Monday, December 14, 2009

Mistletoe and Wine 

“Tabs darling?” asks Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader.
“Yes, Stella babe?” replies Tabs.
“Can I ask you something, Tabs darling?”
“Course you can, Stella babe. What is it?”
“I was wondering… I’ve noticed, Tabs darling, that whenever you’re walking around the office, you’re always on your phone. Who are you talking to all that time, babe?”
“Oh. Well let’s see. Sometimes I’m on the phone to Terry, Stella babe. He’s my fiance and I love him loads mostly.”
“Aww, that’s nice. Did you hear that Terry?” Stella calls across the office. “She says she loves you loads mostly. What do you think of that?”
“Yeah. That’s great, that,” he mumbles without looking up from his electronics catalogue. It arrived fresh this morning, so it’s been micro-components all the way with Terry today.

“And who else do you speak to, Tabs darling?”
“Oh, you know. Sometimes my Mum. And my Dad as well. That sort of thing.”
“But you can’t be on the phone to them all the time, can you? Not all the time?”
“Well, Stella babe, it’s… It’s embarrassing. And a bit sad, actually. I don’t…” says Tabs.
“Tabs darling, what is it?”

They're both wearing elf costumes and Stella is platting Tabs’ hair. Bill Surname CEO has enlisted them for some Company X charity thing. Bill Surname himself is going to be Santa, after the fiasco last year with Neil, my former team leader. Stella examines her work, undoes it again, allows Tabs’ Rapunzelesque hair to tumble to her shoulders and down her back, then brushes once more. Girl smells and Christmas smells, hairspray and perfume, mulled wine and mince pies waft around the office. A heady concoction. All is quiet save for the hissing of hair straighteners.

“The truth, Stella babe, is most of the time I’m not talking to anyone. I’m just pretending. See, I said it was sad.”
“Oh baby, shush. No sad.” Stella begins platting again. “Not today. Not ever.” It looks like they're weaving a rope, as if they’re hatching an escape over the filing cabinets and out through the first floor window.
“I pretend so people think I can’t hear what they say about me,” Tabs says. “I hate it. I really hate it, Stella, you know? They think I’m on the phone and can’t hear them talking about my boobs.”
“Oh, Tabs darling,” Stella whispers. “Is that what this is about? Oh baby. You’ve got lovely tits. You have.”
“Do you really think so?” sniffs Tabs. “Not just saying that?”
“Honestly babe. Absolutely. If you weren’t with Motherboard Monthly over there, and you know, obviously, my friend Becky and everything, I’d totally be, like, yeah. When we were at high school I always hoped… Oh, I’m sorry. You’ve heard this all before. Sorry, babe, I'll stop.”
“That’s okay.”
“No, but I am sorry. I must really freak you out sometimes,” says Stella.
“Do I look freaked out?”
“No. No more than usual anyway. But honestly, Tabs darling, baby girl, don’t you ever let anybody get you down. Ever. Do you hear me? You’ve got beautiful tits.”
“Aww, thanks mate,” sniffs Tabs. Her voice breaks into a little laugh. “And so have you.”

An easy calm settles on the office. The clock ticks. A distant photocopier hums its lonesome song. Watercoolers glug while my colleague Terry tap tap taps at his keyboard, dreaming of Zigabits and graphics cards. The afternoon trickles along like leaky non-volatile RAM.

“Hey Tim,” Stella calls across the room, eventually breaking the tranquility. “Who’s got the nicest tits? Me or Tabs?”

I panic and reach for my headset, pretending not to have heard her, pretend to be on a conference call to Japan or somewhere, no, the States, it would still be morning in the States, knocking over my yoghurt in the process, rhubarb and ginger glooping into my lap in pornographic slow motion – this isn't just any rhubarb and ginger yoghurt, this is Marks and Spencer Rhubarb and Ginger Yoghurt, drizzled suggestively into the trousers of a half-witted systems administrator.

Outside my window the world is heavy with winter. I can see LEDs twinkling through the datacentre window and the reflection of Christmas tree lights down in reception.
Rex the Security Guard and Charlotte, Bill Surname's loyal PA, are putting the finishing touches to the Company X minibus, all done out like Santa's sleigh.
Poor Charlotte, it's been a difficult time for her, what with one disastrous bloody catastrophe after another, the bungling incompetence, the sheer blind panic of the year gone by, the night terrors, the sleeplessness, and now this: Bill Surname, the only man she has ever loved – if only he knew it! - says there must be laughter and joy in every children's ward and hospice tonight or she'll be for the fish tank, splish-splosh, and she's so utterly, completely drained, she doesn't know how she finds the strength to go on from one day to the next. She thinks that if she starts crying she might never stop.

The going home bell rings. I wipe down my crotch, switch off my PC and pop my head round the door to wish Santa's elves good luck.
Tabs is brushing Stella’s hair now. When they see me they stand to attention, sticking out their chests in a comical, exaggerated fashion, their four bosoms primed and pointed at me through their T-shirts like nuclear warheads. “Well, Tim?” they giggle. “Well?”
I reply that I’m very well thanks, just a little wistful occasionally with the inevitable this and that, but only now and then, nothing worth stressing over and nothing I haven’t come through before, better than it was, and I thank them for asking. I’m basically good, better than good in fact. Then I wish them luck, ask them to pass Santa my best regards and head out in the wrong direction to look for my train.

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