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I promised myself, no, no, no. But the more I said no, the more I wanted to do it. I felt like I was on the outside looking in. They were all talking, talking, and I was standing there with a normal glass of orange juice in my hand – I mean a tumbler shape – and it felt wrong. I knew, I knew, and then I didn’t.
I was half-full. “Top me up,” I said to the waiter at the trestle table of non-alcoholic refreshments. And I laughed, gesturing towards the table next to it, laden with proper drinks. I laughed, perhaps too loudly, and he looked at me with a funny face on and I went and found a potted plant in front of a pillar. I dumped the orange juice into the dry soil and I marched to the other table, making a point of ignoring the first waiter.
So, this girl smiled. Not like the sour-faced puss on the next table.
“Small or large, sir?” she asked, and I wanted the one with the long stem, which happened to be the largest. I was sick of having nothing to twirl – something a tumbler lacks. I needed a stem between my fingers. I’d been tapping on the table, on the pillar, on my own arm, the company was that dull. A tumbler is completely the wrong shape for a party, let me tell you. And orange juice. Who knew that orange juice could make you so nervous? Too much sugar.
I took my glass of wine over to the big windows. We were in a large, tacky room. Some sort of ex-ballroom – previously grand, I’d guess. It was OK, I suppose, but I reckon the boss got it cheap. I noticed a few smears on the wall, like a tideline. I laughed at my own little joke. The sea was across the road from the windows, doing its usual crashing thing. Nobody needs to look after the sea.
In retrospect, maybe my joke wasn’t so funny, but I’d only had a glass, and I was still reminding myself to stick to the one. Only because it looked like it was not going to be that kind of party. But then they did have alcohol. I mean, why serve it if you don’t want people to get a little drunk? Why have it at all if you don’t want people to let their hair down? And then I knew that of course they meant for people to enjoy themselves. That was the whole fucking point. And it was a party. So I went back to the table. I went up. I noticed a chill in the faces of my colleagues as I made my way across the room.
It was just that one other time, for fuck’s sake, and it was the Christmas party. What did the boss expect? Anyhow, I knew that some of my co-workers had it in for me and their stories were most likely exaggerated. The boss had left early, but he would, wouldn’t he? That’s what you do when you run a bloody company: you get out of the way of the workers when they want to have fun, moan a little about you, let off steam. Nobody wants the boss at a party.
Just thinking about it sent me back to the drinks table.
“Have one on me,” I said to the waitress, and she smiled and poured two.
“Drink mine for me,” she said. “I can’t drink on the job.” She was a good sport.
I was squatting down – I’ve got very strong thighs, I never bend my back. I was crouching down to check the levels in the glasses.
“You’ve got to be fair,” I told the waitress, and she was laughing with those sparkly teeth, the only one in the room who wasn’t watching me with gloom and foreboding.
She knew something about life, I thought. Not like me and my co-workers in our existence of shared drudgery under the fluorescents.
I’m sure it was Paul who told the boss about the Christmas party. I knew my colleagues were laughing at me, probably hoping for, expecting even, another performance. It was only that once, but get those dull bastards on a track and you can’t drag them off. Some people don’t know how to have fun, so they make someone else do it for them. What the hell do they do every night? Watch some telly about fat people trying to get thin, eating crap in the dark while they do it, and then they spend their days talking about it at work. It makes you sick just listening to it.
None of them were about to come over after the Christmas debacle. They were keeping their distance as if I was some kind of wild animal they’d shot and they were waiting for it to die. The waitress was busy serving, so I went back to the windows and turned and raised a glass to her; she winked at me and I drank one for her. I pretended to look at the sea as I sipped from the second glass, but I was really trying to guess who had dobbed me in. Bunch of sneaks. Cowards, too. One of them told on me. The boss had left by then, so one of them did.
Hypocrites, all of them. I wasn’t the only employee drinking at Christmas. The boss is so uptight. Everybody hates him, even if some of them insist on licking his arse. I mean, what did he expect, especially after another year at that hellhole? For fuck’s sake, it was like giving kids matches and then reprimanding them for setting a barn on fire.
