BY DAVID RUDD
Copyright is held by the author.
CARNABY STREET. The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper. The Summer of Love. It all seems like ancient history now. How many of us remember those days? Hearing recently of Patsy’s death, though, took me straight back there, to 1967, and to one night in particular.
We’d both come far since those days. Patsy had retired as a top personnel manager and, as for me, I still dabbled in the odd bit of consultancy. What had kept us in touch over the years was our commitment to the cause of equality of opportunity in the workplace — something that might have originated back then in that heady year.
In those days, I was as green as green. Just out of school, I thought working in the City of London would be cool, so obtained a job at what was then an obscure Insurance Brokers. I readily joined the suited, bowler-hatted hordes, commuting daily from my parents’ house: fifty minutes each way, and then twenty more on the Tube. Who wouldn’t enjoy that early morning chase, riding the Southern Electric like badly packed broilers, fellow passengers hoisting and folding broadsheets like washerwomen, elbows on the offensive?
At Waterloo, things became even more adversarial. The fight for first-off the train, hanging out the doors and leaping off before the carriages came to a stop, the sprint for the ticket-collector at the far end, and all this with only an umbrella to defend yourself. Of course, I quickly acquired such a weapon and joined the goose-stepping masses roused by Susa’s marches. Then, as we descended the bowels of the Underground, the aggro and sardine-packing became more stark and intimidating.
I would eventually arrive at Tower Hill, where our office-block stood, just outside the Underground station. The office was open plan — all the rage then — with desks clustered by section. The Claims Dept had one end and us lot, Accounts, the other. The Typing Pool was on the floor below.
As the new boy, I’d just been issued my own desk with its standard equipment: a rack of trays (in, out and pending), a blotter, stapler and bottle of ink — equipment that I supplemented with a desk tidy and a growing collection of rubber bands and paper clips. I was trying to outdo the hoard accumulated by our section head, Bill Worsley. He’d shown me what effective missiles paper clips made.
Bill was good fun, although he could also be a pain, forever playing jokes at my expense. It had been like that since my first day when he’d tricked me into reading a piece from Playboy onto the Dictaphone. The Typing Pool thought it hilarious, preparing me three copies (though they held on to one of these).
Then there was my suit, which Bill also teased me about. I agree, it was a hand-me-down (from my brother), with a shine on the behind you could see your reflection in. As soon as I could afford it, I put a deposit on a more fashionable, chalk-stripe three-piece (from just off Carnaby Street), but it made little difference.
“Cor,” Bill’d say, “look at Kidder.” He always called me that. “Run over by a bus with white-wall tyres!” The other lads followed his lead. They were all highly competitive dressers, forever showing off their flashy suits while they talked about “the birds” they could pull in such gear — especially when out driving their high-performance vehicles (cheap insurance, of course, was a real perk of the job).
At lunchtime, they’d all troop down to The Bull, the local hostelry. I’d sometimes accompany them but couldn’t really afford it. So, I usually stayed in the office, eating the sandwiches Mum had prepared for me, rearranging my desktop. I don’t know why I bothered. When Bill and his mates returned, grinning like Cheshire Cats, many’s the time I had my desk tidy emptied over my head.
The evening that I mentioned earlier — the one that sticks in my mind — was a Thursday. Back from a lunchtime session, Bill scrolled up his latest copy of playboy and perched himself on my desk, inviting me to join the lads down The Bull for a farewell do that evening. I scarcely knew the chap — Don Smithson, from Claims, who was getting married and emigrating to Canada — but felt honoured to be asked, and agreed readily.
Bill gave me a cheesy grin, tugging at his Zapata-style moustache. I had tried to grow one, but the jokes about “bum fluff” proved relentless.
Apart from Patsy’s daily visit from the Typing Pool, the rest of the day dragged. In those days, Patsy was enough to arrest anyone’s work schedule, invariably topping the “Miss Most-Knockable” lists the lads put together. Nowadays, it’s embarrassing even to recall such antics! Bill, though, was always offhand about Patsy, claiming — a knowing finger tapping the side of his nose — that she was nothing but “a prick tease.”
Nevertheless, as she made her way down the line of desks, dropping our typed letters into our in-trays, he would ogle her as lasciviously as anyone. Patsy was tall with blond hair and a naturally fresh complexion, needing next-to-no make-up. As she walked, the creases of her blouse alternately cupped each of her perfect breasts, and you could hear the faint rasp of nylon beneath her tartan miniskirt. Bill would purse his lips rakishly and, arms raised above his head, bang his knee on the underside of his desk, as though jerkily aroused. In the time-honoured way, I’d giggle a response.
