"Once or Twice Upon a Time" is a home for stories longer than is usual for blogposts. Some have been previously published in hardback. These are indicated (p) along with the year of publication. Word counts (2500 etc) let you estimate how long a read will take.

August 23, 2012


(1982. p.  4750 words)

Morning by morning, after a twenty-minute journey from his suburb Stringfellow drew up at the Tradesman's Entrance to the Medical School in one of Scotland's ancient Universities. His transport was a gent's bicycle - gent's defining the machine's social class as well as its gender - dark green, of George the Fifth stateliness, its chain totally enclosed in an oil-bath chaincase, and the action of dismounting was equally stately and as gentlemanly as Stringfellow could make it. Without ostentation, eagerness or athleticism and staring straight ahead he swung his leg up and backwards over the creaking saddle, which was of real leather with coil springs beneath, while retaining a firm clasp on the cushioned handlegrips. This brought both his Cherry Blossomed feet to the same side, left, of his machine.  At this point he stooped to disentangle trouser clips that had once belonged to his grandfather and, morning by morning, focussed on what the day had in store.
    In  the first week of term Government spending cuts had relegated his assistant secretary to Student Records and sent in her place, Fridays and Mondays only, an Agency girl, a Temp, a Canadian called Sasha Bezack, and this being Friday Stringfellow rolled the shutter doors, passed through, padlocked his bicycle to a safety rail in the boiler-room and planned a route through the day which would avoid his having to go into Miss Bezack's office even to say Goodmorning.
    He heaved a sigh. He unhitched the elasto-fabric straps that secured his briefcase to the bicycle's carrier.  He stepped into the lift. Alone, not permitting his briefcase to swing in his grasp or his gaze to stray from the winking numbers that marked the lift's ascent, he rode to the third floor which housed his Department as well as the Department  of Geriatric Medicine and the Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. His office door was opposite the lift. He put his case down on the floor outside his door. He took off his string-backed gloves. He took out his keys. He did all this as quietly as he could for from the adjacent office which the Temp shared with his regular secretary, Miss Northumberland, he heard paper ratcheting into a typewriter - a sound he recognized - followed by a sound he did not recognize, a soft rasp rasp like a match scraping repeatedly on a damp matchbox. He worked his doorkey wincing at its importunate noise. He opened his door - a plastic nameplate identified him as D. Stringfellow, Professor of Iatrogenic Pathology - and went in. Not tiptoeing which would have been childish, but placing his feet carefully and quietly he worked his way round his desk and sat down.
    Where was his post?  Usually Miss Northumberland opened his letters, filed any Minutes he would not have time to read, destroyed publishers' lists and threatening letters from drug companies, respected correspondence marked Private or Personal and placed the pile on his blotter. Today the ritual had not been observed. Stringfellow put his elbows on the desk and squeezed his nostrils between the tips of his forefingers. This was ominous. That no post had been delivered to the Department could certainly be discounted, for Iatrogenic Pathology generated continuous controversy and correspondence. The inferences were that Miss Northumberland had not arrived yet, that his post lay unattended on her desk, that Miss Bezack was alone in the outer office - of course!  Rasp rasp! Her fingernail applied to one of those sandpaper boards that women use - and that if he wanted his letters he must ask her for them. He sat back in contemplation. Friday was closing in.
    "It's no use dodging the issue," he told himself. Without his post the work of the day could not go forward.  He rehearsed under his breath.
    "Ah - Miss Bezack, would you fetch my letters through?"
    But how would she answer?  She could be logical, retorting "You're nearer than me."  And this was true. Though there was a door between, his desk was closer to Miss Northumberland's than Miss Bezack'a was. But that surely did not give her licence to . . . He did not pursue the argument. She might opt for disguised impertinence, "Miss Northumberland isn't in yet."  Simple impertinence, "Just as soon as I've finished doing (rasp rasp) what I'm doing." Or the frontal attack, "Your letters. Fetch them yourself - " (pause) " - Shiny."
