‘Do you mind if we don’t got to the cinema tonight?’ Amy asked.
‘I’ve sort of double-booked. I don’t really feel like going out,’ she said, ‘and I can’t really be bothered to get dressed up and I’m really tired…’
‘Yeah, me too,’ Tim said, pursing his lips and blowing the air from his mouth through the small puckered gap. He rubbed his eyes. It was true, he was tired, largely on account of the fact he was having extreme difficulty sleeping. He had spent the last few nights lying awake, tossing and turning, his mind endlessly and restlessly cogitating myriad work issued, and now compounded by the fact the Sword of Damoclese hung over his career. This in turn was causing him to agitate over their finances. However much he earned, it was never enough and things were tight enough as they were. he simply couldn’t afford to lose his job. In the meantime, he needed to conserve every penny should the worse happen, and not going to the cinema meant money not spent and in the bank for the rainy day that blotted his once-bright horizon.
Amy, however, wasn’t done. ‘…but I kind of promised Lizzie and Will that we’d be there tonight for their awards night, and I know we were supposed to go out and spend some time together but this is really important to them and besides, it’s a really good networking opportunity. I can’t really go on my own…’
Tim closed his ears and his mind as he tried in vain to stifle a yawn, then rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
‘Ok, ok. I’ll go and shower.’
It was after midnight when they got back home and his mind was abuzz from the endless babble of small-talk with anonymous, self-important pseuds. It was like being at work. Only worse. In an attempt to unwind, he poured himself a large Scotch, despite knowing that he really didn’t need any more alcohol after all of the wine and continental lager he’d sunk at the ceremony of back-slapping and smugness he had just squandered the last few hours. Slumping on the settee, he sipped his drink and picked up the leaflet again in the hope that reading something – anything – might help stop his mind from racing. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again.
It was no good. He was simply too tired to read on. He poured himself a glass of wine and returned to the living room where Amy was on the sofa watching some zombifying ‘talent’ show or something while simultaneously chatting on Facebook to a friend on her iPhone. He didn’t want to arrive at work hungover the next morning – in fact, he didn’t want to arrive at work the next morning at all – but yearned for a good night’s sleep and hoped that the alcohol would sedate him sufficiently.
It didn’t. Another night spent restless left him feeling disorientated, groggy, detached. Every day was exactly the same, only worse. Over the past few weeks and months, Tim had felt his energy levels decreasing incrementally, and now, having reached what he felt had been a non-specific tipping point, the plummet had moved into a spiral of exponential decline. And as his energy levels dropped and his levels of exhaustion soared, he increasingly began to feel that his life was no longer his own, as though he was being steered by some other force. He was no longer in control of his own destiny.
Tim felt a strange sense of déjà vu as he entered the office. It wasn’t his office, the office where he worked and had worked for the last five years, and it wasn’t the office he worked in for three years before that. In fact, it was none of the offices he had ever worked in. And yet he couldn’t explain this vaguely bewildering sensation any more than he could shake it. He spent the morning working like an automaton, firing off emails by the dozen and answering phone calls back to back. it’s relentless, it’s dizzying, it’s dehumanizing. He keeps on sinking the hot stomach fluids that pass as coffee that the machine dispenses, but never has the time to leave his desk and relieve the pressure building in his bladder. He can feel himself slowly losing his grip and his focus. All he can focus on is the acute stab in his lower abdomen, but he hasn’t the time to stop just now.
A tall, skinny man with short, mousy hair and an ill-fitting suit that hung from his curved meatless shoulders escorted him to a generously-sized meeting room. The unsettling recognition stayed with him as he took a seat, to which the grey suit man had gesticulated wordlessly, at the long glass table. Another faceless suit, charcoal grey this time, spoke, but while Tim saw his mouth move, he heard no sound. Tim nods. He has no idea why he nods, it’s as though he has some involuntary need to nod. Charcoal grey suit moves his mouth silently again. Again, Tim has no idea what he’s saying or why he can’t hear. He’s not even sure if the dude’s actually speaking or if he’s simply miming.
Why would he be miming? That doesn’t make any sense… Nothing made any sense. Am I deaf? The eerie silence, which Tim could only liken to how he expected it might sound like in a soundproof padded cell – something he had never experienced during the course of his extremely normal life – was only one of his concerns. Where was he? Why was he here? Who were these people? He’s in autopilot, feel like a car crash, like he’s in a dream watching a fictional performance simulating his own life.
He nods again. It’s not even a compulsion. He simply feels himself nodding as though he was a marionette, his actions controlled by some invisible puppeteer.
Charcoal suit man walks stiffly from the room and returns almost immediately with a small plastic cup full of some foul-smelling brown fluid. It could be the pumped contents of someone’s stomach for all Tim knows, but he instinctively knows it’s coffee.
Tim speaks, no words leave his mouth. Charcoal Suit smiles and nods.
Charcoal Suit walks around the table and sits down opposite. Tim’s feeling hemmed in: Baggy Grey Suit is situated at his left elbow and he feels like he’s a piece in a game of chess and the moves available to him are diminishing by the moment. He’s feeling like car crash and wondering why he simply doesn’t seem able to cope with certain things, certain scenarios, certain situations. The day spins by in a blur and he’s not even sure if it’s actually happened or if he’s dreamed or imagined half of it. He’s only too relieved when it’s time to knock off and head for home.
‘What time are you going to be in tomorrow?’ asked Peter as they passed on the stairs.
‘I’ll be working from home tomorrow,’ Tim replied. ‘I’ve got no appointments booked and I’ve got to get that report written and submitted by the end of the week and I’m way behind.’
Flashman pursed his lips, his brow furrowed. ‘Right, if it’ll help you get caught up,’ he puffed irritably.
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