Today's Reading

I hadn't been expecting it to happen last night, not at all. It hit me all the harder because of that. I'm someone who likes to plan things properly, prepare in advance and be organized. This came out of nowhere; it felt like a slap in the face, a punch to the gut, a burning.

I'd asked Billy to come to the concert with me, mainly because he was the youngest person in the office; for that reason, I assumed he'd enjoy the music. I heard the others teasing him about it when they thought I was out at lunch. I knew nothing about the concert, hadn't heard of any of the bands. I was going out of a sense of duty; I'd won the tickets in the charity raffle, and I knew people would ask about it in the office.

I had been drinking sour white wine, warm and tainted by the plastic glasses the pub made us drink from. What savages they must think us! Billy had insisted on buying it, to thank me for inviting him. There was no question of it being a date. The very notion was ridiculous.

The lights went down. Billy hadn't wanted to watch the other acts, but I was adamant. You never know if you'll be bearing witness as a new star emerges, never know who's going to walk onto the stage and set it alight. And then he did. I stared at him. He was light and heat. He blazed. Everything he came into contact with would be changed. I sat forward on my seat, edged closer. At last. I'd found him.

*

Now that fate had unfurled my future, I simply had to find out more about him; the singer, the answer. Before I tackled the horror that was the month-end accounts, I thought I'd have a quick look at a few sites—Argos, John Lewis—to see how much a computer would cost. I suppose I could have come into the office during the weekend and used one, but there was a high risk that someone else would be around and ask what I was doing. It's not like I'd be breaking any rules, but it's no one else's business, and I wouldn't want to have
to explain to Bob how I'd been working weekends and yet still hadn't managed to make a dent in the huge pile of invoices waiting to be processed. Plus, I could do other things at home at the same time, like cook a trial menu for our first dinner together. Mummy told me, years ago, that men go absolutely crazy for sausage rolls. The way to a man's heart, she said, is a homemade sausage roll, hot, flaky pastry, good quality meat. I haven't cooked anything except pasta for years. I've never made a sausage roll. I don't  suppose it's terribly difficult, though. It's only pastry and mechanically recovered meat.

I switched on the machine and entered my password, but the whole screen froze. I turned the computer off and on again, and this time it didn't even get as far as the password prompt. Annoying. I went to see Loretta, the office manager. She has over-inflated ideas of her own administrative abilities, and in her spare time makes hideous jewelry, which she then sells to idiots. I told her my computer wasn't working, and that I hadn't been able to get hold of Danny in IT.

"Danny left, Eleanor," she said, not looking up from her screen. "There's a new guy now. Raymond Gibbons? He started last month?" She said this as though I should have known. Still not looking up, she
wrote his full name and telephone extension on a Post-it note and handed it to me.

"Thank you so much, you've been extremely helpful as usual, Loretta," I said. It went over her head, of course.

I phoned the number but got his voice mail: "Hi, Raymond here, but also not here. Like Schrödinger's cat. Leave a message after the beep. Cheers."

I shook my head in disgust, and spoke slowly and clearly into the machine.

"Good morning, Mr. Gibbons. My name is Miss Oliphant and I am the finance clerk. My computer has stopped working and I would be most grateful if you could see your way to repairing it today. Should you
require any further details, you may reach me on extension five-three-five. Thank you most kindly."

I hoped that my clear, concise message might serve as an exemplar for him. I waited for ten minutes, tidying my desk, but he did not return my call. After two hours of paper filing and in the absence of any communication from Mr. Gibbons, I decided to take a very early lunch break. It had crossed my mind that I ought to ready myself physically for a potential meeting with the musician by making a few improvements. Should I make myself over from the inside out, or work from the outside in? I compiled a list in my head of
all of the appearance-related work which would need to be undertaken: hair (head and body), nails (toe and finger), eyebrows, cellulite, teeth, scars...all of these things needed to be updated, enhanced, improved. Eventually, I decided to start from the outside and work my way in—that's what often happens in nature, after all. The shedding of skin, rebirth. Animals, birds and insects can provide such useful insights. If I'm ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I'll think, "What would a ferret do?" or, "How would a salamander respond to this situation?" Invariably, I find the right answer.

I walked past Julie's Beauty Basket every day on my way to work. As luck would have it, they had a cancelation. It would take around twenty minutes, Kayla would be my therapist, and it would cost forty-five pounds. Forty-five! Still, I reminded myself as Kayla led me toward a room downstairs, he was worth it. Kayla, like the other employees, was wearing a white outfit resembling surgical scrubs and white clogs. I approved of this pseudo-medical apparel. We went into an uncomfortably small room, barely large enough to accommodate the bed, chair and side table.

"Now then," she said, "what you need to do is pop off your..." she paused and looked at my lower half "...erm, trousers, and your underwear, then pop up onto the couch. You can be naked from the waist down or, if you prefer, you can pop these on." She placed a small packet on the bed. "Cover yourself with the towel and I'll pop back in to see you in a couple of minutes. OK?"

I nodded. I hadn't anticipated quite so much popping.
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