The first time it really hits me, I’m staring at the peeling paint on the doorknob.
I long ago memorized the feeling of coming home – the click of my key in the door, the scent of Mom’s sti ... [+]
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Mr. MacInnes had decided it was time to talk to Brian about his appearance. He didn’t want to, lord knows he wasn’t a stickler for such things, but lately it had all gotten a bit out of hand. It looked bad on him, it looked bad on the whole team. Frankly, something had to be done.
At first, Mr. MacInnes had noticed Brian had stopped shaving. There were no office rules about facial hair, it was fine. Then he stopped ironing his shirts; that wasn’t such a big deal, Brian had a lot to deal with at the time. Everyone wore a crumpled shirt from time to time. But then crumpled shirts became stained shirts, and he kept wearing them. They were never washed. His hair grew long and unkempt. Finally, someone sent Mr. MacInnes an anonymous email, complaining about the smell.
Don’t be so bloody insensitive, Neil typed back, furiously. Show some empathy, he needs our support. Brian’s a good lad, he’ll sort himself out. And to Mr. MacInnes’ sincere relief, he did. It was as if Brian had reached his natural nadir, presentability wise. After that, the smell dissipated, the shirts were washed and, later, ironed. Brian cut his hair to a respectable length, and then one happy Monday, Brian showed up for work perfectly clean shaven. But it didn’t stop there.
At first, Mr. MacInnes noted that Brian was wearing a new set of ties. Classy, fashionable patterns, and expensive silk. Mr. MacInnes wasn’t the type to pass comment on a coworker’s appearance, so he didn’t say anything. They were very nice though, he thought. He might get some himself after payday.
The next day, Brian arrived for work in a full suit. That was a little odd, Mr. MacInnes thought. Brian hadn’t worn a full suit since his first day. It was the same suit, he realized, a little frayed around the edges but otherwise cleaned, pressed, and immaculately turned out. Accompanied by one of his fancy new ties. The next day, Brian arrived in a different suit; a new suit, specially tailored, navy blue with almost undetectable pin stripes. The CEO came to talk to Mr. MacInnes, and he whistled as he went by Brian’s desk. “Dress for the job you want, eh son?” Mr. MacInnes laughed dutifully, but Brian didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy fiddling with his new cufflinks.
But it didn’t stop there. The pendulum didn’t swing back the way it had come, rather it kept rising along the same longitude, soaring on to new heights. The next week Brian came in wearing another suit, and on Tuesday, yet another. His brightly polished shoes shone as he walked in, and his new watch glistened in the sunlight. Now people looked up when Brian entered a room. Women around the office who wouldn’t have given him the time of day before came up to his desk to chat. He looked happy enough, but Mr. MacInnes had started to worry. He’d overheard Brian talking to the accounts team, asking if he could get an advance on his next paycheck. By Friday, Brian had his hair professionally styled, and was sporting a colorful silk handkerchief from his new jacket’s breast pocket.
The jackets turned into blazers, of exponential brightness and vivacity. People started to make jokes at Brian’s expense, but he didn’t seem to notice. Dress for the job you want, sure, Mr. MacInnes thought. But the job Brian seemed to want was being a Victorian playboy. He was a Customer Service Assistant, for goodness’ sake. Mr. MacInnes knew Brian’s salary; he must be bankrupting himself. One fateful day, Brian arrived wearing a yellow polka dot cravat. That, Mr. MacInnes decided, was the final straw.
He pulled Brian into a room; trying to be discreet, whilst acknowledging that discretion is difficult when dealing with a young man in a maroon blazer and yellow polka dot cravat.
“Brian,” he said, “we need to talk.”
“I think you know.” He said.
“Nope.” said Brian.
“It’s about your appearance.” Brian cocked his head slightly and peered at his boss.
“What appears to be the problem?” he asked.
“Brian, you’re wearing a yellow polka dot cravat. Don’t you think this has all gone a bit too far?”
“Well the thing is...”
“Yes, Brian?” Brian took a deep breath.
“The thing is, Mr. MacInnes, is that things were really tough for a while. After I lost Eilidh, well, you know I took some time off, but things were really tough, even after that. You get used to doing things as a team, and when you lose a half of that team, you forget how everything works. She was so much a part of me that I couldn’t remember how I used to manage on my own, Mr. MacInnes. I don’t know if you noticed, but I really let things go for a while.”
We all noticed, Mr. MacInnes nearly said.
“Things got really bad. I couldn’t get myself out of bed, I was coming in late for work every day, some days not at all. Then I realized that if I kept this up, I was going to lose my job. It’s all I had left; get the sack, and I’d be finished.”
Mr. MacInnes didn’t tell Brian how close he’d come. He’d fought for him, though, he’d always stood in Brian’s corner.
“I told myself, just turn up for work, on time, every day. Forget everything else, and just do that one thing. If you can do that, I thought, you’re doing well. It worked, Mr. MacInnes. It wasn’t easy, but I could do it.
“Then, I told myself, clean your shirts. Wear a clean, ironed shirt every day. Do that, and you’re doing well. Turn up on time, well presented, and you’re doing well. Nobody needs to know anything’s wrong. Have a shave and a haircut, and you’re doing well.
“I wasn’t sure if that would be enough, so I dug out my old suit. Then I bought another, and then a few more. I didn’t mean for things to get out of hand, Mr. MacInnes, but look at me now.
“Look at me now, Mr. MacInnes.
“Look at me. I’m doing so well.”
He should have taken more time off. He’d told Brian that. He was only in his early twenties; of course losing Eilidh in that car crash had hit him hard. They’d been engaged, for Christ’s sake. Nobody should have to go through that at Brian’s age. If this was his way of coping, fine.
Mr. MacInnes tentatively wiped a tear from his eye, and then gave Brian a long, hard look.
“Nonetheless, Brian, I’m going to insist that you get rid of the cravat.”