Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

Status: Finished

Genre: Other

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Other

Summary

Autumn Leaves is a book about a young man. It is his hopes and fears, his successes and mistakes and what became of him. He starts work in an office, tries to make friends particularly with girls he wants to go out with, gets invited to sex parties and has to decide whether he jacks it all in and has a respectable life with a house, a wife and decent income from the company or not. But will things go to plan now despite his earlier wild living even if he does decide to jack it all in? Read this book to find out...

Summary

Autumn Leaves is a book about a young man. It is his hopes and fears, his successes and mistakes and what became of him. He starts work in an office, tries to make friends particularly with girls he wants to go out with, gets invited to sex parties and has to decide whether he jacks it all in and has a respectable life with a house, a wife and decent income from the company or not. But will things go to plan now despite his earlier wild living even if he does decide to jack it all in? Read this book to find out...

Content

Submitted: April 20, 2017

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Content

Submitted: April 20, 2017

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Chapter 1, Time to Stay in Bed

Steve lay on his bed thinking of the prints on the walls of his home given to him when he moved here. It was a few days before his wedding when his fiancée's family had turned up, fussed and hanged the pictures. Then they had left. Since then he had not touched them as they had asked. The pictures were still there as they had been when they left that day.

As he lay on his bed, his thoughts turned to some work he needed to do. And he thought that he really should be getting on with it by now. He got up from his bed. It was now the late afternoon. He descended the stairs and made himself a snack in the kitchen.

Steve walked past the room with his computer in it. He could see now, even if he hadn't done so beforehand, that the room looked forlorn. It had nothing else in it but a computer and a desk. Yet, the computer had been for years the means by which he had earned his living. It was how he could afford to eat and how he could afford new clothes. Also, it was how he could live in the world and what he did in the world.

He thought for a moment what he might like about this scene. It was like a stock photo of a desk and computer, scrupulously cleaned and with the files kept up to date. Then, he realized that it was a stock photo. And it was like thousands of such photos that he had ever seen. His desk did not have, as it did in earlier years, so many loose papers on it. Now, he cleaned it. He had achieved the marketers' dream in the stock photos, but he had not achieved many other dreams.

Their new friends and neighbors had said that they could not speak to him because they did not know him that well. However, they said that they had spoken to his wife a few times. But they said that they did not know him well. They told him that they had spoken to his wife for 'an hour or two a few times'. And they said, as well, that she seemed to be a nice girl. He suddenly felt a chill go down his spine. What had his wife said that he had almost forgotten: 'while their wives were out'? He could not ask her about it now because she had left him the day before the wedding. In his head, he heard some words of a little voice talking to him. It was like someone in the room speaking to him and saying, 'asking your wife is the coward's way out. Ask any of your friends. They will tell you man to man'. They had said something like that but he could not fully remember it now. He felt his blood run cold just thinking about it.

However, he did not know where he had heard it. Nor could he think of who had said it. So he might just have imagined it. Perhaps, it was just a dream. But it was nevertheless a bad dream.

Outside his small house, the evening drew in. His house had an unkempt garden as many did still on the new housing estate. Steve had worked at his to start with but for the last few weeks, he could no longer be bothered with it. There were, though, now a few boring hours to kill before he went to bed. And he'd have to leave his garden untended if that was something he didn't want to do.

His life was going downhill right now although he'd had difficulties before. Also, it felt, as well, as if it was neither good and nor bad. And this was just like so many things that had happened to him. As well, he thought of everything that had happened to him. And he could do so in just a few hours. For now, he just let his thoughts wash over him and didn't stop to pay attention to any one of them. In a few hours, he had thought of all the things that he had ever achieved, he had ever failed at or that had ever come to any kind of fruition. Also, he had thought of anything that had ever come to any kind of good or any kind of bad. Now having thought of all this and feeling better for it, he turned over, closed his eyes and slept for a few minutes. Then he got up and went downstairs. He had things to do there and he could cook his dinner as well when he got into the kitchen.

The phone in his living room rang. It was an older model of phone on a small glass table that was next to one of the two sofas he had in this room. Though, it did still look stylish even now despite it being old. As well, it had been in a sale and so was relatively cheap. Both he and his wife had been pleased with it. It was something in their house that they had decided on jointly and one of the first things they had bought for their new home. Also, it had been one of the best.

"Hello! It's Anne calling."

He was taken back to the present and the phone ringing in his living room that he had just picked up.

Really, he felt pleased to hear a friendly voice. And it was somebody who did not know about his life. Nor had Anne ever met his wife. As well, as he knew, she did not know what had gone on just recently for him.

"Oh, yes…."

"I was wondering. Can I come around?"

"Yes, do. Please come around."

He filed some papers whilst he waited for her to come. And she walked in 20 minutes later through his front door.

Once she had come in and settled down on his sofa, they chatted about this and that for an hour or two.

His new visitor, Anne, was a dark-haired busty woman. She was shorter than the average woman was but she didn't look like it because she was also round and bit plump. He had met her at his office. They had met when he had first started working there. And they had got on well together almost immediately. But he had not spoken to her that much after their first few meetings. He preferred women with more pronounced bosoms and perkier breasts. Still, since then, they had chatted more to each other and they'd become firm friends. He had talked to her more normally now when not so obsessed with all woman's breasts. This was since he'd met his wife that he hadn't been and they'd planned their wedding. As well, he had seen her outside of work once or twice when socializing.

Now, as they sat in his house, she said soothingly, "Can we go up to your bedroom? We may as well have sex. I mean, don't you think so? Really, I know that I do."

They'd had sex, been to bed and then they'd come back down to the living area to chat. Steve asked if she had appreciated a long lead up to sex. Furiously, she said that she didn't know what he was talking about. And she said that she was upset he should say such a thing. They tried not to keep talking about it so that perhaps they'd both forget about it. She told him that she felt it was a strange thing that he had said and she said as well that she found it really a bit of a worry.

She phoned him again about ten minutes after she had left.

"What's this about 'your wife'? I've heard from someone that you're married?"

"No, I'm not married. I mean that you could see that my wife was not here."

"Did she pop out?"

"No, she didn't just pop out. She's kind of left me."

"I'm sorry. Possibly, I'll see you around. It is too soon to sleep with you again just yet. Give me a week or two. Maybe I will need a few months to decide. You've just been married, you’ve just divorced or whatever it is you've done. I don't really know what it is that you have done. And I find it all a bit confusing and worrying. Maybe, your wife will come back to you. Have you thought of that? It would be best if I didn't see you anyway. And it is not just that it is all a bit confusing and upsetting. Nor is it just that I am worried because it is about your wife when I am another woman. But I'll just have to see if I still want to go out with you if you give me some time."

"Really, I don't think I will ever see my wife again. So you may as well come around again. I'd like to see you soon and not have to wait too long for you."

"No," she said flatly. "I don't think that I really would like to see you again just yet. So 'good bye' is all that I am going to say. And, 'I'll see you around if I do see you'. But, 'don't call me'. My phone will be off for the next couple of weeks as I am going on vacation."

Click! She had hung up.

So his first sexual encounter since he had been married or divorced, or whatever it was he had done, had come to a confusing end.

Chapter 2, Girls

Today in his rented apartment, Steve felt happier. At first, though, he struggled to cook. And he hardly ever cleaned. He made a few friends who lived in the other apartments. And a girl, Vanessa, had knocked on his door and introduced herself.

After he had settled in for a few months, someone gave Steve a computer. There is nothing like getting a computer from the shop and for a few hours at home plugging things in and getting them to work. And you adjust a few things so it will print. You feel excited and then deflated. Steve had not had his own computer before. And he only used another one intermittently. Steve's apartment can return now as it was before but instead it has a computer in it. His apartment is one long room with a bed in the corner and other furniture along the sides. The window looks out onto a dusty suburban street near a busy road. Many motorists use the road outside his house to get to work quicker by going down it to avoid the normal traffic that sometimes comes to a standstill. The window was a large one. But only just enough daylight reached the corners of his room. This was when the window was centrally situated and the room was long and thin.

He switched off his computer screen for a second. And he took out a paper pad. His computer desk is one of the pieces of furniture along the far side from the window but not directly opposite it.

On this paper pad that he had just taken out, he makes a note, 'Things I can do with my computer'. Steve wrote this. But then he switched the computer on again and typed it in. When he had finished, he added in dates he would finish things on. Seeing this didn't look very clear, he copied only some of it and the dates to another page. This was so it was more readable. He thought of what he had done. Some things on his list he could do even today. He felt surprised how much of what he had planned might take only a few hours to finish.

Next, he took a break sitting at a table there was next to his computer desk that was along the same side of the wall as his computer. And he sipped from a cup of coffee. He looked around his room and contemplated his new possession of a computer. Still, he could not completely see this new possession from his position in the room. This was when he wanted to avoid too much screen radiation. He thought about what else he could do on his computer once he got back on it. His handwritten diaries would be something to type in. And he could add his study notes. But he felt disheartened when it reminded him that he had last read his study notes so long ago. After a few hours, he had typed up only a few pages of his diary. Now he looked at his work.

The diary was from when he first moved to his apartment. It read when he had typed it up like this,

"I felt settled a few weeks after I had moved in. As well, I met someone called Vanessa and we chatted. We talked about her things and mine and got on well. After that, she didn't want to talk about hobbies and interests. Instead, she gave me all sorts of advice. It was not nasty advice but just talk. She talked about how I could clean my apartment. And she said I might cook some simple meals with her help. I started doing some exercises on the floor of the living room. And I warmed up for twenty minutes before I did any exercise as well. Also, I went to the library. As well, I went to the Internet café. And I did all this in-between seeing her. I must have gone out several times each day…."

What else was there that he could do on his computer? Why not make a budget? He could start with the computer itself. But then it had been a gift. So it was not really his money. Thinking of something else to do now, he would make a note of how he used his time. And he wrote on a piece of paper what he had done and the time it had taken. Then he went back on his computer again and typed it in. The computer could tell him how he had spent the day since mid-morning that was when he had started recording his time use. However, Steve wondered now how a computer in the home was any different from jotting down a note on the back of an envelope.

Reading a book would be better than his computer. Also, it would be better just to have some company. A computer is not what anyone really wants to do. But he has nobody he can visit now. He met another girl briefly but she already doesn't want to see him again. She said that he's boring and she would like to go out with someone else. Still, he doesn't feel that bothered as he has stuff he could be doing on his computer.

The computer tells him something. And it gives him figures as well as words. Numbers tell a different story to words. And many are the books written about numbers. Perhaps, he should read some. Thinking this, he leaves his desk. And he goes and lies down on his bed.

A dream wakes him after he had slept poorly. Outside his window, he could see the summer skies were fading. He gets up and writes up his diary. Really, he felt his diary was only an inconsequential description of things he had done. Also, he must have mentioned the same things many times. And so he should really feel bored with it for being repetitive even if it wasn't as well inconsequential. Now he looked back over his diaries. And he found many similar entries after only a few minutes reading.

Perhaps, though, writing handwritten notes will become outdated. He looked around for something else to read not on his computer for a few hours until supper. And then he'd do something else like he used to do so computers were not taking over his life too much.

The next morning he wrote up an essay on what he had learned. Then he went to the park. In the park, he read the newspaper. And he made a note of this when he got back.

When he ate lunch with Vanessa one day and they were on the mints, he turned and asked her if she had a computer. She replied politely that she had thought of getting one some time ago. However, he nevertheless pursued the matter despite her polite answer and asked her if she knew about them. She said that she did know about them again speaking politely. Now talking volubly, he asked her again if she did know about them and if she could tell him some story about her computer use.

"I know how a spreadsheet works."

And this was the only remark she'd make before he finally felt obliged to drop it.

For the rest of the time they chatted about other things. Then they kissed. It was near his time to leave. So he felt better now.

When he was back at home and after he had rested a bit, he picked up a novel for a few hours. This was something he wanted to do. For now, he did not think that he wanted to use his computer at all. Nevertheless, his computer was a way to restart his studies more assiduously and do other things he wanted to do. As well, he could do other things on it. But it really would help to type faster so he could take less time on typing. It, though, would take time to learn how to do it. So he felt a bit dejected. Though, well-formatted typed-up notes were an improvement on handwritten ones. He, at least, could read them better. But then, as well, he knew already what they would say. And so he felt he had wasted many hours on them when he looked at them again. It had taken hours to type even a few pages and weeks to type a dozen or two. For the rest of the evening, Steve watched TV flicking through the channels.

