This is a serialisation of the novel ‘Marcello: Love in the City’. After a date with Karen, the disinterested lawyer, Marcello tries to make friends in the office.
The following day at work, I turned my attention to my other great pastime: trying to befriend my icy work colleagues. Jess dismisses the project as folly. It was my Cern, I countered. I wanted to discern the secret to their dark matter. And I didn’t care how many atoms I had to smash in the process.
Every day I keyed in the variables, hoping to crack the friendship code. I used humour to leverage results. It was an arduous business but it seemed worthwhile somehow. Being on the outside was wearing, no matter how you framed it.
The latest coworker to dance into my comedic crosshairs was Hannah. We had been working together on a project; she was in the digital team and effortlessly cool. I was an ‘HR Man’ and therefore indelibly square. Nevertheless, in my role I had always tried to convey a certain rugged charm, as if I were some rake who had merely chanced upon the corporate world. At one time I had served in the Royal Navy – something I liked to mention from time to time. This allusion to a former seafaring life was the perfect counter-balance to my sober existence as an office worker.
I was at my desk when the phone rang. Hannah’s name flashed on the display.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s going down?”
“Hi, I’m calling about the project.”
I switched to a businesslike tone:
“Of course, the project. Let’s get up to speed.”
“Well, we only met yesterday so I think we’re ok.”
“Sure, I’m onboard with that.”
I shifted in my seat.
Hannah said, “The thing is, I’m not sure I can make it on Thursday. My boyfriend and I have ordered a new fridge and he needs to be at home when they deliver it. I just don’t want to leave him in the house on his own for too long.”
I twirled a pen with my fingers.
“Why? Will he start to destroy the furniture?”
There was a silence. From my office window I could see the Thames. A rusty tug cruised by, laden down with refuse.
“I’ve got to go,” Hannah said.
“Sure, we can reschedule Thursday.”
“Let’s do that.”
I said goodbye, but I think she might have hung up. Outside I watched the tug’s skipper lean out of his cabin and light a cigarette. The afternoon sun glistened on the river and I remembered the ocean swell off the Bay of Biscay. The skipper pulled up his collar. Not such a bad job, I thought.
Next week: Marcello fires a family man in a crisp, controlled manner.