I hadn’t meant to go.
But the rest of Engineering talked me into it. “Come on, it’ll be a scream.”
So I put on my jolliest clothes, and I went.
Engineering weren’t there.
I glanced round the room – didn’t recognise a soul. It looked like only the higher-ups: short, pasty middle-aged men; and their P.A.s, all younger, smarter made-up than me.
Work’s Christmas do.
Executive ballroom, Montague Hotel; near the city walls. Lavish deep red-and-gold garlands, huge tree; myriad tiny lights. At least the venue had class.
I headed for the mulled wine. Thus armed, I mingled – find an interesting conversation.
A group discussing local fee-paying schools: Tadcaster Grammar, St. Peters; Bootham. Another arguing the finer points of some tax-avoiding scam. House prices. I rolled my eyes.
I noticed mistletoe.
Fat chance, guys.
He stood out, directly beneath it. Golden-blond hair, ponytail: tall, slim, straight; severe.
And he turned and looked right at me.
I made my way towards him. Set down my warm wineglass and gazed up at him.
Crystal splinters of eyes: golden lashes.
I didn’t know what to do with my hands as he embraced me. Sparks shot across my palms. I closed my eyes.
I gaze up at him again.
“Do I…know you from somewhere?”
“I know all in this room: all bar you.”
He’s kissed everyone? The blokes too?
He shakes his head.
“Oh…sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“I am Fear: the sum total of all these people’s fears. Fear of ageing, cuckolding; ridicule. Status anxiety. Fear of poverty, death: of time itself. So intense, here in this room, that I am able to materialise in human form.”
I’m lost for words.
“What if I told you this was your last day?”
Strange thing to ask at an office party. But different, at least.
I concoct some witty answer-
But those eyes: he’s serious!
That’s not fair!
“I’m only twenty-five! My friends! My work! My parents! I’d leave my brother an only child!”
“Are you not afraid for yourself?”
“No! I’d be dead, wouldn’t I?”
“Then I don’t know you.”
“No. You don’t-”
But he’s gone.