'Start as you mean to go on' is an adage. And the day after Steve had felt a bit bored with the effort it took to use his computer, he switched on the TV instead of it. Now he found that he couldn't stop watching TV once he'd started. Perhaps, though, television is really a lot better than computers. He could do that all day as well but it would just not be as good. The next day after having watched a load of TV, Steve studied all morning until lunchtime. He read page after page. And he made adequate notes for it even though they were only on paper.

Time passed. Steve looked at all his loose papers to see if anything should go onto his computer that might really be better there. He had some handwritten diaries that he could type up so that he would be able to see them better. And he supposed that it might really be worth the effort to do so if he was able to improve on it like this. So he still had a use for his computer after all. He had several months of these handwritten diaries to type up. And, really, it might take quite some time to type all of them. 

After the more normal week he'd had away from his computer, he met someone else. She was called Sue, she lived nearby and he saw her a few times. Still, he didn't want to stop seeing Vanessa just because he was now seeing Sue. Sue told him that he was being silly to worry about anything like that when he told her about Vanessa. She said that they were just good friends. Perhaps, he did lack something to worry about something so trivial. And it seemed that Sue smiled as he said this.

Steve spent a lot of time as well as talking to Sue and Vanessa chatting to an older man in the shared area of the house. He wore a plain cream shirt with stale sweat stains under the armpits and trousers held up over his bulging belly by a thin black and silver belt. The man was one of the other tenants of their house. They shared this house together. It had a living room and a kitchen but with the rest of the house converted into apartments. There were apartments on all the upper floors. And, as well, some downstairs rooms had been converted. Most of the apartments had been fitted with kitchens.

The other tenant spoke to Steve about pretty girls. And he answered patiently all Steve's questions about them. Also, the other tenant spoke about his hobbies and interests. But now Steve could not think of his for some reason. The man lost his temper, got up and left.

On a page in front of him, Steve read the words he had written a few weeks before, 'Study to get skills and read something interesting. As well, exercise helps your looks'.

For the next few weeks, he studied statistics from a published book. After a few months, he felt confident to employ some statistics about how he used his time. He tried doing some sums with his data. But then he ran out of statistics to try after only a few hours. As well, he knew that these were the only figures he'd ever get for all the time he'd spent on his project. Yet it was everything. Or it was nothing at all. Now, though, he wanted something else instead. And he no longer wanted all the note making, record keeping and analysis that had preoccupied him for the last few months.

The statistics told him much about his time use even if only with the knowledge he had. And he knew he would not have found out so much from how he had kept his earlier notes.

His statistics told him how he had used his time for the last few months.

And he did find out something as a kind of research that he did not think he'd ever read anywhere. But he did not know if it was truly new. And on reflection, he had not read that much published science research. So it might not be anything new. In the fading light of evening before he'd have to get up and turn on his light, he scrolled through the pages of his word-processed notes.

In some small way, he had done something that should have value generally. He knew this because he had set out to do something and now he had done it. And if he hadn't had this feeling beforehand, then he knew now how this feeling felt. However, he had mixed emotions about his time use project.

He did not really know once he thought about it that it was so great. Really, it seemed too much time and effort. And it didn't give him that much of anything.

Perhaps, though, it did give him a small sense of achievement.

As well, he did not have a girlfriend or a job.

First, he did not read much because so much of his time was spent on his computer. He had learned a surprising amount about computers. But he had neglected book learning. And he had missed some TV. Now, he had messed up his social skills.

He still saw Sue occasionally. And when he told her about his newfound computer knowledge, she said that she did not plan to do anything he had told her about. She did not want to do anything on her own computer as he had done it on his. But, she said that it was interesting to hear that he had. Then she talked about her hobbies for some time. It pleased him when they had nothing to do with computers. Yet, he felt a bit bored to talk about anything else.

Sue said, "I don't think you've been concentrating. You've not really listened to anything that I've said. So I'm going to leave."

They'd parted badly. But then, he felt keen to go home and start doing some work on his computer. He had thought of the work to do when he was with Sue. And his thinking about this had been partially to blame for distracting him during their meeting.

As he had lots of diaries, he could do an analysis of them using his computer. Many years ago, he'd had a dream of doing something like this. And now the computer made his dream a reality. Then, he couldn't remember how he had dreamed it. As he didn't have a girlfriend or friends, he had time on his hands. And the computer would help him to pass the time. He, though, didn't want to use it for as long as he had done so beforehand. Also, he could take more breaks. Perhaps, he could just use it now to amuse himself and nothing else. Also, he now had the skills to use it. So he may as well use it. Otherwise, he would have wasted all the time he had spent on it already practicing and learning his skills. It still, though, felt a good dream. And this was even when his dream was just pixels on the screen. Yet, it was everything to him. And computers were everything to him. He tried to put any downside from his mind though, when he did not want to have to worry about it.

Typing was relaxing. Also, typing was important to knowledge generally. At least, it was something to do with it. Maybe, though, typing was important. Or it was not so important at all. Perhaps, it was just in-between. However, he put this thought out of his head. It distracted him. And instead, he tried to get on a bit and finish off some work.

After he'd worked a bit better, he switched off his computer. The evening grew late as just for now he read a book and did nothing else. Although he still did not know some things about what he was trying to learn, he felt he was getting there. And so he needn't worry about it.

'Doers are not thinkers'.

He made a note of this in his diary. It had taken him months to find out. Yet, really, he did not know even now if it was quite true. Nor did he know how he could tell anyone about what he had done. And nor did he know if he had found out anything at all about anything. Maybe, he had. But perhaps he had not done.

When it was late, he switched off his computer. Then he undressed and lay in bed.

The next morning he woke up and thought of the previous day that was now gone. He must have fallen asleep as soon as he'd got into bed as he had slept well. Still, it had all felt like too much work for one person. And this was even with the help of a computer. Or computers were just for a bit of fun. They were not work when you had them in the home. And he should try to remember that. But then, he probably did need some way to pass the time other than books or TV. This was when he felt a bit bored with reading and TV. And so he wanted something new. Also, his computer was a good reason to read a bit and to do a bit more of other things. He could write notes and reviews. Or he could write other imaginative pieces.

It was a few weeks later and Steve was at work. 

Steve returned from the photocopier. The photocopier has its own room down the corridor from his office. It was a big old-fashioned photocopier and it took up the whole room to itself. Their office used it quite frequently and didn't just print from computers.

The office building he worked in was a small unit built of brick with its own parking lot for employees and visitors outside. A half-dozen or so automobiles were pulled up in front of the building. Some of these vehicles were visitors and only a few belonged to people who worked there. The offices were furnished in a style that was now 30 years out of date. But it had been fashionable in its heyday. Also, many of these types of development were built in more optimistic times. The desks in all the offices were made of a light-colored wood but some of them had been replaced at various times with the latest style of desk. Steve came back from the photocopier and sat down in his office that had space for two desks and looked at his computer screen. The other office worker was out the office for now.

Steve had some work to do for the time being. But later, he would have to ask for paper for printing something. The manager he usually asked would be out until the middle of the afternoon. And he did not know anyone else well enough to ask them about it. Nor did he know when people would be in to ask them anyway.

At one time, they had complained about him. He had finished doing some photocopying that the manager had asked him to do. But he handed it to the manager when he was with a client and they had complained about it for some reason. Another time when he took some printed pages and put them on the manager's desk, the manager had come back with another client who had complained when he saw the papers. This time the client complained to the manager about him. And the manager complained to Steve. The manager said that something about the way Steve had laid it on his desk was to blame. Steve got into trouble for his work like this a few times. Really, though, he did not see how he could do the photocopying and then not keep the confidential material on his desk or put it on the manager's desk. This was even though the manager had told him not to do this. So he still printed it and kept it or laid it on the manager's desk. Other employees had told him not to go in the manager's office or to go out his own office. But Steve could not see any alternative. So what could he do? Steve did not know what to do.

However, the manager told him it was only because Steve was young. But Steve felt he had grown up a lot quite recently. And they told him that this was the reason he had kept the job. But it really was only his youth that counted in his favor for such things.

Perhaps, he was just overworked. But that was not good. He did not work long hours. So maybe it was stress. He should do something else when he was not getting ahead. Really, he did nothing much here. So he would consider another job.

Eventually, he spoke to the manager about it. The manager was a 35-year old who always wore an impeccable clean office suit and who had a large selection of ties with his getting new ties all the time. He had a slight build.

Now he stood next to his desk sorting out some papers on it and spoke to Steve about the printing and the photocopying.

"Print stuff when I will be in the office, which means you can hand it to me when I've not just come through the door. You're stressed. Take a vacation. Come back in six months. Tell me you've learned something about the work and you still want to do it."

Some other employees laughed when they saw his burnout at so young an age. But some were more sympathetic.

"You're not burned out yet," said the manager. "That's why I told you to take a vacation. You could still do this line of work until you retire at sixty."

For the last few days at work, the other office workers said that they did not want his opinions. The others were mainly in their late 20s and 30s and so they were older than he was. Some younger girls worked there. They were employed to do bits and pieces for other people. But he was one of the few young men.

One girl who was just under medium height and a straight-haired platinum blonde he liked and he had started chatting to, said, "Take a vacation if that is what you need. Then come back, here or anywhere else. I don't care. And the manager doesn't care either. Nor does anyone else around here care. But do it!"

The young man listened. And he asked tentatively for her phone number. They were standing in the atrium of the front of the building. In this atrium, there were some notice boards. On some of them were posters about staff benefits. Also, there was a poster about a charity project. There was the languid atmosphere of the late afternoon. It permeated everything. And they spoke slowly and relaxed.

"Do you think we were just chatting normally?"

"It is a bit like that."

"No, life is not like that. What I told you was for your own benefit. And because I told you it, then I realize why you might be saying that. I've got a partner."

"Have you? Sorry, I won't ask you anything like that again."

"Didn't it occur to you that I did have one?"

"No."

"Have you had a girlfriend?"

"Yes."

"How many have you had?"

"I've had a few."

She nodded.

"About one girl you had, was it?" she said.

"No, I've had a few."

"My partner will be coming here…"

"Oh, no! I hope not."

"It's not because of you."

"Oh, I really am sorry."

"If you say that once more…"

"I'm sorry. No, I mean that I didn't mean that."

She smiled.

Steve had a few weeks' notice from his office job. They told him not to try to work too hard during that time.

Everyone was sitting around by about five desks in a larger office where Steve was doing some work here for the time being. All the desks in this office were larger and of the light-colored wood as were the other furnishings. The office workers who sat around were mainly male in their 20s and 30s.

"Don't you like Jennifer?"

A co-worker asked him this.

"Oh, who is she?"

"She sits opposite you some days and looks longingly at you. Haven't you noticed?"

"You could ask her out."

"Or have you forgotten how to do it since the last time!"

They laughed.

"Yes, I could. I hadn't thought of that. But I was planning to go on vacation…"

"She'll wait until you get back."

"Hi," Steve said, going out to meet her as she smoked by the front entrance.

The front entrance was by a busy road but there were concrete steps going down to it and so the road appeared to be some way away. The late afternoon sun shone warmly on them. And a warm breeze blew over the hot tarmac of the parking lot in front of them. She smiled at him sweetly and genuinely. And she wiped some red lipstick from the corner of her ample mouth. To the others they might look quite young. Or, at least, they were in comparison to the others. And perhaps they were still young. He would be able to speak to her because of their similar ages and ask her out on a date. She encouraged him. But then she said that she was seeing someone else from their office.

"As there are only a few male office workers here, then there is a high chance that it is somebody you know," she said conspiratorially. "You know all the people here, don't you?"

She chided him.

"So…," she said and nodded observing his face.

"Can I have your telephone number? I thought you asked me for mine earlier," Steve said when she said no more.

"Don't tell anyone we're seeing each other," she gushed. "Never say we did! I do have a reputation to uphold. Don't bother studying too hard either by the way. And I would really take that vacation. I mean it. Don't stay here. You don't want to be collecting your pension coming through that same door. That's only my opinion. Also, you should clear up a few things."

"All right, that's my plan."

She gave him her phone number. And then she walked slowly away, biting her top lip down over her lower lip.

Turning back, she said, "Phone me! And let me know when we can go out."

The next day he got a letter saying they had fired him and he was to leave his employment immediately. They phoned as well and advised him to look in the classified ads for a new job whilst he still could. The dismissal letter said the company would pay him to the end of the month.

Steve, though, went on vacation. And when he came back, he met one of his friends outside his house. The friend was an amateur athlete. He wore a tracksuit. However, he laughed at Steve when Steve noticed his new running top of a bigger club.

