I was back in my car speeding along a B-road heading back toward the office. I knew what was coming. I kept repeating to myself that everything was going to be fine. Everything’s always fine. Not that my shaking left hand, aching jaw and nauseating swell in my ever-deepening stomach bought into my forced positivity. I hit corners too hard, swerving like an adolescent filled with Red Bull. I hadn’t been given an exact time to arrive at the office, but I’d convinced myself I must make it within half an hour. Christ knows why. But I was determined to see it through. My phone sat on the passenger seat next to me. I kept frantically checking it every ten seconds or so, imagining I’d heard it vibrate. With my attention distracted and eyes glued to the phone I hadn’t noticed my wingmirror clipping the hedges, ‘Shit.’ I muttered, steering away and looking up in horror at a parked car just ahead waiting at some temporary traffic lights. I slammed on. My breaks grinded; the noise making me wince. I couldn’t slow, so turned, but nothing. I turned the other way, skidding, grinding. Finally, I stopped inches away, maybe less, at a forty-five-degree angle. The car in front was a learner. The instructor looked over her shoulder, scowling at me, then turned her attention to her student making calming gestures with her hands. I closed my eyes, bringing my hands to my face. I was hot. Flustered. Uncomfortable. I began itching. Every time I satisfied an itch another erupted. My ball sack stuck to my left leg. I forced a hand down through a narrow gap between gut and waistband and pried the wrinkly skin off my inner thigh like peeling wallpaper; satisfying. The lights ahead hit green. The car in front stalled. ‘Stay fucking cool. He’s a learner. You were a learner once. Stay fucking cool.’ The light hit amber, then red. ‘It’s alright. You’re in no rush. This gives you time to think things through. You don’t know what this is about. It’s probably something over nothing. It can’t be what you’re thinking. It makes no sense for that woman to say anything. Why would she complain? Breathe. Get your shit together.’ I felt a little calmer, allowing myself to smile, following it up with a short laugh filled with relief. However, incoherent thoughts not contempt with this conclusion threw a grenade of anxiousness into the shallow foxhole of optimism. The lights ahead hit green. The car in front stalled. ‘Stay fucking coo…’ I put it in first, tore around the learner and off. I quickly glanced at an aghast instructor and a timid, embarrassed learner. ‘I haven’t got all fucking day’, I shouted, not that they could hear me through the wound-up windows. Any other day I would have felt guilty, even ashamed of my behaviour, but at that moment I couldn’t have cared less if that meek little shit never recovered from the experience, and remained an ardent public transport traveller for the rest of his petty days.
I parked up a couple of streets over from the office. I didn’t want to pay but could only find a thirty-minute parking space. ‘How long could all this take?’ I thought. ‘If everything works out it won’t take thirty minutes. If they sack you it’ll take even less.’ The raw wind roaming the streets cooled me considerably and focused my train of thought. I stopped half-way across the street. Breathed in. Exhaled. I was ready. A black taxi one usually associates with London drove up the street, slowed and aggressively threw down on his horn. At first, I didn’t acknowledge him. After a few moments I turned, staring directly into his eyes. My lack of urgency caused him unrest as the sounding of the horn ceased. He faced away. This insignificant victory handed me a serving of unshakable confidence.
