Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Untitled Short Story

You know the feeling when the instant you wake up you're already somehow aware that something's wrong? I'm talking about the very split second you wake. Before you've opened your eyes. Before you've rolled over. Before you even know that you're awake; you know that something is wrong. It's a feeling that must come to you while you're still asleep; must infect your dreams in some way that lets you know, like a private air raid siren, that when you wake up something just won't be right.

This is the feeling I have right now.

Answers start arriving one by one as my body registers my consciousness. My first coherent thought arrives: this clearly isn't my bed. Where am I? Pain! My nerves have waken up and are screaming messages of pain from seemingly everywhere on my body. My brain sluggishly filters out the worst of it, focusing on the specific areas that require the most attention. My back. Several somethings are digging in to my back. Knives? No, not pointy enough. These go right across my back, straight lines of pain that could be measured with a ruler, each one equidistant from the next, the entire length of my torso. Before I work it out my attention shifts up, to my neck. My neck is harshly bent to the left. There's some sort of massive weight on my head, pushing it down to one side. And there it is. My head. That's the worst pain. A sharp, cold pain on the left hand side, and a duller hurt spreading right across to my right ear. I can feel a pressure, like everything inside is pushing against my skull trying to escape. My head is a water balloon, being squashed between the fingers of the idiot child who wants to see how hard he can squeeze until I burst over his wretched head. My eyes are bulging against their lids. I can hear all the liquid matter in my skull trying to break through the dam. What is happening to me? Focus, focus. What else is wrong? Try and move. I can, but it feels strange. My limbs feel so light. They feel like they're not attached to my body, like they're trying to float away. My feet are cold. OK, you have to do something. Open your eyes, see where you are.

ARGH! The light. There's nothing but burning white light. It scorches my retinas, bringing a wave of new pain right to the very back of my head. The white gives way to colour. Every colour. All at once, somehow brilliantly bright and completely dark at the same time. I try and turn away and, in doing so, somehow free my legs from gravity's bonds. They fly over my head and suddenly I'm tumbling and I realise that I'm upside down! I continue to roll, feeling whatever was digging in to my back fall out of place, one by one, with the uncomfortable feeling of coming unstuck. A fresh, sharp new pain greets the long, thin dents along my back, but this time it's almost good. Cold and freeing, as though the nerves under my skin are celebrating; letting my know that whatever was there before is gone and my body can begin pushing the dents back out from the inside. As I finish my roll and the final parts of my body - who knew I had so many limbs? - hit a smooth, solid surface I finally realise where I am. The wide staircase with the metal tipped steps that leads up to my flat, I've been lying upside down at the bottom of it!

I continue to lie for a while - now blissfully horizontal - at the foot of the stairs while my cardiovascular system - now unhindered by the re-alignment of gravity - slowly allows the blood to leave my head and return to the rest of my body. The pressure is slowly relieved but my head continues to throb. What happened to me?

I try opening my eyes again. The left one takes some effort, as though the eyelid has been glued shut. Now that I'm not looking straight at the overhead strip lights my corneas don't burn as much, though it still takes several attempts before I can fully open them for more than a couple of seconds at a time. It's another minute before I can focus well enough on anything to make it out - and even then it's like trying to see underwater.

I attempt standing up, but obviously this is much too ambitious an endeavour. Just sitting up makes me dizzy, and there seems to be a considerable amount of sweat running down my face from the effort. I reach behind myself and run my fingers down my back, feeling the sunken lines that have been carved in there. Stairs, it seems, are not a comfortable substitution for a bed. I feel some of the sweat drip from my face on to the floor, and when I look down I see, to my horror, that it's red.

I close my eyes. My head is killing me. The left hand side is throbbing quicker and there's a horrendous ringing in my ears.


Ring. Ring. Please stop. Ring. Please stop ringing. Ring. Ring. Someone answer, please someone else answer it. Ring. Ring. Why is no-one else answering? Ring. Look up. Look and see what the others are doing. Do it quickly without looking like you're looking. Now. Ring. Shit. Two already on other calls and one away from her desk. Ring. Can you pretend to be too engrossed in other work to hear it? No, already pulled that one twice today. Ring. Ring. No choice. Answer it. 

