The first I knew that anything was wrong with Gannon came within ten minutes of the start of a routine business meeting attended by twenty of so staff and chaired by the recently appointed ignorant oaf in charge of our department, Ian Hickman.
Miles Gannon has never been a superstar but he is competent and reasonably well-liked. However, the impact on the meeting when he began to weep quietly was palpable. Hickman carried on talking but first one then more people noticed Gannon’s increasingly loud sobs. A sympathetic lady from accounts payable put an arm on his shoulder and whispered something to Miles but he simply shook his head and cried even louder.
But then came the point where not even the supreme self-serving arrogance of Hickman could ignore Gannon’s pitiful state any longer. It was a relatively lowly junior executive from Performance that took courage and put her hand up, though her name eludes me.
“Er… excuse me Mr Hickman, sir.” She motioned towards Miles who broke into a full-scale howl.
Hickman stopped in full flow and gazed back at a sight he evidently considered beneath his dignity, mouth slightly ajar. He had said to me at one point that a man of his experience knew how to handle any business situation, though this one was clearly beyond him. He reminded me of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, since he had evidently been born without any organ resembling a heart. I’d wager he is an android.
“Are you alright, Miles?” he asked pointlessly. The answer was self-evident to everyone in the room.
Gannon turned to look at his boss, perhaps unsure how to answer. The imperative to do so obviously struck home, since he pushed his chair back, stood up unsteadily, and with tears brimming in his soft brown eyes spoke shakily:
“I’m so sorry. I have an erectile dysfunction problem. Will you please excuse me?”
A shocked silence resounded for a few seconds, something louder than noise.
Miles turned on his heels and made rapidly for the glass door of the meeting room. From the other side of the table I shot to my feet and followed Gannon out into the open-plan office. Behind me, Hickman continued the meeting as if nothing had happened, evidently regarding Gannon’s sexual proclivities as being none of his concern.
I followed Miles back to his desk, picked up his umbrella and briefcase, then told him bluntly, “You’re coming with me, sunshine. You need a coffee and to do some serious talking.”
Twenty minutes later, I sat opposite him in the nearest Starbucks. Two large cappuccinos in cardboard cups stood between us on the table, but my attention was focused on the Gannon face. He had stopped crying but looked sheepish and frankly humiliated, certainly not able to look me in the eye.
“Look, I know it’s not my concern, but this sort of thing happens to everyone once in a while. Might just be the effects of the booze! Go home for the day and rest, but you’ve got to come back tomorrow and be ready for work. You can’t go blubbering in meetings with the director, Seb. It’s just not on. I mean, this is your career we’re talking about, you don’t want to jeopardise that, do you?”
He looked back at me in a pose more commonly seen in teenage girls than 40-something men. His bottom lip jutted in an accusing pout while his eyes pleaded mournfully.
“You don’t understand. It’s not just about me misfiring. It’s…. it’s life and death.”
“Who is she?” I asked in what I took to be a jaunty tone, “or is it a he?”
Gannon looked horrified at my impugning his rampantly heterosexuality. “No, it’s not a he. It’s a she. And I’ve not drunk any alcohol in weeks.”
“Fair enough. But she’s just a woman, whoever she is. What can she led to you not being able to get it up? Scarcely life and death, surely? You’re not… in love are you?”
Gannon reacted like a wounded animal. He said nothing but if he could have curled into a hedgehog ball or shrunk back into his shell, that is what he would have done.
The reaction reminded me of the complications of being in love, and you can’t reach maturity without someone hurling your emotions around like a rubber ball. Looking at Gannon I could easily believe he had reached the age of a full-grown adult without sprouting some degree of emotional maturity along the way. He lacked empathy, which is probably why he had reached the level of his technical proficiency but would rise no further. He may well have been seduced along the way by a woman who knew how to get what she wanted, but when it came to relationships he was a babe in arms, unable to cope with the subtle complexities of intertwining with another human psyche. And yet… it would appear that he had embarked on a proper adult relationship, and got hurt in the process.
Life and death? Yes, we’ve all been there, not just as teenagers either. Sometimes we never learn because at the time we enter into true love we can never contemplate a time when the relationship will cease to exist. Maybe we never grow up? Maybe I’m wrong to sneer at Gannon for his apparent immaturity when I’m not exactly blemish-free myself.
“Who is she, Miles? Tell me what happened.”
Gannon sipped his coffee, slightly mollified, and sniffed loudly.
