tagIncest/TabooThe Floating World Pt. 05

The Floating World Pt. 05


"Good morning, Adam, it's good to see you again. We're running about ten minutes late, sorry about that."

"That's OK Susie, gives me time for a coffee. Is it as bad as usual?"

"Fraid so. You'd think one day we'd learn to make a decent cup. Goodness knows, we make enough of it."

"We've just got to stop drinking it, we only encourage you lot."

We laugh, co-conspirators. Susie has no choice, she works at the conference centre; I have no choice either, I am a guest speaker. Well, one of them.

Oh God, another conference, bad coffee, platitudes, the over keen and bright young things, come to hear my words of wisdom, of guidance. Why can't they all just work it out for themselves, for a change? The flight last night was late in, then the taxi driver got lost taking a short cut, blaming it on road works.

"New in town, are you?" I asked, but paid the fare. I couldn't be bothered arguing. So I'm tired and shitty this morning. I can only hope my target audience members were easy on the eye.

I make my way to the official table, where I'm introduced to my fellow speakers and meet the conference chair. The chair is new, too eager to please. My fellow speakers and I glance at each other with wry smiles, knowing we will each spend the forty-five minutes of our talks winding back the excited introductions we will receive, ramping the audience back down to accepting us as just regular folk, with a bit of a clue. Still, I'm first up, which gets it over with quickly, then I can relax.

One of the public speaking tips I picked up years ago, "To engage everyone, make them all feel you're speaking to them personally", is to pick out three members of the audience and speak to them directly. One on the left side, so my gaze towards that person would seem to be directed at all the people sitting on that side. One in the middle, in my forward line of sight, and one on the right. If the audience is a large one, sometimes there might be another one or two targets, evenly spread about the room.

The trick is to constantly scan the audience, landing on each of my targets on a regular basis, and focus there. The audience will see that focus, and shift their allegiance to me, grateful for paying them attention. The worst speakers are those who speak to the wall at the back of the room. Everyone knows there's a clock there, and it's just a count-down.

It amuses me to see if any of the targets ever notice. Usually not; I find audiences these days to be so self-engaged, not really listening. I should take notes, send memos back to the companies sending their staff, suggesting they ask the attendees to pay the fee themselves, since they clearly aren't taking much of use back to their employers. Still, it passes the time and shows I am interested, enthusiastic.

I'm getting too old and cynical for this shit, I need to stop.

OK, the show has started. I do up the second button on my suit jacket as I get to my feet. I pause at the bottom of the steps, waiting for my cue, and straighten my tie. Audiences like that, I'm looking my best for them. Some of the audience are shifting their eyes to me, wondering who I am. Enter stage left, pursued by a bear.

As I mount the steps and walk to the podium, I undo the button. Audiences like that too, it means I'm going to be open with them. Some speakers tap the microphone. Why is that? The sound tech's done his job, surely. If he hasn't, well, maybe a sound tech for not much longer. No, all I do is adjust the mic stalk, so the pick-up is pointing straight to my lips. An obvious thing, I'm about to talk. They watch my mouth now, which means my eyes are mine.

I gently hold the sides of the podium so the people can see my hands. The audience sees I'm not tense or nervous, so they will relax into my arms. They know there won't be some awkward stumble because a page is upside down in the speaker's notes. I take a slow sweep across the room, and the audience is grateful, because I'm giving them a little extra time to be ready. They won't seem rude because they weren't fully attentive. Those few seconds are a period of grace.

I start talking, my voice a little softer than it will be later. Ah good, most of the audience are actually listening, most have leaned forward, some almost imperceptibly, others actually resting their elbows on the tables, to hear me better. The advantage of being the first morning speaker, everyone is alert - I pity the death watch speaker, straight after lunch.

I settle into my talk, occasionally stepping away from the podium. Audiences like that too, they can see the whole package. Only two or three times though, that keeps them wanting more.

I find my target audience members a few minutes in. On the left, a smooth looking young man, very well dressed, artfully draped on his chair, one leg outstretched. He's gay, he's not interested in my face or the talk at all. I quickly compute the angle of his look and oh, what a surprise, it's straight at my groin. I give him a treat, putting my hand in my pocket and shifting a couple of inches to the side of the podium. He'll come up to me at lunchtime, I predict.