   The trouble is, he told himself, people these days are undismissable. And complaining to the Agency was to embark on a assault course through a phalanx of women whose honeyed voices were trained to deflect complaints and if this failed, to hector complainants into submission.
    "Mail," he said. "Americans call it mail."
    His long fingers hovered over the switches on his inter-office speaker.
    "Ah, Miss Bezack" - he was still in rehearsal - "I'd like my mail, if you'd be so good." His resolve faltered. His hand fell. He would wait until Miss Northumberland came in. Miss Northumberland was fifty, wore cultured pearls and brown skirts, never trousers, and if she rasped her nails, did it somewhere private in her own time.
    He drew a note pad in front of him. Each morning on this pad, six inches by four, he made three lists side by side, of things he must do, things he might do, and things he could transfer to tomorrow's list. He uncapped his fountain pen and applied it to the pad. It did not write. He shook it the way his clinical colleagues trained their students to shake thermometers. Three drops of royal blue Quink splattered his left hand. He looked at them for a moment, opened his desk drawer, reached for a Kleenex but found the pack empty. He looked at the spots again. Miss Northumberland could always be relied on to supply fresh tissues. But would Miss Bezack have tissues? Asking her for tissues could be more dangerous than asking for his mail. He sighed again and wished it were Tuesday. He wiped the ink with his handkerchief. At the top of his pad he wrote Get Letters and under this Get Kleenex.
    He was about to add Finish Article on Mrs. McNee's Leg -  he was engaged in research into eczema caused by overprescription of anti-histamines - when the trimphone in the secretaries' office began chirruping and just when he decided Miss Bezack was not going to answer it he heard her twanging accent. "Professor Stringellow zoffice. This is Sasha Bezack." She sadi "Uh-huh," three times and "I'm sorry to hear that," then "O-kaay. I'll pass that message to him." He heard the handset replaced. He watched the connecting door in trepidation. Would she come in? Would she note the message and pass it to Miss Northumberland when Miss Northumberland came in? Or would she forget the message altogether as she often did? His nib moved over his pad again. He wrote Miss Bezack. Get the message and was giving anxious thought to the possibility that it was an urgent message which should not be held up until Miss Northumberland came in, when the door opened. He said "Come" to excuse her not knocking. He pretended to be busy turning the pages of his desk diary and making small ticks with his pen and using a sheet of white blotting paper carefully.
    "Oh sorry," she said. "Didn't know you were in. That's Miss Northumberland sick. Something she ate. She figures on being back Tuesday. Maybe Monday if you're lucky. O-kaay?"
    "Ah," he said, feeling hollow, feeling desperate. How could Miss Northumberland be ill on a Friday? He depended on Miss Northumberland. She hadn't time to be ill. "Has she had the doctor?" he said, thinking of course she hasn't, she has typed to many of my reports to risk calling the doctor. But, exacerbated by medical attention or not, her illness made an irritating situation very serious, for he relied on Miss Northumberland to communicate with Miss Bezack and, when overloaded, to delegate simpler items to her.
    His relationship with Miss Bezack had got off on the wrong foot on her very first Friday. Towards five o'clock she brought finished letters for his signature. He went through them. He clicked his tongue at the first batch of mistakes, then uncapped his pen and, bony knuckles whitening with annoyance, put neat strikes through each error. She watched him do this. Finally he laid down his pen, saying "Dear me, dear me. I think I could type as well as this, Miss Bezack." He had intended to jolly her along with words chosen for her inexperience and understandable nervousness. But his avuncularity had gone sadly awry. She said "Well, Jesus!  It's pushing five. You better than me? You stay and type them over."