Where Steve lived in a leafy wide avenue, there was lots of traffic at times. Also, pedestrians walked down it as it connected so many parts of the town you could get to on foot. The friend tried to persuade him to start work again. And he said that he could find him an easy job. So it was no different from being on vacation or taking a break.

The job would be asking shoppers to fill in a form for market research.

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Well paid! That's what!"

"Tell me what I would do?"

"Right, you've got a bag, haven't you? You can take any old bag if you like. And you'll put all your forms in it…"

"What are 'forms'?"

"You know, don't you? They're called that. Forms are all the pieces of paper you write on?"

"Yes."

"Go up by train and book into a hotel. Take a book with you when you will be in your room all evening. You'll stay a few days. So you need to find some slot machines or something."

"That's going to be expensive for the whole day."

"No, it's not. It's not because you win on them. Didn't anyone tell you that?"

"How do you win on them?"

"Look! It's too late to tell you that. The thing is you only do the survey for an hour twice a day. That's the best way to do it. And, as it takes a lot of concentration, we can't have anyone who doesn't give it their full attention and effort. Does that sound all right?"

"Yes."

"Right! What did I just say…? Stand on the pavement. Pick a wide bit between you and the road. Got that?"

"And don't do it near a popular shop entrance."

"What?"

"It will distort the figures."

"Good one! I hadn't thought of that. And then surreptitiously get out your forms, a clipboard and pen and start making notes in the street."

"Won't anyone who walks past notice you when you start writing? Isn't it a little unusual to see someone writing on a clipboard when you're out shopping?"

"That's market research. Nobody thinks it's strange nowadays. And that is how they do it."

"What is market research? What do I tell them?"

"Tell them you want to know how many of them going past use, or don't use, some kind of product. And write down on the form what you are supposed to write."

He got off his train. And then he booked into his hotel. It was a small hotel with about 10 rooms. And it was furnished quite tastefully. Still, it was, though, a bit old fashioned. His room was quite small and it did not have the lavish furnishings of the public areas. It just had a bed and an inexpensive wardrobe. In his room, he had one of the most delicious reads he had ever had. And the next day he stood with his clipboard whilst the rain started coming down and filled in the forms.

The first person he spoke to was a girl who was in her 20s. She wore a black skirt and jacket and she smiled a lot and tried to be helpful. But after that, they were sometimes rude. However, he filled in all he could of the forms. Then his watch told him it was time to finish. And he walked back to the hotel. At the hotel, he checked the forms to see that nothing had been left out. And he filled in anything from memory that was missing. Then he filed his forms in the right order they had told him to do into a folder.

"What did you do all the time? Did you fill in forms the whole time?" asked his friend when he got back.

"No. For most of the time I read in my hotel room."

"Wasn't anyone looking at you through a peep hole?"

"No."

"What did you read? Don't tell me! Did you meet someone called Kirsty? She is a big breasted and curly haired girl who wears too much lipstick. You might have met her."

"Yes, I did. I took tea with her."

"And…"

"We had a really nice chat over tea and buns."

"I see, right. See you around then!"

Steve was visiting his parents’ house sometime later and other friends and family were there as well.

"By the way, that girl you said you liked," somebody he knew said, "she's the one you got chatting to different from the first. She has been in to see how you are. And she says that she doesn't mind if you go to see her. Get your coat! We're going to…."

The man was in his 40s or 50s with smooth brown hair brushed forward on the top of his head. His hair looked remarkably thin. But he was not in any way balding besides that. He was wearing a woolen jumper and had on a pair of new jeans. Heavy leather shoes, hiking socks and a sweaty red neck completed the picture.

"That's a tart's place!" exclaimed Steve at the suggestion they should patronize this particular bar.

"Don't knock it. She's goes there. And she is the girl you said you liked. She wants to see you."

"How do we get there?"

"You go there on your own normally. Or you will after this. But then, why don't you just go out somewhere to get yourself laid? And you could be just like anyone else your age. I don't know why really you wouldn't. Still, I'll give you a lift there today if you want to go. This is if you'd like me to or if it because you don't know the way that you'd like me to take you the first time."

"Where is it the place we are going to?"

The older man heaved a sigh but told Steve where it was despite Steve finding it hard to follow the directions he said to get there. And he heaved an even bigger sigh when Steve said that he might want help if he couldn't find it again.

They arrived at a crowded bar in an out-of-town location. Trucks and automobiles regularly passed along the road outside every few seconds. This was despite it being miles from anywhere and on an old road. The hotel and bar was in an old brick and stone building. However, the sign said that it was a bar and nothing else. The sign that used to say it was a hotel had been painted over in a revamp. And no new sign had been put up in its place. In the busy bar area, there were men a few years older than Steve was but the women were about his age. Steve had wondered how old the women were until he saw one laughing at him. And he realized most were still in their 20s and the same age as him. Yet, he was the only man his age there. He could see that the girl who laughed was probably younger than he was even. Some clientele looked strangely at him. So he stepped outside for some fresh air.

Then Steve saw the girl he vaguely knew and that they had told him would be here. She was by chance coming out of a door from the bar into the parking lot. The parking lot had thick painted white lines to show spaces. It was midday and the sun was pleasant in this corner with heat radiating off the parked vehicles. There were flowers hanging from baskets on stonewalls. And the flowers smelled sweetly. Also, there was the different sweet smell of grasses from the fields beyond. However, the girl that Steve wanted to see was with someone, a man in his 40s or 50s. And she spoke loudly and volubly to him playing drunkenly on his arm. Steve waited to see how he could get her on her own so that he would be able to talk to her. Then, to his relief, it seemed that the two were saying their good byes. The man walked off away from her and in the other direction to Steve as well.

Steve walked over to her and spoke to her as she tidied up her skirt for some reason. He asked her what she was doing and she said that it had a crease in it from earlier on. It was from some common chance accident. And she described it to Steve patiently and at length how the accident had happened. She did this seeing as he'd asked her. And she said it as he'd wondered about it. When she had finished talking, Steve no longer felt interested. Instead, he felt that she had really bored him with it.

However, when she saw this, she didn't take it badly.

"I was leaving."

He felt disappointed.

"I'm leaving here but not you. Come here!"

They went into the parking lot and snogged.

"Come in the vehicle I've got parked around the corner."

He went with her and she took his hand.

"What do you think you're doing? You'd really do it in the back of a broken-down wreck. I know you."

She left out the door that she had just gone in. And he got out after her without having done anything that she didn't seem to have noticed.

"Here is a girl's phone number. Go and see her."

He went to see her. She invited him into her apartment. It had clutter, stacks of notebooks and piles of textbooks and boxes of CDs and USB drives. She said that a lot of the clutter was just because of the course she was doing. They talked for a time. After that, she went over to the bed and picked up a condom packet from the bedside cabinet. She took out and opened a condom. And Steve followed her hint and went over to her. Then she slipped the condom on him. And they lay down on the bed and had sex. The sex was exhausting. But after it did not seem like such a big deal. He supposed she had enjoyed it. But he didn't know himself if he had.

"Don't do it like this. Try something else for a bit. Take me somewhere I've not been before," she said laughing trying to cheer him up.

Steve laughed at the joke. But he did not really get it. She directed him how to do it. And she told him not to come too fast. Still, he came quickly needing as he did so to feel himself come. For her part, she seemed upset he had not tried to do more.

"Is that it? It was a bit quick."

She dressed in a nightgown whilst he put on his clothes. And she asked him to go.

"You didn't really satisfy me," she said after they talked for a few minutes whilst he had still to dress. "But I suppose you did your best. Pity, it wasn't a bit better though...."

Turning to her, he said, "Can I come again to see you?"

"You can come if you pay me. Of course, you'll have to come to see me first."

She laughed and he laughed as well.

In the morning, his mind turned oddly to the day before. But this was without his really dwelling much on it. He had a few things that he might get on with. And he'd probably take the rest of the day just to watch TV, to read or to go to the park. Then he thought of a few other things that were normal like that. He thought of this as he dressed and got ready for the day. But after that, he didn't think more about it.

As he was leaving to go out, he thought of what he had said to her. Really, he had said nothing much. He had made some conversation with a whore and it was mainly about payment. And the girl had made a joke that he had laughed at. Also, he remembered that she had seemed genuinely pleased and amused that he had found it so funny. That was about the level of it. And it was about the level of all of it. It was the level that he saw now of humanity and of having sex. And he thought, 'what else is there?' That was about all he could think of for now. He did not know if in the future he would find there was anything more. However, he wondered if he should change this. And maybe he should. Did, though, it really matter? How did it? He used to think it was important. But literally, it wasn't. Or was 'thought' the most important thing in the world? Then he remembered how he had heard someone that he used to know once say, 'There is no philosophy of going to hookers. You cannot possibly have such a philosophy. Do you understand why I would say that?' He hadn't really understood. But he hadn't liked to ask more. Today, he did not know the answer any better either. And this was despite having been to a prostitute himself. So that was that! He had left the hookers parlor and gone home. And now he was home, he'd go about his daily life just like normal.

He remembered as he had left, she had turned to him and said, "I'll be phoning you. You come when I call. Also, you have to treat me well even if I'm a whore. Do you understand that? You can see me again. And you can see me as long as you want to keep coming around. Please keep coming whenever you want to come, so to speak, or not so to speak, or as it were, or as we've said before. But I expect money and payment."

A few weeks later, he had yet to call her. He had not called because he had been busy. When he did call her, it was the wrong number. So that was that! The particular episode was over.

Anyway, he did not know that he did want to see her again. But now, he would never see her again as he must have made some mistake when writing down her phone number. Perhaps, he had mixed up pieces of paper and thrown her number away. His stuff was really in a bit of a mess and that might explain it. Still, nothing could be done now. And as he didn't have a phone number, then he could not call her at all. So that really was that! He would have to leave it.

Now he met a girl who lived locally. He recognized her from when he had walked back to his apartment at times he had been out. Sometimes he walked to save money and sometimes he walked for exercise. And he'd spoken to her once or twice as she'd passed by and she'd stopped to have some quite long chats on previous occasions. She was a perky redhead who wore blouses that made her boobs bulge in a way that he liked. Still, her tops were often done right up as if in an attempt to hide her bosoms. When he did finally see them, they were not very nice. But he pretended that he didn't mind. She had no explanation to give him as to why they were not so good. And he commented that she should not feel ashamed of them and so cover them up just because of how they looked. To this, she spoke somewhat quizzically and rudely to him. And he tried to avoid talking too much to her now when she had been so rude. But he listened to what she said. This was, as he knew, that you should listen to what women tell you.

In his apartment she ate the dinner he offered her. After they had finished eating, they cleared the plates away. During the meal, they had sat mainly in silence from worry over his earlier rudeness, but now they talked more having had the good feeling of being physically sated by food. Then they went to bed for the night. And she slept next to him until morning with her and the warm night for company and just a faint light from the street lamp outside the window. She was a girl in the night. As well, she was a girl in his single man's apartment. And she had come to his, his small apartment. He woke up the next day to find she had dressed and, as well, she had already made herself some breakfast.

As she finished eating, he made another comment about why she had worn such severe shirts to hide her breasts. This was at least in his estimation. He had felt guilt at what he had said the night before. Sleeping in a bed next to a girl did not change anything much for long. And he still felt bad about things again at other times and often soon after anything that might make him feel better. It was almost physically in his mind and not reflected in what people appeared to think of him or in the things they did for him. Perhaps, she had other things that she liked about him and it was not all what he thought of her breasts. This was even if he had said something about them he really needn't have and that she didn't like. 

He was pondering this to himself, when she said a little sharply, "I've got to go. Really, I thought you were being nice to me last night. I don't actually think I have good breasts myself and so you needn't worry. But I can see that you're probably just like other men and in fact you are worse for what you are doing now."

"No, wait! I didn't mean to go on about it more today and I genuinely do feel that you are a nice person. So I shouldn't have said that about your breasts. There is nothing that much wrong with them. When will we see each other again?"

"Why do you say that?"

"I said it because I would like to see you again."

"Then, of course, you will! And you got a joke in about it as well."

She said this and took her stuff to leave stony faced when he did not laugh.

He saw her again a few times. But she said that she wanted them to part as she had met someone else. When she said this to him, he was going to say something back to her. But he could not think of anything to say. Then again, it was not so important. As well, it left him feeling a little chilly. She looked at him quizzically. There was no good reason to say anything or to communicate at all. And if this was something that he still had to learn at his age about relationships, then it was not what he had in mind. It might just be normal to say something. However, she stayed tight-lipped and she told him not to ask even if he wanted to ask. And she said as well that she didn't have to put up with him when she knew other men and better men. She mentioned some of them to him that he had met himself. And it made him feel small.

