Like ‘Brief Encounter 2012’, this story concerns internet dating but has nothing whatsoever to do with my protagonist in ‘Timed Out’. It was first published in ‘Click to Click: Tales of Internet Dating‘, also edited by me. And it was greeted with enthusiasm by a small company planning to produce a short film … but they disappeared.
HELEN IS BEAUTIFUL and wonderful and she has agreed to a date. Today is the day. If only George dared throw a sickie and have a lie in. He needs to be well rested and look his best. Helen is what he has always dreamed of, and he doesn’t want to blow it. He allows himself a minute or two of glorious sexual fantasy.
But first he’ll have to struggle through a day at the office. He tumbles out of bed and staggers into the bathroom. There it is in the mirror, sneering back at him, not a trick of the light, not an aftershock from last night’s nightmares – the first pimple of the year. The mother of all pimples. In the centre of his chin, big, juicy, unmissable, undisguisable.
Should he cancel their date? No, he might not get another chance. Maybe the pimple will go down by evening. He dabs crossly at it with antiseptic cream, and the grease makes it even shinier. His hand hovers around it, but he controls his squeeze reflex. No, it will have to be a case of time heals all and mind over matter.
But time doesn’t heal. His male colleagues tease him. Thank goodness they don’t know about the date. The women seem to be avoiding both his eye and his chin. He tries to distract himself with work, but the computer screen blurs and all the emails and spreadsheets and documents and reports get overlaid with one gigantic, terrifying blow-up portrait of the pimple. He visits the loo so often that his colleagues ask if he is quite well. Each time, he glances around nervously to make sure he’s alone before examining his chin in the mirror.
Helen’s lovely face keeps filling his mind – her blue eyes, dark brows, high cheekbones, and the whole face a perfect heart shape framed with thick wavy hair. He can’t visualise the rest of her but he knows she is not as tall as he is and she is curvy rather than plump or slim – his type exactly.
George wishes the time would drag, but it flies. Out of the distant past – his brief inglorious acting career at school – he suddenly recalls poor Dr Faustus, soon to go to hell:
Stand still, you ever moving sphere of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come …
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come and Faustus must be damned.
Comparing his own predicament with Faustus’ makes George feel a little better.
Back at the flat, he cleans the bathroom, bins old papers, gathers socks and pants off the floor, checks all surfaces for dust. He finishes the job with a blast of bluebell haze room freshener. Next, he puts his best white wine in the fridge and is pleased to discover some sophisticated spicy nuts to go with it. Just in case she can be persuaded to come back here. This thought leads to another burst of optimism and he changes the sheets. Just in case …
Then George takes a slow, thorough shower. He is desperately afraid that all this anxiety is bringing him out in a sweat.
‘It’s far too hot for May,’ he mutters angrily, ‘and all the blasted daylight will make it even easier for her to see the ghastly thing.’ He shaves gingerly around it.
What to wear? He tries a few variations on a theme – the theme being “smart casual” – and settles for a plain blue shirt, a cream seersucker jacket, perfectly fitting blue trousers, slightly scuffed brown suede shoes and no tie. His thinning hair stubbornly refuses to provide cover for the bald spot which is shining in the heat, though not as fiercely as the pimple. He even remembers to clean his glasses.
The pimple hasn’t changed. If anything, it has increased in size and hideousness.
Horrified, George realises he’s going to be late. He rushes to The Golden Fleece. As he pushes his way through the crowded bar, he feels himself assaulted by the braying laughter of those happy, successful, handsome folk who frequent City pubs. Already he regrets suggesting this place. Trembling slightly and half-tempted to do a runner, he looks for Helen. He only has her photograph on the dating site to go on.
They’ve agreed to carry the Evening Star as an aid to recognition. George has forgotten to bring one. He peers round in search of a woman on her own. There is only one such, at a small table in the shadows. She is gripping her handbag on her lap, a half-full glass of what looks like brandy before her, holding the Evening Star and reading intently. He can just make out the dark hair, the fine eyebrows.
He advances. ‘Excuse me, are you Helen?’
She raises her beautiful blue eyes and starts to laugh so hard that her Evening Star shakes. Then she lowers the newspaper and smiles.
‘George. How do you do?’
Her face is every bit as pretty as the photograph on the Internet. What’s more, she has film-star teeth and just the right degree of curviness.
And in the middle of her chin – the cutest, the most endearing pimple. George grins broadly and holds out his hand.