Morning coffee, the really keen listeners to my talk will come up and gush. Some, hopefully, will be genuine. But I'll be monopolised then. Lunchtime then, for him, hopeful. I really shouldn't lead him on, as I'm not at all interested, but I've sized his ego as mountainous already. Like mine, I suppose. Can't he be a little less shameless, though, and wait at least ten minutes before he announces himself?

But there in the middle, goodness, she really is delightful. She's clearly the brightest young thing where she works, as she's a good five, ten years younger than her colleagues around the table, half the age of some. Mostly men around her, too, like bees around a honey pot.

A clever young woman able to hold her own in a male dominated environment, I'm guessing. But what a honey, shoulder length blonde hair, incredibly fair, Nordic fair. Huge blue eyes, widely spaced, and sweet lips. She's just like de Lempicka's version of Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring. She is, beyond doubt, beautiful.

She's hanging off every word I'm saying, she's really listening. Because she's gazing so intently at my face, she's not slow to realise that my gaze, when I'm looking to her part of the audience, is in fact directed at her. When she does realise, she picks up her pen with a nervous tap, it's a subconscious action to give herself something to do with her hand, while her other hand goes to her hair.

But she stops herself touching her hair. Clever girl, she's either got a very good mentor, or she's the cleverest girl in the room. She's not going to fall for the blonde look-at-me flick. She doesn't need to. Men and women will look at this girl with their eyes closed. She's better than good, she's exquisite.

I rescue her with a little smile, and a barely noticeable lift of my finger as a greeting to her. She blushes in acknowledgement, and returns my smile with a softness, her own tiny smile. She'll come up to me at the morning break, and will have something intelligent to say.

I glance back at the fifteen minute prince, and he's shooting daggers at the girl. He's seen the competition (in his mind, at least), and pouts, knowing he's lost before he can even think of his line. Being genuine and beautiful wins over cockiness every time in my world. Sorry, son, this man's not for you. Beauty before brawn every time, for me.

But over there, on my right, there is a darker presence. Beautiful young blonde girls are beautiful, yes, and if there is a clever, clever mind as well, then that's a thing to behold. But Ms Right now. Well. Public speaking has its merits sometimes.

But this woman's not playing my game properly. For starters, she's taking notes on a slim lap top, her fingers flickering over the keys, so she's concentrating on words, but surely not my words? I talk out my ass a lot of the time, I'm waiting for someone to call my bluff. But she is listening to me, yes, because every now and then her fingers stop and there is the most subtle inclination of her head towards me, as if that half inch will make all the difference between words heard and words lost.

Damn, I need to talk around the rest of the audience some more, before her elusive presence monopolises me. Oh dear, I'm just going to encourage the prince again. I have a fear that I will jinx myself if I shift my chosen speak-to-person half way through a talk, and I'll find myself awake, standing naked behind the podium, in a bad recurring dream. So I have to look at him, and give him his allotted time. Poor bastard, he'll think I'm playing hard to get, and Miss Blonde is just cover for my true inclinations. He'll come up to me at lunchtime. How tiresome. Sometimes Quasimodo had it easy. At least he had Esmeralda for a while.

The blonde beauty in the centre of the hall is still poised and confident, and I catch her eye again. She smiles back, and gives me a little nod. I want her to come up to me during the morning break; her young confidence fascinates me, and I want to hear her voice.

But the woman on the right, she is intriguing me more. She is still quick fingered on her notebook, still listening, to my voice at least. But her look is still elusive. I'm meant to be the one looking at her, not her avoiding my eyes. OK, I won't look, not at her face. Maybe, if I run my gaze over her body and limbs, maybe she'll feel my eyes on her. If it's to be my will against hers, so be it.

She's sitting side on to the table, her elegant legs crossed, the long curve of her thigh sheathed in a deep charcoal tight as tight skirt. Her calves are slim, taut and slender, with added length from three inch heels. She is all profile, sinuous like a snake.

Above the waist, above the table, she is the elegant corporate woman, her blouse simple but expensive. She favours tight cuffs, buttoned. Her torso is turned towards the table, so from where I stand, I cannot tell whether she is full breasted or slight. Her dark hair is pulled back tight, close to her head, only a few curved tendrils falling loose. Her neck is graceful. But her face is turned away, she looks down onto her red nailed fingers, fluid over the key-pad of her notebook, a pair of fine glasses on her nose.