"Good morning, Balter and Sons. How can I help?"
"'Ello there, yes I wonder if you can..."
They always say that. It always makes me cringe.
"I ordered the deluxe ivory set from you about two weeks ago..."
I can already picture her. Middle aged woman, fairly short judging by the pitch of her voice. Northern accent - Manchester? Just outside perhaps. Married - possibly. Children - definitely. At least two, possibly three or four. The tired, no-nonsense tone gives her away. Works in a shop too possibly. Or a cafe. Somewhere where she has to deal with customers. Not good. These are the worst people to deal with. Think they know how everything works. Think they know how they should be treated. Think I should give a damn about their stupid fucking problems just because I happened to have to pick up the phone in this round of office roulette. 
"...and it still hasn't arrived..."
This is not going to go well. Missing products means I'm going to have to feign sympathy for a while and apologise for the warehouse or delivery company (a different fucking company!) or whoever else has cocked up while she informs me that our service 'simply isn't good enough' and that I - the low level, two months on the job call centre operator, should make sure everyone else gets their act together or she'll never order from our company again. I hear the same bullshit twenty five times a day. It's hard to give a damn where these people buy their fancy crockery sets from. 
This one here is one of the worst. She already mentioned the full name of the product. That means she's prepared, which means she's determined to get this resolved NOW, which means I can't just fob her off with promises to look in to it and I'm going to have to sit here and listen to her whole fucking life story.
"...We've been expecting this order for days now and it needs to be here by this weekend for my husbands birthday party..."
They always say that too. Our clientèle seems to be exclusively made up of people planning parties for important events, who have just realised that they lack the appropriate tableware for such occasions. No-one ever buys these things just because they want them. 
"I've taken time off work to wait in for this, and nothing's turned up! I may has well have gone in..."
Ding ding ding. That's 'house' on my bingo card of bullshit phrases that people spout at me all day, and I've not even had a chance to ask for her order number yet. 
Two months I've been working here and already I can predict every single phone call coming through. 
"...What kind of company is this anyway? You took my money quick enough didn't you?..."
I switch off. I'm now on autopilot. My subconscious listens to the rest of her story for ten minutes, before informing her that I'll check with the delivery company. It promises to get back to her within the next twenty minutes. There's probably about a thirty percent chance that this will actually happen - I honestly couldn't tell you for sure. I've already forgotten her by the time I put the phone down.

I look at my watch lying on its side on my desk. I always take my watch off at a table - I don't know why. It sits there between my computer monitor and a stack of papers that I've never going to get through, the second hand just passing through the number nine mark pointing up at the sky. I count the seconds, marvelling at just how long each one really is. I watch the minute hand jump as the second hand passes the equator of the watch face. Half ten. Fuck, is that it? I do some quick calculations. Two and a half hours 'til lunch. Then just another three and a half more until I can go home. Repeat twice and it's the mythical Friday night - celebrated and sung about in office cultures all over the world. What wonders will this one bring? Maybe I'll meet Freddie in the pub and drink so much that we can both only speak in vowels. Or maybe I'll catch up with the latest banal adventures of the slack-jawed locals of the Rovers Return - all waiting for me on my TV planner at home. Or maybe I'll just sit in the dark waiting for the tell-tale footsteps of 15B coming to her door so that I can 'coincidentally' step out at the same time on the way to what must of course be another thrilling event on my splendid and thriving social calendar. 

My plans make me sad.

The phone rings again.
"Someone was supposed to call me back fifteen minutes ago about my order."


It's not that I'm a completely miserable person all the time, you understand. And it's not that I'm especially lazy either; at least I don't think I am. It's just:- you never think it's going to be you. You always think that you're going to be someone interesting. You're going to be the guy that everyone greets at parties. You're going to be the guy who shows up in nice suits, breezes his way through some important business deal and drives away in his fancy sports car. You're going to be the guy who goes home to his swank city-centre apartment, pours himself a drink from his well stocked bar and prepares for a night of witty socialising with all the beautiful, interesting people. When you're a kid you don't picture yourself having any problems with finding a good job, buying a fancy house or doing anything you want. You'll be a grown up and that means being in charge of the world. Hell, you'll have already won the lottery by now, and if you want to take a holiday to the Bahamas to go jet skiing with sharks then you'll just hop in your private jet and set off. That's what I always pictured at least. And still do sometimes. You don't stop expecting everything to just turn around and work out for you. You know it's coming. Just as soon as you grow up. Any day now. 