It was a quarter-to-six when I made it to The Bull, ostentatiously hanging my new brolly alongside the others in the stand. I’d been kept behind to help with the mail, thanks to Bill volunteering me. By the time I reached the bar itself, Bill and his crowd were ready for a second drink. After he’d got me that extra work, I was determined it would not be my shout. But, before I could even argue, Bill handed me a pint. I was touched.
“Here you are, Kidder, get that down ya. You’re behind!”
Apart from us lot from Accounts, there were about forty other staff in the room. In one corner, the bosses sipped shorts; in another group, the chaps from the Claims Dept. stood, and, in another, the typists. Patsy was there, of course, attracting the looks of most of the males.
Bill and the others were busy talking performance cars and women — often interchangeably — punctuated with dirty jokes, which somehow seemed funnier within earshot of the typists.
A couple of rounds later, everyone began to mix. Needless to say, Bill and his cronies were busy chatting up anything in a skirt. I left them to it, especially as they’d started taunting me, talking up my chances with Patsy.
By this time the drink was flowing freely, and I felt decidedly tipsy. I sat down at a table of women I didn’t know at all, which is how I wanted it. They ignored me, too, deep in private conversation. By the time one of Bill’s cronies from Accounts came across, I was nodding off.
“What you doing there, Kidder?” Frank demanded. “Come on, we need another for the boat race.” He pulled me to my feet.
“Sure,” I replied, though my insides yelled, “No!”
A tray of half-pints banked and swerved across the room, steered by Bill.
“Here we are, gents.” He handed round the halves, saving mine till last: “And one for the champ,” he said, passing it to me. They all cheered.
It was Accounts versus Claims. Why they needed me, I don’t know. I was no boozer. Still, I was flattered, and we stood in line facing our adversaries. The girls adjudicated, though Patsy kept in the background. It was Sexy Sylvie (as she was known) who strutted between us, as though inspecting her troops.
“Now men, you know the rules,” she said, straightening the odd tie, tugging at a creased lapel. Everyone giggled. “When I give the word, start drinking, placing your upturned glass on your head when you’re done.”
“Like this, sarge?” Frank had turned his glasses — that is, his specs — upside down on his nose.
She ignored him. “Only then does the next one start drinking, and,” she added, “losers buy the next round.” We emitted a collective sigh. “Ready, set . . . wait for it . . . Go!”
Frank, who fronted our team, spilt half his drink in anticipation, making his green kipper tie look more realistic than ever, and from there on we were behind. When it came to my turn, I panicked. Would small or large draughts be better? I wondered. In the end, I just sucked down as much ale as I could, trying to empty the glass at a second gulp. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage it, and ended up spluttering over a third mouthful. I placed the empty on my head, where the beer had already gone. It was strong stuff! From there, I lost track of the race until I heard Sylvie declare Claims the winners. Accounts booed lustily.
“Nice work, Kidder.” Bill clapped me on the back, as did some of the others. “Didn’t realize you had it in you.”
“He can certainly take his ale, eh?” Frank laughed.
“What you drinking now?” Bill asked.
“No more for me,” I patted my stomach, “I’m full.”
“It’s the gassy beer. I’ll get you a short. It’ll settle your guts.”
I protested, pulling ineffectually at his sleeve.
“It’s OK, I’m loaded,” he said, pointing two straight fingers at his temple, his thumb the trigger.
The older women I’d been sitting with were now standing in the doorway, giggling, as one of their number inscribed circles, reaching vainly for her second coat sleeve. She was like a dog after its tail. Her friends seemed incapable of doing anything but hooting. It was Mr. Murray, one of the heads of department, who eventually came to her assistance.
Don Smithson, the soon to be married émigré, was getting less attention than anyone, I noticed, probably because his fiancé was clinging so possessively to his arm.
“Poor bugger. She’s got the clamps on him already,” said Bill, handing me a Bacardi and coke. “Here, get that down ya!” I took a sip. “Listen, Kidder. Take a tip. Don’t get yourself caught like that,” Bill gestured towards Don.
Bill then offered me one of his cigarillos, which I stupidly accepted, inhaling it like a straight cigarette. The smoke sandpapered my throat. I took a swig of Bacardi to lubricate it and almost passed out. It was potent!
Bill seemed unusually chummy, though I was having trouble listening to him. Was it a joke he was telling me? When should I laugh? I put my glass down, gesturing with my hands as I made for the Gents, relying on sonar to guide me round the islands of noise.
When I emerged, someone confronted me with a tray of whiskies.
“Don’t you want to drink Don’s health?”
“Oh, yes. Sorry.”
