, that I wear myself out and have embarrassing visions. What if I say something stupid and all eyes turn on me? My father will be at the meeting, too, though I have no special desire to impress him – so I wonder if that makes me a bad son. It must do! Honour thy mother and impress thy father! That is the fifth commandment unabridged! I am worried I will oversleep. My night is filled with nightmares and tedious dreams where I feel all of my time is wasted. When I wake up my girlfriend is standing over me. She is tall enough that her head touches the ceiling—‘Good-bye…’ She is certainly leaving me for there is a look of anger in her eyes again, so I must have angered her in my sleep. She kisses me very softly and leaves me with the cats. Both of them are beside me, their big eyes on my lifted skull. Pippa mews. Tim does his pigeon impression. There is time to lie in bed a little longer. I try to coax them under the cover with me. In the end, I descend and reawaken with Pippa sat firmly on my ribs, weighing air out of my chest.
I am so anxious that I hurry to work and do not thank the girl who serves me coffee. The day is drab. There are puddles of birdshit underlining the edges of balconies and the branches of trees (the spring diet is returning). A middle-aged man is stood against a black, spiked railing, his hands on the bottom of his young lover who is adoringly smiling and kissing his lips. Between the pair of them they are murmuring and amusing each other before they part ways for a day of separation and an evening of cheap erotic thrillers. It is not difficult to sneer when one passes such a grotesque display at eight a.m. on a February morning, though due to envy or revulsion one must wonder?
Nick was at his desk, busy with something of grave importance, when I arrived.
Not looking up—‘Do you know where this place is?’
‘Yeah… We’ll leave at twenty-to.’
‘That’ll give us enough time, will it? I don’t want us to turn up sweating and panting.’
‘It’s only round the corner. I won’t even have time to smoke a whole rollie.’
As we are leaving he makes no comment about my lack of a tie or jacket, so I am relieved. He tells me in the toilet to take some business cards.
‘Why the fuck would I do that?’ Only two people have my business card – one for each grandmother.
‘They’re letting agents. We can get work off them.’
‘Letting agents are cunts. Universally.’
‘Maybe but we can still get work off them.’
‘Nick, I’m not taking any fucking business cards.’
He is making polite though condescending small-talk with the receptionists as the lift door closes, and we make our way the four hundred yards – not quite a cigarette – to the meeting. He curtly addresses the security guard so that we might get our passes. I am perspiring heavily. My father turns up and shakes everyone’s hand. I go to shake his hand and he shuns me—‘I ain’t shaking your hand.’ The remark, for all its chuckle, cuts me to the bone. I hang my head, and then return my focus to the printer that is churning out our passes. My father is talking to the client as we make our way up in the lift. Nick is paying attention, listening in for an introduction. A beautiful, blonde thing with no eyebrows shows us to the meeting room, takes our coats (not mine) and offers us a drink (black without).
Gradually, the other gentlemen come in and we are introduced.
Maintain eye contact, I reassure myself.
A gentleman wearing a suit jacket, a black polo neck, dark jeans and a short beard enters. Immediately he strikes me. He talks loudly about a holiday from which he had just returned, having entertained a certain disaster and observed his friend being airlifted off the top of a mountain. He sports a skiing tan. Strangely, I find myself drawn to him, enamoured, almost in love with him! Who can he be? As the meeting sets off – and my coffee is delivered – I realise he is in charge of the marketing and the branding; his exhibition to the group is mutely regarded, but I believe it is exceptional and do everything in my power to not bellow it out. So keenly is my attention given to him that soon, as he talks, he returns my gaze tenfold and we are locked, eye to eye, and are planning our weekends in the Cotswolds through a series of morse code blinks. When he talks it is impassioned and I become drunk off of it. When he is not talking, I study his wedding ring and the wrinkles on his yellow hands.
During the introductions and the course of the meeting, Nick is surreptitiously handing out his business cards to those around the table, who nod him thanks, pull the card along the table, glance over its small text and reattach their attention elsewhere. He holds the business cards very carefully. He shuffles them straight. When he receives one, he studies it painstakingly, considers it, then puts it into his notepad. He is sure there is magic in those cards.
After the meeting is all over, people leave as slowly as they entered; making chat, assembling their things, tidying their spot, fiddling with their chair, discussing the next big job.
I watch Nick as he walks around the table and picks up his business cards that have been left there, abandoned and unwanted. He goes around and he picks them all up. He handles them deliberately, with his head full of frown and his eyes sharp, so that he might distribute them at the next meeting and the recipient will only think they are brand new.

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