“He said I have become creeping and obsequious,” Gus huffs.
I try to imbue my monosyllabic response with sympathy and sagacity but the result, I think, was more a cruelly reflective hum.
“Turkish or raisin toast, do you reckon?” I ponder aloud as we tramp across Hyde Park to Macquarie Street in the crisp morning air.
Well, I say, “tramp.” Gus strides along in a cloud of indignant condensation; I teeter on suede-sheathed tiptoes across wet grass, thinking of hot breakfast and soiled shoes.
He’s steering an erratic off-road course in his agitation.
“Gaaars, the guy’s a textbook scoundrel,” I say, extracting my heel from a bog.
“It’s almost impressive,” I continue as Gus strides on, snippy-like.
“He’s a caricature of a cad!”
“You’ll be able to write a book about a good man and a bounder!”
His shoulders stiffen.
Still too raw for humour, I surmise.
Gus’ intermittent entanglement with a Family Court associate – rakish, reasonably well-read, excellent cheek bones – has given us something to mull over every Monday for six months now.
I am going to miss the schmuck.
I may have mused on many an occasion that Gus should give him the heave-ho with an emphatic version of You be off, but I thrilled to the melodrama of it all, ensconced in my dull memo-writing routine.
“You think he’s right,” Gus says despairingly, neck arched in an attitude of dying swan. He is hoeing in to a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, tomato, beans and toast.
“So the appetite’s waned,” I say, arranging my features in faux concern.
“Got to keep your strength up, mate. Think of the research.”
Violent cutting of toast.
“The trolleys aren’t going to push themselves.”
Gus replies with a more emphatic version of “You be off”.
I should sympathise with my confrere, I know, but Gus and I have always been more the “kick ‘em when they’re down to lift the spirits” types. It’s a mark of affection, callousness.
And the problem is: I can’t reassure Gus he hasn’t become a creepy kowtower.
We both have.
Last Friday, as I shuffled noiselessly into chambers with the tea tray and a memo tucked under my arm, I caught sight of my reflection in the silver milk jug.
“Have I developed a servile smirk?” I demanded of Gus next door, moments later.
“What, you mean sort of like this?” he says.
He takes a pad from his drawer on which appears a crude caricature of me in an over-sized frock coat, trailing behind HH with an expression of blind obedience.
“I did it in court today,” surveying it proudly at arms’ length.
“No, no. More like this,” I say, pulling a simpering half-smile.
“Oh, yes!” he says in enthusiastic recognition.
“Emma and I were doing impressions of you in the kitchen this morning.”
“She’s got your ‘coffee, judge?’ squeak to a tee,” he says gleefully, adding a couple of artistic flourishes to his handiwork.
“You’ve got pen on your face,” I retort viciously.
The fact is, this job changes you.
After dinner with my housemates, I scuttle off silently to clear up, house elf style.
I can manoeuvre the most ill-tempered of trolleys around a supermarket with deft-handed ease.
And I jump to attention at the sound of knocking, like a frightened meerkat.
All this bowing and scraping – literally – takes its toll on one.
“Well, better to be creepy than a creep, I always say,” patting Gus’ arm.
It’s 8.45 am. I gesture for the bill.
“Oh. And you’ve got egg on your tie, Jeeves.”