Wednesday 08 October 1997
Mark stops at Susie's desk, puts a hand on the surface and says, "Hi, there," while gazing at a point in the far distance. "Hi," says Susie, and stares down at her desk. "Urr," says Mark, "have you got a copy of that feasibility report lurking around? I thought I ought to make a copy of it, maybe." A couple of tiny points of colour dot the tips of Susie's cheekbones. "Yes," she says, "hold on."
She dips down into her filing drawer and Mark glances briefly at her back, snapping his eyes back upward when she resurfaces. "Here we are," she says, holding out a bound document. "I'll need it back, though." For a moment she continues to hold one side while he grips the other, and their eyes lock. A tiny, secret smile passes between them. "Of course," he says. "I'll bring it back in a second."
It couldn't be much more obvious that Susie and Mark are having an affair if they were to flop over the desktop and start pawing at each other. No one has said anything to me (sometimes people like to use the temp as the office confessional, as they know she will move on and no harm will be done), but a few days observing her has left me in no doubt. Of course, a high proportion of people meet their partner through work these days, so a relationship going on in the office is hardly unusual. But it's funny how controlled people manage to be, on the whole, about sticking to the proprieties. My flat-mate Trish had been at her job for six weeks before she realised that two of the people she worked with were actually married - and to each other.
It's not the things they do, you see, but the things they don't. Anglo- Saxon culture requires that anyone who wants to establish trust, or co- operation - a fairly basic thing in colleagues - will attempt to meet eyes every 10 seconds or so. Mark and Susie virtually never exchange glances, though their eyes are constantly following each other's backs. They never tell each other jokes, or swap information that's not strictly related to the job in hand. They rarely leaven what they are saying with a smile, but talk, instead, very seriously, very wide-eyed. Lunchtime comes and they will always leave and return within five minutes of each other, though never at the same time. And Mark needs to learn to dial Susie's full direct line number, not her extension: there is no greater giveaway to an office affair than when a phone makes that single ring of the internal line and the person who picks it up goes all pretty and giggly when they answer.
As Mark scratches his head by the photocopier, I can see Susie watching his backside slyly out of the corner of her eye. Mark has a nice bum, even in a cheap suit, and I've occasionally cheered up the odd dull moment admiring it myself. But Susie fiddles with her pen for a full 30 seconds while her pupils point sideways, before sighing and pulling her piece of paper back into the fray.
He comes back to her desk. "I'm sorry to bother you," he says, "but I can't work out how it works. You couldn't ..." Susie has gained her feet before he finishes the request. "Sure," she says, and they cross the floor in step, hands swinging exactly in time. Looking at the control panel, she leans on to her forearms and rests one foot up on its toes, looking down, hair dropping into her eyes. Seconds later, Mark has assumed the same position, only he looks at her face rather than the display. He says something quiet, and she gets a foxy little "aren't we naughty?" smile.
Susie punches a couple of keys, then hits the start button. They stay there, ostensibly making sure everything's working right, but facing each other, arms crossed casually over their stomachs, chatting. Susie reaches over and picks some imaginary fluff off his shoulder, two fingers, flicks it away, and he doesn't even look to see what it is. When she walks back to her seat, the dimples either side of her mouth are about an inch deep.
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