I may as well just face it – I’m having an obscene amount of fun with this Fifty Shades parody. It’s about the only way I can get through the book because I don’t really have to read it – I can just skim read it and then go off and translate what happens into a semblance of (hopefully amusing) English. I will never stop being shocked by how badly this book is written. It just stinks. Every time I pick it up I have to pick my jaw off the floor after about two sentences. Initially I tried to write in a Fifty Shades style, but it’s incredibly difficult, especially if you haven’t had the Broca’s area of your brain partially removed with some kind of kitchen utensil.
His office is enormous. The giant glass windows look out over Seattle, at the Space Needle, Puget Sound and other stuff I’ll look up on Wikipedia when I have the time. The walls are white and the floor is carpeted in pale grey. It’s as bland as Crispian Neigh isn’t, with his loud shirt and flamboyant hat. The only other colourful thing in the room is a collection of tiny, square, pastel coloured paintings, all arranged in a larger square. They are of little glyphs, like wingdings or weather symbols – I see a cloud, a rainbow, a sun, but then there’s an apple and a star. They’re oddly childish, and surprisingly well described, leading to me to wonder if they’re a plot point.
“Chekov’s Gun?” I murmur.
He’s behind me, staring over my shoulder at the paintings. His nearness is tantalising; when he speaks I can smell his chewing gum – cinnamon. “No,” he says. “Q.T. Marx.”
“Do you know anything about art, Miss Squeal?” he asks. His voice is precise, clipped on the t-s and oh so slightly adenoidal. I am conscious of him as a persuasive and forceful man who will not be interested in me if I admit that I don’t even know who Q.T. Marx is. I blush, and feel perspiration run down the nape of my neck, a tepid trickle of shame and inadequacy.
Why would you even want him to be interested in you? whispers an italicised voice inside my head. You don’t even know how to masturbate.
My blush deepens to crimson and I want to die – I didn’t even know my subconscious knew that word.
“Please, take a seat,” says Neigh, gesturing with a courtly sweep to a long, l-shaped white couch that I had previously neglected to describe. “I was expecting a Miss Hannigan.”
“She couldn’t…come,” I stammer. “She’s sick. So there’s only me.”
He removes his fedora and quirks an eyebrow. “Yeah. I can see that,” he says, curling a lip in an impressive display of facial gymnastics. “Do you cut your own hair?”
I barely suppress a tiny whimper. His eyes are boring into me, as if he can see my thoughts, see through my clothes and…oh my. The thought of him seeing through my clothes is…oh…distracting. And strangely…alluring. Exciting…dot…dot…dot…
I catch my breath and take the list of questions out of my satchel. “Um…so I’m supposed to, like, ask you stuff.”
His lips curl in a sardonic smile. “That’s generally the idea of an interview, Miss Squeal.” He leans back in his chair and assesses me with a scrutinising look, a look that rummages up my sweater and under my skirt and into my…oh my. I’m flushing again – I can feel it. “So…” he says. “Fire away.”
I switch on Kate’s mini-disc recorder and look at the list of questions. It may as well be written in Chinese for all the sense it makes to me. I realise I am desperately out of my depth. I’m not pretty, or confident enough.
Or smart enough to ask a simple question.
Nothing. Carry on.
I shake off the annoying italicised inner voice and try to compose myself. “What is it that you do, exactly?” I ask.
Neigh frowns slightly, but his expression is otherwise unreadable. Inscrutable. Impassive. Yes…impassive. “I’m an internet entrepeneur?” he says, raising his voice at the end of the sentence, as if only the stupidest person in the world could be expected not to know that.
But he’s right. He’s absolutely right. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, unable to keep the cracking squeak out of my voice. I am overwhelmed with my own inadequacy. “I’m stupid.” It comes out in a whine but I can’t stop and before I know it I’m squeaking “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” in front of this incredibly rich and powerful man.
“Oh God,” he says, getting up from his chair. He takes hold of my hands and I am immediately seized with a strange, icy calm. “There,” he murmurs. “Just breathe. Slow and steady. It’s okay…hey, what did you say your first name was?”
“I think I’ll just call you Hanna, if that’s okay with you.”
I nod. “I’m sorry,” I say, my voice like ashes. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“It’s okay,” he says. His hands are cool and gentle. There are tiny thin crescents of orange under his fingernails and I find them oddly touching, a moving sign of human frailty. “You have absolutely no self-esteem whatsoever, do you?”
I shake my head and swallow hard.
“Bingo,” he mutters. He gets up from the couch. “You want a soda or something? – don’t worry, I’ll make yours a diet.”
He brings me a sugar-free energy drink, which is more than his blonde lackey downstairs ever did. He takes the list of questions from me and puts on a pair of chunky, red framed designer glasses. “Let’s see,” he says, scanning the list. “Okay – you can tell Miss Hannigan that there’s no way question eleven is any of her goddamn business.”
Question eleven? Oh. Yeah. That one.
“So, are you gay, Mr. Neigh?” The words just fly out of my mouth before I can stop them. He’s right – it’s nobody’s business, but somehow I have to know.
He removes the glasses and I have no idea how one person can be so poised, so stylish. It’s like he’s observed countless panels of comic books in order how to convey expressions through motion alone.
That or he’s a secret mime. Oh God. I hope not.
“No,” he smoulders. “I’m not gay, Miss Squeal.” He leans close. “Although I am…unusual.”
“Oh,” I wibble. “Are you…are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Neigh?”
He straightens up. “No. Just foreshadowing.” He glances at the list again. “Okay, so how about I just go through these questions and e-mail you the answers? Actually we could have done the whole interview online anyway – I don’t know why we didn’t. She could have just Skyped from her sickbed.”
I shrug. I don’t understand either.
“So what’s your e-mail address?”
I stare blankly at him. “I don’t…um…I…I read a lot of Nineteenth Century literature.”
“Good for you,” he says. “But it’s 2012. Do you mean to tell me you don’t have an e-mail address?”
“No, I don’t have a computer.”
His frown deepens. “Aren’t you part of the graduating class? The ceremony’s next week – I’m supposed to be speaking at the graduation – your graduation.”
“Yes. I just got my Bachelors.”
“What did you write your dissertation on?”
“Oh…um…Classic British novels.” I like Classic British novels. Like Shakespeare. And Thomas Hardy.
“No, I mean on,” says Crispian Neigh. “Like physically. What did you write on? Papyrus? Vellum? How do you go through four years of higher education in the Twenty First Century without owning a computer?”
“I…don’t know,” I say. Honestly, I don’t. “I’m just not good with technology, I guess.”
He looks me up and down. “Wow,” he says, and I don’t think it’s because he’s impressed.