Every label has been scratched into an indecipherable state, a side effect maybe. I rattle a few to check for volume and put them back on the counter, satisfied but unsettled. ‘What’s going on, man?’ Mikey refills his tumbler with straight Sailor Jerry and shrugs himself into it. I was going to have a nap, he says, mouth moist and lax. ‘You must be pretty fucking tired.’ I rinse a glass in the sink and take it over to the couch where he’s still holding the bottle, clink my glass against it suggestively, and wait for him to share.
Secretary says she hates me. I don’t buy it. I lean against the edge of my desk and fold my arms, watching as she minces towards me, her neat little steps swinging heel toe heedlessly through the minefield of papers and notes and carbon effluvium entrenched on my office floor. Planting one modest plum coloured heel against the nearest column of detritus, she snipes me a look of apathetic resentment. Her skirt rides up on the swell of her thigh and my skin prickles with the sweet hot shame of desire and the thought of vanilla ice-cream melting on pancakes.
‘You’re twelve o’clock is here,’ she says.
When I tell her I don’t have any appointments she sights me down the barrel of her nose and chambers another citric glare, the room steeped in that venomous brand of silence only a woman can excrete. I’m sure I don’t remember but I shrug acceptingly. Secretary sighs and flicks her heel out, toppling the papers underneath and sending a domino cascading through the room. She spins around with a reckless elegance and sails back the way she came.
‘Buy a calendar,’ she says and pours herself through the door.
There’s barely time to catch my breath before Twelve strides in and takes it back. She carries the scent of camphor and herself like velvet, in a dress so honest that I’m not sure where to look. I salvage a chair from the debris and motion for her to sit down. Retreating behind my desk, I reach for the bottle of oak aged fortification I never bother to put in the top drawer. She watches me with a still, hawkish candor while I evict a family of wasted pens from a tumbler and clean it with the backside of my tie. For some reason I want this to bother her. I pour myself three middle fingers and practice looking at her face.
Sometimes I can hear Secretary scrabbling for information in the other room. We don’t talk about it and normally I don’t care what turns the girl’s key, she keeps quiet and it makes me think she cares, but her silence behind the door while I’m in front of Twelve gives me a dry, cheese grater pang of cheaters guilt. I want to take off my skin and wash it.
Twelve breaks my mood with a voice that’s somehow wide and warmer than I’d expected, gravelly eclectic like rain falling on limestone. ‘I love the decor,’ she says, not looking around. ‘How do you find anything?’
I tell her I use hard work and diligence and she makes a little humming sound like a stovetop element warming up. Maybe she would have preferred luck. I watch as she slides her fingers into her tiny pink clutch, probing for her desire, amazed that she can fit anything in there. I don’t ask if she would like a hand. She comes up with a menthol Kool and slides it between her lips.
‘Can you light me up?’
I dig a box of Redheads from my tool drawer and toss them over. There’s a reckless elegance to her movements as she catches the matches, the liquid rhythm of a wave riding its surfer. I’d prefer to watch.
‘They told me you’re the best.’
I’ve never met them but I know the type. It could be true but it’s probably all lies and accusations. I stare into her silence, sipping rum from my tumbler and listing the names of sins in my head. I’ve always liked sloth but I never get time for it, I’m always too busy avoiding other things, like people who might feel the need to talk about me with dangerously attractive women, or tigers, which seems easy but requires the same level of vigilance.
‘Most of it was better than worse,’ she says finally, using my floor as an ashtray.
That’s still no reason to believe it.