Walking toward the door of the office I thought an inconspicuous entry (admittedly difficult) would be my safest play, in the event it was the worst-case scenario and the gossip wolves were circling the wagon. I pushed on a door that required a pull, clattering into it. Everybody looked over. I slinked in. All eyes on me. Smirks on faces. Whispers and poorly executed discreet glances for attention. It was bad. No – It was fucking terrible. I looked over at a couple of once friendly faces, turning into derisive strangers in front of my very eyes. I walked over to Val, second in command. She kept me waiting. Purposefully punishing me as she typed like a dyslexic sloth; holes burning into my back. I tried to conjure the confidence I had when staring down the taxi driver only five minutes earlier; but that man was gone. Dead. ‘Oh, hi Jack. Sorry about that. Can I help you?’ Val finally said smugly, sat with doughnut crumbs on her red blouse in her chair that shrank every time I saw her. ‘I’m he…’ My voice croaked in my dried-out throat like a schoolchild being told to stand in front of the class and explain to the world why he failed to carry out his homework. I wet the roof of my mouth with my tongue and greased my throat with what little phlegm I had, ‘I’m here to see Nigel. He’s expecting me.’ ‘He’s not here at the moment Jack. He’s on his lunch. Take a seat though, he won’t be long.’ ‘Thanks.’ I took a seat. The whole office stared at me using their peripheral vision. One of the IT department boys; a tall, strongly built rugby league type strolled past, ‘Alright shag. Fancy a brew?’ Cackles echoed throughout the office. ‘So, it is about that woman.’ I thought. I looked up at him, he winked back at me. ‘I’m good thanks.’ I answered. ‘I bet.’ He smirked, walking off. I wanted to desperately look around the office, staring into the eyes of the mocking faces, but didn’t have it in me. Instead I pulled my phone from my pocket and scrolled aimlessly. I looked at my messages and re-read Faye’s from earlier, “Don’t forget to say hello to my friend Carly if you go into the office today. It’s her first day. Xxx”. Fiery molten blood erupted from inside my skull and flowed rapidly down to my toes, filling all the way back up. I stared at the screen until my vision blurred. I hastily looked across the room, not able to focus on a soul. I tried again, slower. Second desk to the left was a girl shadowing one of the more experienced girls. I didn’t recognise her, meaning it had to be. She looked over sheepishly. I gave her some half-arsed smile in an attempt to try and curry favour. She looked away attempting to hide the disgust etched across her face; she’ll never make it in Hollywood. It was over. I was doomed. And all I could do was sit there whilst my mind spun like a roulette wheel.
The countdown on my parking space was nearing expiration. Finally, Nigel, my boss, walked in and straight past me. I looked up at him like a dog that had shat on the carpet, but he ignored me; though his face couldn’t hide the self-conscious social difficulty many of us suffer when walking into a room alone, knowing people are watching. He entered his office, shutting the door behind him. Now that I was sure of the reason for being collared I began to feel more at ease. Cocky even. I didn’t care about this job. Never had. The pressure decompressed and I felt a humorous glow in my eyes. Val noticed this too causing her smugness to slip. I looked around the office, stopping short at every gossiping face that began falling like dominoes. ‘Jack, please come in.’ Declared Nigel, interrupting my flow. I entered the office. ‘Take a seat.’ He offered. ‘Ok. I’m not sure where to start…I’ve never had to deal with a complaint, accusation like this before. To be honest, I’m not sure I believe it, hence why I asked you to come in immediately so we can straighten this out.’ ‘Ok.’ I answered. I couldn’t stop looking at his well-gelled hair; short back and sides, brushed forwards using his fingers. Probably had the same fucking haircut since year nine and will continue to do so until it falls out or he dies. I took orders off this guy? I was now praying to be sacked. ‘A few weeks back’, he continued, ‘you went to visit a Miss…’ He checked his notes in front of him, ‘…a Miss Wentworth in the central Lakes area. Remember?’ Oh I remembered alright. ‘Erm yes, I think so.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Well I received a rather unfortunate phone call from a gentleman who is soon to be her ex-husband, claiming that you and Miss Wentworth had…erm…well had sex when you went to photograph the property.’ ‘I see.’ I answered, utilizing my best poker face. ‘Well’, continued Nigel, ‘is there any truth to it?’ I paused, looking blankly at Nigel trying to conjure an appropriate answer. ‘Erm. I’m not sure it was quite as romantic as that.’ I finally said. ‘Jesus Christ!’ He exclaimed standing up. I looked behind noticing blurred faces turn towards us through frosted glass. ‘What on earth were you thinking?’ ‘I wasn’t. It just happened.’ ‘Just happened? I’ve never been to one viewing in my life and come close to even being in a situation like that, let alone going ahead with it. And do you know why?’ ‘The haircut?’ ‘Oh. Funny fucker eh? Keep it up. Your career is hanging by a thread. And it just so happens I am that thread.’ ‘Nigel’, I replied with a calm that surprised even me, ‘I fucked a divorcee, a very hot divorcee may I add, from behind over her kitchen counter when I should have been photographing her house. There is no thread. I’m done. I know it, you know it. So skip the Charles Bronson routine and cut to the end, because in roughly seven and a half minutes I’ll be in real danger of getting a ticket.’ Nigel stared at me, scarcely believing what he’d heard. He slowly, silently sat down, sinking into his chair. He pushed a little puff of exasperated air out of his mouth, looked around his desk shrugging his shoulders in bewilderment. I felt a little sorry for him. I knew I was on my way out and I knew I’d be leaving Nigel with a huge pile of shit on his lap. ‘Look, I’m sorry Nigel. I hope this whole thing smooths over quickly.’ He looked at me and cracked a smile. ‘You little fucker. The audacity. I’ve seen her before, she’s gorgeous.’ ‘I thought I’d gotten away with it.’ ‘You probably would have, but she and her husband, ex-husband, whatever, had a huge row resulting in her blurting out the sordid details. Wanting to make him jealous I guess.’ ‘She got what she wanted. I admire her in a way.’ ‘I like you Jack, I’m not sure why but I do. I’ll be sorry to see you go.’ ‘Thank you for the opportunity.’ ‘I can give you the option of handing your notice in rather than giving you your marching orders.’ ‘Why would you do that?’ ‘You kidding? I won’t have to put my hand in my pocket once at the next office night out telling this story over and over.’ ‘You owe me one.’ I joked. We shook hands, giggled childishly, then I turned and left, head held high; until I saw Carly glaring as I walked past.
