The shape of her face was never as important to me as when I couldn’t see it anymore. The distance between her eyes, the prominence of her nose, the smoothness of her cheek, the contour and colour of her lips. The lips I had to stop myself reaching out to touch with my fingertips as she was talking; and the eyes I lost myself in so many times, seeing all of her and yet nothing but myself reflected. She’s gone now, swept away in the turbulent waters of her life to sink or swim without me. Disengaged, my guilt assuaged, she to her fate and I to mine. I loved making her laugh.

The first time I saw her she was laughing – doubled up as she came into the room, sharing a joke with a companion; free and easy and vibrant and deliciously alive in the moment. That’s how I always remember her, and I can’t help smiling when I do. There was such a sadness about her otherwise, a melancholy that seemed bone-deep, that when she laughed it was as if she became a different woman. Her whole face would change and it seemed that she shook a great weight from her shoulders for those few brief, wonderful moments of mirth. She had a natural beauty that blinded me and a quiet presence that overwhelmed my senses, but underpinning all of it was a world-weariness which belied her twenty-six years. She gave me such joy, yet I never felt as if she kept enough for herself.

We met at a wake, in mourning for a dead colleague. Why she was in stitches at such a solemn gathering I never knew, and it never mattered. I was just so glad for the injection of her happiness into the stiff, sniffling blackness; the tissues and tea and “Terrible tragedy!”. It was awful, as only funerals can be, and I was just starting to wish I had slipped away at the graveside and returned to my work when she exploded into the silent void and I fell in love with her instantly and so very hard.

Recovering her composure, she caught my eye and held it as she came to stand by me at the buffet table. I felt something pass between us in that first, unhurried look and a pulse of pure electricity shot through my lower body. She made me twinge. I couldn’t stop staring, a rabbit in headlights, my heart careening around inside my chest and the blood belting through my body rich with adrenaline. Suddenly she was close enough to touch. I felt nauseous as I tried to swallow my biscuit but my mouth had become as dry as a sand dune. I had to wash it down with a whole glass of wine.

“Mmm. Good idea,” she said seriously, and followed suit. “Dispatch. Supervisor.” she continued, pouring us both another.

“Design. Photography. Fourth floor.”

“Cool. Fabienne. Don’t ask. My mum was French. Alsation actually.”

“Suzanne. No reason.”



I burned as I stood with her – my feelings began to smoulder within me. I knew it straight away, that I had fallen for her. It started the moment I saw her and it blossomed as we gulped our wine and exchanged shy pleasantries whilst trying to conceal everything about ourselves. Lesbian cool in full effect, we danced the stilted verbal at a safe distance. But each time we made eye contact, I felt that something there, where just minutes before there had been nothing. Something warm and growing, reaching and penetrating and connecting and finally pulsing irreverently between us. It was unnerving, it was erotic…and yet oddly comfortable. I felt as if I had stumbled upon some wonderful treasure quite by chance that I never ever wanted to let out of my sight again. And so we stood together, side by side, two twinkling lights in the darkness of the occasion; two dispassionate homosexuals in a sea of straight grief. Well, not quite dispassionate: our passions were simply not focused on our late great Chairman.

Fabienne and I stood about gently discussing the finer points of the funeral, commenting on the attire of our colleagues, bitching and gossiping like a couple of unmarried fishwives.

“Where d’you hang out then?”

“Basement. The Warehouse. Loading bay, Goods In, you know. The blue-collar bits.”

“Ah, Below Stairs! That’s cool, I like it down there.”

“I’ve never seen you. Why haven’t I seen you? I would have…seen canlı bahis şirketleri you, if I’d seen you.”

She said it playfully, but it was loaded with something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Was she flirting with me? The idea momentarily paralysed me, but I liked it. I very much hoped she was. It was mid-afternoon, mid-week, and between us we had downed nearly one-an-a-half bottles of cheap company Cab Sauv in around an hour. Things were getting a good deal less shy and stilted.

“I’ve only been here three weeks. Or is it four? No. Three. Only gone down once.”

“I’d like to see you down there.”

“I bet you would. But steady on, we’ve only just met!”

The banal double-entendre made us both guffaw loudly, tipsy and over-the-top with tension, but I felt myself blush at the implication. She blushed too, I noticed, and turned her head away to hide it. People around us were starting to drift back to their departments and the cleaners were hovering – circling the last few stragglers, rustling their black bags, keen to dart in and scavenge the buffet before returning the atrium-stroke-lobby to its usual glassy austerity. Fabienne and I strolled over to the staircase with a handful of mini sausage rolls apiece.

“Come down for a smoke?”

“Jesus!” I feigned indignation. “Some of us have work to do around here.” My face was starting to ache from the inane grin that forced itself on my mouth every time I said anything.

“Do you think anyone’s gonna bother doing anything for the rest of the day? There’s only about an hour left. And I’m certainly in no fit state to operate a forklift. What do you do up there anyway, on the…whatever floor it is? Sorry, I forgot.” She giggled.