I took a glass, carefully concentrating on my balance. We toasted Don. I hoisted my whisky and flung the amber liquid down my throat. It sank like acid, devastation in its wake.
“A’right, Kidder?” Bill enquired, coming up again.
I swung leaden lids on him, my eyes marbled. Others seemed to be staring. The whole room was staring!
“You shouldn’t mix your drinks, you know. You’ll suffer in the morning.” Bill moved away.
“Suffer in the morning?” I shouted after him. I stumbled off to a seat by the door, out of sight of most of the room. A few women from Typing, on their way out, were the only ones who spoke to me, suggesting that I should get myself home.
It was sensible advice and, after what seemed like a short nap, I slipped out into the night air and down into the Underground. I watched the trains thunder through the tunnels, not sure whether I dared ride one. My stomach was dodgy.
Suddenly, there was a hand was on my shoulder and a face speaking to me. “Peter? Are you alright?”
My eyes reared their lids on Patsy. “Patsy!”
“Come on, let’s get you home.”
I agreed and, the next thing I knew, Patsy was urging me off the train. I couldn’t even recall boarding it! A ticket collector was assisting her, sighing his eyes sympathetically.
Several unsteady streets later, Patsy unlocked a front door and led me in. Upstairs, another key turned, and warmth and light greeted us. She sat me on a settee and disappeared.
“Here, drink this,” she said, on her return.
“Oh, no more,” I protested.
“Medicinal,” she assured me.
White fireworks fizzed in my throat. What could I say but, “Toilet?”
She escorted me to her bathroom, closing the door behind me.
I fought past various obstacles before wedging my head down her pristine loo. Noisily, my evening passed before my eyes, via both mouth and nose.
“Are you alright in there?”
“Yes,” echoed the toilet bowl. I flushed away my evening, pleased that her loo dealt so effortlessly with what my body had struggled with.
The rest of the bathroom now impinged. In a pale blue bath stood a clothes rack decorated with smalls. As I spotted a pink bra, it suddenly dawned on me where exactly I was. Idly I pulled this extraordinary garment across my front, observing myself in the mirror. Patsy’s! I put it back on the stand, having noted the size: 34B.
I then spent some time cleaning myself up, rinsing my face and rubbing a slug of toothpaste round my mouth. When I emerged, there stood my heroine, having just risen from an armchair.
“A bit queasy,” croaked the invalid, stumbling over to the settee. “Sorry to be so embarrassing. I don’t know what happened!
“Have some of this.”
“Uh-oh! What now?”
“It’s very good of you.” Again, I apologised profusely as Patsy relaxed into her chair.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said, kicking off her shoes and curling her legs beneath her. “It was those idiots spiking your drinks.”
“You’re not the first, Peter. Bill and his cronies regularly try it on with us.”
“He wouldn’t . . . would he . . . ?” I began. I remembered how Bill always called Patsy a tease. Was I being teased now? I wondered. “I mean, he likes a joke, but . . . don’t you two have history?”
Patsy threw back her head and laughed. Before she could reply, another woman appeared in the room.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.” She draped her coat over the spare chair and sank into it. “God, I’m exhausted!” She, too, kicked off her shoes. “Going to introduce me, then?”
“Jean, this is Peter,” said Patsy.
“Are you stopping?” Jean asked.
Patsy turned back to me. “I think it’d be wise, Peter. No fit state and all that.” She turned back to Jean. “He had rather a skinful earlier, but not self-inflicted.” Patsy got to her feet and made for the kitchen. Jean followed. “Excuse us,” she said.
They returned some minutes later with armfuls of bedding. “We’ll put you here,” Patsy said, indicating the settee. She passed me a pair of Winceyette pyjamas and must have registered my surprise — not only at the style, but the size.
“My ‘baby’ brother’s,” she explained. “Jack sometimes sleeps over.”
I slept soundly for some two hours before waking with a thumping head, confused as to my whereabouts. By the time I’d adjusted, I realized I needed the bathroom urgently. Once in there, the bright light startled me back to full consciousness. I sat on their toilet, fondly picturing the buttocks that usually nestled there.
Again, I became transfixed by the clothes hanging over the bath. The pink bra was no longer visible. In its stead was a lacy, pale blue number which, I saw, was bigger: a 36. So this one was more likely Patsy’s.
I cleaned myself then lowered the lid for a quieter flush. I definitely needed to flush, even if it was the middle of the night! Twice, in fact. With pyjama trousers still round my ankles, I inspected the various tubes, jars and bottles on a table beside the basin. Cosmetics were an exotic world to me. I couldn’t resist unscrewing a few caps and sniffing the contents, identifying one perfume as definitely Patsy’s: Night of Passion, the label declared.
