I was in the office trying to think of a witty tweet when my colleague Jess walked in, holding a stack of paperwork.
“Have you seen this?“ She said, pushing the company newsletter into my hand.
“No, I haven’t. What guff have they got for us this month? What’s the news in key markets?”
She did not smile. “Look at the last section.”
It was an extensive feature on our recent company ball, a spread of prize winners and affable speakers. There were three pages of departmental group photos, followed by roaming shots in which be-suited men and elegant women toasted the camera. I traced through the pictures with their droll captions – until I found it. A knot twisted in my gut and I put the paper down.
“Good god,” I said, “is that me?”
Jess nodded. In the crisp image I was sandwiched between her and Mark, a camp marketing manager from our New York office. I had my arms snaked around both, pulling Jess forward, my full weight on her shoulder. She was clearly in pain. Mark looked calm, his head tilted in a catalogue pose. I peered out of the photograph with a sweaty, immediate leer. My hair was pasted to my forehead, my eyes were a little too wide, off-kilter. Not only did my skin have an oily sheen but my teeth, yellowed by the flash, were distinctly lupine.
“Holy crap, I look smashed.”
“You’re supposed to help me, you know,” I said.
“Don’t blame me, I told you to leave when I did. I could see the state you were getting into.”
The day after the ball, I felt fine. I did not harbour the dread that follows a night of self-abasement. Still, the picture of my pasty visage was a giveaway. I had shamed myself. The newsletter was quarterly so I would have to endure its presence in the canteen for some time. I could destroy every copy but they would only be replenished by a keen intern.
I danced like everyone else, only with a little more vigour. In such situations, the preferred dance entails a gentle swaying motion. I did this, only quicker and with a slightly aggressive swing of the arms.
I was surprised that I had forgotten so much, but then it is always easier to recall other people’s calamities. I remember watching in horror as Catherine from Marketing accosted the finance director. She broke into his circle on the dance floor, swinging to the chart-friendly house music. He smiled and tried to step away but she seized him by the waist. Moments later she was escorted from the floor. Watching her slide onto the carpet I thought, ‘there but for the grace of god, go I’.
At lunch Jess and I joined Cindy, our maternal receptionist.
“Yeah, I saw the newsletter,” she said, “you looked hammered.”
I had evidently ridiculed myself, but to what extent? Cindy pulled out her phone.
“This has been cracking me up.”
She pressed play on a video – it was the dance floor of the ball. Employees arranged by department wobbled in time to the music. Several sweaty interlopers had inserted themselves into the female-dominated clusters. I was one such presence, bobbing along with the PR team (made up almost exclusively of twenty-something blondes). The shot lingered on my profile as I turned one way then the next, trying to engage in frivolous chat. I appeared to be keeping an appropriate distance, however, and disengaged after each rebuff (that was something, I thought).
I danced like everyone else, only with a little more vigour. In such situations, the preferred dance entails a gentle swaying motion. I did this, only quicker and with a slightly aggressive swing of the arms. My torso was craned forward and, although my feet were planted to the ground, my legs twitched in a climbing motion. My arms lurched from front to back. I was cross-country skiing – casually – in a rumpled white shirt.
“Please stop,” I said.
“You haven’t seen the worst, darling.”
Cindy turned the sound up, at first the music was indistinct. I strained then heard the lyric, it pierced me, mocking my lack of success with the impeccably coiffured ladies.
“If you wanna know, if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.”
My avatar flayed his squid-arms, as a stilettoed beauty stepped away. I was gaudy and dangerous.
“Brilliant,” Cindy said, “dad-dancing to the Shoop Shoop song, that’s one for youtube. Definitely.”
Jess started laughing. They were canteen harpies, pecking my eyes out. They agreed that I deserved it, although for what I had no idea. I searched for a withering comeback but drew a blank. I would no doubt think of the perfect response on the way home.
After a minute, I said “come on, Cindy, not youtube. Not again.”