While leaning in spontaneously for an inappropriate and soon-to-be unreciprocated end-of-night kiss on the cheek of Angie Denham, wife of his firm’s Managing Director, the life of 26-year-old Bill Downing re-played itself in his mind’s eye as a series of excruciating gaffes leading to this disastrous current situation.
What Downing had registered as a definite forward-lean and head-tilt in his direction as the Denhams left the firm’s Christmas do, was actually Mrs Denham saying goodbye to the manager standing next to him, while looking down to get some fluff off the front of her top. ‘The split-second I moved in for the light hug and peck I realised I’d gone wrong’, explained the nervous trainee accountant, ‘but by then I’d already clearly over-committed’.
With time now moving in slow-motion, Downing could see the looks of horror and elbow nudges of amusement from those around him as he moved in on Angie, and the many humiliating images of his past raced across his mind: the time he’d asked his first boss how his wife was doing, not having heard she’d just run off with her driving instructor; a joke about the DTs setting in made to a recovering alcoholic friend of the family that had Parkinson’s, and the times he’d had to say ‘I’m sorry, that’s never happened to me before’ after sex, which was virtually every time he’d done it, going back as far as, and including, the loss of his virginity.
As he continued his trajectory towards his boss’s wife’s left cheek, his memory followed a path back earlier and earlier into his life, offering little respite as it recalled the time he called his GCSE Biology teacher ‘mum’, and brought back his very earliest memories of a boy in first year infants, too shy to put his hand up in class, with a growing yellow puddle under his chair.
Then, as he crossed irreversibly into Angie’s personal space and caught the look of slight alarm and distaste in her eye that meant his career at Denham’s was over, a revelation on his significance as one person in a world of six billion souls struck him.
‘Ah, sod it,’ he thought to himself, and decided he might as well go for tongues.