“Her name is Cornelia. Cornelia Kelton. She’s German by birth, married an older man and moved to this country. She was widowed a few years ago, and took time to come to terms with the loss of her dear husband, but she decided to stay here and moved out to this town. She met me not long after she moved.”
“Well that’s wonderful, Miles. Where did you meet her?”
He looked back at me shame-faced and with a hint of a blush.
“Well, to be honest we shared a certain… taste.”
“Which is…and don’t worry, I’m not going to tell anybody, least of all Hickman,” I stifled the imminent protest hard and fast.
“Well… she likes to be dominant and I prefer to be, you know, submissive. In the bedroom.”
Why was I not surprised? I had a mental image of a German Brünnhilde dressed as a Valkyrie, but instantly chastised myself for resorting to stereotyped images. Doubtless she was a sweet and charming woman in every way.
“So you met on an adult dating site?”
“No actually. We discovered our… similarity… by accident. We actually met at the dentist. She was booking an appointment and, well, I couldn’t help staring at her. She was tall, elegant, beautiful. She had such perfect hair and teeth, so I could hardly believe she needed the dentist. I told her that and it made her laugh. So we got talking and it all spiralled from there.”
“How can I put this delicately, Miles? Are you saying she did things to you that frightened the life out of you and left your todger limp and lifeless?”
Miles Gannon stood sharply in protest at my insensitive attempts at bawdy humour and made to leave. Still takes himself too seriously! I apologised, reassured him until he calmed down. Eventually he sat and took a deep swig of his coffee to cover his embarrassment. At length he replied, reluctantly at first.
“No, it was nothing like that at all. In fact it was perfect. We made love so tenderly. I was never happier and she said I had given her something her husband could never offer. So yes, I did fall in love with her, and I believed her when she said she was falling for me too.
“It’s not something either of us say lightly. I mean every word I say, though I know there are many people out there who don’t. Something about her told me she was honest and sincere, that she was a woman of her word. She has always been so simple and direct, she calls a spade a spade as they say. She looked me in the eyes and said those words from the depths of her soul, so of course I believed her.”
Honestly this was a moving story but didn’t get us any closer to the unhappy and maybe inevitable denouement in which she turned out to have three other husbands or to be trans-gender but had omitted to mention it. This time I wisely kept my thoughts to myself.
“So you were happy together. Did you introduce yourself to her family and friends?”
“All her family live in Germany so I haven’t met them. Yet. But yes, we were happy to be together in public, until it happened…”
He stopped abruptly and drained his cappuccino.
“So, what happened? You can’t stop there.”
“I took her to meet my mother, that’s what happened.”
I might have known Miles had a domineering mother, which would go a long way to explaining his sexual preferences. Judging by TV programmes I had seen, since this is an area beyond my immediate experience, there are many men out there who seemed to have close relationships with their mothers and found it difficult to escape from the shadows to form relationships with a partner of their own. Difficult to imagine Miles with an Oedipus Complex, though I had strange visions of him in the guise of Norman Bates in Psycho. Once again I kept my trap shut and let him continue.
“You see, I’ve never really brought girlfriends home, though I’d had plenty. They never seemed to last that long… and maybe I wanted to wait until I had someone who I wanted to stay with for life…”
“…like my wife, obviously.”
OK, maybe I hit the wire.
“You were married?”
“Yes…. for three whole weeks. Mother told me it would fail. She was right too, but at least I tried.”
He said this proudly, as if three weeks entitled you to a Golden Wedding celebration.
“Three weeks? What happened?”
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, she left me.”
“…because?” I tried not to look too dumfounded but failed miserably.
“Because I wouldn’t sign over my property and assets into her name, that’s why.”
I chose my words with care. “Perhaps in hindsight she was not the best choice. But if you were married she would have been entitled to your assets when you die anyway. In fact, all she had to do was refuse a divorce and there was not much you could do about it, other than cool your heels until a court would grant you divorce on the grounds of separation.”
Miles looked wistfully into the middle distance and said quietly, “I know, but it never came to that. The marriage was annulled because it had not been consummated.”
At this point I took a tactical decision. “Be that as it may, let’s get back to – er – Cornelia. Because you definitely had a sexual relationship with her, didn’t you?”
“Oh yes!” Miles beamed back at me.
“But we were talking about taking her to see your mother.”
And like flicking a switch, the tears welled up in his eyes again at the not so distant memory. He said nothing but his lip trembled. I pressed on regardless.
