Read by Cliff Chapman
My-Lann. That’s her name. She’s Japanese. Who would have thought it: you put ‘Find a Woman’ on your New Year’s Resolutions list and she appears just days later. Unbelievable. They’ve sat her on the desk next to mine, on the other side of the aisle. It’s fate.
My-Lann is amazing. She was some kind of Olympic athlete back in Japan, I heard her telling someone in the office kitchen. And we’ve so much in common, with her being Japanese and everything. For example, I love sushi. Not the ones with fish in them, but the other ones. I’ve seen The Seven Samurai. Well, technically just the first half; had to turn it off when Mother insisted on watching An Audience with Michael Buble. She still won’t let me have a TV on my room, or a computer, despite me being a fully grown man. ‘I don’t know what you’d be watching up there,’ she always says. ‘Temptation comes in many forms.’
Well I hope it gets a bloody move on. Or at least, that’s what I used to think – before My-Lann.
My-Lann actually asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. We were having our first conversation!!! I said yes. She said how do you like it? I thought for a moment and said, ‘Black.’ I doubt they do this milk and sugar business in Japan, and I wanted to show her I’m a man of the world. She was impressed, I could tell. Tea tasted horrible, but I forced it down.
My-Lann smiled at me when she came in, and nodded her head slightly. I wonder if I should give her a special bow in the mornings, some kind of formal Japanese greeting that a man gives a woman at the start of the day? Must look into it.
At the staff meeting, I held the door open for her and she said, ‘Thank you.’ It’s the best two words I’ve heard all week. All month, even.
Oh My-Lann, My-Lann,
I’m your Number One Fan.
I’m so glad you no longer reside in Japan.
Spent some time with My-Lann in office kitchen as we both made our lunches. We didn’t say anything. It’s amazing how quickly we’re comfortable in each other’s company, so comfortable we don’t even have to talk.
I think it’s getting safe enough to call us ‘an item’.
Later, I’m so light-headed I completely forget to tap my Oyster Card on the way out of the station. Oh to hell with it – I’m crazy and in love and I just don’t care.
There’s a new man in Sales. He went right round the office introducing himself. Very impressive. ‘Lean,’ he said. ‘Joe Lean.’ Good firm handshake. Minus points: long, auburn hair tied in a ponytail, and an earring in his left ear. Definite no-nos. Apart from that, a good first impression. Looked me straight in the eye before I looked away. Must steal technique and use with My-Lann.
For the past three days now, everybody says hello to Joe Lean when he arrives in the morning. You’d think he was Captain James T Kirk or something. And he always swans it at least five minutes late!
Oh well, at least My-Lann will disapprove of his poor punctuality as much as I do.
Saw My-Lann bring over a mug of tea and place it on Joe Lean’s desk. What was she doing??? She’s not even in Sales!!! Plus she’s at least four desks away from Joe Lean, putting him well out of her tea radius. Very strange.
Three people were hanging around Joe Lean’s desk for most of the morning, and not for work reasons either. You’d think he was Gandhi or something. He murmured a line in that low drawl of his – I couldn’t hear what it was – and then Mary from Accounts said, ‘You were in a band?’ Then Joe Lean nodded his head slowly and smiled. ‘Cacophony,’ he said. ‘Remember them?’
The next thing I knew, My-Lann shot up from her desk and practically ran over to join the throng.
‘Cacophony?’ said Mary. ‘No, I don’t remember them.’
Ha! Take that, Mr Joe Lean.
‘Well, we were a bit too ahead of our time for the UK,’ he said. ‘But we were big in Japan.’ He looked straight at My-Lann, who had turned from a confident young woman into some kind of blushing schoolgirl.
Dear God, no.
‘You were in the Top 10,’ said My-Lann. ‘I thought I recognised you.’
‘Yeah,’ said Joe Lean. He ran a hand through his ridiculous hair. ‘I think we went straight in at Number 3 or something. Stayed there for, I don’t know, four weeks or so? Bit of a haze, really...’
Oh, a bit of haze was it? Let’s see how hazy you are with the facts, I thought, turning to my computer. After practically tearing a hole in my Chewbacca mousemat, I finally established the facts: Cacophony. Japanese Top 10, No 3, April 22 to May 19, 2004. Just as he’d said. I clicked on Images and there he was in a range of artfully posed photographs: Joe Lean standing by an old brick wall; Joe Lean resting against a tree bark in a leather jacket; Joe Lean on a 1950s moped parked beside a power station. The rest of the band were conspicuous by their absence, his ego perhaps being so large that they were squeezed right out of the frame. Oh yes, it was the Joe Lean Show all the way, only now he was performing it from behind a desk, his groupies all around. Including My-Lann.
I have to do something about this, and fast. The office party is next week, and I want everyone to see that My-Lann and I are very much a couple.
Joe Lean just happened to bring in his guitar case. ‘What, this?’ he said, parking it noisily by the side of his desk. ‘Oh, I’m just returning it to someone later...’
He placed it facing directly into the aisle, causing a major health and safety hazard. He might as well have erected a neon sign above it saying: ‘I had a Top 3 hit for four weeks, I’m absolutely incredible, please love me.’
