Leg Man: A Short Story

Well, that’s Mondays for you. I haven’t been at my workstation five minutes when I get the curly finger come-on. Oh Mary, Mary. You do things to me with that red-polished index finger of yours. I always know I’m *In Trouble* when you summon me into the boardroom for another of our private meetings.

I wrench off my headset, ignoring the flashing red-light. I pass off another obnoxious caller to an even-more-obnoxious co-worker. The world is full of lazy pricks who buy dishwashers. The prattiest pricks of the lot call help desks demanding to know how to turn off kiddy-lock. I am Tobias of North Melbourne. But my work becomes far more interesting as Anantha Vikram of Bangalore. I speak with perfect Dilmah-tea enunciation and have no idea about any kitty’s sock.

We know each other by now, Mary. I can read that look on your beautiful face. You are in dire need of a little tête-à-tête re my latest boredom buster.

You plonk a bursting folder of documents onto a trestle table stretching the length of this long, narrow room. Oh Mary, I love it when you’re angry. You extend a slim arm and order me to make use of the plastic chair. I’ve sat here many times before, usually opposite Uptight Ursula, who kicks me in the shins whenever she uncrosses her legs. With Ursula being a type-A personality, that is often. Under these wide-leg jeans I am covered in bruises. I know you’ve always wondered what’s under there. Anyway, such is the width of the table. Now I sit directly opposite you, Mary. I’m sure I’d smell your sweet breath if it weren’t for the lingering aroma of sausage rolls from Bill’s good-riddance do on Friday. Yes, that’s right. You may press your smooth knees against mine. I won’t tell a soul.

I know that you, too, enjoy the intimacy of this boardroom. You’ve even thought to close the door.

“Right,” you say. You open your manila folder and whip out a form.

I’m supposed to make out I’m interested. It’s all part of the game.

You hold it up for my perusal. “I asked you to complete feedback sheets, every hour, on the hour.”

That rings a bell. I might have filled out a couple. The rest suffered fifth degree burns after an unfortunate accident with a Frappuccino. “They didn’t make it through. Sorry.”

You raise one eyebrow. See, I am looking you in the eye. Note that I’m making every effort *not* to let my eyes flicker downwards, settling upon the deep v-neck of your business shirt. You could button-up to the collarbone, but you don’t. Why not, Mary? I think you and I both know the answer to that.

You flick the poor feedback form with those red talons of yours. “I asked for these in 12 point Times New Roman.”

“Does 18 point italicised Hypewriter not bang your buttons, Mary?”

“I’ve told you before. This job leaves little room for creative embellishments and fanciful fonts.”

It’s true. You read me oh too well. I’m a creative type, you see. This imaginative noggin of mine is wasted between two muffs of a headset!

I watch as you rifle through your papers. You’re tempted to lick your lips seductively but you’d only ruin your perfect lipstick. You press those lips together, resisting the urge. Your mouth settles into a thin, hard line. Oh Mary, give me a smile darling. One small hint, to let me know this is all a charade? A little more of that under-the-table leg-wrangling, perhaps?

“Look at this pile. Customer complaints about you are now two inches thick.”

Hmmm. If, indeed, you speak of the pile between us, you do exaggerate. You enjoy these games of imagination and embellishment as much as I do. “I’m sure you could squish that pile down by half with the aid of a cracking good paper weight.”

A cold, hard stare.

Or, at least, your attempt at one. I love it when you flash me the evils. I know it’s another of those little games we play. You’re an expert in the art of seduction: pulling in, pulling away.

I know how to pull you in, don’t I? You avoid uncomfortable lunchtime overlaps with me. You’d rather sit facing the microwave than engage in witty banter with a tempting underling. You study the roster. You take an early lunch to avoid me. You rarely manage to miss me completely, lingering long enough in the kitchen just so we can cross paths in the doorway. There I stand, breathing in. I feel my muscles tense, expecting your touch. You brush past, angling your body away, head bowed. Never mind. I enjoy the briefest tickling of fabric as you leave.

Do you remember The Citrus Affair? You didn’t realise I’d swapped lunch breaks with Ursula, did you? Ursula neglected to inform you of her latest appointment with the company counsellor. You sat alone at a formica table, chewing silently upon an apple, staring into *Telesales Weekly*. You didn’t complain when I joined you. Instead, you shifted in your chair, moving a centimetre or two in the opposite direction in this fruitless game of push-pull.

