Photo by Lindsey Turner via Flickr

Photo by Lindsey Turner via Flickr

Mr Browne calls his junior colleague over.

‘These figures don’t make sense to me Joey,’ Mr Browne turns his screen around. He tracks the on-screen cursor down spreadsheet rows and columns.

Joey is new, eager. ‘Yes, Mr Browne. I thought there was something a bit weird about them.’

‘Did you change any of the formulas?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘This one here,’ Mr Browne clicks into cell G657. ‘Do you see?’

Mr Browne uses the end of a pencil to point out the error. It’s simple – the cell range hasn’t been extended.

‘Oh – yes, sorry. I’m new to spreadsheets.’

‘Simple mistake to make, Joey, but that error could have cost our clients dearly.’

Mr Browne turns his screen back around. He puts the pencil down, looks at Joey then picks the pencil up again, tapping a rhythm on the desk.

‘Where did you come to us from, Joey?’ Mr Browne uses Joey’s name to make the young man aware of his… centrality… to the firm. They are one unit, churning out product and profit with efficiency and professionalism.

‘I was at Benfords before here.’

‘In sales?’

‘In … on the phones.’

‘I see, and before that?’

‘That was my first job Mr Browne, I only left school last May. I’m loving it here though. It’s a real step up for me.’ Joey seems nervous. The spreadsheet error wasn’t that bad. Mr Browne hadn’t realised Joey was so young. You don’t get to know their ages these days.

Mr Browne sighs. ‘Joey, do you think you might benefit from some training in Excel?’

Joey looks startled. Mr Browne is familiar with this look. He can tell Joey is deciding what the right answer will be. ‘It would of course be part of the firm’s duty of care towards our employees. Think of it as professional development. We’re very keen to develop our team.’

Joey’s shoulders drop down. ‘Oh yes, sir, Mr Browne. That would be cool.’

‘That’s all then. Miss Potter will sort that out for you.’

Joey leaves Mr Browne alone in his office. Mr Browne clicks a few emails open and types non-committal replies. He shuffles some papers on his desk. He re-ties his tie and presses the click button on the top of his pen until there’s a knock at his office door. It’s Miss Potter.

‘Cup of tea?’ she asks. This is the fourth time today she has come in to offer tea.

Mr Browne declines.

He doesn’t watch the clock. That’s not how he was made. He picks up the telephone and dials round his regional reps. They’ve nothing to report that they hadn’t already emailed him about.

He reaches across his desk and uses the beeswax cloth that came with his glasses to clean dust off the framed photograph of his wife. The picture shows her at Morecambe Bay.

They went there on holiday when they were courting and have been back every year since. That’s forty-five years. They’re planning to go in June this year.

Mr Browne thinks there’ll be fewer families around then with it still being term-time. His wife will cook steak diane for dinner tonight. She makes it once a year, just for his birthday.

He hears chairs moving and louder voices from the rest of the office. It’s time to leave work. Mr Browne waits until the main office is almost clear of people before he comes out to put his jacket on.

‘Good evening Mr Browne, see you tomorrow.’

‘Yes, have a good evening.’

Mr Browne steps out into the damp lukewarm evening. His hand closes around the oyster in his jacket pocket. He heads for the tube. He takes the Central Line to Oxford Circus and emerges out to the migrating herds of Oxford Street. He knows the route without looking up. He’s jostled as he walks against the natural flow of the crowd, but that’s the norm. He comes to a door that he knows well.

‘All right Gerry?’ says Pete, the doorman.

Mr Browne nods, not in an unfriendly way, before going inside and down the stairs. At the back of the dim downstairs room is his usual booth. Alison takes his order and goes off into the gloom.

Mr Browne’s eyes adjust. He can now make out the familiar plush of the walls, and the fringes hanging in the entrance of the booth, for privacy.

Martha comes into the booth, she has her cowgirl outfit on. She remembered. Gerry pulls off his tie, sits back and lets her get on with her show. She really is a bonny girl, and sweet with it too. Gerry appreciates Martha’s little nipples and the choreography she creates with them. It seems like random movement, but it is not.
‘Happy birthday Gerry,’ she says.

Arike is a dance archivist and former rollergirl. Her fiction has been exhibited (Artlink Hull), performed (Liars League, Are You Sitting Comfortably?, Play!2013), anthologised (Collages, Bedford Square 7) and published in magazines (Words With Jam). She writes a flash story a month on


  1. Rebecca R E Kemp says:

    Really love this story. So understated and brimming with tension. I have known so many Mr Brownes and how many of us play Joey at different stages in our lives. Really excellent Arike. Happy Friday :)

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