“Ur, fourth. I do some of the photography for advertising, publicity, book promos. Stuff like that.”

“Yeah, and? You gonna work a camera in your condition? Up to you…Suzanne.”

With that, she turned somewhat unsteadily on one heel and trotted down the stairs to the “Lower Ground”, stuffing a sausage roll into her mouth. Fabienne of The Basement. Fabienne the forklift driver. She looked lovely in her black suit, but it was obvious she wasn’t really comfortable in it. It was an occasional suit, an “Oh shit, someone’s died, where’s that black suit?” kind of a suit. I imagined it lived in a dry-cleaning bag between outings. Her big steel-toed work boots poked out incongruously from the trouser legs. She was below-stairs stuff of the kind arousing dreams are made from – dreams that fulfil you while you sleep and shock you when you wake to remember them. I was drunk, and suddenly and desperately in love, and I felt fantastically wild and silly. And I wanted her. So the parts of me that were young, and free, and alive rushed forward to be with her and let her take me into her world. And the parts of me that were old, and responsible, and dead, pressed the UP button on the lift and waited sleepily for the cheerful “Bing!” of the doors.

“Hey, did you really say your mum’s an Alsation?” I called after her, flinging a sausage roll at her departing back as I lurched down the steps in pursuit. Hot pursuit. No photographic assignment on Earth could have stopped me.

We walked over to her office in silence. The warehouse seemed to be business-as-usual, a dingy hive of end-of-day activity. Several of the staff greeted Fabienne as we passed and she grinned and returned a few ever-so-slightly slurred words to each of them. I was certain the Dispatch Supervisor was not supposed to be pissed on duty, but somehow I sensed that she really didn’t care much for rules. The supervisor’s office was a small, neon-lit cubicle at the back of the loading dock. It was untidy and grimy and smelled faintly of damp. The perspex panel that passed for a window was cracked and filthy, but there was only the shipping floor to see through it anyway. A shrivelled pot-plant stood on the shelf above a little upright convection heater that looked as if it had been exhumed from a Second World War bomb shelter.

“Very nice!” I said sarcastically. The wine had made me bold and even wittier than usual.

Fabienne went straight to the oversize canlı kaçak iddaa wooden desk, opened a drawer, pulled out a packet of Consulate and a silver lighter, and squeezed back past me through the doorway without a word.

“Excuse you!” I said, with mock offence.

“You loved it.” she shot back over her shoulder.

Very perceptive, I thought, as I followed her over to the large roller shutter that opened onto the yard outside. She hit the button and it rattled into action, winding itself higher and higher towards the roof with the most unpleasant grinding shriek. She stopped it at about fifteen feet up. The warm, copper-coloured sunlight of late afternoon settled gently on our faces, and the heated brick was nice against my back. I watched her light up. I wanted to see her do everything, every little everyday thing, over and over again. She fascinated me, and there was nothing I didn’t care to know about her. She offered me the packet.

“No, thanks. I try not to.”

“What?!” Fabienne coughed smoke and looked at me. “Why d’ya come then?” She rolled her eyes, looked away. A bemused smile twisted her lips around the white filter held between them.

Because I love you. Because I just wanted to stand here with you in the sun and watch you smoke. Because I’m drunk, and foolish, and horny, and you invited me. Because I thought that maybe… I don’t know what I thought at that moment.

“Go on then.” I took a cigarette and she lit it for me, her eyes dancing with delight and amusement. “You’re a bad influence, dispatch-girl.”

“I put a smile on your face though, didn’t I, happy-snapper? You looked so bloody miserable back there.” She nodded back into the warehouse in the direction of the staircase we’d come down. “I don’t know, like someone died or something!”

“Very witty. I can’t deal with funerals, that’s all. I’m scared of dying. Actually it’s my greatest fear. I just can’t imagine the world without me in it. I can’t bear the thought of there not being anything for me anymore, just stopping. No future. Nothingness. Or maybe not even that! Christ, not even… Or, or what if there is something, and it’s awful? Like a nightmare that you keep thinking you’ll wake up from but you don’t, because you realise you’re not even asleep, but that’s how it is, forever!” I was talking myself into a panic, rambling, my thoughts slewing together and then unravelling faster than I could speak them. Fabienne stared at me. Why was I telling her all this? I was telling her things I had never told anyone, sharing my most primal fear, making myself vulnerable. It was the drink, the tension, the uncharted territory, the rush from the cigarette. I was telling her too much, showing too much of me. I felt an idiot, babbling and embarrassed in front of her. I crashed straight on into an apology.