Then she left out his door once more with quiet, quick female footsteps. And she slammed the hallway door behind her a bit later.

She had gone and walked out of his life in the high heels she always wore when she saw him. He knew that he would never see her again. Nor would he talk to her again. And later he would try to remember what she even looked like. After some time, he found that he was still thinking about her. Yet, she did not ever want to see him again. That was how it was with girls! And he thought that was just how it was for him as well as anyone else.

It was having a life that mattered even in the smallest possible way you did have a life that was worth anything. As well, such things mattered to everyone. But then, he knew that this was really a conceit. And he might have better things to think about. Nor did he really know anything about his ex-girlfriend. She had just been nice to him like most girls. But she had not really said anything much to him or about herself.

Another girl now lay in his bed. Yet when she got up, he didn't notice her rising. And she turned and looked back at him.

Her small mauve lacy lingerie panties were pretty. He could them when he looked over his shoulder from where he was lying on the bed with his head on the pillows. They seemed relaxed. It seemed that she enjoyed him looking. In some ways, it was the most exquisite and sensuous picture. But in other ways, it was all bit brash, fleshy and crude. And he remembered what he had seen long after she left and as he lay snoozing still tired in his bed.

She packed her stuff into her handbag. Then she showed herself out. He heard the slam of the door when she had already gone possibly just blown by the breeze. And now, he'd have to go down and close it himself soon. Then, hearing the door slam harder from a stronger gust of breeze, he felt lonely again, disheartened and a bit peeved. Nor could she say anything more to him he might like her to say. And nor could she do anything more for him like sex or some kind of other gesture. For now, she had just left. So someone else had left and gone out his life. And he was alone again and on his own and needing more company to be happy. Or he just needed to get his act together first or at any time that there might be some improvement so he would find it better than what he had now.

Chapter 3, Later On

Leaving his employment as a market researcher, Steve now realized he did not have enough experience to do other work he wanted more.

He got a job with a charity. This was when he wanted to learn some skills. Also, he wanted to build on the ones he had already. To do his work for the charity, he already had skills in computers and a few in doing admin. He would work one day a week as a volunteer in the office.

The first job Steve had given to him was a bit of editing of some copy for a booklet they were producing. They gave him the earlier booklet printed double-spaced with the amendments handwritten into it. He typed the corrections on the computer and printed the leaflet again.

"One moment," said the manager as he was leaving one day, "I want to see you about something."

He closed the door behind him.

"This whole thing is a numbers game," he began. "I've experience and believe me I know. It's how many clients we get through the door. More than last year we get funding and less we can lose it."

He paused to gauge Steve's reaction and then continued, "What we want from you is for you to tell us how many clients we've had in and some details about them from these forms. Anything else, we don't need. When we want anything else from you, then we'll tell you. We do not need you telling us about marketing."

Again he paused and then continued, "Don't you realize that should we be able to produce figures for any proposal, then that is our marketing? Can you do this? We had a high-level marketing meeting a few weeks before you came here and that's why we employed you. We need these figures and then we can do our marketing better than we have. Many problems we had will be in the past. With these figures, we can start again with a new strategy. When you do that, you will have done all we expect of you. Do you think you can do it?"

"Yes."

The manager nodded.

"You can leave then," said the manager. "And we'll see you again tomorrow."

As Steve walked out in the rain with a coat wrapped tight around him against the damp blustery weather and a hot meal to eat when he got home, he felt he had set out into the world. But it was in the smallest way possible. Being concerned as his thoughts were only with employment, job satisfaction and finding a girlfriend, he did not have major worries. And he had developed his skills, done some courses and he had studied for many hours. Now everything was coming to fruition. At home, he did not need to think about work or someone who wanted him to do work. For now, though, when he was at work they needed him to work on this file.

The next morning, he saw a large vase of flowers on his desk. He asked one of the paid staff about it. And they said the Chair had wanted to thank them for the work they had done. Particularly, he had wanted to thank Steve. The Chair said that he felt impressed by how Steve had spoken to him before. And the Chair had particularly wanted Steve to have some of the flowers.

Steve looked at his notes from the previous day and after a second to gather his thoughts began work. Also, he remembered now what someone, another volunteer, had told him. Her adage was, 'doing the easiest things first is best. And the hard things you can leave to last'. The easiest things, she had told him, can give most benefits despite them being easy. You may find them easy, but others would find them hard. And things you find hard, others would find easy. Don't let it bother you if you find something hard, but do what you find easy. And when he followed this advice, he finished several things very quickly. He would finish his database in less than a month. But he had a few questions still to ask about some of his work. These questions to get answers would have to wait for the next day or perhaps the day after. But by mid-afternoon, he had almost finished the program they had asked him to do two months earlier now.

"Don't feel embarrassed," said a female paid staff member when he had shown the program to the manager. "But the Chair would like to see your program."

He showed it to him, going through it by data entry points first and then outputs. Steve kept it short. The Chair asked many questions about the data entry point to enter clients' details. Steve showed him what the program did when they moved address, died or paid any fees. Perhaps, this was not so important. But Steve answered politely the Chair's questions. After Steve gave some more thought to it, he could then see why he might have been asked. Whilst Steve did not think much of his knowledge of computers, the Chair said that Steve did indeed have extensive knowledge. As well, the Chair said that he had genuinely been impressed and was not just saying it for any other reason.

After this and over several weeks other paid staff asked their own questions about it.

"By the way," said one of the paid staff to Steve once he had taken his coat to go one day, "we don't really need an old wise head here on anyone's shoulders. But other than that, you did well."

She was about to leave when she turned back to him and said, "Get to work on your program!"

"I…"

"By the way as well, that was a joke."

He wondered what he should do now for he had no program to write. Perhaps, he should type a manual.

"What are you doing?" said the paid worker from her desk. "Someone is coming in to write a manual. So we don't need you to do that. Get on with your work. If you haven't got any, then I know I can think of some."

He took a paper pad, switched off the computer and wrote down what he might do next. In fact, it was the next program he could think of designing. The manager asked him what he was doing. He told her that it was another program and explained the benefits for the company. She said that he could still work on his old program.

A few weeks later however, she said, "Oh, we've got someone else coming here who is going to do more work and he will need your desk. We didn't really think your program was usable. We couldn't get anyone to do data entry on it. You didn't take much care about formatting your data entry points. Did you take any care at all? No, you didn't."

"I…," he stammered.

"You should have realized you need to do things like that without anyone telling you. The new person has come highly recommended. And he is better qualified than you are with your qualifications. Also, someone else is starting as well. So we need your computer."

"Oh, I'll leave."

"You will? Then take all your stuff out, your notebooks and anything else that's not on your computer and that nobody now needs. And you can do some other work."

Steve was unemployed for a bit and had some other unemployed friends round his house. The TV was on and Steve watching it with his friends listened to one of them. He was an older person although he had younger friends and was in their circle from time to time. The man talked about charities. They were sitting around on worn-out sofas in a small room with a large window looking out onto some overgrown gardens at the back of the house. However, the window was dirty and had so much stuff in front of it that nobody hardly ever went to the window or ever looked out.

His other friends sitting around on the old sofas that had some of their stuffing coming out nodded and winked at each other.

"Of course," the older friend had begun, "charities have no professional standards. You could work for them for years and feel you treated clients well and professionally. But when you're older and you need services yourself, then you might get poor treatment. And you would have nobody you could complain to because in the end they don't have professional standards."

His friends looked across at him and one of them said quietly, "Don't answer him if you don't want to do so. Stay quiet and don't stand up for yourself if you're scared of him."

The man who had spoken was angry and silent.

"Steve used to work for a charity," said one of his friends.

Now the older man on hearing this looked intently at Steve but still Steve said nothing.

"We're all leaving! Aren't we?" said one of Steve's other friends.

"No, I'm not going," said Steve. "Why would I?"

"Adam was I think. Weren't you, Adam?"

"Yes," said the man and got up to leave.

After he had left, the other friends looked at each other in dismay.

"You'd better leave as well," said one of them. "We don't actually want your cigarettes and drink. And we only drink it when you're here. Perhaps you should go back to your apartment and we might see you around."

"All right. I'll do that."

His friends sighed. They felt relieved Steve had just gone so easily without hanging around, complaining or saying anything.

Steve thought about what Adam had said. The idea excited and appalled him at the same time that because he worked for a charity he could speak knowledgeably on it. However, he would prefer staying calm about it. Also, the thought that if he needed a charity when he was older he would find it different from his own experiences appalled him as well. Perhaps he should imagine he was still working there and what they would say if he could ask about it. After some time, he had thought of all they might say. Now he realized that he might indeed know what they would say. He felt a bit better but had some mixed feelings. Something was more forlorn, hopeless and sad than it had been earlier. And he tried to think what it was that had made him sad. After some more minutes, he had thought of what it was that made him sad. And he realized that the poets had already written about it. This thought made him feel better. As well, though, he thought that he didn't really like this life that much. Yet, he could do nothing to change 'life', his own or any life, except to live it as he could still do. And he could see that for the time being life was not so bad and he was not so poor and other things like that. So he would just live his life for now.

He got another job designing another program. And they said that he had done good work. The company was larger than the charity and he was not the only one who could program. Others knew as much as he did although they did at the charity as well. However, they were managers and so busy.

In a meeting room of a conference center, a few old slim silver-haired men came over to him.

"Steve, you've won a prize!"

"We've had all sorts of successes with your program."

"You use the thing now I designed?"

"It doesn't look anything like that now as we made some changes so it was easier to use. That's someone else who should take the credit for that. But we saw what you did. Really, you put in the work and you won a prize. Well done!"

One of the others also said Steve had won a prize for IT awarded to industry. Steve said how pleased he felt to get it whilst the others now looked a little bemused.

"Is it just me who’s got it?" Steve said to make some sort of conversation.

"No, there are others as well. I must find them," one of the silver-haired old men said and he walked off towards the other rooms they were using in the conference center.

They had sparkling wine on a tray that they handed to him. And there was a tray on a side table as well that Steve assumed you could help yourself to when you had finished your first glass.

"You've drunk far too many glasses of that already, I think," said one of the silver-haired hosts returning.

He said it gently and with a wan smile.

Taking the sparkling wine glass from his hand and returning it to the tray carried by a waiter he smiled again but this time even more faintly. And Steve knew now his life would not be quite as he had planned it. It would not be so bad now if he was to die old and in his own bed. He walked out into the sunshine and onto the rain-soaked pavement outside the hotel and was on his way.

Steve stopped drinking. As well, he met someone else. They had long chats on their dates and she slept with him. She was a dark-haired girl with a thick body, big butt and small bosoms. When she saw him looking at her body, she had looked annoyed back at him. Still, her body did turn him on despite it not being his usual type and they went to bed together.

A few days after they had first shared a bed, she said, referring to some of his conversation, "You'd better do some studying."

So Steve went back to his apartment, read some books and then read some more. In a few weeks, he had read a dozen. He chatted to this girl about things he had read as he still saw her. And she seemed impressed with him. Then she asked what he had done for the months and years beforehand. He said that he had done this and that. The relationship cooled now when he did not feel that he could interest her. However, he had wanted to have sex with someone else because he had worried about sex and now he had done 'it' again.

A week later, he was due to start work. He told himself he could date the girls at work. It felt less odd now to date them when he had some things going for him. He had things to chat about now.

However, after he worked for a while, he began to worry he could not pass the interview if he had to do it again. And after a time, he felt he could not bluff his way at the work itself as well. His conversation had improved many times over since going to college. But now he worried it was back to being poor again. He, however, should be all right at least just for now. This was when nobody had said anything to him despite his worrying about it.

So now, he would have to try to make an effort to help himself all over again. But, if he did what he already knew, then he could make himself feel better. And this was just as he had done more than once in the past.

It was a few weeks later and he was at home. He sat down on his desk and he switched his computer on.

On his computer, he opened a spreadsheet and typed in some shop receipts for his home budget. He looked at the outputs. His whole week's budget had taken less than an hour.

For a minute, he sat still doing nothing on his computer or on paper or at his desk. Then, he looked at his budget table again. After that, he clicked with his mouse to display his browser so he could look up something on the Internet.

Today, that was about all for which he used his home computer. His computer at work was perhaps though a different matter.

A few years had passed.

"I think you've learned to work now," someone said to him at his employment. "You wanted this and you came back to it."