I twirled my glass as I thought about that. It was the main reason I didn’t go for manager. Life’s too short not to have fun and I was really glad I didn’t have to worry about it in the end. The boss blamed it on the party, of course, but it was bloody Christmas and what the fuck did it have to do with him, anyway? He doesn’t control my entire life. It’s not fucking Nineteen Eighty-Four, for fuck’s sake.
And, “Sir,” a waiter was saying. I waved at him to fill up my glass. I think it must have been the second. Maybe the third. By that time, the sting of the orange juice on the roof of my mouth had worn off. The waiter was wearing a little black waistcoat with a bow tie. How peculiar, I found myself thinking – although now I consider it, it seems pretty standard – before I looked once more at the sea and tossed back the contents of the glass.
“One for Winston!” I said, maybe out loud, because Jenny from Accounting was staring at me. It was probably her, I thought, as I made my way back to the table. She didn’t have to tell the boss – if it was her. She could have paid off the hotel. I’d do the same for one of them, the daft bastards, even if they don’t deserve it. It was only a plastic tree and some cheap tinsel, after all.
By then, I had to concentrate to see the sea clearly. I felt like a small animal, trapped inside myself. I was pissed on the outside, but, I am here, I am here, I was crying in a sweet little voice on the inside, and I don’t remember this part much, anyhow, except through the bitter filter of others’ reports. And you can never trust others, especially when they are pissed too, because they always judge you for having a few too many, but they are really judging themselves.
“My boss is called George,” I said to the waitress, when I went up for one for the road, even though I meant to say Big Brother. “But I should just call him cunt.” It really cracked me up, helped to make those hours under the fluorescents just that bit more bearable, and she laughed and handed me another glass, I think she did, anyway.
At least someone finds my jokes funny, I thought, before the room was spinning and I tried to cover one eye and I must have tripped on the frayed edges of the carpet and I fell over and I was saying, “George, George, Cunty George,” and it didn’t make any sense because Georgie Orwell was obviously on my side, but it was so funny and I couldn’t stop laughing, even if no one else was. I’m not sure about that. I definitely remember some smiles at least.
“Poor bloke,” said the waitress, near my ear, and I thought, she has such a heart, and she had got even prettier and was still sweet, and I stretched out my hand to her and then people came running and I must have been shouting louder than I realised because the manager asked me to quieten down.
Aren’t they used to a bit of fun in there?
They tried to haul me up – their mistake, I mean, really, couldn’t they just have let me lie down for a while and avoided all the fuss? And it was a mistake because then I did go mad. It wasn’t the drink, it was the authoritarianism, and I’d had enough of that already. I mean, it felt like a bunch of fucking colonialists closing in on a wounded elephant. How could they treat a man like that – even if he had had a few? And that was their mistake. You don’t hunt a man.
I remember someone propping me up against the wall and the waitress picking bits of glass out of my beard. I cursed myself for growing it and she was so sweet I kept apologizing, even though I hadn’t done anything. And things were falling in front of my eyes, the room mostly. And my hand was bleeding and all I could think about was that I was going to sue the hell out of those cunts for making me trip on that fucking carpet. Why that waitress looked so concerned about me, I have no idea. It was just a little cut after all.
I don’t remember much after that, except for that kind and beautiful waitress kneeling on the floor, wrapping a handkerchief round my hand, and, poor you, she kept saying. She understood I was still there, trapped in there, inside myself. And she let me rest my head on her shoulder. I was so tired by then and it had been a long day, a long life.
“There, there,” she said, and I imagined crystals of glass all over the room.
Later, from the pics my boss forwarded to my email, I saw there really was glass all around me. Well, something had to happen. It was becoming like the World State at work, everyone ratting on their neighbour.
It looked pretty at the time, all that glass, and peaceful. I have finally found peace, I thought, and that lovely girl smiled at me, she smiled, god bless, and I drifted off then. I felt sure she could see inside me, although I was probably quite drunk, I admit. But she knew I was still there. She knew where I was. She knew it was still me.