Saturday, 19 January 2013

44. We stare at our sandwiches

Martin is fidgeting in his chair. "I feel wrong in here," he complains.

He doesn't mean the chair, he means the staff canteen. Martin's natural comfort zone is deserted rooms, quiet corners and round the backs of things. He almost never comes out into areas where other members of staff can see and talk to him. It's enough of a struggle to survive working in his open-plan office (he has a desk in the corner, facing out into the room, and he spends most of his time hiding behind his computer screen).

I'm not sure which of us came up with the idea of Having Lunch. It feels like a momentous step in our friendship. Next we will be Having Drinks After Work. At the moment, I think both of us are feeling a little uncomfortable with the change in our dynamic. Next time we Have Lunch, we should eat packed lunch. Round the back of something.

I slide his copy of Pan's Labyrinth across the table towards him, adding my own DVD of The Doom Generation. He picks it up and looks at the cover.

"This looks...colourful," he says.

"It's like someone accidentally threw up a film," I say. "It's great."

He puts the DVDs in his bag. We stare at our sandwiches. I have chosen a Brie, grape and cranberry baguette. Martin is eating a turkey and salad roll.

"Who came up with the idea of putting cheese and grapes together?" Martin asks. "And then cranberry sauce? Why would you do that?"

"It works," I say.

"I'm sure it does. I just don't understand how it happened as a concept."

Today Martin is wearing a blue and white top - one of the ones made to look like a t-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt; I think of these as "skater tops" although I don't know if that's what they're called - baggy jeans, and big trainers. His long black hair is falling in his eyes. He looks remarkably like James Duval playing Jordan White in the movie I have just handed to him. I wonder if he will recognise this.

I look up and my heart skips as I recognise Chris paying for a coffee at the till. I see him glance over. I smile.

Chris walks over. "Hey, Alice," he says. "Are we still on for tonight?"

"Sure," I say. Martin is looking at me, frowning slightly. Chris lightly runs his fingers through my hair and I feel myself lean towards him. He's not usually so affectionate in public.

"Are you dating that guy?" Martin says, after Chris leaves.

"Sort of.It's not official. It's kind of...a thing." I have no idea how to define it.

"Thought so. He might as well have pissed on you."

I don't understand. "What?"

"Marking his territory," Martin says.

As we leave, I happen to look round at the sofas at the far end of the room and I realise that Chris was not the only one to see me having lunch with Martin. Derek is sitting in one of the corner chairs, a coffee and a newspaper in front of him. As I look at him he looks away but for a moment I think I see rage in his eyes.

In all the excitement about Chris, I had nearly forgotten about Derek. My fear of him had receded back into the depths of my mind, into the dark recesses where Matthew lives like a computer virus. Like a maggot in my brain.

Now it comes back, so suddenly I almost stop dead. I feel lightheaded, as if I'm outside my body, as if my mind has untethered and is drifting up towards the ceiling.

I force myself back into reality. Like Sally said, it's understandable after everything that has happened to me that I would have these irrational fears but really there is nothing to be afraid of. He's done nothing. He's just a man. Just a colleague. It's fine. He's just triggered something in me which I need to manage. I breathe. Martin is saying something about Patty, telling me a story. I try and tune into it. We are in front of the lift. It's fine. I'm here. I'm ok. Nothing has gone wrong.

He is not a threat to me.

I don't believe that.

Breathe. Think. Take a step back.

He is not a threat to me. 

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