As he walked back home on that day, he felt good in some ways but not in others. He could see the bustle there always was in an office. It seemed that they were forever doing something that never stopped. They did what they did quickly or they would have never finished anything. There was too much work for that and too much work to dawdle or for the office not to be on top of everything. If they weren't on top of it, the work would mount up. Literally, it would mount up in piles of paper six or eight feet high on desks. That was what someone had told him once. However, it had never happened in an office he had worked in. Really, he fell in love with such work. He felt happy he had this life. Many, many people did this sort of work. And he should not feel it was too easy or not worthwhile because it had to do with pens and bits of paper. As well, he could get a job doing it.

On his first day, a woman asked him if he had eaten. He said that he had eaten something during his break mid-morning. Also, he said that he would cook a meal for himself tonight. He did not know it was now lunchtime but she said that it was not too late to grab some lunch. So he should get some. Also, she said that she might join him. This female office worker was slim and had small oval breasts that Steve noticed and wondered if he were to start dating her whether he might like them. They talked now about a few things over a sandwich in a cafeteria with plain tables that had a cheap veneer on them. But as two love birds, they couldn't care about the economy decor. Then she mentioned the local cinema and said what films she would like to see. So they made a date. In the afternoon, they continued with their work saying little to each other about anything.

Still, he listened attentively later on towards the end of the afternoon as she explained the tasks that they did in their office. After their talk, she carried a stack of files to another office her heels clicking on the stairs. As they heard her footsteps leaving, Amy the other office worker he worked with finished her lunch that she had taken at her desk and then she looked up at him and brushed a few crumbs from her dress. They started up a conversation.

"We'll have more work for you to do," she said expansively.

However, she did not add to this. This was despite her sounding upbeat when she said it. Merely, she told him that he would learn in time whatever it was that he would learn. So he should try not to worry until then. There was no good reason to do so. He should relax and just get on with his work until anyone told him differently.

Angela was the other girl in his office that he'd had lunch with in the cafeteria. And she was the woman he had already started dating. She said that she saw Steve and her working together as an opportunity to get to know him better. And she wanted fun. This was harmless. She did not need to think of taking things seriously. And nor should he take things seriously.

"If you don't have fun now, you will never have a time when you have to take things more seriously," she laughed.

Amy's job had to do with computers. But mostly she did not talk about them. Instead, she preferred, it seemed, only to talk about other things whenever there were spare moments to chat. Or, at least, that was what he heard her say when he was there. Perhaps, it was innocent to go out with one and chat to the other. And he thought that it probably made things go a bit better to socialize with women he worked with.

One day, Amy told him that she liked chatting to him and said that she would be grateful if he asked her out on a date. He said that he had a girlfriend already but she said that she felt disgusted for his saying such a thing. Also, she said that she knew he already had a relationship with Angela, but she knew as well that he did not now have much of a relationship with her still. She knew this because Angela had told her it. Amy was angry if he thought it was anything improper for her to ask him as well. Nor was she pleased that he thought she had not told Angela about it when she knew her as well and so, of course, would have done so. She would go and tell Angela now and see what she had to say. And she would ask her if she thought she was doing anything wrong when she wasn't.

A man who came to work in the office discussed at length issues to do with their work. He was older. And he wore a suit. He knew what was going on with Steve and the two girls but said nothing about it and only discussed their work.

The manager talked to them about 'empowerment'. As well, he had a general chat about their work. He told Steve that he did have power although he did not see it. Also, he said that you did not employ anybody today to count figures. So, if he wanted to do that, then he could look for another job. Whilst this surprised him, Steve said nothing today to anything that anyone said to him.

"You could know everything about our customers with computers," Amy said.

Steve feigned indifference as he perused the paperwork in front of him. He had settled down into work a bit and so did not think of doing anything but his own work. Perhaps, he would just get on with his work until they promoted him as they had promised. However, he kept that to himself. The girls looked on him with disdain seeing him think this. A few hours earlier, Angela had said that they would be doing other work in their office. Now, she came in from another office and asked Amy about what she had just said about computers. Steve felt shocked because Angela had not minded her own business.

"Why do you want to know about it?" Amy said angrily. "I'm only saying the technology makes it possible to know something about everyone. We could use it here. It's better in some ways. There are different kinds of data… market research we could do…"

Angela seemed satisfied with her answer and now returned to the pile of papers on her desk.

Over the next few weeks, Steve did not see either of them much. And he was grateful when he moved on to another employer.

Someone gave Steve some books.

The giver was an older woman with a big streaked blonde hair-do and big hanging pendulous bosoms. And she did not seem to wear a bra. Still, despite her fashion for not wearing bras, she wore a severe skirt but then she had as well a comfortable jumper and a half buttoned-up blouse.

He had met her by chance and she had seemed pleased to talk to him.

"I've been in and bought these books for you," she said looking concernedly at him as he put them down on a small table in his living room.

"Here is a book about business. And this is one on how to do some Admin. This is an important textbook on sociology. I’ve read it myself."

"Did you read it recently?"

"No, I read it a few years ago."

"This can't be that old."

"It's a new copy and not the exact one I had."

She arranged all the books neatly into a pile.

"You have to do this now or in the future you will have nothing. And you could do nothing with your life even if you go to work for 40 years if you're lucky and work as long. All day long, you could work for someone else. And so long as you did your work and nobody complained, nobody would fire you. You could stay in your apartment and nobody would come to see you. Nobody would care!"

She paused to gauge his reaction.

"So you can either get things you want or get nothing. Stay here and you might still be here the same years from now. Or you can go out and do something."

"You have a career, don't you?"

"Yes, it's what I told you. I worked at…. That's a career. I was paid…. It was more than I ever thought I might have been paid a few, a very few short years ago."

He was shocked that such a good-looking, clean living, seemingly competent older office worker had done such low-paid jobs.

"Now," she said. "When I go, read. And study this evening. As well, study tomorrow morning, afternoon and in the evening. Then study the next day. Read for the next few months. And then we'll see."

He did some reading.

"How long have you been in your apartment?" she said when she visited another time.

He told her.

"Why haven't you got a job?"

"I tried but couldn't find one. I don't feel I've learned enough. And I feel I need to learn more."

"You don't. Get a job now and do more studying later. Make time for it! By the way, I got a phone call from someone. It was a girl asking for you."

"Oh, who has asked to see me? A girl was asking for me, did you say? I can't imagine who it is."

"You've met her, it seems. She's younger than me."

He scoffed.

"Don't scoff. You really are quite a pleasant young man. She wants to talk to you again. You gave her your phone number. So why don't you call her?"

"I don't know if I want to do it now."

"Don't you think you would want her more than books or an old maid? She is young and she is flesh and blood. And she is very nice young flesh and blood at that."

"But I don't know about it. Still, perhaps you're right. I do need someone. But I had stopped myself thinking about it because I didn't think I could get a girlfriend again."

"I see. But how else as well are you doing? Are you, by the way, getting along in your apartment? You seem to have cleaned it up a bit since last time I was here."

"You're right. I have cleaned it up a bit. It is just that there is a new woman moving in. They told me that she'd complain if I invited her up to see me and she noticed any dirt or it was grimy."

"What do you think of that? I mean, them telling you that."

"Oh, I don't know. I might just be interested to meet her. For some reason, I have a good feeling about her."

"That's what you think, is it? I think she's been meeting others here already quite a lot. In fact, I'm sure of it. And she looks such a very pretty girl to be sleeping around. Perhaps, she already has some invitations. You never know, but she might have by now."

"Have other tenants invited her? That's odd because she hasn't made any effort to see me yet."

"No, she hasn't right now, did you say? She must have. Perhaps, it is only you need to make an effort yourself if you want to see her. Why don't you in fact make some? Then, she will probably want to see you. She might just like another invite to add to the ones she has already. It could be from you she gets one! And it is not just any other people she's sees on her travels in and out."

"Do you know anything about her at all?"

"Yes, she did in fact tell me a bit about herself. She said that she wanted to see you. It is you she's really interested in."

"That should sound good but I'm not so sure I like it. I keep imagining that women generally still don't like me."

"Why imagine such a thing? Women do like you! Is it just because some women called you a bore when you drank too much...? You don't drink now."

"There's someone for everyone," she added whimsically when he said nothing more and stayed stony faced. Then, she smiled at him more sadly.

For his part, he suspected that she knew less than she said she did. Her last few words rattled him. And he wanted to ask her why he couldn't just go out with her instead. But he had left it too late to ask as she had already gone.

The next day, he spoke to the woman they had been talking who had just moved in. She was coming in the door on a sunny morning and they chatted in their porch. The porch caught the sun and its glass on all sides glinted. They spoke happily for a few minutes. A pleasant warm breeze blew in from off the hot road outside. And the scent of summer grass came from the patch of lawn at the front of the house.

"Look! Do you want to sleep with me?"

He did not think she could mean it somehow when she was so forward like that. In spite of this, he invited her up to his apartment and they went to bed together.

After they'd done 'it', she said, "Don't let it bother you. I'm going. But I might see you around. I'll be going out a bit when there are things I want to do. So I'll see you another time."

When he said no more, she quietly got her things together and left.

Steve found new work. Again, it was in IT. This time he wanted to use it as a springboard to working more on the business side of things. But for the moment, he liked working in IT.

They gave him another application to design.

"Someone said that I could ask you about it," Steve said to a middle-aged curly-haired woman.

"Oh," she said, going back on her computer. "The person who did it before had his own system and he left and nobody knew how to use it."

"What business forms do I need? Are you the person to ask about it?"

"Yes, I am."

She told him the ones he needed. And she printed some and gave them to him.

"What else do I need?"

"Oh, wait. I'll get up some more you can use," she said.

Later Steve was at his desk working on the database file.

He spoke again to this woman as she sat at the next desk, "This offers some good opportunities for doing research, like…"

She ignored him and looked at a piece of paper in her lap turning her head the other way.

Tapping frustrated at the keyboard, Steve felt he had perhaps said a little too much about it.

She had been at her computer for some time looking up forms for him again, but then she glanced over her shoulder and asked another office girl to give him some business forms from her computer.

"What do you need them for?"

"Oh, he needs them."

"Why does he?"

"To do a program," she said.

After they had printed the forms for him, he looked through them and began work.

Although he might have said it himself, he did use computers well. But that is not saying much about something that is not so hard to understand. And there are plenty of classes in them.

However, you can get a job with it.

Steve had been able to get experience working in computers, which considering how much you hear that his skills are in demand isn't really saying much.

Although he worked mainly on his own all day, managers did sometimes come up to speak to him for a few minutes to ask about his work.

He said that he could do a few things that would mean less work for the office. They could perhaps set up centralized mailing lists rather than everyone having their own ones. But they told him only to do what they had asked him to do and to get on with his work.

The program he was working on would, he said, give them the same figures they had before and nothing better.

"That's right," said the manager. "And that's why we're asking you to do it. Now get on and do it."

But even with this job, the good times were when he had studied some years ago. In those days back then, in a room he will never now see again, he had lived his life, studied and, as well, he had talked to friends he might now never see again as well. And that meant that he could live a little better off for all of it. So for that he should be grateful.

Steve felt as he worked in his drab office like any other office he had ever worked in that there was something to like about computers with their tables, columns, rows, headings and their drop-down lists. Also, there was the ability to change how things looked and felt. But it was nothing more than pixels on a screen. Nevertheless, the computer and these pixels could tell you anything you had programmed into it.

The computer gave you figures if you had already typed some in and you could type text into it. And just by doing this, you could answer thousands of real questions. Often the questions were about things you already understood and the answers you got merely reflected the data of your own company. You could find solutions for many problems just by having an alphabetical list. Other things like that were also not hard to do. And other problems were almost as easy to solve.

Still, if you could do things like these however easy they might be but when you could only do them on a computer, the dreams of yesterday were not yet dead and gone.

A computer does not think like a human does. Most all it does is count. Each time the computer will tell you something different because it has counted again. Or it will produce the text you typed in with any changes you wanted to make.

Computers are not hard to understand when you make an effort to or you have training in them. Then they work well for you. Unless that is, they don't! And you can't fix them because some of it really is more complicated than you thought.

Also, computers should only make things easier and not harder.

Another office worker asked Steve if he could design a web page so clients could purchase their products direct online.

"That could upset the retailers who stock our product," Steve said.

"I've already discussed that in a meeting," she said testily. "So I want you to design the online form. Can you do that?"

"Really, I've no experience of designing web applications. But I can design the database it connects to…"

She left furious.

"Did you discuss your program with someone? You told her about the data entry points you had designed and about the outputs you had so far?"