    Thereafter Miss Northumberland dealt with Miss Bezack using feminine methods of persuasion and sanction that he did not understand or enquire into. But things got finished. Mistakes were edited out before they reached him. Raised voices were rare. It would be harsh to say that Miss Bezack resented the minimal discipline necessary if work were to be done. The trouble was, she was young - twenty three, Miss Northumberland had confided - and was working her way round the world. Her job was not a commitment of time and effort. It was a means to and end. It paid her next air fare. No landfall lasted more than a month or so during which she lived out of a backpack in hostels or cheap bed-and-breakfast places. She turned herself out neatly and turned up on time, but she typed slowly and erratically and complained constantly how she couldn't read his goddam writing. And though he resented her manners, he was, he judged, fair-minded and a liberal and he rather admired her pluck. Air schedules were at the mercy of intransigent trade unions. Malaria and high-jacking made travelling hazardous.  Perhaps too hazardous, for Miss Bezack's month had stretched to three, long enough for her suntan to fade and for Stringfellow to come to view Fridays and Mondays with recurring dread. And the reason for her extended stay, Miss Northumberland said with an archness reserved for the slightly improper, was that a Norwegian student of ship-building was giving her free board and lodging.
    And now the buffer between them was laid low by gastro-enteritis, gastric flu . . . he ticked off the possibilities, uncomfortably aware that his sympathies were not with Miss Northumberland, alone and palely retching, but with himself, cooped up for the day, Monday too, with this tall, poised Temp who called him Shiny. "Hi Shiny," she would say, raising her fingers from their desultory poking at her typewriter and waggling them at him if ever circumstance made setting foot in the secretaries' office unavoidable. He didn't understand why she called him Shiny. Miss Northumberland put it down to her being from North America where there were more open-plan offices, where intimacies ebbed and flowed with the weather and the staff spent a lot of time horsing around at the water-coolers.
    Miss Bezack, still in the doorway, seemed to be waiting for something. She had on a dress in green and white hoops.  He looked resolutley past her at the spider plants on Miss Northumberland's filing cabinets.  Their tendrils moved in the same slight draught that bore Miss Bezack's fragrance to his desk.
    "You'd like your mail, I guess?" she said at last.
     He made a quick nod and to avoid looking at her face, fixed his gaze on his note-pad.
    From Miss Northumberland's desk she called, "There's a whole big heap of stuff here. You want the circulars and the other garbage or just the personals. I wouldn't know which she throws out, Miss Northumberland."
     "I'll see them all, I think. Thank you."
   "I smell my mail before I open it.  You ever small your mail? You can tell if the sender smokes. I think lotsa offices must be lousy with smoke, like smogbound, the way some mail smells. I never smoke. I guess you don't either, in your trade?"
    He didn't. He said he didn't. He watched her through the connecting door. As she flipped through his letters she kept pushing her straight, pale hair behind her ear. She stooped slightly. She should be careful.  If she was self-conscious about her height she should forgo high heels. No good ever came of high heels. Or stooping. She could end up with a curvature.
    Carrying the letters she came round the front of his desk. She placed them on his blotter. He thanked her.
    "You want to give shorthand?  By this time Miss Northumberland is usually getting shorthand."
   The letter on top of the pile was from Sri Lanka. "Perhaps later," he said. He had little faith in her shorthand. He wondered if she had been to Sri Lanka. He wondered which way round the world she was going. There was protection in staring at the letter for right in front of him was the region of her waist and upper legs in their green and white hoops and the disposition of her hips showed she was standing with her weight all on one leg.
    "I'll dictate later," he said firmly.  People should not put all their weight on one leg.
    "O-kaay! Any time."
    He waited for her to go. He could work with Miss Northumberland in the office. He did not mind Miss Northumberland's presence although she rarely came this close to him. He was so used to her she hardly seemed female. It was different with Miss Bezack. With some severity he told himself he was not reacting to her closeness except as an irritating distraction from his letters. The communication from Sri Lanka, for instance, would be another reply to his world-wide questionaire about eczema. This reminded him that he must add Mrs. McNee's legs to his list. Still Miss Bezack did not go. He noticed a Japanese stamp and stamps from the Antipodes, Central America and the Low Countries. He tried again.
   "I think I prefer to work undisturbed for a while, Miss Bezack, if you don't mind. I have a considerable mail as you can see, and a lecture at eleven."