I pulled out some fruit of my own and placed it upon the table. Ursula owed me a coffee for the swap, you see. But we all know how stressed she’s been. I didn’t have the heart to send her down to Starbucks when she’s been advised to steer clear of the java. A single inhalation of caffeine might finish her off. I kindly settled for one item from her lunch box.

You looked at that tangerine as if it might be a prop designed to impress. You’ve never seen me eat fruit, have you, Mary. You’ve heard me announce that fruit is for phone-monkeys. I’m fond of saying that. I’m quite the wit and, unlike many around here, I never have to worry about running to fat. Of course, you hang off every word I say.

I fingered that fruit lasciviously. You blinked for one very long time and stifled a heavy sigh. That’s when I, very slowly, very deliberately, dug one thumbnail into dimpled flesh. One fine spray of acidic juice jet-streamed across the table. But it seems I have lost my playground aiming skills of yore.

So, I slapped one palm over my own eye and yelped like a puppy dog.

You startled. One hand reached out instinctively and grasped me by the shoulder. I writhed in agony.

“Tobias, are you okay? Were you juiced in the eyeball?”

I shook my head. I was not okay. I was about to die. Give me the kiss of life, Mary! Jaws, even! Anything!

“Is it a fit? You’re not epileptic, are you? It’s not this flickering fluorescent light, is it? Should I fetch first-aid?”

Ah, but that would be Uptight Urusla the OSH Officer, currently undergoing therapy for a suspiciously similar incident which occurred, oh, right about this time last week. But you didn’t hear about that, did you Mary? You didn’t suspect me for a second. I reeled you in: hook, rind and winker.

That’s when I winked at you, with one perfectly healthy peeper. You realised my game. Colour returned to your cheeks. There was no longer an excuse to continue our half-embrace. You released your grip of my shoulder and drew back, ashamed. But you showed me you care. I felt it in your touch.

“You really do fancy yourself, don’t you!” You gathered up your magazine and your wholemeal crusts and your water bottle and strutted back to your desk. I watched you stride away. Oh, the view from the back! It was all worth it, Mary, for the briefest of touches. My shoulder glowed for the rest of the afternoon, having absorbed your one and only patch of warmth.

You expected me to repent, didn’t you. So I popped into your office later in the week, offered you a proper coffee. You feigned absorption in your work. You say my Starbucks addiction is unhealthy. But you spared the lecture this time. I did notice that you’d kicked off those strappy stilettos we’re all so fond of. I’ve always been a leg man. I admire that collection of shoes under your desk. I do notice, Mary, when you stride into the office each morning in those comfy trainers covered in wet grass. I do notice that you glam it up for me, conducting these meetings of ours in far more alluring footwear. Your office could be your wardrobe, your living room… your bedroom, perhaps?

Should I have closed the door? I controlled the urge. There I lingered, arms folded, waiting for a lecture on coffee and time-management. You pretended not to notice me at all. So I asked you again.

“Coffee, Mary?”

“What?” you muttered. “Oh, no thanks, darling.”

I leaned against your doorframe. Did I catch you out? Was that a Freudian slip? Is there a mysterious someone in your life who deserves the term of endearment?

You looked up alarmed and saw me grinning. You dropped your head into your hands.

“Sorry,” you whispered. You’re not used to apologies, are you, in this little game we play? It’s always me making reparations: yes Miss, no Miss, I won’t do it again, Miss. It’s me who grovels, like the naughty little boy that I am.

You’re not comfortable now that the tables have turned. I’ve finally wrenched you out of your comfort zone of cold indifference.

“That was a little too familiar.” You said this with your eyes fixed to your computer screen. You couldn’t look me in the eye, could you? Couldn’t let me know the truth? Oh Mary, I’ve worked you out. I’ve seen the way you look at Roger from accounts. I’ve considered, many times, offering something stronger than a caffeine fix after work. But I know what you’d say.

“I can’t go to the pub with you, Tobias, because I’m in an exclusive, uncommitted one year relationship with a man I see on Thursday afternoons inside the stationery cupboard.”

I, on the other hand, bide my time with patience, settling for odd scraps of your attention. Oh, I don’t mind. I don’t mind a jot. I always knew you’d call me darling one of these days.