"Yes, I did as she's another office worker here. I thought I was…"

"She knows it all already as she is on the same system and she will be using your program. What are you? A virgin?"

"No."

"Tell you what! I have this gorgeous apartment. We could have some red wine, bread sticks…"

"I'm not actually a virgin. And I have had sex. But it was not for a while, so I would like to take you up on your offer."

"No," she said emphatically.

"How do you know about computers?" she added.

"I did some courses and got a little experience."

"Why did you want to come here?"

"I wanted to come here to use my skills."

"Did you use them?"

"I've used them more than I thought that I would when I started here."

She was unimpressed.

"Didn't anyone criticize or…"

"No."

"I hope you have much success with your career in computers!"

Steve throws away the notes used by the trainee. She wanted a crash course from him and then she expects just to walk into a well-paid job. The trainee is a prim rather aloof or even rude woman. She is in her 30s although she won't tell Steve her exact age. Steve had shown her how to do some things to design a program. Then he gave her the theory once she could see what it referred to visually. And she asked him a few things about what he had told her.

He had a lot more to tell her. But she got a job, saying to somebody that she already knew about it. Steve heard this only later. She had not even told Steve that she was leaving.

Really, Steve does not like giving training: he would rather he was never any kind of a trainer. Also, he could make himself more attractive than being some IT person with no other experience. But he has not yet done it. Nor has he applied for positions that would give him more experience other than in IT. And this was despite having studied business for a year.

Then thinking of the trainee, he pondered that when she had been with him for only a few hours a week, she had done surprisingly well to get a job with it. And for the time being, he forgot his earlier thoughts.

"Anyone could get a job in IT with those skills," says a co-worker to Steve when he was talking more about the trainee.

However, the co-worker would not go on any further with this conversation.

Steve had asked the trainee once what she was doing after work and she told him not to ask personal questions. He remembered this with affection. And he remembered how sweetly she had smiled at him even if she was turning him down. Really, she was a 'pro' at it. And a smile came to his face as he thought about it. But then, he did not really know what to think about her anymore. So he stopped thinking about it and got on with some work.

At work, Steve finds something lacking now. IT is not the heart of the organization he once thought it. Meeting others and making decisions is perhaps more. This was even if the tools they used to communicate and information they used for making their decisions came from someone with his skills. Or they come from somebody with the skills of work he used to have as now his skills were becoming out of date.

Steve confides to his girlfriend one morning, one he met when he made an effort, at least with his personal life. And he said that he felt he was a loser at work. She is young and pretty and often tells him to appreciate her. However, when he talked about work she got up from his bed dragging the covers over her and Steve knew it was for the last time that he'd ever see her.

She told Steve that she was going but said nothing else. Nor did Steve get to say anything back to her. She had already gone by the time he could apologize or he could think of any ways to explain himself better.

"Is this your first day here?"

The blonde-haired female office worker said this laughing.

"What did you do at your previous employer?"

"I worked in IT for my previous employer. But as I wanted some business experience I took this job."

"This is only office work. If you worked in IT, you already know about it. Why design a database and come to this? All we do is use one."

"I felt it would give me more experience."

She laughed. They all laughed.

Around the office, there was a mixture of blondes, brunettes and redheads. They all had long hair and were exceptionally pretty. Really, he should be getting used to this by now. But his lack of enough actual girlfriends or sexual encounters played on his mind.

"Who do you think you are? Do you think you're the boss working here doing this? And do you think you make the rules? Perhaps in twenty years' time when you are the boss…"

They burst out laughing again.

"Do you think he believed us? Why can't we still say that?"

"All right, I'm sorry! Everyone's first day is a little strange," she added contritely. "We are not really ogres. Nevertheless, we do have our own work to do. That is why our comments may seem a bit harsh and not what you expected."

"Welcome," she said.

When he did not respond, she said, "Oh, never mind. Forget what I said."

"What are your skills to work here?" Steve asked.

"But what do you know more to the point?"

"I know about computers."

"That's not enough. You do not only need to know about computers. We are running the company here. Having computers is only incidental to our work. What else have you learned?"

"I studied business."

"You need to know more than that.... Have we got a pack for him...?" she said turning towards one of the others. "Can we get one from someone?"

"You'll have to ask James?"

"Where do I find him?"

She was speaking to another office worker a few feet away, who looked through some folders on her desk.

"This is," she said gesticulating, "more than one department in this room. So I have to communicate to other departments."

"What department are you?"

"You'll find out. That is what the pack is for."

His next job was working in a large Human Resources department. It did not seem like much now he had studied business and found work.

He had arrived on his first day on time and every day since, taken off his coat and gone to his desk. The rest of the day, he shuffled application forms into alphabetical order, printed some things out and did a few other tasks. He found the work not particularly arduous or difficult. After a few years, he had studied and had experience of a Human Resources department. Now, he looked around him after these few years gone. And he saw his office around him that was one of a Human Resources manager.

There are many Urban Myths about Human Resources. One myth is that Human Resource departments do not actually do anything. You could go through the application forms and toss a coin. And you would get as good an applicant tossing a coin than by the most extensive recruitment and selection process. Not true, he knew. You knew the skills and experience you wanted for any job and who had them among the applicants.

Another myth was that selection tests, for any job you had them for, only excluded neurotics and psychotics. Also, this is not true. Some of his best friends would not pass these tests if they sat them and sat them fairly. And he had known them for years, excellent workers and good at their job.

So whom were the tests excluding? It only excluded those who did not know the answers when the tests really did have correct answers. Say you are neurotic or psychotic and see what it does for your job prospects. However, present yourself better and you are more likely to be the successful applicant. And this is no different from anything else giving you an advantage over other applicants or more generally in life.

Really, he had much more to consider than whether someone was actually capable of shuffling two bits of paper together or for other types of work using a mop and a bucket or being able to sweep with a broom. If he only chose the people who could do the job, then he would have thousands of qualified applicants for every position. And if you needed someone able to do a job that not just anyone could do, then you would ask for a qualification. Also, other than the few jobs like that, you could teach anyone to do most jobs in half a day. How long after you walked through the door on your first day was it that you started working? Perhaps, it was just a few minutes. So you did not need years of experience to do most work. It was only a coincidence that you saw older people because people worked a long time. And it was just that they got older several years in age when they were in a job several years in employment. But they did not get any more experience or at least they didn't after the first few months they had started work and then settled in. A company trains people as much as it does anything else. As well, new employees constantly refresh the job pool. So there were no problems with training anyone or finding somebody else with the necessary skills. And anyone could do most training there was to do. If people generally found it too hard, then there would be no good reason to have it as training.

"I could tell you how to do any job in 20 minutes that you do in an office," the Human Resources manager said who had interviewed him, "including mine."

The Human Resources manager was a fat man with a gray-black full head of hair. And he told Steve that he had oiled it every day for 20 years. Also, he said that he did it every day before coming to work and at the same time every morning.

Steve had not believed what he had just been told about Human Resources. But he felt that he could ask about it.

"What about all you hear of the theory?"

"How long does it take you to read through a book this thickness?" he said holding up a thick pile of papers in front of him. "Anything else, anything of any real value, you can learn on the job."

Steve nodded but he spent years learning because he had doubts about what the man had told him. Also, although he did not like to admit it, even to himself, he took a kind of pride in his job. Really, he felt he had done something that others had not and perhaps not everyone could do. Thousands, no hundreds of thousands, did his job every day, but still he thought it. Not everyone could do it. But probably everyone you saw going to work in the morning on the bus or train could do it or did something else like it. And although he was successful and had worked hard to be where he was, most people who started like him had after a few years achieved something like he had done. You were bound to get all the experience you needed just by going to work every day. So why did it still feel strange to him. Or why did it feel odd to have achieved more just by having had more experience with the years.

A conceit of his was that he could tell things about people from his having worked in Human Resources. He did not know quite what he should be able to tell, but it was something he had heard about Human Resources at some time now too far back to remember. None of the things he could tell about someone, you could not learn from psychology books. And he had read less than most of the other people in his department. The other office workers had read many psychology books at some time in their careers. Steve asked somebody else one day what you could see in anyone.

They were speaking over their desks to each other. The desks were quite large and purpose-made for a big open plan office like their one.

"Look it up in their files. You don't see everything on an application form. But their HR record is good for what you're looking for."

But he did not see it.

"See what they're saying about why they would like promotion…"

Still, he did not.

"What about employees saying they are looking after somebody? And they ask to come in later so they can change them. They're saying they're like babies who need their bottoms wiped."

Even so, he did not see.

The others were in despair.

"What are you looking for? Do you want to know if they are going to die before they retire? Look to see if they're overweight. What more do you want to know?"

"I would like to know about personal qualities."

They laughed really quite hard at him.

"Go back to your studies for that. You're actually supposed to know it. You should know it is as it's a big part of what goes on in selection. We are not supposed to use psychology when we're not trained in it. Nor do we have any medical knowledge and nor can we make snap judgments about somebody…."

He went back to his desk feeling peculiar. Fortunately, although he thought they would, they did not fire him. And for the next few years, he listened to the stream of people who came into his office that did not stop. Also, he found himself doing research that he found deeply satisfying on how to find future workers for the company. A few years passed. Then, talking to one of the office girls, he joked about the prospect of finding new workers, the subject of which had been coming up around the office.

Steve said, "Stick an advert in the local paper! That's about it!"

They complained and he had to go to the boardroom. He tried to find the report he had written about finding new workers and the company's problems in doing this before he went up. But he could not find it among the piles of papers in his office. He realized now that he had not kept up with the filing. So he had to go up to the boardroom without the report.

"What did you mean by that remark?" they began.

He mumbled something, embarrassed to find himself doing so, but pleased to see as far as he could, that he was getting away with not saying much. Or, at least, he did not say that much they could ask him about. They, it appeared to him, understood even his most incomprehensible of mumbles. If he expected them to ask about his report, they did not. Or, at least, they did not just yet. And perhaps they would not.

"Do you know the difficulties that are facing the company in the years to come?" said a director.

The boardroom was a plain room with a big light-colored wooden table with standard office chairs underneath it. The only other furnishings in the room were the blinds on the windows. All the directors were middle-aged or older men in their 50s or 60s. They had office suits, washed hair and trimmed fingernails.

"No," said Steve. "I don't know. What difficulties is the company facing?"

"The difficulties with recruitment I mean. And I'm asking this now because you wrote a report on it. Where are we is my next question?"

"We are in the boardroom?"

"Where are we geographically?"

He said the town.

"And that is where?"

He gave the geographical area.

"What I really want to know," said the director after there was a pause, "is what our problems are going to be recruiting, for example, shall we say."

"I don't know."

"You wrote this report," he said holding it up. "Didn't the girls talk to you about it ever?"

"Yes, they did," he said feeling sick.

"Did you not think why they would keep mentioning it?"

"No."

"We've got a report from the doctor."

He remembered they had asked him to go and see a doctor for a medical a while back.

"Yes," he said dejectedly.

Now, he knew where this might be leading.

"Don't feel dejected. The future of the company is at stake."

The director read the report holding it up to the light from the ceiling to see it better.

Then he said, "Look, you've not been doing your work here in our office to an acceptable standard. So we're removing you from your post forthwith. But you can still work here. You need to go to the ground floor, room… and ask for something you can do. I think you'll have a decent pension to retire on. And you'll find it a rewarding job."

"I don't think I appreciate it."

"You should appreciate it! I can tell you that much."

"Then, I'll go…"

"Don't let me stop you."

Steve went and the next Monday he came in to work again in his new job.

"I've got about a minute and no more to spend on you. Can you do this…?"

The person speaking was a big breasted, short blonde-haired woman in her 40s. She had still kept some of her looks from her younger years, but now it seemed she worked in the basement. 

"No, I don't think I can do that. But I can learn how to do it quite quickly if you showed me it," Steve said.

"I've just asked you if you can do it. And I don't expect that lip here. Either you can do it or we'll have to employ someone else. We've any number would like to work here doing this job right now."

"Yes, I can do it."

"I'll explain. Come in at 6 AM. And clock in. The clock is at the entrance where you see the… on the right… You'll have a clock card there by tomorrow morning… Clock out again after an hour and back for an hour in the evening at 6 PM. If you are ten minutes late, we deduct your whole days' pay. Late in the first week, we fire you. And if you are late twice ever we also fire you."

"And any more sulky stares like that," she added, "and you can leave now. Don't come to work here if you don't want the job, you ungrateful, uncomprehending… do you hear me… you who aren't fit for…"

Another office girl in the basement office who was filing laughed at this. Steve smiled at her.

