I sat and looked at the clock tick slowly towards the inevitable destination of 5.30. I was sure that someone had messed with the mechanism. Slowed it down somehow. Maybe it was melting like the Dali clocks or going backwards. That would be annoying. For it to have been 5.30 a good twenty minutes past. Time is extraordinary. It doesn’t exist, yet we hold so much store by it. Part of me longed for an age when you worked when it was light and slept when it was dark. Not sure I was so excited by the lack of nutrition, possibility of plague or non-existence of the internet.
I looked up at the clock again and sighed. I liked sighing. It was therapeutic. The intake of breathe into the lungs; the tension as you hold it, expand the diaphragm, filling the bronchial trees and then the alveoli with air before expelling. Breathing was good. I was lucky that I was alive to do it.
All I could think of though was that clock. Those two hands chasing the day around the face; organising me; forcing me to adhere to routine, driving me on until I could shut my eyes and allow sleep to wash the day away. I had finished all my work, tidied my desk, even stacked the dishwasher for the whole floor. I was pleased with this act of generosity and my final act for the day. I made me
feel warm – clearly a well-rounded individual. Speaking of rounded had the hands progressed at all…?
No. Not quite. Just enough time to check my emails. Mainly spam. Some from
friends and family. I tried to care. Browsed them quickly. But I couldn’t muster the energy to care enough. Then I saw the clock on my computer change. White Arial numerals: a 5; a 3 and a 0. I sat up and looked round. People were hurriedly packing their bags, forcing obstinate laptops into uncompromising backpacks, brief good byes and out the door.
I sat and watched all this. Continued to watch the clock out of the corner of a distracted eye. No. Nothing, Rubbish.
Soon the lights were shutting off in empty cubicals. Eventually I was left alone in an island of bright white. Surrounded by two years of collated rubbish. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Maybe she had been wrong, the fortune teller in New York, from a small dusty upstairs room visited in the early hours
of a morning as a drunken joke. As if a life could really be read in the line of a hand. As if destiny could be construed from flesh and a decade of wax manicures. Everything else had just been a coincidence – the boy on the plane,
the birth in the family, the offer of a new job unsought for. All things which a young, single woman in my position could be expected to encounter. I had probably given the bespectacled soothsayer enough clues to write my biography. Idiot. I elected to laugh.
Then I reached down to get my bag. And I noticed a foot. It had a trainer on. A purple high-top with a shell toe. Nice. But no other lights had switched on. No one has walked through the space. I followed the shoe to a pair of jeans, the jeans up to a hooded top with a lurid green band logo I didn’t recognise. Above that there was a face. A young face, curtained by dull brown hair. A boy of about 16 or maybe 17 years old, pale and rather sad looking. I felt sorry as he stood there in his baggy clothes, hands resolutely in pockets.
Hi, I ventured.
Hey, he returned.
Are you, I started.
Yeah-probably, he returned.
You’re not what I was expecting, I offered.
Yeah, he returned.
I could see this was turning into a game of verbal ping-pong which I wasn’t sure I could stomach.
I don’t know what to do? I said after a moment’s hesitation. Can I say good bye to anyone? Can I take anything?
I was regretting not replying to those emails, or posting something on my blog
or a social network site or something, anything, to reach out to those who would maybe miss me. God I was stupid.
The boy shook his head. I hung mine. He held out a hand to me.
I looked at it. What if I just walked away? What if I nut him and ran away. What if I killed him and hid the body in one of the industrial bins out the back of the office?
It wouldn’t work, he said.
I looked at him, my defiance draining away. His hand was steady, pale as his
face, and, I noticed with some amusement, his finger nails were painted black. I liked that. My death had black finger nails. It was kind of cool. This thought relaxed me. I sighed, appreciating, possibly for one last time, this simple action, so taken for granted, so every-day, so ordinary, automatic, taken-for-granted. And I felt ok. Not so sad. Not so scared. Just fine.
I took his hand. It was cool and dry. For some reason I picked up my bag, slung it over my shoulder.
He giggled, You won’t need that.
I shrugged, You never know.
Oh, he smiled, I do.
And with that we walked into the darkness.
Five minutes later the light over my cubical went off.
The security guard was baffled by the girl’s body in the middle of the floor. She was the smiley, gawky girl who often worked late and always said good night with a grin on her face. It was a shock at first. To find her there on the floor. To realise she was beyond help. But more than that, it was a shame. He told the ambulance and the police so. No foul play. No one had come or gone that night. Just a crying shame.