   "That's something bothers me about you.  I guess when you're lecturing your writing on the chalkboard's gotta be better than your handwriting - "
    He tutted. He didn't want to discuss handwriting. He wanted to be left alone. Any moment now she would call him Shiny.
    "It better be bigger anyway."
    Perhaps a few polite responses would move her.
    "I suppose it is bigger, yes - "
    "I guess the students learn to figure it out from the shape of the squiggles. Dotting some I's would help - "
    "The students don't complain."
    "I would.  I mean, I do. I complain to Miss Northumberland all the time. Doesn't she tell you?"
    In fact Miss Northumberland had given up telling him, as he had given up telling her that a half century's practice had set his writing firmly in its ways. He tried to encourage Miss Bezack to leave by making his posture show annoyance. He put his elbows on the desk and cupped his hands in front of his mouth. She stayed, and he was scrutinizing his stamps and postmarks and breathing hard to underline his annoyance when the green and white hoops rearranged themselves into the shape of a thigh and flattened buttock. He glanced up in alarm. She had perched herself on his desk, her hands clasped round her knee. He tutted again. Women should not sit like that with half the pelvic girdle supporting the whole torso. In extreme cases it could lead to birthing complications. He sorted his post with fresh vigour. He could not think of a single professional colleague who in any circumstances he could imagine, would look up to find a temporary secretary's leg on their desk.
    "I could be two people," Miss Bezack said.
    Paralysed with annoyance and anxiety - how to get rid of her without referring to her leg or being called Shiny - and yet polite because politeness was his habit, he made an interrogative noise and looked hard at the Sri Lanka stamp.
    "I'm ambidextrous," she explained. "I have two signatures. I can forge withdrawals on my own checking account. How about that?"
    He had no idea how to shift garrulous Canadian women who took up residence in his office.  Should he stare reprovingly with his eyebrows drawn together?  His wife told him this made him look quite fierce. He did not draw his eyebrows together. He did not even look at her, for the way she perched, half turned, thigh extended, spine curved, outlined her underwear through the knitted dress. He buried his discomfiture in a reply to her remark about her bank account.
    "I'm surprised your left and right hand signatures are any different - "
    She looked at her palms. She turned her hands over to look at their backs, her fingers tensed and spread out. "Just because my hands look like each other - " She sounded disappointed.
    "Let me explain - "  He stopped. He pinched the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. Why didn't her order her to go? Why not say "Get off my desk at once. Can't you see I've work to do?" The astonishing thing was, he had never had any sort of conversation with her until today and now he was having an insane one. But, once launched into his explanation he pursued it, as if explaining was an academic compulsion.  "Blackboard writing utilises the whole arm. The great freedom of the elbow joint and shoulder are called into play. Desk writing uses only the fingers and the limited rotation of the wrist.  The muscular activities are quite different, yet the results are the same. I conclude that one's left-hand writing - if one were ambidextrous - would be the same as one's right."
    She was listening, staring at him.
    "Am I making myself clear?"
    "Are you just!"
    She was looking now at his desk top, at his note pad, and with a shock of embarrassment that made him lurch in his chair he remembered the last item on his list made reference to her. She will recognize her name, he thought.  She will decipher the squiggles even though she is seeing them upside down. Their eyes met briefly. His face grew hot but she only said "Is that it?"
    "The end of your ambidextrous theory?"
    She was looking at the pad again and her neck was twisting as she tried to read his writing. He saw the way ahead. Making small precise movements of his right forefinger he tapped the edge of his letter from Sri Lanka to slide it over the pad, at the same time carrying on with his explanation and staring over her shoulder. The blushing to which he was prone was colouring his scalp like a ripening plum. Nervousness hurried his syllables.
    "Not quite the end. I further conclude that if one taught oneself to write with one's feet - " He judged the pad was covered now and stopped tapping but couldn't stop explaining, " - it too would look the same."
    Miss Bezack said "What!" on a high note, the word cracking into a laugh.
    "One's footwriting would be the same. Again, a very different set of muscles and movements - "
    "You don't say!  You've given this theory a lot of thought?"