I enjoyed walking out of an office unemployed. It felt invigorating. I loosened my tie; it didn’t make much difference. I took a deep breath in through my nose expecting the smell of a new chapter, but all I got was stagnant bins and homeless piss. Goose-stepping back to the car not wanting to be fifty quid down two minutes after cutting ties with my income, I knew I had to come to terms with the fact I had to come clean with Faye before her gobshite friend beat me to it. A little luck; no ticket. I got in my car and drove. Curdling in my stomach churned once again as I knew the inevitable was coming. I didn’t want to talk to her whilst driving so decided to park somewhere quiet. I drove and drove, not finding anywhere suitable. Before I knew it, I was back in the Lakes. Only I could look for a quiet romantic area to confess adultery. Eventually, giving up, I pulled into a random layby on a desolate country road. I phoned Faye – engaged. I tried again – engaged. I sat there in silence unsure of what to say when I eventually managed to get in touch. I imagined the conversation playing out and what my speech would entail but kept tripping up on the basics and began again. Ten minutes went past and I was still none the wiser. I phoned once more – engaged. ‘Fuck this.’ I thought, turned the ignition and drove on.
I considered driving home, but the possibility of my parents overhearing the conversation put me off. Instead I turned off at Levens and drove through the Lyth Valley not sure on what I was doing or where I was going. The weather began clouding over and threatened to snow but at the last minute decided on rain. Faye finally called back. The call came through on my car’s Bluetooth. This was the worst moment for her to call; driving through narrow country lanes, in poor visibility. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give her my unrequited attention. I considered rejecting the call but thought better of it and answered. ‘Hello?’ ‘Hi.’ She replied. I tried to seek out her tone, but between the heavy patter on my windscreen and crackling signal it was nigh on impossible. ‘Hi. How’s it going?’ I asked, probing. My heart began beating harder. Consternation hit me in the stomach causing a severe aching pain. I wanted to pull over, but the winding single-track lanes wouldn’t ease up. She answered but I couldn’t make out what she said. I looked at my phone; my signal had fallen from 4G to 3G. ‘Hello?’ I asked with a mixture of apprehension and agitation. The phone went dead. I took a hard left, up a lane so steep that I had to drop down into second on the ascent. I had to find signal again. Faye called back, ‘Hello?’ I answered. ‘Hi.’ ‘Can you hear me?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You ok?’ ‘Shouldn’t I be?’ She replied. I paused, trying to detect any signs of conflict; nothing. I had no idea what to say. Ideally, I would have liked to have pulled over to talk engagingly but the signal kept wavering. I constantly adjusted the volume of the call but couldn’t find the right balance, adding to the discomfort of the situation. I thought it best to keep the conversation flowing in no particular direction until I could concentrate fully on the weighing topic at hand. Her following words however, ruled out any chance of that. ‘You not going to ask me then?’ ‘Ask you what?’ ‘Ask me if I’ve heard the disgusting rumours I’ve been told. Well except they aren’t rumours, are they? They’re facts. Because you’ve gone and lost your job over it haven’t you?’ Silence. ‘HAVEN’T YOU?’ ‘Yeah.’ I muttered. ‘WHAT?’ she screamed. ‘YES.’ I replied in a tone she had no right receiving. ‘You’re a disgusting fucking pig. I never want to see you again.’ ‘Faye please…’ ‘Faye please what? Faye please, I didn’t mean it? Faye please, it’ll never happen again? Faye please I was thinking of you the whole time I fucked some whore? Which one is it Jack?’ It was probably “B”, but I didn’t say. ‘Cat got your tongue? Why all the missed calls if you have nothing to say?’ She was right. She had me on the ropes. It was if she had prepared for this and had the whole spiel memorized. I was left stunned. I tried my best to evoke some sort of honest answer but ended up sounding like a twat. ‘I haven’t got anything to say because I have I no excuse. And don’t want to insult your intelligence with some half-arsed excuse.,’ I grimaced as the words clunkily flopped from my mouth. ‘Fuck you, you fucking pussy. At least tell me you fucking loved it. At least tell me you’ve wanked over it constantly since it happened. Give me some truth. Something real.’ ‘I didn’t love it’, (I did. Of course I did), ‘I felt like a piece of shit, as soon as it was over.’ ‘But during?’ ‘What?’ ‘Did you feel like a piece of shit, whilst doing it?’ ‘I, erm…’ ‘TELL ME?’ She screamed once more from a darkness that I didn’t know existed in her. ‘Well it’s impossible to know what I was thin…’ ‘Did you wear something?’ ‘Like my mask?’ ‘No, not like your fucking mask, you fucking cunt. I mean, did you wear protection? A fucking condom?’ My silence revealed all. ‘You’re abhorrent. I can’t believe you could do something like this. I can’t believe you could do something like this and then carry on as normal. Kissing me, having sex with me.’ She replied softly with a steely centre. ‘I’m going to say this once’, she continued in the same tone, ‘and only once. And if you go against what I say I will seriously make life extremely difficult for you. Mark my words.’ I slowed the car to a halt in the middle of nowhere. Rain battered all four sides of my car. ‘What few items you have here at mine I’m going to put next to my bins on the street. It’s bin day tomorrow so I suggest you get them tonight if you want them. If you do decide to come, do not under any circumstance knock on my door or I will call my Polish MMA fighting next door neighbour who will snap your narrow little throat.’ I looked in the rear view, running my hand down my neck, ‘It’s not that narrow.’ I thought. ‘When I hang up in a minute’, she continued, ‘I’m going to block your number and block you from my socials. It’s over. I fell for you. I fell hard. I asked you never to hurt me. You said you wouldn’t, and I trusted you. You broke that trust and along with it my heart. I’m utterly devasted. You have no idea. I thought I’d actually found the one; a ray of light in a so far darkened life. Goodbye.’ ‘Goodb…’ She hung up. My eyes stung as they filled. I pushed my thumb and index finger into them to prevent any tears from falling. This was a wound that would never completely heal. Like always, I only had myself to blame. This fucking inability to learn from careless mistakes. A Land Rover chugged up from behind giving me a pip. Any time I wanted for contemplating and wallowing in self-pity were cut short. I started the car and set off. Every turn I made the Land Rover made also. I couldn’t shake him. All I could see was a fat red face with a flat cap sat skewwhiff on top. I drove faster, but he gained on me. The night had been brought in early due to the torrential rain. I drove alongside a woodland to my right. I adjusted my rear view, attempting to block out the reflecting headlights from behind. Suddenly a small deer ran out in front of me. I had no time to break and hit it full on. A sickening thud rang out as the deer hit my bumper and bounced onto my bonnet. It jumped up, hobbled, stunned. It looked me dead in the eye, lit up from my lights. I watched on in horror, holding my breath. The Land Rover squeezed past and drove on causing the deer to hobble back into the wood. I could feel the vibrations of my rapidly beating heart reverberating around my head. I got out the car, following the deer’s path. It didn’t take long for the rain to soak my shirt and flatten my hair over my eyes. I looked frantically for the deer but struggled in the fading light. At last I saw a movement from the corner of my eye. The deer had tried to bury itself amongst some undergrowth under a tree. I cautiously walked over and knelt beside. I couldn’t tell if it was looking at me or not through its wide black eyes. It was covered in dark blood, staining its brown coat. It fought for breath. I placed my hand on its side helplessly. I guess I thought at least some feeling of touch during its last breaths would feel comforting. Or at least my conscience wanted to believe so. It died shortly after. I stood up, looked at my blood-soaked hand and wiped it on my shirt that was now sticking to my chest. I walked back to the road, briefly assessing the damage but taking little notice. Back in my car I weighed up driving to Faye’s to collect my stuff, deciding against it. Instead I drove around, my car making an alien sound, until I found my bearings and headed home, significantly stripped.