Portrait of a white human
'Our 40th anniversary issue will be my last as editor.' Roger plants his legs like Ozymandias. The test covers for his swansong are strewn across the table, a garish pedestal.
Tope whispers in my ear, 'He's going to the Mail.'
'Oh, thank Christ.'
'Thank Clarence, more like.'
Sophie glares at us, as Roger steams on.
'It's been utterly shitting awful working here. Can't wait to work with some actual professionals.' He always wanted to work for a paper, sees all this B2B stuff as beneath him. He actually called it Fake news for fake professionals
once, the wannabe journo passing judgement on financial advisers. He squints at a striplight and says, 'Now fuck off and make my magazine beautiful.'
It's a more inspiring press week speech than usual, mainly because it's so short. Roger slurps his Irish coffee, shooing us out with a hand.
A scared businessman stands cowering under the rays of industrial pendant lights right above him.
They always look like Roger. The perspective is all wrong - the lamp too large, Roger too small - and his pose is stilted. I searched for Businessman, deadline, high pressure.
I need a picture to convey the 'pant-shittingly terrifying apocalypse of Making Tax Digital'.
Was he a model, before becoming a journalist? Did he infiltrate every corner of the stock library, before turning professional hack? Real Roger is all blood vessels and sweat. This other Roger puts money into piggy banks held by blonde children and leads happy teams. Mostly he sits at home with the family, relaxing, investing money, planning a holiday.
I work by shape and colour. I stare beyond the screen, somewhere around the finance pod, maybe the back of Michelle's head, and sift page after page for aberrations. This time it's a rusting guillotine from a low perspective, my eye drawn to the massive blade. Instruments to kill in the Middle Ages
, with bright blue sky and yellow flowers for contrast. Production will love it.
In the picture next to it Roger sharpens an axe. They always look like Roger, unless I search for poor
. Then they look like Tope.
Chiken punk spike
I got into this gig because I made zines. Photocopying mags, scissors, PVA glue and unreadable unholy fucking messes about bands that no one gave a shit about back then and everyone remembers going to see now. I've seen stuff I made as a teenager, losing my mind in my mum's house out in Berkshire, posted on websites as a shining example of the punk sub-culture of the late 80s.
Every month or two I'd scrape enough together for a train to London. Safety pins and leather, DM's and cheap gin, whatever drugs we could get our hands on. Teenage shit, except that's not what teenagers do any more, is it? I had to show people what it meant to be different. School wouldn't allow a mohawk, but everything I owned had spikes and studs.
Just like this chicken. Studs along its thighs, and over the crown, it's plucked, raw, ready for the oven or the circle pit at the Roxy. I searched for European imports, payment, risks
. What was the photographer thinking? Why am I in this job? When did I stop wearing studs?
I sit next to the editors, Sophie, who is studying to be an auditor, and a bewildering blonde girl called Emma who can't comprehend how little I care about horses. Tope, the editorial intern for the summer, is opposite, on a student visa to get his doctorate in Kantian morality from Kings.
Roger lords it from the corner office and all he ever talks about is the snowflakes, or soy boys, or affirmative action fascists, or fucking Corbynistas, or feminists - it's normally the feminists. Our apolitical products are listing to starboard. He's made his whole life into an interview for the Mail.
The skin on this chicken could be Roger's. The light gold tone to the studs makes me think of salmonella. I'm imagining stomach cramps when a stage whisper in my ear says, 'Food porn is it? Dirty bastard, you can do that on your own time.'
I click away and Roger moves on to make Tope's life difficult.
Gesturing 1970's Mustache Guy
'Everyone hates landlords, but you all want to buy a second house. That's what I don't get about this country.' Tope kicks the football against the carpark wall as he talks. The renaissance man, he can hold court on football, literature, sociology and anything else. He has been trying to decode the British identity for weeks.
I punt the football into the wall, the synthetic tunk
echoing around the courtyard formed by the back of the office. It's where the smokers would go, if we had any, so Tope and I have claimed it. 'It's a no brainer, you make a shedload from it.'
'So the moment you can afford it you screw over someone else, pretend it isn't someone just like you?'
'Other people are always better off though, aren't they?' The election wasn't long ago, and we both saw the colour chart the people created. It's a binary nation, but no one seems sure who they're like. Our commonalities are the new no-man's-land, paranoia in the air like stale sweat. Tope kicks the ball hard, so it bounces out of our pen, where the fourth wall should be.
I follow the ball to the car park. I scoop it out of a drain and dribble it back at a walking pace. Put the urgency of a pig's bladder on the list of things I don't understand about my fellow countrymen.
I find Roger back in the courtyard, hands on hips like a teacher, squinting at Tope, or the daylight. 'Just give it a bloody rest, your football and the communist drivel.'
I ask him, 'You heard us?' The wall must be one side of Roger's office. There's a big vent in the top corner. I pass the ball to Tope, who flicks it up easily, keeping it up with alternating knees.
Roger's white shirt has oily grey sweat patches in the armpits, around his chest, spotting up to his neckline. He's a lurker, belonging under polystyrene roof tiles, drinking tea that shines like scummy water, but there's an irreducible quality to him outside, even as he drips and blinks and sniffs. 'Keep up the fairy tales if you want, but that's how it is. Money doesn't think, people do. And people think having more money is a good idea. There's your principle'
'But it doesn't work, Roger. All the people who own houses make it so expensive people without houses can't afford one. It's about looking after everyone, making sure as many people as possible can own a home.'
'Sounds like socialist bollocks to me.'
'Do you want to be the only successful person in the world? We have a duty to help as many people as we can. What about the true measure of a society?'
'Oh Christ, not the sandal-flapper.' Tope lets out a desparate pshaw
but I don't get why. Arguments between Editorial always lose me pretty quick. Roger adds, 'You should be studying Mill.'
Whatever that means, it lands on Tope. He lets the ball fall, the echoes of its weakening bounces the soundtrack to Roger's triumphant strut back inside.
Tope sounds weak as he says, 'He's turned me upside down.' He dropkicks the ball angrily, and we watch as it flies up onto the roof.