PANIC (2013)


At first I wonder why they are all smirking in my general direction. It couldn’t be because I’m late – I’m always late for meetings and no-one even notices, probably since I usually have little to say. But this time they stop talking and all turn and look at me with naughty grins as I walk into the boardroom. Moira is actually giving me some kind of come to bed smile – that’s Moira for you, nobody takes her up on it, or her Dad would sack them. Jill the JW looks at me and seems to be trying not to laugh, but Salim’s smile is more wickedness than joy. Moira’s Dad waves me in.
‘Hey Spike, alright?’ he says.
‘I’m alright Jack’ I answer, which was funny the first couple of times but now five years on it’s just irritating habit. He laughs, again out of habit more than amusement, but everyone else is still looking at me and just beaming at me like they know something I don’t, in that way people do when I have a bogey on my cheek, or a “I’m a wanker” post-it note on my back. But this time I don’t. I check-glance down at my flies but try and disguise it by patting my pockets as if checking I have my keys or phone on me. Seems OK.
‘Come on Spikey’ chuckles Barry, get yer arse in here and sit down.’
I sit down and a moment later it hits me, with a sickening flashback of memory. Last night.
Last night my new company mobile phone (which, as a lowly draughtsman I was very lucky to be given – it’s true it’s wasted on me but then I don’t get a company car) was in my trousers pocket when I got in about half eleven last night and sat down on the toilet, more or less in the nick of time, feeling like the world was going to fall out of my bottom. I waited for all hell to break loose and drop into the pan.
And then my new phone rang. This is not a typical vanilla phone, but, compensating for the lack of car, it’s a bells and whistles all singing all dancing fuck-off nutter-bastard phone, with touch-screen internet and movie camera, face recognition, voice recognition, gazillion megabytes MP3, GPS, the lot. I’m scared to even touch it – it might beam me up to the mother ship for all I know.
It was Salim, the IT fixer who’d got it for me.
‘Just checking the new toy works my friend!’ he said jovially, ‘and shall I go through all its many beautiful functions and features with you?’
‘Hey Sal, I’m on the bog.’ I replied, ‘and how come you don’t sound rat-arsed?’
‘Because my friend, as you must have noticed by now I do not drink alcohol, no alcohol, unlike you who stumbles about groping ladies and forgets that The Raj serves utter camel-shit!’
I told him we’d leave the phone tuition till tomorrow, and when he persisted, and I knew my sphincter muscles were about to say ah sod it, I told him to fuck off, but in a nice way. He laughed, as I recall.
Now, in the boardroom, Salim was looking at me as broadly as two Cheshire cats side by side, and with the sort of twinkle in his eyes I last saw in TV prankster Jeremy Beadle’s.
As I recall, last night, I pressed the touchscreen and threw the phone onto the screwed up trousers and pants on the bathroom floor and spent the next half hour trying to choreograph bodily expulsions from both ends, either sitting on the pan or kneeling over it, and pulling down ream after ream of Andrex. I did not neglect to recite the piss-artists prayer – “Lord please don’t let me die tonight, and I promise I’ll never touch another drop!” I think it actually rhymes in Latin.
As I sit down between a leering Moira and the less attractive Gordon, who is smiling at me as if I’m his next carcass, I also remember last night eventually tumbling my body into bed, fumbling at my phone to set the alarm, and finding that it seemed to be still connected to Salim. I briefly wondered whether he would still be on the line, but reckoned even he wasn’t that evil, and then the ceiling started sloshing around above me and I closed my eyes.
Now, looking around at them all, I changed my mind and decided he probably was that evil. As absurd as it sounds, I’m afraid he might well have not only listened to my ordeal but recorded it and played it to my colleagues for their infotainment.
‘What’s the matter with you Spike’ says Barry, his cheeks bursting with ruddy joy, ‘rough night?’
There are eighteen of us around the table, I count, all from various departments, all with two things in common: The first is that they’re all great mates with Salim, as most people in the company are, since they all depend on him and need him to like them. As IT manager he is in effect the wizard Merlin at the Round Table.
Jack claps his hands.