    "Beg pardon," he said, detecting her sarcasm,
    "Boy! You British really knock me out!  They told me you only talk about the weather. And mostly that's true. But if it's not the rain it's something goddam screwy. Boy, you're seriously weird, Shiny!"
    There it was.  Scared to point out that she had started it, wanting but not daring to ask why she called him Shiny, distressed at her reluctance to follow his intellectual curiosity down any avenue of logical enquiry he said nothing, realized that his mouth had fallen open and closed it while Miss Bezack went on - "Both hands! Both feet! Can't be too many more ways of holding a pen. You ever hold your pen with your feet when you're making your lists?"
    She placed her forefinger on the Sri Lanka letter covering the list. She wore a ring, a polished stone set in silver. The stone was golden brown, like sherry. Her finger trapped his letter and his list. Terror dried his mouth.
    "Aides-m√©moire, that's all,"he said. "They help me not to forget things."
    "You know something, Shiny? It's a riot the way you make lists. It's crummy. My old Granddad in Saskatchewan, he used to do it all the time. I mean make lists. He used to go about all day in just his long johns making lists. Land he thought he owned. All the animals beginning with P. That sort of thing. In the end they put him away. You think it's maybe a symptom of something, the way you make your lists?"
    He was stung. "I'm really not interested in your granddad - your grandfather. I think it's none of your business why I make lists. Or what it's s symptom of."
    "It's my  business if my name's on it."
    "That's in connection with jobs I must get done."
    "It's your hit-list, that it?"
    "Hit-list? This is becoming grotesque. Please leave me to get on. I'm behind already."
    Her finger stayed where it was.
    "Please release my mail, Miss Bezack. I find this rather tiresome and silly."
    "I bet. And I bet Miss Northumberland never acts this way."
    "If you mean does she come in to waste my time on busy mornings, no. She is conscientious, courteous and responsible - "
    "I bet she is, the stockings she wears - "
    "I fail to see - "
    "Yeah! I know you do." She smiled. "You want your mail?"
    "We established that some minutes ago. Really - " With what he hoped was unmistakeable meaning he raised his arm and pulled back his shirt cuff.
    "O-kaay! You get to see your mail when I get to see your list. Over in  Canada we have a thing called Access to Information. Citizens can ask to see anything about themselves the Authorities have on file."
    "My list is hardly a file - "
    "Suit yourself." She increased the pressure on her fingertip. Reasonableness and annoyance having failed to make any impression he tried another tack.  "Miss Bezack - you seem not to understand. Systems, offices, workplaces, can function only if there is a spirit of co-operation however grudgingly given. If yours cannot be secured I shall have to take steps - "
    "It is your hit-list!"
   "It is not a hit list!  Such a thing would be preposterous!" He leaned back in his chair. Wasn't the whole business preposterous? He glared purposefully at the finger. He knew she was watching him. It was his move and they both knew it. He considered his options. Clearly persuasion would get him no further than had threats or shows of annoyance. He did not feel angry enough to convert his anger into action. So what might he says? He rehearsed.
    "Miss Bezack - I appeal to you." Her retort was so predictable he blushed again.
    "Why are you doing this?" This lacked forcefulness and since it presumed a rational explanation, would most likely provoke only fresh nonsense.
    "Now look here - !"  No, no, no!  Bitter experience lecturing to unruly First Year classes had taught him he'd get small pay-off from bluster.
    Should he snatch the letters from under her finger? He wanted the letters, but was not the list the real point at issue? He tried to remember exactly what he had written but could not. In any case snatching was not dignified. He could seize her finger. This must provoke some sort of reaction but he was not sure he would know how to cope. He might dislocate her finger. Worse, perhaps she would struggle with him for possession of what was after all his list, and the consequences of a struggle were too horrible to contemplate. Was it possible that she had deliberately manoeuvred him into this position? Had she some crazed plan culminating in her rushing down the corridor shouting . . . Impossible! Yet women sometimes do such things, being at the mercy of their hormones. He was doctor enough to recognize the symptoms. And there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Miss Bezack was an entrepreneuse.