She rescued me from my mental vortex. “Shut up, Suzanne,” she said gently, and I did. My heart bulged as she spoke and I relaxed immediately, her presence absorbing me once again. It was nice hearing my name in her voice – she said it slowly, drawing it out. A wonderful calm descended as we finished our cigarettes and the sun sank lower and redder in the sky. It was October, I remember, and the yard was covered with wet brown leaves from the trees in the neighbouring park. I looked at the bloodshot sky. It was a spectacular ‘set, and I wished I’d had my camera. But it also signalled the end of the day. It would soon be time to go home – for she and I to go our separate ways. I felt sick at the thought. And then another unpleasant realisation penetrated my alcohol-saturated, Fabienne-flavoured consciousness:

“Shit! How am I going to get home? I can’t drive like this! Bollocks. Oh god, I’ll have to get the bus!”

“What time is it?”

“No idea. Probably once every twenty minutes to town at this hour, then the one out to mine…no clue. Once a day probably. They’re fucking useless!”

“What time is it now, dumb-ass?”

“Oh. 4.45. Don’t call me that! Dickhead.”

“Come and have a coffee then.” Fabienne stamped out her burning filter and ushered me back inside, hitting the shutter button nonchalantly as she passed. canlı kaçak bahis It screamed back down as we made our way through the towers of crates and boxes to her little corner office.

“Welcome!” she said happily, clearing a chair for me. “What’ll you have?”

“Er, what have you got?” I asked, eyeing the tray of chipped, faded, brown-stained mugs by the kettle. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I wanted a hot drink.

“Well, let’s see…” Fabienne pulled open the large bottom drawer of her desk and peered into it. “Tea. Earl Grey, Ceylon, Green, Spiced Apple, Camomile, English Breakfast, that’s in regular of decaf. Oh, or Ayurvedic, got one left. Someone gave them to me, they’re an acquired taste though. Coffee, we’ve got Kenyan, Columbian or good ol’ Nessie. All instant I’m afraid. Oh, got decaf too – that’s nice, Fair Trade.” She paused, looking at me quizzically with her head on one side. I was impressed and she knew it.

“Blimey!” I whispered, in awed tones. “I don’t know now.”

“Or alternatively…”

“What, there’s more choices?”

“Just one. What are you doing tonight?”

I was taken aback. Was she going to ask me out? On a date or something? And what did it have to do with tea or coffee? My mind ran on ahead as I struggled to answer the question left behind.

“I, er… I don’t know. Nothing really. No plans, I don’t think. No, nothing, really, er… Why?”

By way of an answer, the Dispatch Supervisor swivelled on her chair and yanked at the top drawer of the battered grey filing cabinet behind her. It came open after a couple of sharp tugs, and she reached in. “Shut the door will ya?”

I complied, and turned back around to find a half-bottle of 50-year-old single malt Scotch and two beautiful cut-crystal whiskey tumblers standing on the desk. Fabienne’s eyes were locked to mine, a wicked little half-smile playing around her mouth.

“You’re joking! I can’t get home as it is, how’s this gonna help me Einstein? Very kind offer though,” I added hastily. I had no wish to appear dismissive. I didn’t even want to go home since that meant leaving her and I already knew that would hurt, but I didn’t really want to spend the night passed out in the basement at work either. “How are you intending to get home? You’re as pissed as I am.”

“Indeed. But I only live 10 minutes from here, on the other side of the park. 3 minutes sur ma bicyclette, n’est pas? So no worries for me,” she grinned, holding my gaze again.

“Lucky bloody you!” I said, exasperated.

Suddenly, her expression softened. She dropped her eyes and the playfulness seemed to slip from her. Time in the tiny room slowed to a stop, and then she spoke quietly:

“You know, you could…stay…at mine. If you wanted.” I swallowed. Fabienne did not look up but kept her eyes on the floor. She waited, fidgeted with her jacket button. My fuddled head span.

It hung in the air between us, her invitation, like a tangible thing. In the frozen moment I stood up from my chair and walked around it and looked at it, scrutinised it from every angle as a sculptor assesses an unfinished work. I reached for it, touched it, and it felt warm and welcoming. Yes, it was just what I wanted. As I picked up the whiskey bottle and started unscrewing the cap, reality returned with a sigh. Fabienne returned also, with a whoop of joy.

“Nice one!” she beamed. “To the Fourth Floor rebel.” We clinked glasses across the desk and I felt that her pleasure was genuine. I wanted her to be happy. Besides, I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a chance. I was drunk and driving my life at speed with reckless disregard. It felt absolutely fucking marvellous.

The first time is always easier with alcohol. Nobody came to the office to check if anyone was still there, and gradually the warehouse fell into total, eerie silence. Half-an-hour or so passed. Fabienne and I chatted and drank, teasing and flirting, a little at first but then more, and then almost exclusively. We started talking about sex, as so often happens with lesbian conversation. Or perhaps it is the same with straight people, I couldn’t really say. Nevertheless the boasts, revelations, anecdotes and fantasies began to flow right along with the Scotch. We were taking risks now, both of us – living dangerously, playing closer and closer to the edge of propriety. Pushing each other to go further; willing each other to cross the invisible line.



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