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By Donald Denoon

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Winifred Jolliffe. Of course. ’ The perfect recall is the result of the blistering pain of that moment. In 10 seconds or less, how often can you offend a girl? It’s a miracle that anything survived her shyness and my clumsiness. That’s the charitable view. Another reading is that we prefigured everything that shaped — and doomed — our relationship. Despite my criminal clumsiness and blasphemy, Win mistook my church attendance for serious purpose and equated university prizes with wisdom. She thought I was twice as earnest and wise as humanly possible.

Perhaps I should act in character in this theatre, as if Gabriel were a normal client? For many years I worked as a management consultant, and for many more years I engaged other consultants and drafted their contracts. As a matter of — no, strike that. In my experience, an unexamined consultancy contract is either a licence to rob the client or an invitation to suck the life out of the consultant. In this unnamed place it was especially important to nail down terms and conditions. I was profoundly disoriented, of course, but experience had taught me a rule that protected me from suicidal commissions: be crystal-clear on four issues before you sign anything.

Asking for greater effort, someone will say ‘put your back into it’, while someone who is mildly unhappy claims to be suffering from ‘a broken heart’! Every single part of the body, every bodily function, however repulsive, can be used in an allusive way. In normal conversation, when I do not have time to ponder every statement and preview every response, errors are inevitable. I was lost for words the first time someone told me ‘Must run — I have a train to catch’, and then strolled away to the train station.

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