"You really are…," she said laughing again.

And this was instead of being offended as she also looked.

"I know where you came from…. You used to work in Human Resources or I wouldn't have allowed that…. Did you ever have sex with any of those office girls there…. Some of them I know my friends quite liked… they were gorgeous…. Where do you get them from…? The other big company like ours down the road has some nice ones as well…. Go on, pretend as if I've gone up there for some reason and we're chatting…. How did you get them…? What else was on offer…?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. They were just office girls. Someone else interviewed them. Or I did a few. They came to work to maintain our databases, do some filing and basic admin…."

"You're pathetic, really you are. I might not want to work here anymore. Do you want me to call them now and tell them you're a troublemaker? You could be unemployed. Isn't that it? What are your savings? How long could you live off them? Do you know how much you get paid for what you're doing here?"

He did not and she told him. It was good money. And now he remembered he did know the pay. But it was confusing when he often used to think of pay as being like his own pay of a monthly salary that sounded like more than when you said an hourly rate.

"Need a bit to get you by? But I don't know we want you here. Perhaps, you should try to get another job somewhere else."

He stayed silent.

"No, that wasn't a question. We'll let you off to avoid hassle. You have to work here and get along with us. If you don't, then you need to go up to Human Resources and discuss it. Also, you can go up there and discuss any other problems with your work. But you know that, don't you? You know because you used to work there."

Steve was at work.

"What do you know about anyone here? Do you like Anne, that girl who works in the big office?"

"Yes."

"Give him a beating."

"No, don't."

"All right, we won't."

"Why don't you ask her out?"

"Does she want to go out with me?" said Steve.

"Leave it, he's…," said a workmate.

"Why don't you go out with her?" said another workmate.

"So she might want to go out with me?" Steve said.

"You make me laugh!"

"So she does, you think? Perhaps I could ask her out then."

"Still coming to the sex party we talked about?"

"Yes."

They stayed in silence for a while and then one of his co-workers said, "The party has started already at the place down the road we told you about. You could leave now as you've finished your work for today. So why don't you go there?"

"I thought it didn't start for another hour."

"No, it has by now. Most people will have already left by this time. But you can still go up there."

He went to the party. But he was disappointed. A few office girls is silk shirts had joined the party. Some looked quite decent, but some of them had bad skin and fake tans.

When she saw his look of disgust, one of them, a bottle blonde with slightly cruel lips, said, "Why don't you enjoy yourself?"

"I am. Aren't you…?"

She looked whimsical and then they watched a sixty year old talking red-faced to a twenty-something year old. However, she put him at his ease quickly. And they left the room they were in together to go to another room, which Steve had not seen yet.

"What do you think of that?" asked the woman. "A young girl is being shown the way by an experienced dignified older man."

"He talked about his wife."

"Yes and…."

"She had good social skills and his were embarrassing."

"You don't know what you're talking about. That is her most wonderful introduction to sex…."

"Did you say 'sex'? What exactly did you say? I mean, now I think of it. Do you mean they're going to have sex together?"

"They've probably done it by now and said their good byes. The good byes of a lifetime, like every other good bye she'll ever have from any other man. That is whether strangers, unemployed people, young men or old men. Or it is men with PhDs, men with learning difficulties, men with qualifications or no qualifications, men who've achieved something in their lives and those who others think haven't. Do you understand?"

"This is all a bit…."

"It is all a bit like what?"

"You're talking like some heroine in a 19th century novel."

"I am not talking like some heroine. Of course, I'm not doing so. The men are the heroes. She was a conduit for their love and for their passion. I'm saying. Do you understand that…?"

He said nothing and she said, "I'm a model…."

"You're a model, did you say?"

"Yes, they told you. Didn't they?"

"They did tell me that they'd be some kind of models here. But you're in office dress…."

"This is an 'office party'," she said flatly.

"So what's happening in the world of porno?"

"Of course, I'm an office girl as well. So I can tell you. We have a database going. Have you heard of…?"

"Do you mean DBMS software?"

"Good! You know it!"

She said this and then continued with what she had planned to say.

"We've decided to have a record of every woman in the country having sex and the face recognition package, scanned in faces and mobile phone available by the end of the next month. Probably…"

"You mean everyone in the country? Is it like all women that might walk past you down the street when you were at the shops and you can see film of them naked…?"

"Yes, that is our marketing. You don't need to say it. It's no big deal. And that's what I said. I don't need to explain what I just said…."

"Do you mean you can see photos of everyone naked?"

"No, having sex," she said in reply. "Why would anyone in this day and age pay for just nude photos? I imagine the sort of thing is that someone outside a bar will see an attractive woman walking past. And he'll get the video on his mobile phone to have a laugh at with his friends."

"By offering them the ultimate, a woman's, shall we say, first experience, they don't need to feel embarrassed that they've got some old topless photos nobody's interested in. At least, that should do for a few more years to come."

"I don't know what we'll do then," she added laughing.

She continued, "I suppose we could have them dying or being born. Actually, that is not such a distant prospect. But I don't want to think of it. It goes against my moral scruples."

"How can you do such a thing?"

At length, she said, "We pay for the video footage. Everyone has a video camera nowadays. Because the video is of anyone, we don't have to pay much. And ex-boyfriends will send it in when they split up. Or others will have the footage and want to earn a few pence. Also, we can send them video of other women they know…. You would not believe how much film they send us of someone having sex for their 'first times'. Although, I mean, some of them aren't that young. An incentive to send in the videos I was saying…. Or was I? What else was there? Yes, she has a boyfriend…. He barely knows her! Or you'll get people, thousands or it could be even hundreds of thousands of young men probably, who will find any women they can who'll take her clothes off for the camera. And this is just so they can send in the tapes."

She continued. "It's the right ad you need and they'll do it. An experienced woman wouldn't agree to it. We couldn't ask for that. But think of the joke it would be a few years later when some of these women are now experienced, they've had a boyfriend a few years and all his friends see the film of her losing it."

"Do you mean they are actually virgins? I don't know if that's what you just said. But isn't that wrong if it is what you said?"

"No it isn’t as I've nothing against virgins. Have you anything against virgins? Some of my best friends are virgins. I'm a virgin…."

"You are a virgin, did you say?"

"Yes, I did say that I was a virgin."

"How old are you?"

"I'm twenty-four."

"What are you doing here?"

"Do you mean because I work with some of the other people at this party...? I was offered a good job with a lot of responsibility…."

"Was the job programming?"

"No, I'd done that already. And what do you mean by that? How could that be anything responsible? I mean just to design a database with a few million items and… sorry I'm forgetting that you probably don't know what I'm talking about. But anyone could do it. No, I was offered a better job."

"And how are you advancing your career exactly by coming to this party that has 'virgins' as its theme when you're one of the 'virgins'?"

"I was invited," she said red-faced, "because they wanted virgins to have sex. That's the theme! So they asked me…. Haven't you been watching? There are beds in the next room and they all go there to have sex…. You have to laugh."

"Can I have sex with you…? Have sex with you when you're a virgin I mean…."

"You have to be a bit serious. I know it's a party and everyone is winding down a bit or something. But you still can't talk as if you've never bonked all year. Or whatever it was you did do all year. It's too late now. Whole loads of other people are coming in. I suggest you go."

"And how dare you," she added, "say it is all '19th century novelist'. You don't know anything about the 19th century. Anyway, they're other men to see me here now who have to come first. You'd better go. And you don't have to laugh when I tell a joke. By the way, aren't you glad you got first pickings? I mean, as you would have had if you had hurried up a bit?"

"Perhaps, I…."

"What are you talking about anyway…?" she continued sounding annoyed. "Do you think you can tell anything about a woman in an hour or so? You don't know anything about the women at this party. All you could probably say is that they look all right. You disgust me. Go on. Admit it. That's all you know."

"Why are you a virgin at twenty-four?"

"Because, because… you know nothing about it. And you know nothing about me. Nor do you know what made my character. I didn't want sex with men because I didn't ever feel turned on enough to want to do it. And it is for no other reason."

At this, she bit her lip and was in tears.

"I've told you now. Men did ask me. But I didn't want to because I didn't like them in that way. And that's the most personal thing I've ever said."

"Why don't we leave the party and we can have a drink somewhere?"

"You can wait outside for me. I'll go for a drink with you later."

"I'll wait, I mean, I'll wait outside for you."

Chapter 4, I Would Like To See You

A few days later, he was surprised to get a phone call from a female friend.

"Can I come around?" she asked.

"Yes, of course."

"I can," she said shocked.

"Yes, come around."

"You want me to but I don't know myself if I do want it."

"I'm at my house," Steve said.

The caller scoffed.

"Come around, I really do want you to," Steve begged her.

"Do you need a drink?" Steve said when she came through the door.

She was jolly and big-breasted and wore gym-stained sweatshirts. And she laughed seeing him look at her, as she could tell that he hadn't had it for a while. But she did all this with such a warm heart that it did not make Steve feel bad.

"No, I don't need a drink," she said declining his offer of one.

Instead, they chatted on the sofa as two old friends. Then, reaching forward, she hugged him. After a long clinch, they went upstairs to the bedroom to make love.

"You should see another girl, I mean it, if you want to make love," she said. "Give her a call and ask to move in with her. I think she wants to buy a house. Don't let's do it again. But give this other girl a call. You'll get on. I just know it already. She likes you. Please, give her a call. She'll ask me if we did or didn't do it when I see her again. I told her about you. It will be all right if we don't do it again. So give her a call and I'll see you next time. Or there won't be a next time. There won’t when you’ll have somebody else by then. It will be somebody who will look after you and cherish you. I know that if you ask her out, she'll do it right away. And you’ll get on. You already know her really. And she's told me how much she likes you. But you have just not slept together yet. 'Best wishes' then. And I'll let myself out. Perhaps, I'll just leave her number on your pillow for you to look at later. Bye for now!"

Steve moved to another apartment and some time passed. His new girlfriend came around often. It seemed that she felt comfortable with him. And she said that she did feel more comfortable with him than she had done before with anyone else. This was even although they had not known each other for that long. Still, she insisted that she'd been able to get to know him quickly because he was so open with her. As when he had been comfortable with her first as she told him, she was merely returning the thing he offered. So he needn't worry it was anything strange.

She was in her 30s with big hair, brushed and always washed. In some ways, she was not as fit as some women he had known. But she was a bit fit. And she told him that she was surprised he should think she was not going to be fit before she took her clothes off. As well, she was a bit annoyed by it. But she would not ask him again why he thought such a thing after the first few times they had discussed it. At least, she'd let this rudeness go for now even if she remembered it later. And that is if it was just rudeness on his part and nothing more. It seemed odd now she said it that he might indeed feel he had been rude to her. And this was when they were still in the first throes of love and romance that they'd had this argument.

A year had passed.

"Do you want to see the bedroom?" she asked quietly.

Steve and his girlfriend who was now his wife after an official wedding ceremony and tiny celebration that they'd had were in their new house that they had bought together. He had sold his old apartment even though he had just bought it and put the money towards a house. His wife had wanted a house. Still, it felt odd to move so soon. But he hoped he would be even happier here and he'd soon forget his plans for his old apartment.

"If we're going to move in here together, then we may as well make use of it immediately," she said to him.

They had got this house together and decided to buy one as soon as possible to avoid too much boring going around looking at properties. Steve had not before lived with anyone. And nor had he or his girlfriend or wife as she was now lived in a house since they were teenagers. So now in the evening of the day they had moved in, they were alone together in their own home. It was a house and not just an apartment. And they were already going to go up the stairs to use the bedroom despite only having been in their new home a few hours.

Steve had been surprised at how much he had been able to save the last few years. It could go towards things for their new home. But his new girlfriend had said that she didn't want to talk about money whenever he mentioned it. It was not a surprise to other people however. This was when he talked about budgeting and said how much he had been able to save. Somebody at work had told him that as he didn't drink or smoke and had always had an apartment before and not a house, then he didn't have such big expenses. Other people did have big expenses on the same income. Also, the person had said that when he earned the same as someone who had more expenses and more things to spend money on, then he must have lots of money by now. Many in his position, they said, went jet skiing or they had yachts and still money left over to save.

He told another person at work that his office skills had been useful for home budgeting. They were annoyed with him for saying this.

"Anyone has those skills. Plenty have good skills like that. Somebody who left office work years ago, years before you did, because they weren't getting on with the work… working in an office, has better skills than you have…. People budget better than you do and make more complex and better in every way budgets just to have food on the table. Your budget would take about a minute. Really, you don't have a budget. Instead, you spend it and make a note for some reason about it to look at later. That's all you do. It's nothing difficult. And you just have some spare cash left over when you are, in fact, paid quite well."

