Call-Me-Rick listens, nods, smiles, nods, listens. Holds up index finger for questions:
“And this was just before you met him?”
“So, you were together for how long?”
“And this was just before Vince left you?”
Tell him whole story. Call-Me-Rick nods, smiles, listens, nods. Must be bored. I’m bored and it’s my fucking story. Finish story. Call-Me-Rick says thanks, well done, can’t have been easy.
That it? No carpe diem? No YOLO?
Suggests I start diary before return to work. Tell him I have diary at work: deadlines, targets, meetings, deadlines. No, he says.
“I mean an emotions diary, Ian?”
Says every sentence like a question, even when it’s not a question. Does my head in.
“Fill it with your thoughts, your feelings? It might feel pointless at first, but a diary is like a garden? If you water it often enough, your garden will bloom?”
Christ. Never even had a window box. Killed azalea Vince brought home just by looking at it.
Sunday night, start diary. Tell diary feelings. Dear diary, feel shit. Still feel shit. When do I stop feeling shit? Close diary. Feel shit.
Monday morning, back to work. Irene on reception: smiles, nods, lovely morning, etc. Probably wetting herself trying not to say anything that might set me off. Says Bossman would like to see me.
Take lift to tenth floor. Bossman says good to have me back, remember, door always open. Accompanies me to door. Closes door.
Take lift to fourth floor. Office already full. Everyone’s got ringside seat and popcorn for return of THE NUTTER.
At my desk: while computer’s powering up, aware of multi-eyed monster. Look up. Multi-eyed monster suddenly engaged in photocopying, franking, typing, reading letters, reading e-mails, reading photocopier manual. Reading anyfuckingthing to avoid making eye contact with THE NUTTER.
Work through three month backlog of e-mails.
Drinks on Friday, anyone? The leek in the toilet is now fixed. It wasn’t a leek, it was a stick of celery LOL. Good luck in the new job, Vicky, leave the escape hatch open, LOL. Drinks on Monday anyone?
Lots of important issues raised by Steve Finn:
Anyone seen my earphones? Anyone got any brown sauce? What do you call a prostitute with no nose? Drinks on Wednesday anyone?
Finish getting through nearly 800 emails. Not one worth saving.
Check time. Only half past nine.
Laura comes over. Christ, must be ready to pop any day.
“Yeah, thanks, Laura. No, fine, really. Yeah, I know.”
Time great healer, day at a time, all that. Change subject. Any subject.
Point at bump.
“So, when are you due?”
She looks at me, death stare.
Point at bump, smile.
Point at bump again, smile.
“The – ”
“Ah. Sorry, Laura. I mean, I just thought. Jesus, Laura, I’m sorry.”
Shoots me gates-of-hell look. Know she’d like to call me slimy knobhead, but won’t because you can’t call THE NUTTER slimy knobhead, even if he is. Lumbers back to her desk. Thing is, extra weight really suits her. Can’t tell her that, of course. Not now. Plan: give it few days, get her some chocolates. Not chocolates. Flowers. Get her some flowers.
Ten past three. Personal best: six hours without blubbing. Held off facing kitchen until post-lunch all-clear, but still timed it wrong. Steve Finn retrieving salmon pie he’s killed in microwave. Telling newby about nutter who trashed kitchen. Turns round, sees me, does screeching u-turn into post mortem on last night’s match. Soft penalty, bloody ref, daylight robbery.
Search for yoghurt in fridge. Feel newbystare burning into back. Barely out of kitchen, catch Steve’s stage whisper: “Aye, that’s him.”
Stop by Darren’s desk, tell him about Laura fiasco. Nearly chokes on his orange juice, snorting it down his nose. “When are you due?” he repeats, then repeats again. Calls me a muppet. Have to laugh. Still laughing, look up, Laura’s eyes scorching across the office at me.
Way home, nip into Sainsbury’s. Get fabric softener, salt, clingfilm, red wine, ready meal. Girl at checkout: “Hello stranger!” Give her Nectar card. “Where’ve you been hiding, then?“ Consider truth, then bottle it.
“Had a little break”.
“All right for some.” Somewhere nice?
Ooh, get you!. Your wee pal not with you tonight?
Get home. Unload shopping. Look at clingfilm, salt, fabric softener, wine. Consider culinary options. Left ready meal at checkout after sharp exit, blubbing. Consider phoning for curry, but last time was with Vince. Not ready for that, yet. Not hungry anyway. Consider tackling suitcase. Not ready for that, yet.
Get through days. Get on with work. Everyone thinks THE NUTTER is back to normal, life goes on. Tell diary life not going on, opposite of life going on.
Find way to deal with it. Great medicine called red wine. Funny thing: month in hospital and red wine not once recommended. Funny thing: red wine makes all things better. Not funny thing: After-red-wine, not making things better. Making things headachey and vomity.
Empty suitcase, eventually. Two bottle of wine job. Find tickets for Tivoli Gardens. Open another bottle.
Call-Me-Rick says this is progress. Suitcase bit, not wine bit. Kept that from him. Might see it as setback.
“Clearing out your life is very cathartic? It’ll give you closure?”
Call-Me-Rick likes closure. Loves closure. Wants to have closure’s babies.
Asks about Vince. When did he start to go off me? Doesn’t put it that way, but that’s what he means.
Tell him about Copenhagen. Started calling me clingy, possessive. Big row in Tivoli Gardens, but afterwards we were good. Thought we were good. Dumped me day after we got back from Copenhagen.
