Bob awoke and stretched himself out full length in the bed. What a day today was, the big one. He rose and admired himself in the full-height mirrored wardrobe that extended across one whole wall opposite the bed. Not bad he thought, not bad for fifty, a half century not out. Hmm, there had been many a day long ago when that mirror had served other purposes. A little twinkle appeared in his eye. Well, maybe now’s the time to get that ball rolling again.
He descended majestically into the main body of the house, to the cacophony of his three children finishing their breakfast whilst dressing for school at the same time with inevitably it all going wrong between a white shirt and a coloured jam of unknown flavour.
“Kids will you just stop it!” Ah, the dulcet tones of his beloved wife, Caroline. He kissed her gently on the head as he passed.
“Hi honey,” she called back as he made his way towards the coffee pot and the toaster, “late start for you today?”
“Well, I thought in the circumstances a gentle start to the day was in order,” Bob responded. Something wasn’t right here. This had the look of every other day when…well it wasn’t every other day.
“Well OK honey, listen I’ve got to get these three off to school…Peter will you stop trying to put margarine in your sister’s hair! So listen, have a great day and we’ll catch up properly I guess over dinner later, yeah?”
And with that she scooped up keys and handbag and sunglasses and lunchboxes in an octopus kind of way and was hurrying the children out of the door in various states of dress and undress.
“Say bye-bye to Daddy.”
“Bye Daddy,” echoed the response, “have a great day.”
The toaster popped. Scraping what now appeared to be multi-coloured butter across it, he took his mug of coffee and sat at the breakfast table, looking out into the garden beyond. A deathly silence existed instead of the usual chattering of birds.
Christ, he thought, I’m fifty today, a real bloody landmark and not a peep from anybody. Nothing. What am I? A bloody spare part?
Oh, but they want to know me when they want something. “Can I have that please daddy,” he mimicked, “oh please Daddy it’s not much.”
And as for his wife, far too busy and never any time for him, they were like strangers in the night. And the day by the looks of this morning.
He checked his watch. Bloody hell, I’d better get a move on, I’m going to get caught up in the traffic into the city like nobody’s business, gee I wish I’d got up earlier now and just treated this like any other day as everyone else seems to be doing.
As he sat forlornly in the traffic jam snailing its way slowly along the highway, Bob reflected on life.
Thirty years busting my balls with work, and another what, ten years say to go? Well all the kids will have flown the nest by then. Well they bloody well better have done! And then what? Life with the woman of his dreams? Nightmares more like. Never any time for me and particularly today as well. Not even a morning kiss let alone a little bit more. It’s not every day you’re fifty.
This whole thing was really beginning to bug him.
He hooted at the car in front. “Bloody idiot, drive with the traffic, get a move on.”
Another day in bloody paradise as Phil Collins would have put it. Another day at the office. Oh well, they won’t have forgotten me, should be a little speech in there somewhere and a gift of some sorts. I hope it’s a watch or something, something just for me. I don’t want hotel or restaurant vouchers and have to put up with that old nag giving out at me all evening about how busy she is and undervalued and underrated and under everything else except me…he smirked. Ah, leave that behind you, let’s go and enjoy the day.
The receptionist nodded as he walked in beaming, quite full of himself, strutting like a peacock. He was a director here having started in audit and worked his way up. One of the few who had done that, surrounded now by graduates with their strategic models of this, that and the other and talking in management blurb. But not Bob. Bob was the man who got it done no matter what and that was what successful tax audit was all about as he liked to tell anyone who would listen.
As he wandered through the open plan office the staff kept their eyes focused on the screens in front of them, avoiding making contact with his. Oh well not unsurprising, give a man a position of authority and the sheep are usually scared stiff. I’m not that bad though surely, I used to be one of them.
He reached his office which looked just like it did any other day. No banner across the door proclaiming ‘happy birthday’, nothing. He stopped and looked around but the low drone of activity just carried on, oblivious to him and his very existence.