It's as if she's deliberately sat where she has, angled both towards me and away, to taunt me and deny me at the same time. I'm intrigued. This doesn't often happen.

But I need to wrap my talk up. She's creating a tension in me that I did not expect, and there is a slight edge to my voice as I give my thanks and announce that I will take five minutes of questions, then it's the morning tea break.

As I make my way from the stage, I look back towards her. She is closing up her computer and gathering her bag. She stops, knows my eyes are on her. She looks up, straight at me, nothing said nor given away in her eyes. Her glasses are a mask, I cannot see. Both hands remains still, absolutely still, on the table for one second, two seconds, three. Then she looks down, gathers her belongings. I feel that I have been seen, some message sent. But not by me. I am not used to this, not at all.

Beautiful Miss Blonde rescues me, she is sure of herself and walks straight up to me. She is tall, slim, her blonde hair falling soft against her cheek.

"Adam..." she takes my name and isn't afraid to say it. We talk intensely for a minute. Her intelligence is evident and vital. What a refreshing change, she is hungry for knowledge, thirsty for it. She pays for my words with the beauty of her eyes, a fair exchange.

I retire to the speaker's table for the next part of the morning, and listen to the next speaker. It's rare, but I actually find this speaker interesting, her words valuable. I look around. The prince isn't interested in her, her gender makes her irrelevant to him. Some gays can be such snobs. My gorgeous young friend, I feel a sense of ownership towards her already, is also fascinated by the current speaker, thus proving beyond a shred of doubt her intelligence. Miss Blonde will be speaking here in ten or fifteen years, she is that good.

Over on the far side of the room, the elusive dark haired woman remains elusive. I am slightly hidden behind the stage, and take the opportunity to study her. She too is absorbed in the current speaker, but this time, she is not taking notes. That intrigues me, what was it about my words that made them so memorable, that needed to be captured? Perhaps she was writing me down, not my words. Am I really that self absorbed? Probably.

I gloss right across the rest of the day, barely surviving the death watch after lunch. The speaker made a brave attempt, and actually delivered a talk with wit and humour, and I dutifully and genuinely laugh. But still, that's a dry hour.

Then, the obligatory cocktail hour. I decide to hold court, and place myself on a balcony above the main conference room. Miss Blonde finds me there, and I'm pleased for her, delighting in her quick intelligence. I ask her to sit at my table for the evening meal, not next to me, for that would send the wrong message. No, I want to recognise her evident promise by placing her in front of other potential mentors.

No, my interest is on the elusive, evasive one. And here I find an unforseen advantage of the two tiers in this place. By sitting above the main body of the room I am lost to her senses. She knows someone is gazing upon her, I can see that. She is standing in a group of five or six, not central to it, but not remote either. I see she is joining in the conversation, but at the same time, scanning the room. She is looking for someone, I can tell.

From my height advantage, I have a clearer view of her now than I did when I was speaking. Also, she is standing, and that resolves all of the unknown things about her. For a start, she's medium height and slim, my type of woman, her ass and thighs firm in her charcoal grey pencil skirt; heels, black stockings. She is in profile to my gaze, and that answers the unknown question of her breasts. Pleasingly shaped, not too big, not too small, a lovely profile above her torso; with the sexy slight swell of a belly that I love so, just perfect to cup in the palms of my hands. A mother's belly, someone mature, older.

Ah now, there it is, the knowledge, like some instinctive wild animal, that she is being watched, that she is now prey. My eyes are on the back of her neck, that place between the nape of her hair (still coiled tight to her skull, and imagining it loose, wondering if it is long, or thick, it cannot be both) and her shoulders. If she was a gazelle or some fabulous fawn, a lion's grip or that of a wolf, teeth tight but not breaking skin, would be on that soft place on her neck.

My eyes rest there, and I see that she feels the weight of my gaze. She stands taller, not visibly so, but it's in her posture. There is a new alertness in her stance, and I see the tip of her tongue dart from her lips, as if she is scenting the air, alert to some chemical presence. Her head tilts, and to those around her, it might be an endearing laugh, but I know it is because she must be listening for me, for surely my faster beating heart is like a drum.

