…the ability to transcend the gravity of life’s more solemn and sober aspects    

Oscar and Smith’s journey from the wet pavement and umbrellas outside, by way of a brief stay in the brushed limestone and glass lobby on the ground floor of the building, up to the offices of one of the country’s premier advertising agencies on the top floor, was an “ascent” in every meaning of the word – ranging from the multifarious metaphorical meanings of the word to the one or two possible literal meanings of the word.

Both were dressed respectfully in tailored suits, though Smith’s suit was a bit on the snug side of tailored, his shirt cuffs protruding one or two inches two far, his chest a little too clearly defined and his garishly patterned socks peeking out above his shoe a little too obtrusively, and both still carried about them something of the street’s blemish.

Both men were in fact stained, they were thoroughly soaked up to their necks and beyond, they were tainted every which way by the disorder and confusion and bawdy humour and breathing and moaning and sweating and crumbs and gravy and red wine and chlorinated rain of the real and lowly world without. And into the clean and odourless air, surrounded by twenty-foot high white walls and marble surfaces and acres of thick carpet, they thoughtlessly went.

The glowing frosted walls and floor and ceiling of the lift, and perhaps the severe look of the receptionist, who insisted on accompanying them on the journey upwards, affected Smith in a curious way – he raised one finger, looked meaningfully at Oscar, then pensively at the glowing frosted floor, four glowing frosted walls and glowing frosted ceiling, before expelling the well chewed over morsel of his ruminations – “This is pretty exciting… it’s like we’re going up to the bridge of the Enterprise.”

Oscar had enough sense to ignore Smith, but the receptionist, not having any experience of Smith nor people like Smith, never having dealt with such people, if more than one of such a person exists, produced a variation of a well worn severe look, raising an eyebrow, in order to seek some elucidation on what seemed a wholly facetious and inappropriate comment.

“Take us to the bridge!” Smith shouted at the glowing frosted walls and ceiling, by way of elucidation.

“A Mr Smith and a Mr MacSweeny,” was how the receptionist introduced the pair to another secretary sitting at another marble receptionist desk, who in turn told them to please follow her, in what could have been, as it seemed to Oscar, merely the second stage in an interminable series of stages, following severe looking receptionists through never ending corridors at the end of successively more and more tiresome elevator ascents. But Oscar was wrong, which he realised on being shown into a rather close office in which was enthroned the woman he knew as Helen Anderson.

“How delightful,” was Helen’s eventual greeting.

Smith smiled and returned the greeting in his own curious manner – “delighted I’m sure.”

Oscar smiled wryly in order to show that he had some appreciation of the irony at work here – he wasn’t expecting to be questioned on it, this irony, as though back in the examination hall where he temporarily lost his mind as an eighteen-year-old version of his current thirty-one-year-old self.

“Would you gentlemen like a drink?” the stern faced receptionist asked.

“An iced tea would be delightful,” was uttered in an archly stylised voice by Smith, which could just about be heard beneath Helen’s curt “that will be all.”

“We said you were expecting us,” Oscar offered by way of an explanation of these two worlds colliding, but Helen’s expectations seemed to have been molested far beyond what she would deem acceptable.

“Let me explain.” Smith hazarded a direct approach.

“Nice office.” Oscar opted for the duplicitous beating-around-the-bush approach.

“You can leave by the back stairs.” Helen was completely lacking in approaches.

“There’s nothing to fear.” The beginning of Smith’s attempt to reassure caused Helen to take a sharp intake of breath. “It’s like when the crew of the star ship enterprise land on a planet with only basic technology – they cannot affect that world. The crew cannot rob the planet of its own efforts to reach technological heights. The captain can’t lend his communicator to some ape like mammal still in the trees. It’s like explorers who travel back in time – you step on a butterfly and we’re all living in caves back in the present.”

Helen had the look of someone who was more or less reassured or of someone who was completely befuddled. It certainly is odd how both looks have many of the same features – narrowed eyes, a relaxed brow, a slightly open mouth with gently pursed lips, faintly arched eyebrows.

“We only see one side of you,” Oscar now took on the mantle of the explicator. “What is the professional Helen like, the woman of the world, the go-getter, the creative mind behind bananahol, the woman the rest of the world sees… and respects?”

Helen clearly didn’t know.

“I can’t use your character until I get a fully rounded picture.”

“You won’t even know we’re here.” Smith rounded off the argument quite neatly.

A buzz from her desk startled all three out of the brief trance which followed this exposition.

“You’re wanted in the conference room to try on the shoes.”

“I’m with a client.”

“The boss said there are to be no stones unturned.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Intriguing.” Smith sat back in order to take as much of this in as possible.

“You can leave by the back stairs.” Helen was on her feet, but much to her quickly rising distress, neither of the other two was. “I’ll give you the tour,” she proffered by way of a bribe.

“Well that was my office,” Helen began to rattle off random portions of a whistle-stop tour of the nether regions of the office as she pulled the other two after her, towards the back stairs. “That’s the conference room – where I destroyed the carpet – but I got away with it.”

Smith took out a notepad.

Oscar’s interest was genuinely piqued.

“That’s my boss’s office – he’s moved upstairs until the investigation has been completed.”

Oscar paused at the open door in order to fully appreciate this sight.

“Mind the glass – I shattered the window yesterday with my high-heel shoes – they’re being held in my boss’s safe as exhibit number one.”

Smith had produced a camera from somewhere about him and was intent on capturing a picture of the scene, but Helen made a lunge after him and dragged him on to the next sight on the tour – the water cooler which had been perforated twelve times by an aggressively sharpened pencil.

But all three were brought up short at the end of the corridor, just before they made it to the door to the back stairs.

“Ah… you must be here from the Fern Account?” the red face of Helen’s manager might have been as disconcerting for Oscar and Smith as it was to Helen, who was already searching her mind, desperate to land on a way of introducing the two without getting caught out in her lies and without having to use the name of her red-faced boss, whose name just at that moment managed to escape her.

But Smith’s reaction was the first – “How do you do?” and began a monologue consisting of general, vague and meaningless prattle which rescued the situation through distracting everybody present – Helen’s red-faced boss, his secretary, Helen, her secretary, Oscar, another secretary, possibly a fourth secretary, and Smith himself, who genuinely befuddled himself as his monologue petered out into mutterings and whispers.

The party of three eventually gained the top of the back stairs – an emergency exit hidden behind a bank of filing cabinets.

“Get the hell out of here.” and “Please” were statements which summed up Helen’s mixture of anger and desperation.

“You’re a mystery Helen – and that’s what we need.” Smith seemed pleased with the day’s work.

“It’ll take a full length prose narrative to get to the bottom of all of this.” Oscar seemed similarly pleased.


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