Saturday, 17 October 2009
Miss Kiss's Building
Miss Kiss was a very rich woman. When I worked at the Kiss's Building, I was a young clerk. People joked in the office that I, Mr Hugg was perfect to work there. I ignored them and continued with my work. I had been hired to rewrite reports from academics into a more accessible language. I enjoyed the work, but I was not immune to the gossip if only in that I heard it swirling around me. I hated it as I have always hated gossip. For me, rumour was like a dark ink drop in a glass of clear water - it tainted the water and darkened it. Yet I could not help but hear it even if I paid it no mind.
In the summer before I left the Kiss's Building the company took on a new Chief Executive. He was a tall, handsome man but with a cool, slightly stern look about him. It appeared that he had left the army and come to work in business. He had turned around a company in another city and now had come to do as much for us. I was not overly impressed, I thought we were doing just fine thank you very much, still I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
His first name was unknown, but his military rank and surname was known. So throughout the building he was called - though not to his face, Captain Coldheart. He was brisk, sardonic and efficient, yet not I thought unkind. On some investigation so Rumour would have it, he was said to have told one of the junior executives that he was not interested in love at all.
"Damn thing gets in the way of everything else. In all my dealings with it I have found it to be utterly futile, damaging and inefficient. I prefer to keep the weapons of that pernicious meddler Love at a distance, the further the better. Now if you have no further questions, I suggest you get back to work. I have no doubt your unofficial capacity of muck-spreader is much in demand," he was reported to have said.
For that comment alone I liked him. I came to admire his steadfastness and calmness in the face of the many and varied little storms that beset large organisations as ours. He called me into his office only once to question me on my rewriting of the reports and I was interested in his clear questions and calm voice. There was nothing wasteful in his manner. I asked him if he had met Miss Kiss yet and he shot a cool piercing glance at me that transfixed me. His eyes were dark, opaque pools as if of ink and he answered that he had not.
"Why do you ask?" he asked.
"I have never met her, sir and I was curious as to what she is like. I assure you that I have no other reason for asking sir. I am not a rumour monger and dislike gossip intensely. Only for myself I was curious," I answered him.
He did not answer me for some moments, gazing through my eyes into the very depths of me. It was as if his eyes were two dark searchlights scanning the very shadows in my personality perceiving every corner of me. I felt almost breathless, yet also strangely alive. The sensation was like being hunted through my own self. Then he answered softly,
"Yes, I have met Miss Kiss. She is like any other intelligent rich woman. I am glad you enjoy your work Mr Hugg, feel free to return to it. I may contact you from time to time regarding your reports."
That was it. I did not see him again. I only heard from him occasionally on the phone or an email would come through from him. I continued to rewrite the reports in my office, teasing out meanings and replacing lines with a few words to keep the meanings but halve the number of words where possible. In the final year reports I was, as it were, mentioned in dispatches.
A new woman arrived and I was moved out to share an office with Katie Love. I was unhappy at first, I did not want distractions and was sure that Ms Love would distract me with the usual chatter. However, she was quiet and seldom in the office. Mostly she was out going to the various branches. I would only know that she was in the building at all from her red coat on the peg and her purple beret on her in-tray. Her bag I never saw but most likely she stuffed it in a drawer of her desk like many of the other women did. I was not aware of her, but it seemed that she was very much aware of me.
Late one afternoon she came into the office bringing her clean, fresh scent like Jasmine and bergamot and flashed a dazzling and charming smile at me.
"Aren't you going to lunch precious?" she asked me.
I was annoyed almost instantly. I disliked being called 'precious' as if I were a small child. So I ignored her and continued with only a frown. She was not to be put off so easily.
She took her beret from the in-tray and her coat from the peg. The black pencil skirt and crisp white cotton blouse were serious and sober but undermined a little by the crimson suede high heels she wore. She crossed to me and handed me my coat.