Now my distant presence is making itself felt, rising in her consciousness. Her hand reaches up to the base of her hair, one finger stroking down a thick tendril of hair, another finger caressing a line down her neck. She is marking her own skin, making sure that I see. She cannot make sense of the direction from which this distant touch comes, for she looks around now, but still does not see. She does not look up.

But she knows she is watched, for now she moves one foot perhaps six inches closer to the other, so that twin curves of her calves are closer together. She ever so slightly raises the heel of one foot from the floor, placing a tension on that leg and shifting one hip higher, subtly accentuating the curve of her thigh and her high haunches.

She knows, this woman, that she is seen, but she is puzzled that she cannot find the eyes. She is alert, like a cat.

I release my gaze, I have toyed enough for now. She feels my eyes go, and her shoulders slump a tiny bit. She wants to be prey, she wants to be caught. She looks around one more time, like an animal on the savannah, and her nostrils flare. Wild animals sense an approaching storm, there is a tension in the air, they smell the distant rain.

The wind rises, and the waiters move around the room, closing some of the doors. I see her elegant walk as she curves around a closing door, gliding to the corridor beyond. She looks back once, as she moves down the hall. I see her hand rise to the clips in her tight hair, but I do not see it fall.

A couple of hours later we three guest speakers decide to do a grand entrance into the dining room, timing our arrival some ten minutes after the rest of the conference participants have seated themselves. Why not, an indulgence, a little bit of theatre for people to take away. At least they will remember a little of what we passed on, for a week or two. A little smattering of applause ripples across the room as we enter, so that's pleasing. Egos are so easy to feed, really.

The official table is half way down the dining room, which means we pass several tables. As I pass one of them, the prince touches my arm.

"Adam, that was a great talk, some great insights. Thank you."

"It was my pleasure; thank you for coming today, you guys have been inspiring."

Listen to me, did I really say that? I don't believe myself sometimes, I'm as shameless as he was, earlier.

At our table, Miss Blonde is perfection, wearing a pale silken blue dress beautifully cut on her slight curves, her hair swept back in a single fall over one shoulder. She is animated, and the people around her spellbound. She will do very well, that girl, I thought.

As I sit, I see the elusive woman on a distant table looking towards me, but straight past me, through me even. I am utterly intrigued now, her presence is shouting at me, deafening me; but at the same time, she is silent, withheld. I am definitely not used to this.

All I can see of her, for she sits on the far side of the table, is an ivory silk blouse, buttoned tight on her wrists, with a diagonal fold loose across her breasts, concealing the shape of her but revealing a low cleavage when she turns. Her hair is still coiled on her head, looser than during the day, but still hiding its length. Down each side of her throat, a loose fall of spiralling tendrils accentuates the pale skin of her neck, curling close and dark. She wears red lipstick, the same colour as her nails. Her glasses suit the shape of her face, and her smile is warm as she favours someone on her table.

But I am seen, and with the tiniest nod, she acknowledges my gaze. She looks directly at me, and mouthes some words, but of course I cannot hear them.

What I do hear is the rising drum of rain, and whereas before the waiters closed doors against the rising wind, now they go further out into the courtyard and hastily pull down large transparent screens, to prevent the blowing rain reaching the room. It is an artful effect, the fall of rain cleaning the air and settling the dust, and the sound of it, but distant from the room itself. And later, the steady drip of the rain from leaves and roofs is somehow slow and primeval.

The rain takes the immediate heat out of the air, and the evening becomes warm and balmy. In the far distance though, the shafting late evening light illuminates some far mountains, and a darker storm moves up from the horizon. The distant echo of thunder follows the flash of light by six, seven, eight seconds. The storm is distant, but coming this way.

The next hour is pleasant, made more so by a couple of glasses of good wine, and I relax, no longer a performing seal. It is at this point where my core character asserts itself, and I withdraw; the effort of being an introvert in an extrovert's world finally too much for me. I turn into myself, quietly, to recharge my batteries. Now is when I want the world to disappear, to leave me alone for a moment. This would usually be the time when someone gets my undivided attention.

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