Faux Pas – a short story

Kevin was standing at the counter, beside the the kettle, waiting for it to boil, when his new director walked into the kitchen. She took a cup out of the cupboard and waited in silence. Nervous, Kevin tried making conversation. A few polite but stilted pleasantries were exchanged before they struck upon a topic that interested them both – the director’s upcoming wedding anniversary, which was a big one.

Kevin thought about his parents’ anniversary, which was within a few days of the director’s. “So, it’s your fortieth then?”

The director – a neatly presented woman in her early fifties – looked at him in disgust and said: “Actually, it’s our thirtieth.”

Embarrassed, Kevin realised his mistake. This woman held the key to any future raises he might receive. He needed to dig his way out of this hole as quickly as possible. He attempted to explain himself. “Sorry. What I meant to say is my parents are having their fortieth. That’s what I meant, you know, to say.”

The director looked down her nose at him. “Fine,” she said, although he could see it wasn’t. “Not to worry.”

Kevin still felt ice in the air, so he tried to break it. “I mean, they’re getting on as well. You know, my parents.”

The director narrowed her eyes at him. “As well?”

Kevin realised that he needed to stop speaking and leave immediately. “No. What I meant is that they’re getting on. My parents, that is. Not you.”

The kettle – furred up with limescale – was taking its time about boiling. Kevin felt cold sweat form upon his back. The director’s gaze was upon him, her eyes cold and sharp, regarding him in silence. What the hell was taking the kettle so long?

“They’re in their seventies now,” he said, offering further explanation.

“That’s nice,” replied his director coolly.

“It must be nice to be that age and still in love,” he said nervously. “I mean, you must be very happy.”

“I’m not seventy,” she hissed.

“No. No. No, I meant you must be happy,” said Kevin, swallowing audibly and glancing at the kettle. “To have, you know, reached thirty years. Of marriage, I mean.”

He looked at the kettle. The button was depressed, so why the hell wasn’t it boiling? He shook the kettle, spilling water all over the counter. His director looked at him, shook her head and then nodded at the wall. “Might help if you turn the plug on.”

Kevin looked at the plug – the button was off. He turned it on and put his cup – with a heaped spoon of coffee in it – back in the cupboard and said, looking at his watch. “I should, you know, be making my way back. You know, it’s not even my coffee. It’s my boss’ drink.”

He walked off and only looked round when he reached his cubicle.

Even from the safety of his cubicle he could feel her gaze. She was still shaking her head at him, her top lip curled with disgust.

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