    No. Physical contact must be avoided at all costs. Where did this leave him? He could ignore her silliness and start work on the McNee Legs paper. But then she would get the list for herself while he was occupied.  He could try - "The joke is over." Or "This has gone beyond a joke- " Or, "I enjoy a joke as much as anyone - "
    The tension in her finger suggested it was no joke. But if not, what was her motive? Mere female curiosity? A desire to see the list simply because she had spotted her name? Well. whatever he had written was innocuous, wasn't it? What was lost by letting her see the list? Examined in this light the bargain she suggested offered a swift and simple solution.
    "Well, Shiny - ?"
    Not sure where the inspiration came from he said "Very well. On the further condition that you tell me the origin of your curious nickname for me." Inspiration, for by asking something she would not be able to resist telling, he had turned the bargain to his own advantage. For a moment their eyes met.
    "O-kaay!" She moved her finger.
    He took his letters. She took the list. He hoped she was thoroughly disappointed. He permitted himself a rare sneer which he was careful  not to let her see and was poising the tip of his paper-knife to carry out the first epistolectomy of the day when Miss Bezack uttered a strangled and horrified laugh.
    "You were figuring on getting all of this sewn up in one morning?"
    "Make of it what you will," he said, confident he had emerged, if belatedly, the victor.
    "So it isn't a hit-list?"
    He allowed himself a smirk. "Of course not."
    "You were setting me up for a fate worse than death - "
    "Pardon?" He stopped, the envelope slit half way. She got off the desk. She read from the list.
    "Get letters. That would be the kinky black ones, would it?  Then -Get Kleenex. Well, well. The perfect gentleman.  And Miss Bezack gets the message alright. I didn't know you cared Shiny."
    He needed a moment to see what she was talking about.  Was the woman insane?
    "Friday of course," she said. "But as it happens I'm booked out over the weekend."
    He willed himself to resist a hurricane blush. Thank God the list had not progressed as far as Mrs. McNee's legs.  He rose. She backed away from the desk, tearing the top sheet from the pad.
    "This is ludicrous," he said. "I assume you are unwell. Perhaps you should lie down - "
    "On the floor?  On the desk? Jees, Shiny, you sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet!"
    "You misconstrue - " He knew it was deliberate. He hoped it wasn't ominous. "Really, Miss Bezack!
This is more than I can tolerate. I concede my juxtapositions admit a certain ambiguity - "
    "Your juxta-which-ones? Boy, you're weird alright? Wyncha try your elbow with Miss Northumberland?"
    This is lamentable he told himself. Miss Northumberland's virtue was beyond question. Miss Bezack folded the sheet and tucked it into a pocket at her hip. "Wait till she hears about this. She'll fall over laughing. I'll post it to her. With a note about your juxtawassnames."
    "What do you mean, you'll post it?"
    "I mean by the time she gets over being sick I won't be here. It's my last day, Shiny." Her face told him she mean t it. "Your poopy old eyes are more than a girl can take. Flight's better than a broken heart."
   "You won't be here on Monday?"
   "Monday I'll be on a seven-four-seven. Amsterdam. Dubai. Dehli. Colombo."
    A sense of benison enveloped him. He felt born again. She was going. After three months of Fridays and Mondays she was taking her fatuous talk overseas. To Sri Lanka her noted, with a smile. And now he saw it all. He glared with undisguised scorn. "So! This is pathetic, I repeat, pathetic attempt to put me out of countenance was in the nature of a parthian shot. You thought you could snipe from a position of impunity. Dismissal - even at an hour's notice - would cost you precious little."
    "No. I was wanting a good story to leave for Miss Northumberland, that's all."
    "What do you mean, a story?"
   "To tell her what happened between us."  He believed she fluttered her eyelashes. He no longer cared. In a few more hours she would be gone.
    "Miss Northumberland?" He gave a short laugh. "I doubt she is capable of following the perversions of your schoolgirl humour."