Bastards. Not one of those bastards has remembered either.
He sat at his desk, the blinds across the glazed wall onto the office slightly open so he could see out but it was nigh on impossible for anyone else to see in. Just how he liked it.
He turned the computer on and waited for it to boot up. Well, ten more years of this shit, ten more years hiding in here, ten more years to get myself a proper life and go off and do my own thing, be appreciated for something at last.
New email had arrived – from Miss Page, his secretary of only two weeks since old Madge Smith had retired.
No subject title. He clicked it open. “Happy Birthday Mr Johnson, Congratulations on your half-century, you don’t look a day over thirty-five.”
He glanced through the slats to where she sat; he could just make her out, partly hidden by a partition screen and a computer. Gorgeous little twenty-something, very unlike Madge. A tidy figure, curves in all the right places and dressing like a woman ought to, not like any of those hippy, lesbian types that seemed so prevalent nowadays. No, she wore knee length skirts tight to the thigh, blouses that contained but offered a little bit of…he broke off from his thoughts. Pull yourself together Bob, you could be her father!
He typed back. “Thanks, good to know someone remembered.” And he hit the ‘send’ button.
He began looking through his ‘To Do List’, what did he actually need to do today? He felt like jacking the whole thing off. It wasn’t a busy time in the financial calendar and most of these audits could save for another day.
“Sorry to hear that Mr Johnson…hope you’re OK.”
Shit. Not only was she a stunner but she was caring too.
“Thank you, that’s kind of you. You can call me Bob by the way – don’t always have to be so official even if we are a bit formal round here. Bob is fine. I’m OK, just a little deflated.”
“OK Bob. I’m Joanna by the way if you prefer to call me that.”
“Well Hi Joanna, doesn’t this feel like we’re just getting introduced.” Ping.
“Just checking your diary today, it’s pretty clear, perhaps we could grab some lunch at one o’clock-ish, sort of celebrate your birthday if you like, cheer you up?”
Bloody hell, thought Bob, how good am I? How good is she? OK, slow and steady won the race, take it easy.
“Hi Joanna, that would be lovely. Shall we meet at Jack’s restaurant round the corner at ten past one then say?”
“That’s lovely Bob, I’m really looking forward to it.” Not as much as I am, thought Bob.
The morning passed in a flash, Bob was filled with a new sense of belief, resolve and endeavour. He made calls, brokered deals, caught up with old names he hadn’t spoken to in a while and yet still no one remembered his birthday. But he didn’t care anymore. Because one person had.
He glanced at his watch. One o’clock. OK, here we go. He reached for his jacket and stepped out of his office. Joanna was already gone, probably getting herself all made up, he thought, and he strolled casually back out through the office. No one caught his eye.
She was stood outside of Jack’s waiting for him. It was a bright beautiful day, a great day for a birthday, a great day to have lunch with a gorgeous young woman.
“Hey Bob, I was thinking, maybe we could go somewhere else, somewhere a little more private, you know sometimes other people from the office come in here.”
“Yeah, right, good thinking.” His brain scrambled trying to think of where he could take this delightful young thing. His knowledge of restaurants was limited to the more conservative, grey-suited business affairs. He racked his mind for somewhere nouveau and chic.
As if sensing his frustration Joanna interrupted.
“I know this little place not far from here, a little bistro, off the main drag, no passing trade.”
“Hey that sounds ideal, lead the way.”
In a flash they were there, as she’d said, a very private affair, if you didn’t know what it was you would just walk straight past it.
As they glanced through the menu, Bob was conscious that his appetite was yo- yoing as he sat opposite this beautiful woman who had asked him to lunch to celebrate his birthday.
As if reading his mind Joanna spoke, “I don’t know about you Bob but I always struggle with big meals during the day, plus you can never get to talk properly with a plate of food in front of you.” She flashed him a smile. “I thought maybe we could get a meze, they do a great platter here, all finger food and we can just dip in, what do you think?” And she gave him another little smile.