What you definitely won't be is a soap-addicted, cheap beer swilling loner living in a small flat by yourself, dealing with the problems of middle aged womens overpriced internet orders over the phone. So while I'm still having to live through that reality, and while I'm still waiting to turn in to a grown up, please don't judge me for putting off work, daydreaming or complaining about customers. Because I never liked talking on the phone anyway. 


I run after work. Usually twice a week, sometimes three times if I'm feeling particularly active and/or bored. It's my only vice, I swear. 

Running gets me outside. It gives me time to look around at the world and appreciate its beauty. It gives me time to think. It helps me focus. At least that's what I tell myself. Really all it does is help me kill time in the evenings and keep me from gaining too much weight from my usual diet of beer, ready meals and seven hours of sitting at an office desk each day. But people love to talk about running helping their focus. How they can suddenly come up with the answer to resolve that tricky work problem with some mindless jogging. How an hour of exercise will shine a light on all their relationship problems, making all solutions brilliantly clear. And probably some other stuff too - I stop listening. I've never understood any of it. I don't get answers or piece of mind from running. I don't get a 'buzz' from the exercise. I just get tired. And I get blisters. And that's it. 

I swear I'm really not a miserable person.

It's just over two miles, about a twenty minute run, from my flat to the local library. That's just about the biggest landmark this town has. Someone once showed me a tourist map of the town - the library was number three. It was beaten only by the cinema and the tea rooms. That's the kind of place this is - one where tourists are recommended to find a book or film to lose themselves in and pretend they're somewhere else. A huge, hundred and fifty-plus year old building, the library was originally a convent, until the nuns abandoned it sometime in the early twentieth century, leaving it empty and rotting until World War II where it was re-opened so it could be used to register evacuees and store munitions. After the war it - being the only building on its street not completely destroyed by bombs - was patched up and re-opened as a public library, and it's stayed mostly the same ever since. Probably still has the same books I'd imagine. And clientèle. To be perfectly honest I've never actually been inside the place. It's just another one of those buildings that stands in the background of a town - filling in the gaps. For me it's never been a place of great historical importance. As I run round it I still just remember it as the place that Harry Johnson got Evie Summers pregnant when we were 17. Our cultural histories will always be overshadowed by our private ones. I wonder where Harry and Evie are now?

I complete my circuit of the library building and head back the way I came, reflecting on how long I've been living in this small, insignificant town. It's a depressing thought. I turn up the volume on my iPod to drown it out. This isn't the time to get philosophical. All I want in my head right now is the sound of Red Hot Chili Peppers thrashing their various instruments in time to my footsteps on the paving stones. 

I hope down some stone steps - still keeping the beat - so that I am now running alongside the canal. I prefer running down here, away from the roads so that I don't have to feel a hundred eyes watching me as they drive past. Not that traffic's much better here sometimes. On a warm night you get so many joggers down by the canal that the experience is more like queuing for a place you don't want to go. Not tonight though. Tonight the air is crisp, the clouds are building and no-one but me is risking being rained on for a run by the canal. I have total peace to appreciate in the gaps between songs. Red Hot Chili Peppers hand over to Pixies as my heartrate begins to match the beat of my shoes. My whole body is now playing in time to the music - a horrible, burning rhythm. I slow down. I'm almost back home now. I'm coming up to the Wetherspoons round the corner. I could push myself the last few yards and get to my flat, or...

I go in to the pub and order a pint. Fuck it, I'm not training for anything. I've always wanted to be able to go in to a pub where the bar staff all know me by name and start pouring a drink for me as soon as I walk in, before I've even asked for it. Despite spending most of my time in this place it's never yet happened. Instead the guy just pulls a face at my sweaty running clothes and tries to move on to another customer as quickly as possible. That's these chains for you. No heart. 

I sit on one of the high tables with my drink. It tastes incredible. I don't care what those health nuts with their protein shakes and smoothies say; a cold beer is just the perfect way to end a long run. 

I consider calling Freddie and inviting him down to the pub to hear my views on alcohol and exercise, but I'm put off by a gang of pre-pubescents entering pub wearing their best shirts because they think it makes them look older. One of them even has a tie on for Christ's sake. And the barman accepts them! They're clearly twelve and yet he's willingly serving them all the sugared vodka they want. They sit near me, laughing at things that aren't funny and making plans to go to terrible places later in the night so they can get more drunk on luminous, barely alcoholic crap. One of them brags to his friends about the time he got "absolutely wasted" after drinking four Smirnoff Ices and a vodka redbull. It takes all my might not to stand up and slap him. Instead I quickly finish my drink and leave, feeling older and more bitter than I ever have in my life. 


