The first sign was the handshake at the door. For a tall man, he had small cool hands and skin as soft and plump as my old home economics teacher’s. Waterfall: the hand slipped out of my grip before I had made my impression, the one I’d honed on my dad, which told everyone that I was firm, in control, serious about the work.
We were in Soho, but not the Soho that I wanted, that I saw my friends and peers getting familiar with: Bond girl receptionists, fresh flowers, coffee you could look forward to. I was in the Soho of shimmer curtains and cartoon eyes urging you to ‘look!’, drawn thickly in magic marker on fluorescent cardboard. Alleyways that you’d swear where not there the week before last. Shit smells. Not even DVD, but VHS.
We were on the first floor above an open doorway next to a Chinese Herbalist’s, teetering on the brink of Wardour Street. It was scuffed, scraped and cracked, dust trails and polyester curtains lending a sort of dingy glamour if you really searched for it. This room told me everything that I needed to know about the job – and still I was here.
So, I guess that tells you everything that you need to know about my career.
Despite not being a car, I made an unnecessary three point turn in to a boxy fuchsia pink bucket chair, so low to the ground that my knees bounced up to my rib cage. Obviously, I felt that this wasn’t awkward enough, so I looked down between my legs in surprise, noticing a big bruise of a water stain on the lower half of the chair as I did so. What on earth was I doing? I was seized by the sudden desire to let out a huge vaginal yawn, but I didn’t know what that meant and I doubt it would have led to anything other than an escalation in self diminishing acts from me.
He sat opposite, sleepy cat, endless legs crossed and contrived in unfathomable ways. Sordid, born to it. One hand cradled his phone, the other caressed a label dangling on a beaded plastic tie from the arm of the chair. Caution: Flammable. It was the only new thing in the entire room. A double bed gave a Gallic shrug in the corner. I could hear Soho outside, so I knew I hadn’t died, but the very air in the room shrunk out all life, charisma and energy.
Someone had to, had to, say a something.
‘Thanks for seeing me. I really admire your work.’
‘It’s an interesting job. Lots of possibilities I think.’
‘I can smoke in here.’ Statement of fact, to himself: the day was looking up for him. He moved his attention to a pocket in his skinny jeans, pulled out a tin and started rolling a cigarette. His eyes flicked back to his phone screen.
‘Would you like to know about the work that I’ve done?’
My voice was girlish and shrill, creeping higher as I inched my way through the sentence, a trait first observed in me by a bitter choir leader at Brownies, one which had persisted (due to my failure to address) into adulthood.
It’s worse when I feel like I’m struggling. I pulled my skirt down towards my knees – damn bucket chair – and with no response from him I kept talking, a desperate, rickety Beckett-y monologue which took in and spat out details of my training and first gigs, inspiration and ambition pumping like pistons to cover the cracks in my resume.
My voice sank upwards, joining an exclusive frequency enjoyed only by electrical hums and dog whistles. The clip clop of a phone alert barely made the chorus. I knew it wasn’t mine, ringer off at the door of course, but I did take a break from all the great faces that I was pulling as I sold my tarnished wares to see him glance down to his phone hand. Glance then stay, rooted, finger twitching over the keypad, tapping in his response.
‘In an audition mate. This girl’s a dick’. Probably, probably that, I imagined, all the while teeth and eyes and tiny voice keeping it bright and right.
I’d decided to tell him how rude he was, that I’d spread the word about him to others, because I had that much about me, by God I did– until I remembered that I didn’t need to do any such thing. I pressed my hands into the sharp arms of the chair and levered myself up to standing. My skirt rode up and over my bandy, low-lying gusset, revealing no doubt to the observant eye all those tiny little white elastic worms that wriggle free to escape a dying pair of tights. It helped – all true warriors wear little skirts, don’t they? Better to take charge in, of course.
‘Do you want this job?’ I said.
He looked at me. Then my gusset, then back at my face – he did have lovely eyes. I pressed.
‘Because if you do, put down the phone, take your top off and get on the bed. The room doesn’t pay for itself and neither do I.’
He shuddered, muttered sorry and stood up, stuffed the still smouldering fag butt into his jeans pocket and started undoing his shirt buttons. I moved over to the bed, opened my toolbox and started laying out the kit.
When I turned around he was ready, the shirt stuffed in haste down the side of the bucket chair. Too brightly he struck a pose, nipples rosy, fingers splayed, hands outstretched. Ta-da.
I looked at the water stain and gestured towards the bed.
“Let’s get this done.’
Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I am, in fact, the boss.