Laura says, “Are you putting on weight?” Sarcasm, apparently. “Maybe you should cut back on the yoghurt.”
Think back three months. Yoghurt that set me off. Opened fridge in staff kitchen, made connection with Vince and his toffee yoghurt fetish. Cue Spanish fury. Milk, yoghurts, French cheese splattered across floor, walls, windows, ceiling. Dairy disaster area. Then, toaster upended, kettle, microwave, tables, chairs, Caution: Wet Floor sign.
Darren says lucky kitchen empty, otherwise up for manslaughter. Points out bright side: first time staff fridge cleared out since Neolithic period. Asks how things are. Tell him things fine. Tell diary things not fine. Things unfine. Tell diary everything.
Bossman calls me in for appraisal. Targets exceeded, five-star performer, key player, lynchpin, etc. Says must be six months now? How are things? Yeah, fine. Everything fine. Says remember, door always open, merry Christmas. Closes door.
Check emails. Message to all staff from Steve Finn:
The cool kids are going to the pub at 5pm in order to get drunk enough to tolerate the bossman at tonight’s party. All welcome (apart from The Nutter, obviously).
Go to kitchen, make sandwich. Flustered Steve Finn follows.
“Listen, mate, I’m sorry. I meant to press Reply All instead of… I mean I meant not to press… I mean…”
Know what he means. Take step towards him, still holding bread knife. Air sucked from room. Outside, sky turns black, traffic noises stilled.
Extend free hand to Steve. Steve looks in horror at open hand of friendship. Steve thinks mental illness contagious, contact disease. Would prefer stab wound from bread knife to hand of friendship from THE NUTTER. Attempts fist-bump, sharp exit, but I’m not having that. Grab hand, hold hand, shake hand, make sure he gets good and contaminated with mental illness.
Door swings open. Bossman pauses, observes touching tableau of reconciliation. This unheard of. Bossman never descends to fourth floor. Bossman sends emails to fourth floor, or personal flunkeys to attach notices to un-noticed board. Bossman on fourth floor. This moment of history.
“Steve. My office. Now.”
Darren says Steve on probation. One wrong move and he’s relocated to Siberian branch. Asks what I’m doing for Christmas.
Dreading Christmas is what I’m doing for Christmas. Darren says come round to his place.
Christmas at Darren’s a disaster. Turkey half cooked, so end up with Chinese. Wine flows, rubbish telly. Make pass at Darren. Darren says stop it, you daft beggar. Try again. Grabs my hand.
“Ian, I said, don’t.”
Phone for taxi. Darren says no need, no hard feelings. Only Fools and Horses coming on in a minute.
No. Tell him prefer to be on own.
Lights on in flat. Left on hoping would make the place seem less empty. Doesn’t. Just shines light on emptiness and lack of Christmas card from Vince.
Go online. Search for Vince’s profile. This profile no longer exists. Browse through other profiles.
Jerry in North Carolina: hey guys, just seeing what’s up and who’s on. Looking to make some good friends on here. Love cook-outs, sailing on the river, anything fun.
Kris in West Virginia: just a simple soul searching for fun and a simple soul-mate. HIV- negative as of 10/2012.
Happy couple in Salford: looking for fun and theme park rides.
Switch off computer. Open bottle.
Message from Darren on answering machine. Garbled apology, Darren not garbled. Tape garbled. Turn tape over. Press record button, record new message. Bloody thing not recording. Playing. Message from Vince, day after we first met.
“Hey Ian, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed last night. It was –“
And it was. It really was.
“Don’t want to jinx things, but I have a good feeling about this.”
Voice sounds happy.
Was supposed to be blind date. Not so blind. Turned out we knew each other from standing at opposite ends of the bar for three years. Got chatting, got on well. Bloody quiz drowning out conversation. Vince’s long look:
“It’s better back at mine.
And it was. It really was.
Switch off tape. Make decision
2nd January, back to work. Pass Darren’s desk.
“You okay, Ian? I came round a few times, but you were out.”
Power up computer. One e-mail, from Call-Me-Prick.
Hey Ian, hope things are good? I called a few times, but I guess you were away for the holidays?
Set up new e-mail to All Staff. Paste in diary entries from memory stick. Not whole diary. Edited highlights:
Bossman’s door always closed, fat-not-pregnant Laura, slimy knobhead Steve, hand of friendship, red wine, black sky, Tivoli, turkey, yoghurt, Call-Me-Prick, no-commitment-Vince. And Darren: the loyal friend, the good mate, the dumb fucker who doesn’t recognise a NUTTER when he sees one.
Press Send. Wait.
Small gasps, then giggles, then yelps of laughter from finance team. Soon, whole office in uproar. Steve pretending to laugh. Laura not laughing.
Darren at my desk. “Ian, come on, let’s go grab a coffee, eh?”
Imagine Bossman on his way down, taking stairs two at a time.
Open email from Call-Me-Prick. Compose reply.
Things are good. Just watered my garden. Watching it bloom.
James Carson is a writer from Glasgow. He was born next to an abattoir, which may account for a lifetime butchering the English language. His short stories have been published by a number of magazines, including From Glasgow to Saturn and Fractured West. In addition, his writing has been selected for anthologies, including A Sense of Place, Glasgow Tales and Tip Tap Flat. James now lives next to a brewery, which may account for his cavalier approach to punctuation.