He pulls into his garage, switches off the engine of the Volvo, and presses the fob that closes the automatic door behind him. He has arrived home, but he is also not yet home, in limbo. Radio 4 has navigated him through the long, dark miles and now sitting here in the dim garage, inside the warm car, he feels like a spaceman in a capsule about to dock. He can hear muffled sounds from the adjoining house; the gurgle of pipes, the phone ringing, then someone calling something up the stairs. He exhales stale office breath and lays his palms flat on the steering wheel. Ten ordinary men’s fingers, thick, freckled and hairy, but each nail painted bright red.
Early that morning, whilst his family was still asleep, he took the bottle of nail polish from his wife’s dressing table and slipped out of the house. All through the rainy drive to work the bottle beat like a heart in the pocket of his suit. An illicit cigarette or a first condom; will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you?
Two miles from work he pulled into a lay-by and listened to Thought for the Day as he painted each nail with tiny, clumsy, brush strokes. Then he drove on to the office and changed his clothes in the disabled toilet. Stepping out was like 1976 all over again: aged fourteen, black lace dress, caught by Mother. But he is Mother now; after all, he is the Chief Executive and he has caught them by surprise.
The connecting door from the garage to the house opens and his wife stands on the threshold, against a rectangle of bright light, peering at him.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
He opens the car door and she puts a hand to her mouth.
He gets out of the car and straightens his dress. His wife steps into the garage and hugs him hard.
“You did it.” she smiles. “I’ll open the champagne.”
He shuts the car door and steps through the rectangle of light; he is home.