Your school requires you to do two weeks of work experience. You want to be a DJ on BBC Radio One, or an actor, but they ignore all that and instead place you at the branch office of a nation-wide insurance company, presumably to prepare you for a life of menial clerical work instead.
After the first day, you are waiting for the bus home with a group of girls from your school (who have similarly been placed in nondescript offices doing dreary, dreamless things) when a man pulls up at the bus stop in an expensive sports car, the roof down, and offers you a lift home. Having no idea who he is you stutter out a no, thanks. You feel the gaze of your classmates on you, marking you out. You are 13 years old.
The next day this man appears at your desk and apologises for frightening you the night before. You feel you will embarrass him if you say that you did not know – until that very moment – that he worked in the office with you.
The family who run the local newsagents are devoutly Christian, despite having the surname Swindler. The oldest son is certainly angelic, as well as quiet, and six years older than you. You dress carefully each time you know you will be sharing a shift. He barely ever speaks to you, or anyone really. However, each time the local gang of boys that hang out around the shop crowd in to alternately ask you out, or to shop lift, he materialises and stands silently behind you, looking out over the top of your head protectively. One day he stops appearing and a glamorous divorcee takes his place.
During the summer break from University you are doing various, temporary office jobs. The man who has been assigned to help you master the mundane work of the haulage company where you have been placed is in his early 30s. The names of the foreign companies importing into the UK, along with the work of filling out the antique sounding “Bills of Laden” is exotic to you and helps you to lose yourself in fantasies of far-off worlds. You also entertain this man’s fantasies. He advances are simultaneously repellent and fascinating. In the end, it is something to do with the time. When you are assigned to a new office, he asks to meet you for lunch one day, but to your relief he cancels at the last minute, saying that his (previously un-alluded to) wife has the car that day.
Norman is in his 50s, morbidly obese and not a little creepy. He also has – perhaps due to his excessive weight – the irritating habit of keeping the window by your desks permanently open, even in the freezing winter, jealously guarding it from hands desirous to grab the catch and close it (hands that are turning blue and arthritic with the cold), which makes you think there is something of the sadist in him also.
This is an engineering company and one day he offers to take you down to the building site where all the work you are supporting on paper is happening in real life. It is a two hour drive and you leave very early one morning. You didn’t sleep the night before because your boyfriend, with whom you are living temporarily, had decided to go out and get very drunk, then bring back a group of even drunker friends to your home where they played loudly with your boyfriend’s record collection until 4am, whilst commiserating each other for their lives not having turned out the way they expected. As a consequence, you sleep the whole of the journey. When you wake up, you apologise to Norman for not having provided him with better company, to which he replies, “don’t worry. Now I can tell everyone that I have slept with you.”
When you leave he continues to call you on your birthday every year for the next 5 years, including showing up once at your new place of work, where happily you had taken the day off.
EARLY INDUSTRIAL PERIOD
Alex walks up to your desk a few days into your tenure, hands in his trouser pockets, and asks you out, just like that. You are so impressed that you say yes, even though you have a boyfriend. A boyfriend you are crazy about, but who you suspect does not love you at all. You end up going out with them both for a while, until you realise they are one and the same person in a lot of ways: self-obsessed, morbid and intimidatingly intelligent. You end both relationships, and with all the extra time you have, enrol on an evening course.
Owen has a vintage Lambretta, just like you. Something so unusual in this office full of family-friendly Ford drivers that it begged conversation. Or so you thought, to Owen however, conversation in turn begged something more. He asks you to have lunch with him, an idea which does not seem laden with significance until the lunch turns out to be a picnic, which in turns out to have had a lot of time and money lavished on it. Your unease grows when he bites into a cherry tomato, which explodes over his chin and shirt, an awkwardness from which he seems unable to recover during the whole rest of the uncomfortable lunch hour.
He leaves flowers on your desk. You decide the time has come to gently ignore him. He calls you at all hours of the day and night. He says his mum is angry with you for leading him on. The last time you see him is when he appears in the small office you share, wild looking and altered. He stares at you and spits out something incoherent. A colleague leads him out and takes him somewhere. By the time he returns to the office after a period of hospitalisation (no one having told you, and you not having guessed, that he had a history of mental health problems), you have already started a new job in a new company.