He told his wife what the person at work had said. She didn't say anything. But then she asked him that he enjoy the moment of them moving into their shared home. She said that she had so looked forward to being with him. And she had wanted to speak to him as well and to make love once they had moved in. But it was without them talking about work or computers and anything boring like that she wanted it.

Their house had a mix of old and new furniture bought from various stores near them. Some were fashionable stores and some were only for cheap or used furniture and household goods. Now his wife looked in on him from the kitchen before they went up to bed again. They had come back from the bedroom when it was still in the early evening. And they had earlier made love on the bed. He was sitting in their living room and she had gone to the kitchen to make them a snack. She was concerned about him and worried about him.

She felt sorry for him genuinely. But she didn't know why she felt sorry for him. Nor did she know if she even should feel sorry for him. And nor did she know if she should feel anything for him other than pity. Perhaps it was because she knew him that she felt sorry for him. Yet, she would have felt sympathy anyway because he invoked it so much. She couldn't see why he couldn't tell her whatever it was on his mind when she was there in the room and a girl he could talk to about anything he wanted.

It was easy enough to communicate to someone who wants to hear your problems, is sympathetic, who you know and who is prepared to give you some time. It seemed strange to her that he would not. But perhaps he was just feeling low for a while and he'd soon feel better. She could just leave him alone as she didn't have to help. Just then, she felt tremendously angry. No, she thought, he would not communicate. And this was when he had no reason not to want to tell her of his feelings. He would tell her his worries and she would share hers. And they would solve the problem together. Yet, should he feel he didn't have to, not with anyone, she would leave him.

Thinking for a few minutes in the kitchen of their house, she said to herself she had nothing to lose except what he was losing her already. And this was something that was a piece of herself she was losing. He was losing her it and nobody else. And she was losing something from inside her and this as well for the first time in her life. She sat down next to him quietly and he hardly noticed her. And she thought about leaving. If she just walked out, he would probably not even hear her. She could go and stay with a male friend that she knew. The male friend would probably want sex in return. And he'd probably want a lot of physically demanding sex as well. For a short time, she thought, 'Do I want a lot of sex right now?' Probably it would make her tired. But she would get to know her friend better.

For some reason that she did not know, she felt something terrible. It was a like a horror film, an alien film and it was like the most romantic film she had ever seen all rolled into one.

He was flicking through a magazine on the coffee table. And she looked over at him. She was sitting next to him now. And she studied him. As she did, she felt the most peculiar feeling. He had seen her and he had noticed her sitting there just now and could tell what she was thinking. And if she didn't before, then she felt it now. As well, he was aware of all she was thinking. They were sitting next to each other but he ignored her in some way whilst paying tremendously close attention in another way still to her. She heaved a sigh and then breathed out whistling through her teeth. Yet, he did not say anything. She felt that he was aware of her every breath, her every breath she blew in or out, out and in, and as well other things about her. And when she moved on the sofa, incongruously she thought that he was aware of her feminine body. This was just when she might criticize him. Or she could ask him some more demanding questions. He was thinking, she thought now, that perhaps she was a little fat or a little thin, rounded and firm, muscles under the fat or all fat, big or small breasts, or something like that. Really, he was trying not to show it. She tried to think of something to say. In her handbag, she had her phone. But she needed to charge it as in the move here she had not had time to do it. Just then, right as she was thinking this most personal thing, a thing that was only for her, she thought that he was interested…. Now, she would ask him what he was doing. It was freaking her out.

Then, he turned to her and said, "I was looking forward to coming here as well as you. I've never lived with a woman before and I had some worries about it. Yet I hope this will be a good move and we can be happy. And I love the house we chose for ourselves and I love you as well. This is about as good as it gets in my life. And it is as good as it gets in work or in play. This now will be a good moment in my life whatever happens or whatever changes. And it will be a good moment whoever comes and whoever goes from our lives. This move means a lot to me because I feel now I have understood something about women and I've found love."

"Where did you find this love?" she asked interested but speaking slowly.

Her voice was quiet and soft and she looked at him attentively.

"I found love right here in this room. This is where I found love. And I've found all the love I've ever known. At least, I've found all the love I've ever known in my adult life."

She thought for a moment about what he had said.

And she spoke as calmly as she could do so and said, "Just tell me what you were thinking. Tell me what you were thinking when I was sitting next to you on the sofa a few minutes ago. And what were you thinking when it is our first night here."

"I've told you what I was thinking," he said. "What else is there more to say that could explain it? That is what I was thinking. And I was thinking nothing more and nothing less. I don't want to spoil our time together now talking about this. So let's go onto something else. I was literally just reading a magazine as you made snacks for us both in the kitchen. And then you came and sat next to me. That is all I did and it is nothing strange."

"What was your life before you came here?"

He described it all or almost all of it. He talked about his jobs, memories he had of different things and, as well, he talked about women he had known.

"What did you think of all those women?" she asked as he had mentioned them. "Weren't some revolting floozies? Tell me your experiences before you met me. I would like to know."

"No, I mean, I don't think they were. I liked all of them. Or I liked almost all of them. I don't think there was hardly one I did not like."

"So you go out with some 'real hookers'. But, then, you think you can say that about women generally or is it just these women?"

"Really, I don't think most women are hookers. Or only a few of them are like that. And the ones that are like hookers often do work in brothels. Then as well, there is often a sign outside saying something like…."

"I know that sign. Years ago, I had friends who worked near there. Why are you mentioning it now and how do you remember it when you didn't live there? What were you doing there?"

Now it all came out! He felt that she must know. If he talked about it, then at least he would have been open about it. And so she might stay for his giving the truth. She had a good reason to leave him now though already and so he need not worry about having to keep the secrets anymore he'd kept all his life. He could now tell someone about his worries that were the worries of a lifetime and that had been so much of his life. She seemed to be saying that she knew something about them. And so she could help. He told her how many years ago he had been young, long of limb and flaxen-haired. And now he was all the things that he used to hate about anyone when a young man. Today, he was unfit and hardly had any muscle. Nor had he always looked after himself or kept up with so many things he should have done. Now, as they talked, he began to tell her more and more about his life.

Almost every minute of the day, he had said to her, if anyone had asked him what he was thinking, it was that he was just thinking about all his worries. And most of these worries were about women. These worries about women were what he had thought about when he had sat in his office or had taken his breaks among the boxes in the stores. Also, they were what he had thought about when he got up in the mornings or when he took a shower. He did not even know why he worried sometimes. Sometimes, he just felt that for some reason nobody had ever wanted him.

She got up and grabbed her handbag when she saw him look so morose.

"It's not as if I couldn't get a good shafting somewhere else!" she exclaimed. "I don't need to listen to you complaining. And I know what you're saying. Really, I don't know how I met you. Twenty years ago, I talked about people like you and we derided them. I didn't expect to meet one in my personal life. Just explain how we met! Then explain how we came to be living together. I'd like to know. And I mean it genuinely that I would like to know."

He told her how they had met. And he told her the things they'd said on their first date and they'd said later on as well. Also, he said what they'd said to move in together. As he finished, he added that he felt they'd had good times together.

She rejected this answer. And she looked for her phone in her handbag.

"It's like we're two people who meet. And we find each other. Then, we decide to live together. And, of course, I've had the life I told you about that I suppose attracted you to me. As a young man, I had ideas and suggested things, but I was ignored and told to get on with my work. And later when I had more skills, others really did listen to me. I did all the things I told you about that I'd done. Everything is true! Yet I did this one stupid thing. And that was that I did not have a normal sex life."

"Right!" she said pluckily.

She put back her phone in her bag and took out her key fob. Her only thought was that she would drive home, away from him and out his life. Another thought occurred to her. And she spoke to him when he was still there.

"Women are mainly floozies and hookers. And some women, men do want to marry, live with and everything else you hear about. Nor does anybody object to any of what I've said. That is how the world works. Women have sex with men and men have sex with women. Men brag about it and women generally don't have any notches on their bedpost. Also, they usually both enjoy it. And that is no matter if people would generally call women getting sexual satisfaction they need sluts. Some women sleep with anyone and the revolting floozies enjoy it as well. Nobody normally likes a slut and definitely not to marry one. Where did you hear anything else at all? That is not 'by the way', I actually want to know."

He explained all the studies he had read over the years about sex and what he thought they had said. She did not say anything more when he was speaking. But she did ask how long it was he had read such books. It had been one or two decades he told her. And she screwed up her face when she heard this.

"Did you ever hear any of these things I told you?"

"No, I didn't hear anything much like that."

"What about porn?"

"It is a product that makes money out of nudity. And it is as well from the accident that was the invention of photography. Then there are, of course, some men who will always want to see nude pictures."

"And what do you think about these 'men'? Who are they?"

"There are lots of men who like looking at nude women. It is a turn-on. That's all it is as much as I can tell," he said now a little exasperated. "I don't know there is much more to tell. Nor is there anything much as far as I can tell that says any women are sluts. If they just get paid for it, then how are they sluts? Perhaps, they are not. The rest is just what I've told you at times…"

"What was the name of the girl? You know the one under the sign that said 'fuck me' or whatever you thought it said," she said suddenly.

He told her.

"I'm still waiting. What else do you know about her?"

"Really, I know nothing else about her. Or I know almost nothing."

"Why don't you?" she said reaching for her handbag again.

Under his breath, he talked about her. He began quietly and evenly. But oddly, his voice changed somehow to again the timbre and clarity it'd had when he was young man. And it was as though you could hear in some quality of his voice the person he would have been if he had not had the life he'd had. It would have been like this always even now if he had not had really so many late nights or anything else. Nor had he done so, as it was now, for nearly 2 decades…

"She was a hooker. I don't know anything else about her. All that really happened was that I paid her some money and I slept with her. We spoke for a few minutes about nothing much. And after not saying much, we had sex on her bed. Then we dressed and I left. And as I was leaving, I saw the next John come in. Also, she told a joke. I remember the joke to this day for all it is a good or a bad joke or probably not really worth repeating. What more is there to know?"

Yet, she had already turned and gone out the door. She did not slam it but left it open. After a short while, he got up and closed it. A few minutes later, he heard a knock on the door or maybe it was or was not a knock but he did not answer. Instead, he sat on the sofa where he had been looking at the schedule for the TV. And he supposed he should get up and put the washing-up away in the kitchen cupboards. Tomorrow he'd have to do some more cleaning. And then he'd see what else he did.

He could go out into the real world in some way. And he could do so just by walking out his door. Perhaps, for him, it was only by walking out his front door that he went into the real world. There was the real world outside of his house. His house with its soft furnishings, lights, wallpapers and its other things was only one world. He thought that he had chosen these bits and pieces together with his then girlfriend that was soon to be his wife. And as he looked around the very same house they had made their home together in so recently, it seemed to be all quite years ago when he had gone out with her and around the shops. So many years had passed by in an hour or two's conversation that he'd had with her and just this time of evening gone. It had just a little thought to it but it went around and around in his head. Yet it was only a few hours ago now as a wind got up in the dark outside since she had left. It was like a distant memory of an old man.

And then he realized that soon and now not so long to go, he really might be an old man. Today, there were just some few hours TV to watch in what remained of the day. And he turned over the pages of the magazines that were on the coffee table looking to see the interesting articles they had in them. Then he supposed that he should go to bed.

It would all play out eventually. And probably before the clock turned the hour, he would see it all better. The hour came and went for bed. And the hour came and went that she would have come with him to their bed for the night. Some other thoughts as well now also came into his head to amuse him. Then he thought again that they might have gone to bed about this time… but they hadn't for she was not here. And yet she could have been here even now… then he walked through to the bedroom of their home to go to sleep in his bed as it was now only and on his own. But he would sleep in the spare room that seemed to have had the bed made as he could not stand sleeping in what would have been his marriage bed when still a single man.

In some ways, he did not feel so unhappy despite her leaving him. Although, in another way, he thought that he would feel unhappy. And he knew that he would wake in the morning, see the morning light and take in a deep breath. This was as he had done so for many years just like this. He would think what the new day had to bring. As well, he knew he would see in the end of the day as it was finishing just like this now and with this same thought. As he went to sleep, he pondered that he would indeed have these same thoughts in the morning as he always did. So now, as he got ready for bed, he realized that it was in fact every morning and every evening for years that he'd had some of the same thoughts. Then he put his head on the pillow and went to sleep.

 THE END 


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