On a small day in August, on an island this side of the sun, a very unusual thing happened. A man stirred to wake. This wasn’t unusual. And as was usual, the man, who worked in what many felt was a glamorous profession, reached to touch himself in a reassuring and enjoyable manner, making the most of the misty dream state that many men find themselves in each new morning.
And in the fog that floats between dream and consciousness, the man started to think back to the previous night when he had enjoyed a teasing encounter with an indisputably attractive, and rather more powerful woman from several floors above his own revered position.
It had gone remarkably well. They had attended the opening of the exclusive Café Gogol, and he’d felt sure that she’d noticed his impressive connections. The place had been packed with worth and renown, and it would have been difficult to keep his focus on her if he hadn’t been transfixed by her beauty. It was hard to pick her best feature. She had so many. Perhaps he was most captured by her nose, which isn’t to say that the man was fixated. A nose is a nose, but something about the way the tip bounced and dipped as she spoke stirred curious desires in the man, and this was the fuel of his waking reverie.
They had kissed — she, a sweet mix of fruit and tobacco. And yes, her hand had been here, he told himself as he sought to regain the thrill of the moment. It had been brief, but as she pulled away feigning modesty, her teasing smile had said they’d become better acquainted tomorrow.
And as he thought about what was going to pass, the man slowly became aware that something was wrong, for his hand held nothing but its own caress.
This didn’t shock him. In his semi-consciousness he was ready to believe that a dream had taken him to a place where he could experience what a woman feels. And this excited him more, for a dream is no less real when recognized. He started to smile — not enough to break the dream — and began the search for that which contains the greater thrill.
This is when he opened his eyes. He had found nothing. No illicit excitement, fold, or fun. His hand, now cupped, was resting on a smooth nothing. He moved his hand up and down, and round and round — he’d been shown more than once. Nothing. Some dream, he thought, and with my eyes open, too.
But no one dreams with open eyes, not dreams they can believe.
In the shower, the man tried every trick he knew to shake this strange fug. Hot water, cold, pumice and sponge were all employed in an attempt to restore himself, but the unrelieved mound remained devoid of pride or joy. Maybe that’s it, thought the man. This is a karmic punishment for being so adept at spreading delight. Yes, I take too much pride in the pleasure I give. O vain self, cut down for standing above the rest — a cruel and unusual fate. But, no, this is too much, and it’s plainly not possible.
The man dried and dressed in record time, as there was less to consider and pack, and was out the door as his bus departed the stop.
Never mind, thought the man, a brisk walk is probably what is required to get the blood pumping to the vital organs, and he started down the hill that led to the biggest city in the land, where he held his enviable position.
As he gained confidence he lengthened his stride, and noticed that the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and not vice versa. The strange fog was clearing, too. Maybe things would right themselves once he’d calmed down? He was a bit drunk last night, and what with the excitement of pursuit…
So he whistled as he strolled, nodding to some, ignoring whom he should — what a good thing they couldn’t know his shameful condition. But wait. What if they could tell? After all, a man has a very different walk from a woman. Surely the different amble is due to the possession of the equipment that had deserted his poor diminished self? What if he was walking like a girl?!
The man looked around. No one was watching him. No one was smirking, or recoiling in disgust. Reassured, he adopted an exaggerated gait and strode on. However, anyone who observed the man on this foggy morning couldn’t help but notice there was something more than a little odd about his strides.
Was the man a flake? No, he was a valued member of society. When the company had closed his small city branch, the man took a drop in status and pay in order to secure a position at head office. It hurt his esteem, but he had recently begun to feel the respect and jealousy his position deserved. He was a complete man — a little below where he belonged, but things would change. His proposal of dinner to ‘the catch’ of management had shown everyone that he was someone to be considered, a man on the rise — who now felt rather deflated.
The frustration niggled, and he responded by grabbing at himself, twisting and pinching, hoping to restore through punishment. He shouldn’t have been so distracted, for he failed to notice a policeman watching our respectable citizen abuse himself.
Oh dear. What have we here? wondered the policeman. A decent looking man behaving in an indecent manner. What a perplexing paradox, and on such a pleasant morning, too. What is wrong with the world? This may require my persuasion.
So the policeman strode manfully up to our transgressor with his hand discreetly wrapped around his truncheon. This is all I need, thought the man. But, maybe… no, he will think me mad.
“Is there something I can help you with, officer?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“Really? Yes, well, no. You see, I was just on my way to work, and… a bee, yes… a very persistent bee started to harass me, and I was just…”
“I see no bee, sir.”
“Hurrah, you must’ve scared it away. Wonderful. Who says you’re never around when you’re needed? I shall give the next person who says such a thing a good telling off. In fact, I shall write to my Member and say that it’s police on the beat who make all the difference, and shouldn’t we have some more? Yes. And what about bonuses for especially effective officers such as yourself? Incentivize, and all that. But I’m late for work, so I shall thank you, and press on. Good morning.”
With that, the man turned and hurried to join a stream of respectable people. The policeman, however, was not so easily put off, and he followed the man at a covert distance. This took great skill, as a bright blue uniform is plainly overt. But the pursuit was a short one, for as soon as the policeman saw where the man worked, he turned from the task, reassured that such an upstanding individual didn’t deserve his attention. Better to check on that bee, it could be up to more mischief.