I gave my privates a spritz. The liquid stung and I almost yelled. That would have blown it! I checked the door. Safely locked. On a whim, I took off my pyjama top and hung the straps of Patsy’s bra over my shoulders. I also tried to fasten the back, but without success. How did women do that? I draped my top over my shoulders and thrust out my chest. It made the bra look slightly more natural. Examining myself in the mirror, I could see that something else was still not right. Ah! I pushed my accessories — now fragrant with Aroma of Patsy — between my legs. That was better: the dark triangle swayed seductively beneath my open top, which flashed tantalising glimpses of Patsy’s bra. Ecstatic thrills raced up and down my spine.
I also discovered a pair of panties that I presumed were Patsy’s and drew them up over my hips. They gripped my buttocks tightly, cutting low across my rump. I could see a pair of tights, too, hanging on the rack, but decided that this was a step too far. The sight of my reflection had already aroused me, and I could feel my manhood poking against the distended cotton of Patsy’s pants.
It was time, I decided, to put everything back where it was.
In the morning, Patsy announced that we had no time for breakfast. She and I took the Underground back to the office, grabbing a coffee and croissant (another new sensory experience for me) as we exited Tower Hill station. Before going to our respective floors, we stood in the lobby, eating and drinking.
I had the feeling that Patsy was looking out for me, as she would her younger brother, Jack, no doubt. It struck me that she’d staged this so that others would have the wind taken out of their sails before they could have a go. Seeing me alongside Patsy, I realized, would do wonders for my street cred.
Bill’s arrival was especially memorable, as he only saw me at first. “Look what the cat sicked up-,” he began, before he spotted Patsy. For once, he was tongue-tied and took the stairs rather than wait for the lift.
As the day moved on, it became obvious that Bill had a stonking hangover, but he wasn’t going to admit to it, especially given my own bright and breezy appearance. I could see it irritated him, particularly when I caught him popping some Paracetamol.
Only once did he attempt to gloat, when he took the call from my mother. “She wants to know where you were last night,” he said in a mock whisper. “I didn’t tell her you were unconscious in some gutter!”
I moved round to his desk and took the proffered handset. “Hi Mum. Yeah, sorry I didn’t let you know. I, er, stayed at a friend’s. . . . Someone from the office.”
As I stood there, under Bill’s gloating eye, I shook out my handkerchief before giving my nose a solid blow. On a whim, I’d sprayed it with Night of Passion before we left the flat. Bill’s look was a treat.
Initially, I’d envisaged my hanky as a trophy, along with detailed descriptions of Patsy’s flat and, especially, her underwear. But, by the time we’d reached the office, the thought of betraying such secrets revolted me. The magic of that last night was something to treasure. Patsy’s reputation was sacrosanct.
“Hair of the dog, you ol’ dog!” said Frank to me at lunchtime, his empty hand miming the sinking of a pint. I declined. Instead, I walked up-river to St Paul’s, enjoying the air and the crowds, exploring the shops for something to appease my mother. I could find nothing apart from some talc she used, which I duly purchased, along with a bottle of Night of Passion I just happened upon. Something for Patsy.
By the time the lads returned, I was back at my desk. Most looked as though the hair of the dog had not worked its magic. Bill, twirling my brolly, made one final attempt to provoke me: “Doesn’t Freud say something about sticking up your umbrella?” As he spoke, he thrust it aggressively at the ceiling, but no one responded. He dropped it on my desk and went round to his own chair, the others also wandering off to their respective places.
After the weekend, Bill was back to his old self, which was fortunate as one of the bosses brought round Don Smithson’s replacement, who needed showing the office routines.
“Right, kidder,” said Bill, “we’ll show you the ropes. Have you seen the Typing Pool yet? Definitely worth a visit. Ain’t that right, Peter?” he said, turning to me, before turning back to the new “kidder” on the block. “Peter’s a bit of an expert!”
“Tell you what, kidder,” Bill went on, “let’s introduce you on the Dictaphone.” He winked conspiratorially at me. “We’ll do a voice test. Let’s see — what we got here …?” He pulled out one of his dog-eared copies of Playboy. “And no drooling over the pickies while you’re reading!”
Dr. David Rudd is an emeritus professor of literature who, after some 40 years, turned from academic prose to creative writing and found contentment. Recent stories of his have appeared in Altered Reality, Aphelion, Bandit Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, The Blotter, Corner Bar Magazine, Dribble Drabble Review, The First Line, The Horror Zine, Jerry Jazz Musician, Literally Stories, and Scribble.