“But you said she is charming, so what on earth was the problem?”
“Yes, she is charming. But there are some things you simply can’t change.”
“You mean you didn’t want her to be charming to your mother?”
“No, I mean she can’t help being the person she is.”
“You mean German?”
“Well, my mother isn’t very keen on Germans, it’s true. She does remember the war and never quite forgave them for the Heinkel bombers that destroyed our house in 1940.”
“So that’s the reason your mother didn’t like Cornelia?”
Maybe I should be a therapist, I seem to have a knack.
“No, that wasn’t it.”
Damn! This was a conversation going round in ever decreasing circles.
“So what was it? Why the problem?”
Miles looked back at me reproachfully, as if I should be able to read his mind over the coffee table.
“Well, you know… it’s all so old hat nowadays. I mean it’s never an issue, is it?”
“What isn’t an issue?” The note of exasperation in my voice finally struck home and Miles realised that I couldn’t interpret from his remarks what to him seemed blatantly obvious.
“What I mean to say is, we don’t talk about it these days but to my mum it was a sticking point. That Cornelia is black.”
“Oh!” My mouth must have gaped open, so Miles continued.
“She denies that she is racist of course, but she is old fashioned about these things. You know what they say – ‘I don’t have anything against coloured people but…’ And I’ve never brought home anyone of a… different hue. If you know what I mean. In fact, tell the truth I haven’t ever dated anyone who wasn’t white, but it just didn’t seem to matter. She is a person and I love her for who she is, and I’m proud to be seen out with her. But to my mother it was a matter of shame – bringing shame on her for not dating someone who wasn’t like her I suppose.”
Yes, that rings bells. Men with dominant mothers are supposed to end up marrying women who are like the mother – and maybe Cornelia is just like mum under the surface, but she could not get past the skin pigmentation issue, having been brought up to think anyone different is inferior, or at least not good enough to be associated with her family.
Black and German must have ticked all the boxes for mum in one go – and if Cornelia proved just as assertive as mum, the personality clash would be the icing on the cake. Cornelia would have to go. But it seems a very long time since Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – surely even die-hards accept relationships in any racial mix nowadays?
“That must have been very difficult for you,” I nodded sympathetically back at Miles.
“I told her, of course. That attitude is simply wrong, I said. You need to get to know her for the sweet and lovely person she is. You’re a racist, and racism is not acceptable in a modern civilised society. She said to me, ‘how dare you call me racist, you ungrateful wretch.’ But I wasn’t going to back down. I said to her, I said, ‘accept Cornelia or I walk out and I’m not coming back.'”
“You mean you had this argument with your mother while Cornelia was there with you? The poor woman must have felt awful.”
“Yes of course she did. I was defending her honour, showing her how proud I am of her. No way was I going to accept a slur on the love of my life. I told her and I meant every word. Told her I wanted to spend my life with her.”
“So what did your mother say to that?”
“She said, ‘You’re going to have to choose, aren’t you? Me or her. Who do you want?'”
“How terrible for you. Would someone who loves you really give you that choice? Surely not!”
“I don’t know but by then I was defiant. I took Cornelia’s hand and said, ‘If that’s the way you want it, so be it. But this is my girl and you’d better get to like it. You know where to find me.’ And we walked out together. That was it, finito!”
“How did that make you feel?”
Miles paused and went into one of his occasional moments of reverie before replying. “I felt like a man for the first time in my life. But I couldn’t hide the grief it caused to force a separation with my mother.”
“It was her own choice, Miles. She put you on the spot because she didn’t think you would have the guts to do it. You proved her wrong.”
He nodded slowly. “Yes I realise that, but it doesn’t make it easier. Even if she had given her blessing, I know she would have had a simmering discontent, found fault in everything Cornelia did. This was the only way, but it felt like cutting myself in two.”
“So what did Cornelia say?”
A hint of a blush returns to Miles’s face. “Do I really have to tell you?”
“Tell me, Miles.”
“She said, ‘That was amazing. Take me to your place and fuck me hard!’ That was what she said.”
I weighed up this remark. “Her English is pretty decent then?”
“Oh yes,” Miles replied proudly, “she certainly knows how to express herself.”
“I can tell. So you took her to bed?”
“Yes,” smiled Miles through the tears, “Yes I did!”
“And you were alright then?”
“Yes, I was hot. I needed her…”
“But when you got her there…?”
“We kissed hard, passionately. It felt