You didn’t accept a coffee. You said you were fine. But you did look in need of something. You, being an independent woman, could not bear to face me again that afternoon. You’d crossed that first line. I bought you an iced-tea, guessing your favourite fix. I returned twenty minutes later and placed the cup gently upon your desk. You didn’t say a word.

Such is love. I know you gaze at me through your one-way office window. I lean back in my swivel chair and flash you cheeky grins all day. Don’t the girls love a bad-boy, eh? You listen to my conversations; you say I’m not to indulge in personal calls during work hours, but I know you eavesdrop just a smidgen too long. I hear you breathing on the three-way line as I pre-order my Chinese takeaways.

You wonder if I’m speaking to a lover, don’t you Mary. You want to know how I treat my mother before embarking upon a serious, long-term relationship. Am I not giving enough away? Do I not take every opportunity to meet with you, contriving these one-on-one meetings in the boardroom? And you, darling, always take the bait. Here we are again.

You are not amused. I admit, your poker face is expert. That comes after years of practice in knocking men back. I don’t doubt it.

“You’ve had countless verbal warnings and two in writing,” you say.

Oooh. This conversation sounds more and more dangerous. You have my attention, Mary. Are you about to set me free into the urban wilderness as a metaphor of sexual tension released? It is very hot in here, isn’t it, and not just because of the malfunctioning air-con. You’ve told me numerous times that you’d love to see me in a tie but now we’re both glad of the excuse. I release the next button of my shirt. We match, now, Mary.  Do you enjoy the view? When I’m no longer your subordinate you’ll be free to explore this obsession. I understand. Feel free to continue with your dominatrix fantasies. I will remain your slave. I’ll even wear my sexy headset for you, if you’ll let me keep it.

I’ve composed numerous drafts of my leaving speech. Doesn’t everyone do this in lazy moments of reflection between calls? Interestingly, my farewell speech is not unlike my imaginary funeral. “Call Me Irresponsible” blares from PC speakers (the Michael Bublé lick). Co-workers arrive from every floor. They cram their suited bodies into this very boardroom to say a few kind words. Everyone is far too upset to touch the mountain of sausage rolls teetering upon this trestle table. Even Ursula sobs into a polystyrene cup of orange cordial. “Adieu, adieu!” I say. “Remember me!” And you, dear Mary, will lurch towards me. You will ignore the sombre crowd and press your full lips to mine.

You flick off your biro and snap that folder shut. “Consider yourself officially dismissed.”

Perhaps I am a little disappointed. A tad let-down. I always fancied a little melodrama. But it’s not like the movies at all, is it? I had visions of you towering above me, standing tall and lithe in those stiletto heels, leaning in close before punishing me with a lap dance. You hiss into my ear. “You’re fired!” Your feline eyes examine my body in faux-disdain.

Instead, you push a sealed envelope across the desk. Perhaps it contains a cryptic love message to be read later, in private.

“You’ll need to return your swipe card to security before you go.”

“That’s it, then?”

You fix me with another of your cold, hard stares. Holding that folder-armoury to your chest, you push back on your chair. You stand to leave.

That’s when I realise. You haven’t been playing footsies with me at all. That cold, slim leg extending towards mine beneath the table presses against me still. All this time, Mary, I’ve fancied myself madly in love, engaged in one-sided hanky-panky with the unresponsive leg of this fucking trestle table.

I knew this story was a success when a middle-aged male critique partner read it then told me to get a life, among other tidbits. The first person narrator is indeed irritating as hell, which is exactly how it feels to be a woman in the workplace, confronted with a persistent Flirty Guy who is sometimes your boss, but just as likely an underling. If you can’t squirt him in the eye socket with citrus juice, next best thing is to write a short story and reward yourself with a bit of catharsis.

This story was a good lesson in how if I’m writing an irritating voicey piece, a novel-length work wouldn’t get read. Readers wouldn’t bear it. The longest you can do is a short story, or better yet, probably a poem.

Header illustration: AI Generated using SDXL 0.9, cinematic model: young flirty hipster man with dark hair working at a call centre, in Gouache Style, orange, Watercolor, Museum Epic Impressionist Maximalist Masterpiece, gouache watercolors textured on Canvas, 8k Resolution, Matte Painting


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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