Sunday, February 21

Moment in the Meeting

THE BAD NEWS was delivered to my right ear by a friendly colleague. In fact, so quiet was the messenger that even with my proficient hearing and no more than ten inches between us I had to bend closer to catch his words. At first he leaned on my desk – a single desk, away from the others, facing a window and a variety of rooftops, weathervanes and seagull nests – causing it to wobble, as I had become used to. ‘Fuckin ell, this desk wobbles!’ ‘It’s fuckin shite,’ I said. Then he began speaking of the private matter, lowering his voice to a baritone whisper. He is not a man acclimated to talking quietly, being both tall and heavily built, but this news was of grave importance. I bent closer, rotating my head so that my ear faced his mouth and my eyes were out toward the variety of rooftops.
I was not having a particularly bad day. It was Friday, yesterday – although two days ago, gone midnight as it is now – and I was heading north to my parents’ in the evening. There was a lot of work to do, some of it I had wormed out of – ‘I’ll get it done first thin Mondy’ – and others I had signed up to. My colleague had interrupted me listening to some pop-punk from the mid-noughties; songs that, invariably, conjured up memories of my third year at university when I spent too much time high, lost a load of weight and wanted to fuck my landlady. He waited as I paused the song and removed the headphones from my ears; during which time he pulled up an unoccupied chair and leaned against my wobbly desk.
‘Bad news. You ain’t gonna like this.’
I bent closer.
He said her name. It is a wonderful name. I have never known someone with that name before, and doubt I will ever encounter it again; it is framed in my consciousness. I know her. Quite how he said her name is unimportant, other than I knew that he, too, respected her aesthetics as much as I; my fellow aesthete.
‘She’s pregnant.’
I said—‘Pardon?’ but in such a manner that he knew I had heard perfectly and did not repeat it.
‘Yeah,’ he said.
‘How’d you know?’
‘Y—a said so today, in the associates’ meeting.’
‘Fuck.’
‘Yeah.’
I sighed—‘She’s broke a lot of hearts.’
That was the first time anything like that has happened to me, such is my inexperience or perhaps my age: that an object of affection should fall pregnant. Before, it seemed not impossible but distant, futuristic, almost inconceivable. Yes, the pink purses they carry around are purposeful but the intention will not be there for years. I don’t know her age, nor her partner. Ah, her partner! As well as the soil of sadness overcoming me, I imagined, for whatever reason, her partner’s ejaculate, spurting in arcing shots, against her interior. She was absent from work. I turned, not even finding her but resorting to sad music, quivering as my mind struggled to organise its thoughts. I spoke to my friend—‘It’s over. Put pennies on my eyes. Send me out to sea.’ I took my seat again. Changing the music made the day feel a trifle longer, if a little easier. Recently she and I had been exchanging glances that I thought – obviously quite inaccurately – were furthering us. On Monday she led a meeting and all the men in the room began to ask her questions that, aside from being dull, were drawled out most slowly, I smiled at her and she smiled at me, over & over. At one point, when no-one was looking, she poked her tongue out at me. It made my day. For the rest of the day I thought of this moment in the meeting. After I had paid attention, I slouched in my chair and drank my pot of coffee. Whenever she spoke, I paid the utmost attention, looking into her eyes; her eyes the most miraculous bulbs in the universe. The other men asked questions. I smirked at their stupidity, I suppose, but it was all amusing to me; yet, at the same time, I was enamoured to be in the same meeting as her, so awful are meetings usually.
About four months after she broke up with me, my ex said that she could imagine having children with the new gentleman she had met. Few things have ever cut me down as much as reading that. As I went northeast on the intercity train on Friday evening, I thought of her saying that sentence and how my heart had hurt so much I thought I might die in the street.
That is my age now, you say. I am thirty. I have told the chairman of my company that I have no ambition because it is true. I go nowhere. This is a new phase, a phase I confront unwillingly and with a sword in my weaker hand. This is the first time I have experienced such a shift, such a swing toward middle-age in a long time, a landmark in my life. Not only am I aging but most unkindly. I wish to hold on to something for buoyancy but they are beyond my grasp. Resentfully I give up. Over the past six months I have given up on a great deal, what is one more thing?
Now, at ten-to-three on Sunday morning, I think of her pregnancy walking around the office; her torso swollen; her breasts, too. Unchanged will be her eyes and her hands, frozen and stiff, thin, slender, hovering over the left-button, waiting to pounce; such are those things that will remain. Those will bring me pleasure and nothing more.

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