It’s not until you have already left this job and attend the Christmas party as a farewell – now with a boyfriend who does love you – that this crush comes to light. He catches you on the way to the bar and asks you to dance. You are wearing a bright blue dress and gold shoes. On the dance floor he pushes himself close against you and whispers heavily in your ear that he always liked you. The music is loud, his face rough against the softness of your own, you are drunk, everything is heightened and visceral, and so you tell him that it is mutual, which it was, is. You almost kiss, but get interrupted, and you never see him again. You don’t tell your boyfriend.
The first time you lay eyes on Martín he is shouting at one your colleagues in Spanish, for allegedly having stolen his chair, and so you like him immediately. He saunters around the office like he can’t quite figure out how he ended up there, often wearing sunglasses. You think he is ridiculous, and very sexy. You get to know him. Everything about him is incongruous. All your conversations seem more like arguments. He is very difficult. You really do like him a lot.
Alessandro is Italian, which everyone uses as a reason to explain and excuse his behaviour. Some kind of casual racism, or positive discrimination, which is of no comfort to you when walking to the bus stop in the dark after your shift.
He spends half of his time staring at you murderishly and the other half of his time supplicating you to have dinner with him, or detailing all the dreams he has had about you. These usually involve poetry readings and soft summer days, which more than anything else makes you wonder why your own dreams always seem to involve empty, derelict swimming pools, or those ones where you are trudging through knee-high sand towards to an ever distant horizon. You are relieved when your team is re-located.
By this point in your life, you assume that you are a certain type of person, and that consequently certain types of people like you and certain types don’t. Randy would fall into the category of man that you suppose would consider you invisible. He works out, a lot. He listens to Bruce Springsteen and Bluegrass, he talks way too much about anal sex, is almost certainly a Republican and very probably a misogynist.
No one is more surprised than you when he falls somewhat in love with you. You are fascinated by him, by the Otherness, by his unexpected interest in you, and so you enter into the thing to see what happens. He ends up quitting his job and moving back to the USA, which your mum assures you is because of his broken-heart: is your fault.
Age: 35 to 37
Like all periods of growth, you enter an era of painful learning experiences. The learning consisting in trying to accept that there is no value to be found in asking questions like: “Am I imagining it, or do you feel the same way about me that I feel about you?” And even less to be gleaned from corresponding answers like: “It isn’t a yes, and it isn’t a no.” Which you suspect he heard in a film somewhere and has been waiting his whole life to use on someone.
You think about that answer. It is cruel, but illuminating. You realise that in the end it is just a reflection of the duality of all things. How our lives run in parallel to all the other lives we could have made for ourselves, in the end all seeming to catch themselves in the same limited cycles, no matter what stories we tell ourselves.
You remember that when your Mum met your Dad she liked him immediately, and quickly developed a big crush on him. She began to write herself love letters, posing as Dad. She wrote herself all the things she longed to hear him say. Pages and pages of it, of that all-consuming, inconvenient, delirious, ridiculous kind of love. She didn’t confess this to Dad until nearly 30 years later.
The first time you met Adrián, you noticed him in an appraising, summing-up kind of way. It seemed to you that he was both big and small: tall, with large features, still and solid looking like a tree, as well as quiet and unassuming. After a few weeks you had started to get to know him better and you liked him. A few more weeks later you began to look at him differently, with something warming up to desire.
One day you walked by his desk and felt his gaze follow you across the office. That morning you had worried that your outfit was too revealing, too snug in all the most inappropriate places. By the time you reached your own desk, there was already a message from him flashing across the computer screen. A signal for the beginning, and the end.
Jayne Marshall decided to trade her grey, rainy hometown in the UK for sunny Madrid. Since then her creative life has opened wide and now her spare time is almost fully spent reading and writing. She has started sharing her work in magazines like, Brittle Star Magazine, Litro and Pikara Magazine and will soon expand her horizons further with a Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University (without leaving the Spanish cañas and tapas).
If you enjoyed Office Fantasies And Their Consequences, leave a comment and let Jayne know.
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