"Come on Sober-sides, come and have lunch with me. I shan't accept 'no' for an answer. We've been pushed together in this office and I know practically nothing about you."
She paused and I sighed and raised my head frowning at her.
"Not only do I not know anything about you, I'd rather like to. You seem a lovely boy working away as you do. Come along, let Katie show you something of the world outside of work," she said with a sweet and charming smile.
"If you don't mind..." I began,
"Of course I don't mind. It will be lovely for the two of us to get to know each other and see what we're sharing an office with," she said quickly.
Seeing that she really would not take a refusal I arose, took my coat from her and went out to lunch with her. I spoke little, or so I thought, but she asked such questions and slowly, patiently drew me out. There was something bright and lovely about her like a summer morning. I felt that with her nothing could go wrong for the world seemed to rearrange itself around her.
Love, as Captain Coldheart once emailed me to some comment I'd made is pernicious like that. It does not confront you openly. It sneaks up silently and gets you when you are least expecting it. I did not believe for an instant that I was falling in love with Katie Love. Like the Captain, I did not care for love. My heart had been broken badly at the age of sixteen by Miss Rosie Stone and I had resolved ever since to avoid it. I had made good on my promise until the day Miss Love had handed me my coat and insisted on my having lunch with her.
Whenever she was in the office during the day she would make a point of having lunch with me if she could. It was pleasant enough at first, she was a lively conversationalist as well as being both witty and warm. I fooled myself that she was just being sisterly, but she wasn't. She had set her purple beret at me and intended me for her own. Yes Captain, Love is pernicious like that - it fools you into melting when you are sure you are still comfortably frozen. I don't even remember when I had started to hope that I would enter the office and find her red coat on the peg and her purple beret in her in-tray. I don't recall the first time I longed for her to come into the office and hand me my coat. Why?
Because all those times were eclipsed when she took me to lunch and sat me down at Clotilde's Kitchen on that one fateful day and threw me into utter confusion. She reached across the table and took my hand in her own long slender cool fingers and gently squeezed. I felt the sudden fiery spark of electricity in that touch and my breath left me suddenly. I looked up into her intense green eyes and almost panicked, but she smiled. I could say I hated it when she did that, but I would be lying and I'd know it. I could say I wanted to run, but somehow I didn't as terrified as I felt. I sat there, my fork hovering over the last pieces of a finely done salmon with samphire and new potatoes and a sauce Clotilde that was like nothing else in the universe.
"Don't be afraid Tom," she said softly, "I have come to realise how much I love you. Oh I could fall for Simon from Accounts or Jason in Law, but for all their working out and their cars and what have you, they are not - kind. I want..." she paused.
"I want to spend the rest of my life with you Tom and I have never felt so sure about anything in my life," she said finally.
I felt as if she were speaking to someone else, as if I were dreaming and on the verge of waking up. I gazed into those green eyes, the crimson splash of her lipstick vivid against her skin and felt the blood throb in my head. I suddenly remembered Rosie Stone and tugged at her grip. She did not let go but tightened her grip and said softly again,
"It's alright Tom, I won't hurt you."
I somehow dragged my gaze away from her and a movement caught my eye. Captain Coldheart entered Clotilde's and with him was a tall, assured woman at his side. The Captain seemed changed somehow, he did not seem so stern, so cool or composed. It appeared that Love his former enemy had conquered him also. I took a deep breath and turning back to Katie Love, I said quietly,
"I can't go on like I have any more Katie. I surrender. I'm yours. Only I beg you, don't break my heart for I could not bear it again."
She blinked slowly and smiled half-rising in her seat she leaned across and kissed me, her scent delicate in the air about me. I believe it was something about Kiss's Building and either Katie or Miss Kiss started an avalanche, for soon after we were married, eight more people in the company fell in love also.
That's Love for you a most pernicious enemy with wings of steel, but at least he is occasionally willing to relent and forgive. That's more than I ever did for him.