Despite stating that the case was merely in transit, he still managed to pull a guitar out of it at lunchtime, after much protesting to his growing fan base that he wasn’t much of a player and had gotten rusty, etc, etc. He then sat on the edge of his desk and proceeded to perform note-perfect renditions of Wonderwall, Here Comes The Sun and the final section of Nessun Dorma. You know the bit I mean. You’re not even supposed to play Nessun Dorma on a guitar!!! Doing it without an orchestra is just silly and a blatant act of attention-seeking.
Oh My-Lann, I thought, please use your natural beauty and intelligence to see through this pathetic act.
But there she was, sitting cross-legged on the floor by his desk, like some kind of sex disciple. She sipped her smoothie slowly through a straw while staring at Joe’s leather cowboy boots, which had mysteriously appeared on his feet after a trip to the toilets. The boots had spurs on them and everything. I mean, come on, where did he think he was, the OK Corral? This is Reading Industrial Park, mate.
Later, I saw My-Lann chatting with him by the vending machine. He rested an arm casually on the glass as he talked. I decided to walk past, on the pretext that I needed some staples from the stationary room.
I heard My-Lann mention the office party as I passed. I stayed in the stationary room until I’d calmed down.
Mother knocked three times and came into my room. She knew something was up because I’d said I wasn’t hungry when I came in, and then I hadn’t even come down for Masterchef. I said everything was fine, there’s nothing wrong, honestly, but then she ruffled my hair in the way I keep telling her not to do, and when she said, ‘Come on, what’s wrong, petal?’ I just blurted out: ‘I hate Joe Lean. I HATE HIM!’
Mother said that was no way to speak about someone, no matter what they were like. Your Father wouldn’t have said that about anyone, would he, she said, and what happened to my little boy that he’d come out with something like that?
I refused to say any more and Mother finally went back downstairs. Later, she knocked softly three times on the door. I heard it open. I was too embarrassed to turn around. The door closed again. When I looked, I saw that she’d left a plate of Crispy Pancakes on the bookcase, my favourite. And a tin of Fanta.
I’ll go down later and say sorry.
- Go to office party.
- Tell Joe Lean to back right off.
- Tell My-Lann that I love her.
- The End.
When I got to the party, there was no sign of My-Lann.
Or Joe Lean.
I went straight to the toilets. There was no one there so I practiced in the mirror.
‘Now you listen to me, Mr Joe Lean.’ I stood with my legs apart, like Clint Eastwood. ‘You keep your hands right off my woman, you understand?’
‘Oh yeah?’ he said, in my head.
‘Yeah?’ He lunged for me.
‘Yeah!’ He missed by miles and fell flat on his face.
‘I warned you,’ I said.
That went well, I thought.
Then I heard a latch open behind me and Paul from Marketing came out of the cubicle, doing up his belt. He shook his head slowly.
‘Fucking nutjob,’ he said.
When I got back into the main room, Joe Lean was there, miraculously standing on his own. It was now or never.
‘C-Can I have a word?’ I said. ‘About My-Lann.’
‘She’s great, isn’t she?’ he said, over the horrendous noise from the karaoke. ‘Nice arse.’
‘N-now look here,’ I said. ‘She’s mine.’
‘She’s mine. Hands off her.’
Joe Lean leant his head back and laughed: a horrible, moustache-twirling laugh.
‘You’re a fucking joke,’ he said. ‘You haven’t even spoken to her, have you?’
‘I have! We’re an item!’
‘J-just ... stay away from her!’ I said.
‘You know what I’m gonna do?’ said Joe Lean. ‘I’m gonna tell her all about this later, right after I’ve nailed her.’
He leant his head back again and his whole body shook.
I grabbed the lapels of his leather jacket. ‘Joe Lean, I’m begging you – please don’t take My-Lann!’
Then he pushed me down to the sticky floor. ‘What are you gonna do?’ he said. ‘Knock me around the head with some spreadsheets?’
Then I saw a pair of elegant legs approaching from behind Joe Lean.
I lay my head down on the floor, the lights from the karaoke machine flashing on her beautiful calves as she left, with two cowboy boots clacking by her side.
The new workplace isn’t too bad. It’s in the same Industrial Park, but if I take the long way round in the morning, nobody from the old place can see me.
My-Lann’s pregnant or something, apparently. Doesn’t bother me, she can do what she likes.
Anyway, there’s Caroline now. Oh yes. Caroline. She’s from Newcastle. I used to quite like Jimmy Nail, so that’s one thing in common for a start.
I helped sort a paper jam the other day and Caroline said, ‘You’re good at that.’ I almost said something I was so pleased, but I stopped myself. No point in rushing things.
Anyway, must be off. I can hear the kettle downstairs, and Strictly’s on in a minute.
Good night, diary.
Good night, Caroline.
© Bernie Deehan, 2012
Bernie Deehan is a freelance sub-editor who writes short fiction in his spare time. He’s had stories published in The Legendary and performed at Liars’ League, and is a regular at the very enjoyable Short Story Book Club (www.meetup.com/The-Short-Story-Book-Club)