The man felt a shimmer of relief as he approached the sweeping glass curves of his workplace — it seemed to reflect far more sky than any of the surrounding mirrored constructions. And, after all the kafuffle, he was only marginally late.
Once through the sliding doors, he stopped to gather himself. Whatever his personal state, he always left his woes at the door. Stairs or lift? He chose the stairs, so as not to appear lazy. But what was that, six floors up the chrome stairway that rose the full seven floors of the atrium? No, it was preposterous, insane. But yes, he recognised it clearly, even from this distance. His errant part was walking around senior management.
The man forgot his calm resolve, larruping up the stairs three at a time. With the aid of panic he cornered his quarry and made unintelligible accusations between pants.
“Hoi, you… yes, you… I’m talking to you, sir… what do you think you’re…” spluttered the man as his part coolly turned to regard him. The man struggled to regain his breath, and his quarry, having far more important things to do than be ranted at by someone from the lower floors, swiped himself into offices where the man couldn’t follow.
This infuriated him. It was bad enough that his appendage had detached itself, but it had somehow acquired a position that the man couldn’t reach without several promotions. And to top it off, the traitorous extremity was dressed in a suit that would cost the man several weeks’ salary. His frustration was immense. What could he do? Pursuit was impossible, and the legitimate inhabitants of the sixth floor were starting to look at him askance. Best to retreat before I’m recognized, surmised the man as he went down the stairs with his tail not quite between his legs.
The rest of the morning passed without incident. The man pushed paper, forwarded amusing e-mail, and wondered how long he should wait before calling the woman. Too soon is too keen, and too late is as it states, so there is a delicate balance to be struck. The man decided that coffee was required, if not deserved, so he stepped away from his concerns and headed for the atrium.
As it wasn’t quite ten o’clock, the man was assured of missing the gaggle of executive personal assistants who usually crowded the dinky coffee cart ordering trays of fluffy coffees, and got their loyalty cards pedantically stamped. Yes, it was their boss’s refusal to drink the inferior cafeteria brew that had brought this elite service into the building, but he couldn’t help feeling that a typing dolly — while pleasant to look at — should give way to a suit such as himself. Sure enough, there were only two people at the ‘Espresso Yourself!’ cart, but they were the two he least wanted to encounter, let alone see together.
The man couldn’t believe it, and had to steady himself. His wayward endowment was taunting him. The cheek. And the woman, who for reasons of propriety shall remain unnamed, seemed to be acting in a distressingly familiar manner.
The man was livid, but torn. To confront would confirm, and this was not desirable in front of the woman. The conundrum was a doozy. It taxed him so much that he only just caught sight of his paramour giving the treacherous extremity a peck on the cheek as it departed. The perverse vision jolted the man into action.
“And how’s your head this morning?”
“Oh, it’s you, fine,” replied the woman, smiling in the direction of her departing conversation.
“So the headache didn’t last?”
“What? Oh, no.”
“I had a very pleasurable time last night. Did you enjoy yourself?” prompted the man with a twinkle.
“Sure.” The woman was starting to fidget.
“I was thinking that maybe we should go somewhere a tad more intimate tonight. I’ve just bought a 2-in-1 pesto and tiramisu maker, and I’d love to cook you something special. Shall we say eight?” The woman, whose name was a flower, looked at the man with alarm.
“Ah, I’ve been meaning to call you. Something’s come up, and I don’t think…”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Look, can I be frank with you?” The man sensed foul play. “I don’t think it’s a good idea…” he’d been nobbled, “…a woman in my position has to consider appearances…” it was obscene, “…I contract services from your department…” he couldn’t let it pass, “…just wouldn’t look right.”
“This has nothing to do with a certain overdressed member of senior management you were just fondling?”
“Richard? We’ve only just met. A thoroughly stimulating individual,” she dreamily replied.
“Though he did seem distractingly familiar.”
“Of course he’s familiar,” spluttered the man, unsure he should pursue this angle. How could he admit to being cuckolded by his own part? And now an increasing chatter of secretaries was observing his torment. He would not be the spice for their cappuccinos. Unable to fight, the man chose flight, and marched out into a world that cared little for his meagre concerns.
It took little time for the scene at the espresso cart to percolate through every layer of the building. Some said it was something in the coffee that caused a minor hysteria, while others advised that equal pay was to blame. Still more claimed that it was a dancing chipolata — seen by the eyes of a good friend — that started the whole sorry business. One or two perverse souls even claimed to have seen the man in question throttling a very well dressed senior manager, while being beaten by a policeman who was only doing his job. And wasn’t it a strange fog that blew in obscuring all further observation?
Yet, considering all these occurrences, it must be allowed that there was something to this strange affair. Unusual things that have no apparent worth do happen. Dogs will quack, and smallgoods will dance. Rarely, it should be allowed, but nonetheless really.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Campbell Taylor started writing last year on Owen Marshall’s fiction course at Aoraki Polytech. Born in the Summer of Love, he’s played in bands, worked in theatre and television, and, of course, loves Gogol.