    "I wouldn't say that. She figured out Shiny for your nickname."
    After a moment he said "Miss Northumberland would never - "
    "Wouldn't she?"  Miss Bezack swung her hair, then tucked it behind her ear. "You wanted the bargain. Alright. It's your shoes - "
    "I see." He glanced at his shoes. "Miss Northumberland's pleasantry. A minor endearment. A compliment in it's way - "
    "And that goddam bike - "
    She was insane. What was shiny about his bicycle? "I cycle to the University because I have seen the aftermath of too many heart attacks."
    "You see!  You always have to have goddam reasons!" She made a helpless movement of her arms. "Your self-justification shines.  That's what she says. She says mosta the people in this place only think they have a halo. Shiny really has one. And he polishes it."
   He put the Sri Lanka letter on his desk.  "Is that all?"
   "No it isn't! There's your trouser clips. And creeping about like a dried up ghost. And the way your eyebrows wag up and down when you have to say something you'd rather not say - "
    "Miss Northumberland would never gossip about such things," he said, stranded and swallowing. If there was a shred of sense in all this it was Miss Northumberland's discretion and loyalty, qualities which like her modesty were beyond reproach.  "You are trying to blame Miss Northumberland for your own rudeness. She would never - "
    "Miss Northumberland is a barrel of laughs. But you wouldn't know that would you? You don't know her at all."
    "Of course I know her. She's been with me for years."
    "Wake up, Pops! Miss Northumberland rolls them in the aisle in the secretaries' canteen. 'Got any Shiny stories' the girls ask her. Or 'Do Shiny's walk' Yeah!  She can even walk the way you do. Like there's a bad smell under your nose."
   He stared over her head. "Will you leave now?" he said.
   "I'm paid to five."
   "Take the rest of the day off. I doubt the concession will significantly reduce your output."
   "Well screw you, Shiny." She sounded angry. "Know what you are?  You're a prig. The kinda prig only the Brits know how to breed."
    As she went out of his office he noticed the sway of her high, insolent behind going one, two, three, four, five quick steps to the door which she slammed.
    He sat very still, listening to her collecting her belongings, his feet together, his palms flat on his blotter. When her door closed he picked up his paper-knife and the Sri Lanka letter. Then he put them down again. He stood. His office had a small washbasin and above it, a mirror. He had to stoop slightly to see himself. He adjusted his necktie, than peered as if expecting a halo and wondered if he should send a commiserating message to Miss Northumberland. He sat down and wrote Card for Miss N on his pad. But there was no one to send out to buy a card and she might in any case be recovered before it reached her. He crossed the item out. "Shiny," he said. He decided not to mention the morning's incidents to Miss Northumberland in case - in the likely case - that Miss Bezack had made the whole thing up.
    Then he asked himself whether disloyalty could have been Miss Northumberland's way of coping with Miss Bezack, whether Shiny stories were the carrots she used to get the frivolous Temp to do any work at all. What other reason could Miss Northumberland have for such tasteless lapses? Yes, he decided. This was the probable explanation.  But whatever the facts of the case, the Bezack woman had another Shiny story now. And he wondered as he opened his post whether the days between Monday and Friday would ever be the same again



  1. Jinksy sent me here and I'm so glad she did. I thought at first that Stringfellow had OCD and later, that the temp may get laid! What a great read - thank you!

    1. Thank you, Barbara or Bee. I think the Temp getting laid would have been a sorry cop-out. And besides, can we be sure Stringfellow would know how . . . ?

    2. Doesn't everybody manage "Doin' what comes naturally"? Same as in this delightful song HERE It means there's hope even for the Stringfellows of the world.:)
      Another riveting read Doc.

    3. I suppose it might well have been a cop-out or a goodbye gift!

  2. I just read your blurb about this blog on your very silly blog. And I chuckled when I read you had 'almost two' requests for this! Hahahaha!


I welcome your comments and your critique in particular. No one's writing was ever improved by their being told it's awesome.