‘Now our brilliant architect has deigned to join us we can get down to business’ he says, panning around the table, grinning manically, ‘so first of all Spike, put us out of our misery please, and tell us, please tell us…’
Business? Misery? Tell them what? That my arse is sore?
‘..tell us, please, that you did buy the ticket this time.’
‘The ticket?’ I mutter.
‘Yes the ticket. The Lotto ticket.’
Suddenly my anxiety about the phone call fades away like England’s hopes of winning the world cup when Rooney gets sent off, only to be replaced by a worse panic. The words Lotto and ticket are like a sharp pencil in my ribs, because they’ve only recently trusted me again with this task after the tragedy of two years ago. I don’t want to think about it.
Yes it was my job on Wednesday lunchtime to buy it, usual numbers, and yes now I see the second thing everyone has in common. This is the lottery syndicate.
‘We won, Spike’ squeals JW Jill, looking very pleased with herself in beige cardigan and bible-shaped brooch, and then uncharacteristically ‘we fucking won the lottery!’
‘Yep, we have won Rollover Wednesday’ confirms Jack. ‘I can’t believe you didn’t know, and you better have bloody bought that ticket! What were you up to last night?’
I feel a huge finger of responsibility bearing down on me, given extra impact by the fact that JW Jill said ‘fucking’. I’m not very happy that a JW could even play the lottery – surely somehow they are above that kind of thing – let alone swear. This is all too much. My mind flashes back again to last night, and back further past the ill-advised curry and the reckless beers, past even the early drinks in the Toby Jug, and on past the afternoon’s work on the plans of a magnificent house in St Georges Hill. I drew it up with all the loving care and attention of someone who would actually own it and live in it, despite knowing that I wouldn’t. I imagined myself living there, knowing that could never be, barring something really daft happening like, say, a lottery win.
My hung-over mind reaches further back, into the lunch hour, when I should have bought the ticket, and to my heartfelt joy I see that in fact I did buy it. I can remember buying it and handing the money over, the girl saying good luck without looking at me, as if she was saying good luck to her hands or something, and I know I put that ticket in my pocket right there with the new phone.
‘I did buy it’ I say, and immediately there are hisses of relief, a couple of whoops and a yay! Simon wastes no time grabbing Moira and hugging her, then kissing her, and she slaps his face then kisses him back. Barry thumps the table rapidly with his fists and it’s basically something of a group orgasm of greedy mammon-fuelled delight. I ought to feel quite pleased to have given so much pleasure with four little words, but as it is I feel like the spare prick at an orgy. The reason is that the video tape of my memory has fast-forwarded to me on the toilet again.
I still suspect Salim heard and recorded my scatological performance, and now I am scared that in my fumbliness I might have pressed record and he’s got a nasty movie too. That is scary. But even that is not what my new panic is about. I try to join in the celebration and general rejoicing, but I doubt I’m fooling anyone. I bought the ticket OK, I wasn’t lying about that. So why am I panicking? Why am I about to lose control of my bodily functions, again?
Well, what’s worse than the world falling out of your bottom? What’s worse is finding that there’s no bogroll left. Andrex may go on and on and on, but my bowel movements went on longer. Come on, we never win the Lotto, and we never will, everybody knows that, and I was really very drunk, and so yes; I did actually wipe my shitty arse with the lottery ticket.
And then I flushed it down the pan.
What was I meant to do, frame it?
‘OK, so where is it?’ asks Jack, ‘and then we have to talk turkey about our exit strategy, what becomes of the business, shares, investments, splashing out on Ferraris, that kind of thing. Nine million is one serious bloody pile of dosh.’
Now they’re all looking at me, thirty six money mad eyes all pointing at my head like gun lasers. I stand up.
‘Oh, and Spike my friend,’ says Salim, holding up his phone, ‘I got it all!’
What a fiend. I’m amazed I’m not wetting myself. He looks more smug than the dictionary definition of smug actually allows, but I can’t think of a better word.
‘I’ll just go and get it then’ I say, gently, trying not to pee, and leave the room. I scurry past reception and leave the building, and then I start running down the road. I leave the town and then somehow I leave the country, cross the sea to Barbados and finally, mercifully, I wake up.
The bed sheets are damp and crumpled, I’m hot and panting, but in my right fist is a lottery ticket, and I smile to myself.