Friday, 29 July 2011

Moving in the Sun by Andre Van Loon

You watch him wave his arms about. You feel you have always loved the sight of him waving his arms about, seeing him bring his hand down in sharp movements to punctuate his word flow. You wait to see him decide the day’s story, clearing away the debris left by others’ sloppier thinking. He places his tie to the left, then to the right, uhming and aahing his way through the lengthier parts as he checks his messages, fiddles with his cufflinks and runs his hand through his hair. Then he decides the course of action, puts his tie straight and thanks Christabel and you.

Later, you watch him destroy The Other One with a few well-placed barbs. You smile and nod your way through his performance. It comes as a surprise to remember Christabel and you wrote this last night over coffee and éclairs. You write her a text but Discard as you switch to Sky News to check the pundits.

Yesterday he opened by asking for your advice on Valentine’s day. You met his wife once at Christmas but remember only her extraordinary lack of warmth. Exactly the opposite from how she had seemed to you in her photographs. But you humoured him by giving a few playful suggestions. A signed official photograph. An annual visitor’s pass.

You remember, despite Christabel’s palpable impatience, that it was hellish in your previous job. You were good only to make the coffee as your ex boss practiced his golf swing and listened to the Oxford gang hold forth on dividing lines. Down to hell and up to heaven in an hour. You were never more excited than when he took you on to serve a more noble cause.

Christabel comes alive, finally, as he drops the Valentine day’s discussion. You move on to discuss the morning briefing notes. You survey the scene as Christabel analyses the previous day’s events from her unique point of view: he with his back to the bulletproof windows, she calmly smoothing out the folds in her grey skirt as he fires back with questions, your shoes shining brightly in the office lights, three BlackBerries flashing in near synchronicity on his desk.

You are still thinking of something Palmerston may or may not have said when you hear Christabel cough nervously. You look at him from far away but he seems no different than usual. You become aware of something new, however, and you zone in more precisely on what he is saying. Impending budget cuts. Streamlining operations. Less printing paper, less coffee even, haha! But also, unfortunately, a need to review advisor numbers. Nothing decided, no no, but boxes have to be ticked. No need to rush for book publishing deals just yet, he laughs. And with that he’s out the door.

You see Christabel turn to her mobile immediately. She is checking positions at the Foreign Office, her friend Suzie says they may let in some top talent. You laugh at her lack of faith. She looks at you for a moment, smiles and says well you’ll be fine I suppose, you can always give him advice on his love life. She doesn’t get it. She checks her hair in his trophy cup, kisses you and flings you the Mail.

You have been seeing Christabel for two months. You were in the job before her and helped interview her for the position. In many ways she is a typical adviser: student politics, debating team prizes, strong views on any subject that you care to think of, little to no lasting interests beyond the comment pages. You saw that he was a bit cool towards her even as he reminisced about his own university days and asked her for names and dates. She looked deadly serious at both of you, answering every question directly, not attempting humour.

It was no surprise, in a way, that you started seeing her. You live together through the same events, setbacks and triumphs from 7am to whatever time. You have more texts from her than from all your other contacts combined. You talk about his performance, the duplicity and lack of success of his opponents, the unfairness of the system when he doesn’t win, journalists who can’t quite get it right when they try and the demons who wilfully distort the story out of spite. You started going to her place to finish briefing notes in the evenings and ended up with your shampoo in her shower.

You phone on your way down in the lift and leave her a voice message. She texts back as you walk to the cafe and says she is meeting Suzie. Doesn’t she want to come meet you for lunch instead? You start writing something else but it doesn’t come off well and you Discard.

You watch him on BBC News 24, out in the Midlands, and text him to say his hair is out of place. By the time he’s on Sky News, talking in front of the same factory but from a different angle, he looks fine.

In the evening, you buy the éclairs on the way to her flat. She is in jeans and a red sweater that you’ve never seen before. Suzie is asking around for her, she could do the same for you. What would you like to do after leaving him? You’re amused by this – she doesn’t get it – and tell her, sitting down with a beer on her deep couch, that all’s well that ends well. It’s just inconceivable he should let you – both of you – go. She starts to debate this, even becoming unkind, as she sits legs akimbo on a wooden kitchen chair. You eat fried chicken and sit down to watch Newsnight.

You get dressed quickly in the morning. She puts on a new black skirt and tights that make her look ten years older. You have a dry cleaned suit hanging on the back of the door. You read The Times together on the way to the office.

He greets you with his usual bonhomie. Everything is just right about his appearance: tie straight and neatly knotted, crisp white shirt that looks like it cost your month’s salary, large, relaxed hands with his gold signet ring. He notes something in an old-fashioned desk diary that takes up most of one corner of his desk.

Your briefing notes lead to the usual warm discussion, with Christabel refusing to drop several key phrases that you see him score out anyway. You love the atmosphere in this room. You smile at the man bringing in the coffee. It often feels like you’re being filmed. You’re living history in the present, a key member behind his meteoric rise and fame. He wraps up the discussion as briskly as he always does, stopping his careful questioning suddenly and outlining the day’s actions in a few clear sentences. Thank you very much.

You set off for different parts of the building, but you hold your BlackBerry close.

You get his text at ten: Christabel had to go, unfortunately. Things moved much quicker than he anticipated. You have been promoted to senior adviser. For a while it will just be you and him, until this current fixation on costs subsides, at any rate.

You go to his office as in a dream and see her lipstick on a polystyrene cup left on his desk. You feel slightly dizzy. His side of the desk looks untouched but it is not hard to imagine him sitting there, explaining how very sorry he is. You send a text nervously and see her BlackBerry flash on his desk.

Do you have her private number? You think not as you see his handwriting in his diary, lit by the sun, spelling out your name.

About the Author: Andre van Loon lives in London. He grew up in the Netherlands and the Scottish highlands before moving to the bright lights of the city. His writing has been published in Writers’ Forum and Crème De La Crème: The Best of CSYS Creative Writing 1991-2001 (Canongate: 2001).

Photograph (c) Chris Lim