“That sounds perfect,” replied Bob, studying the wine list and trying to maintain his composure. Who’s in charge here, he thought, then as if to make that very point he added to the waiter, “and a bottle of Pinot Noir as well to wash it all down.” He’d never met a woman who liked red wine but he’d never met one either who hadn’t enjoyed the gentler tones of a Pinot Noir, it was liking opening up a whole new world to them, they were always impressed.
They talked and laughed through the meal about anything and everything and Bob knew this was probably the best afternoon he had had in a long time, if not perhaps the best afternoon ever. One bottle of wine had turned to two and then to three.
He caught Joanna, glancing at her watch. “Oh Bob, it’s nearly four o’clock, where’s the time gone? I’m sorry to have kept you so long, I’ll make the time up…”
Bob cut in. “Hey, I’ve had a great time, I really feel like I’ve got to know you, it’s been wonderful, why stop now, like you said earlier my diary’s clear, I’m your boss, I say we just carry on.” He gestured to the waiter to get a fourth bottle of wine.
She smiled him the biggest smile. Well it seemed that way to him.
“Well, listen Bob, I’m really all done here but maybe, well it’s such a beautiful day and if we don’t have to go back to the office, well, I don’t live too far from here, perhaps you’d like to come back, we could carry on there, call it a private party, you and me, if you’d like to come?”
Bob’s mind was racing. Flipping hell, this is it. Bingo. Slam. Every premiership goal being scored at once. Would I like to come? He coughed to compose himself. “Yeah, that sounds good, really good.”
They strolled in the sunshine ever so briefly before they arrived at the new dock apartment complex. These apartments were top of the range, Bob knew that, he’d seen the adverts, although he hadn’t realised they had opened up yet. I don’t pay her that much he thought, she must have money behind her, real money.
He stood impatiently in the lobby, waiting for the lift that took an eternity to arrive. As they entered she held a fob against the controls and the fourteenth floor button – the top floor – lit up. As the doors slid together the gentle piping of soft music surrounded them. Bob was in a dream world now, no need to speak with her, so much could be expressed unsaid. They both knew what was going on, what was going to happen next.
The lift glided to its stop and they stepped from it, straight into a split level mezzanine apartment. It was the penthouse, top of the range.
Bob’s mouth was open in amazement, as he took in the palatial open plan arrangement as he stepped, nay almost fell, into the deep pile of the carpet before nearly colliding with one of the biggest sofas he had ever seen and which partially obscured the view through the glazed wall which looked out onto the city.
“It’s a little bright I think,” called Joanna picking up some sort of control box and at the press of a button blinds swept across to cover the view and the low hum of sodium lights buzzed into action casting a soft gentle hue across the room. “I think it’s more private this way,” she said. “Listen I’m just going to freshen up, make yourself comfortable, make yourself at home.” And she wandered off down a little corridor, control box still in her hand.
Bob looked around him, soaking in the sheer affluence. Proper wealth, he thought, subtle, not needing to cry out. Real artwork on the walls too, not just prints like at his home. I could get used to this.
Then the lights dimmed even further, the only light now was that seeping in from the edges of the blind and dancing shadows on the wall. Make yourself comfortable she’d said; yeah, let’s have some of that.
Maybe it was a minute, maybe longer, but all of a sudden the lights exploded into life, a roar of ‘surprise’ echoed around the space as people appeared from nowhere yet from everywhere into this bright new space.
From the room on the left, the kitchen, his wife and children appeared. On the mezzanine landing above his fellow directors and all the staff. To his right, from whatever room that was, came ex-colleagues, some he hadn’t seen in years, some he had caught up with that very morning. Not one had said a word about today.
And right in front of him stood Joanna holding a cake with sparklers and, without too much guessing, fifty candles flickering away.
And Bob? Bob just sat back in shock. On the couch. Naked.
By Mark Davoren from the United Kingdom