Last year we were all having drinks after work and started a silly game where we’d decide what type of animal we each resembled.
It was agreed that, because of my bright red hair and penchant for mad polka dot dresses, I’d be either a peacock or a butterfly. We couldn’t decide which till The Chief settled the matter by saying ‘just call her Buttercock.’
Hard to believe I used to be glamorous. Look at me now. Nervous, exhausted and haggard. I’m afraid to board a train in case I have a panic attack, so I spend three hours each day walking to work. I arrive at the office bedraggled and worn-out. Weight has fallen off me, so my vintage dresses no longer fit. And what’s the point of teasing my hair up into a glam red extravaganza when it’s only going to get wet on the trek to work? What’s the point of perfect eyeliner when I’m going to be crying at my desk?
So I don’t do my hair any more. It just gets pinned up with a cheap clasp from Primark. My wardrobe froths with frocks trimmed with net and lace, patterned with dots and stripes, spangled with butterflies and roses. I have to shoulder the door shut to contain them. But now I just tramp to work in the same old shapeless thing from Dorothy Perkins.
Strange how fast I’ve let myself go. Just last month I was making myself sparkly and beautiful for The Clown but now I simply don’t care. Neither does he, it would seem. I haven’t seen him since hat night, but he’d been bombarding me with texts assuring me he was eager to see me. We’d even set a date and arranged for him to come to my flat for dinner but he texted me at 3.30 on the day to pretend he had food poisoning from mussels in a white wine sauce. A fine example of lying, I thought. He’s added detail, but not too much. A nice hint of authenticity there without laying it on thick.
The aim of that night with him had been to see him as he really is. To try and demolish this hero-worship I had. I thought it’d happen suddenly: I’d see his tatty flat and pizza menus behind the door, and I’d hear him snort and snore and think ‘he’s not so great’ but it hadn’t happened. There was no glorious revelation. Seems I’ll just need to let this die a slow death for there is no quick fix for my circus lust.
At my desk that day work was as horrendous as ever and I was ignoring my calls. The doctor had put me on medication for my panic attacks but so far they weren’t working. They were just making me fuzzy and confused and I’d trail off in the middle of…
The phone kept flashing red and e-mails kept popping up. I stared at the screen but couldn’t form the words into anything that made sense. I wish I could get away from here. Down to the seaside. Blackpool. Even just for a day or two. But I can’t get on a train, so I’m stuck here. I almost laughed at my predicament but held it down. If I start laughing at my desk that’ll be the end. They’ll finally cart me away to the loony bin.
‘Are you cold?’ asked Mhairi.
I shook my head.
‘But you’re shaking like a leaf,’ she said, touching my arm.
I went out to my locker where I had an old purple M&S fleece stuffed away. I pulled it round me but couldn’t face going back to my desk to sift through the e-mails and voicemails demanding my attention, asking why I was useless, wanting another adviser, wanting my manager’s phone number to complain. I had had three voicemails already this morning from a raging client demanding ‘McDowall, answer your phone. Return this call now, McDowall.’
Who is McDowall? Is that me? I started shaking again.
I went to the bathroom to unwind the bandages on my scraped legs and slap some Sudocrem on, then I leant over the sink and splashed cold water on my face which was red and crumpled from another crying fit. I pulled my tatty old fleece tight round me and tried to halt the mad shivering. Then I turned and caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror. It was like the scene in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ where she’s dancing and then properly sees her reflection and realises that she’s old, ruined and hideous. I stopped dead in front of the mirror. How can that be me? Fake red hair, scraped up into a messy bun and starting to sprout brown at the roots. Grimy old bandages wrapped round my knees like a leper. Purple smudges under my eyes from exhaustion. A thin face with a frightened expression. A shapeless old dress with a tatty fleece thrown over it. Whatever Happened to Buttercock?
I was too ashamed to go back to my desk if this is what I look like, so I took an early lunch break and decided to go for a wander in Kelvingrove.
I walked up Finnieston Street, hunched against the cold, my eyes still blurred from crying. Something caught my eye across the busy road. On the pavement, directly opposite me, was a man who was, as they say, acting suspiciously. My eyes were fuzzy so I squinted across. What’s that guy doing? It looked like he was speed-walking along the road, arms scissoring back and forth at his sides, as though he’s desperate to break into a run but can’t. A big, ungainly man, pounding down the street in some kind of agonised power waddle. I felt a stir of unease. What’s he running away from? And then he looked directly at me and I saw it was The Clown.
He must have spotted me and was frantic to get away but thought he’d draw attention to himself if he actually ran so he took the mature and reasoned decision to power waddle. I watched him, flustered, walking furiously fast, in an agony to get away from me and then it happened: I lost all respect for him. He has lied and lied repeatedly to me, kept me dangling with promises and lied again and then, when he sees me in the street, he flees. He even lacks the decency and decision to break into a plain, honest, manly run. No, he stumbles along Finnieston Street in his ridiculous power-walk, all the while casting worried glances across the road to see if I’ve spotted him.
He cut a pathetic figure that day: an over-sized ginger clown power-waddling down Finnieston Street, scared of a girl.
I didn’t want to alarm the poor dear any further, so I simply turned on my heel and went back to the office, free of The Clown at last.
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