The third episode of Coronation Street finishes. A trailer previews some old Mel Brooks film coming on next. I consider checking my planner for a fourth episode, but honestly I don't think I can sit through it. I couldn't even tell you what happened in the last two. I don't watch them really for the stories or the characters. It's more for the experience of watching it. It's a feeling like driving past your old primary school. The layout or the people in there don't mean anything to you, but there's something comforting in knowing it's still around. 

Like looking in to a school though, this is an endeavour that shouldn't be undertaken for too long at a time. Time to move on to something else. 

Nothing from Freddie tonight. Maybe I'll go down anyway. I can call him from the pub - I always like to have the first pint on my own anyway. It's easier to tell at that point how well you're going to hold up for the rest of the night, and whether or not you're in it for the long haul. Plus you can watch out in case those pimple-faced idiots from the other night are going to make another appearance. I start getting changed.

I'm just doing up my shirt when I hear something. Footsteps. God, it's her. Do I go for it? I'm not ready! Quick, get out there, you'll miss her. I finish doing up the buttons as I run to the door, opening it just in time to see the dark haired, pale skinned beauty putting her key in to the lock of flat 15B next door. 
"Oh, hello."
"Hi!" Try not to seem out of breath. Be cool.
"Wow, we always seem to be coming and going at the same time, don't we?"
"Ha, yeah I know. Crazy isn't it?" Don't seem nervous; don't seem guilty.
"Are you off out somewhere?" She looks puzzled - why?
"Yes, yes I'm just off to meet some good friends of mine. Some - er - producer friends. They're producers." WHAT?
"Oh cool. What, like for films?"
Think quickly. "No no, haha, they're music producers. They deal with bands." Where is this coming from? Never mind, it's solid gold if you can keep it up!
"Ah right. Oh I was hoping I lived next to someone with film connections for a minute there. Would have been awesome." Damn. "But that's really cool. How do you know them?"
"Oh you know, we hang around in the same circles."
"Huh, I wouldn't have guessed that."
"Oh, I mean...Sorry, that's really rude. I just meant - you don't look like...erm..."
"It's fine, I get that a lot."
"Oh good, good. Although the bare feet should have given it away. Is that like an arty thing, or just some in joke?"
"Well do you normally go out without shoes?"
I look down at where she's pointing. Shit! She's right, how did I forget to put shoes on?
"Oh...er, no. No it's - I'm...er..." Don't lose face. Not now. "My friend is bringing me some shoes." She raises an eyebrow. Keep going. "Yeah, I er...bought some new ones, then my friend borrowed them for a - er - magazine shoot. And now he's bringing them back for me so I can...wear them..."
I'd been doing so well. So well. How can I get out of this conversation quickly?

Ring Ring.

My phone! My phone is ringing! I've never been so happy to answer a phone call in my life (seriously - I work in a call centre).

"Excuse me. Hello?"
"Hey man, fancy pubbing it tonight?"
"Yeah, I'm just on my way down now. I'll be there in a minute."
"Blimey, that's a bit quick. I didn't mean right away..."
I hang up on him and turn back to the still-puzzled-looking girl from 15B. 
"Well that was my friend. I'd better go down and meet them."
"Oh yeah, sure. Well have a good night. I'm sure I'll see you around."
She turns back to her door, I walk down the stairs wondering how I can sneak back in to my flat for my shoes. What if she hears me? What if she comes out again while I'm going in? Come on, there must be an easy way to solve this...


"Why aren't you wearing any shoes?"
"You always find a flaw with the way I dress. Nice to see you too Freddie."
"It's a long story."
"Did you walk here? It's pissing it down. Your feet are soaked."
"Are they Freddie? Are they really? Because I hadn't noticed.
I can get very sarcastic when I'm in a bad mood. Not that I'm feeling particularly bad. I'd had a semi-successful conversation with the girl from 15B where, although I did end up a shoe-less fool, I managed to remain calm and make her think I was much cooler than I really am. I think.

Six beers later and I'm telling Freddie the whole story, while he idly watches any woman who walks past - sizing them up like a hungry lion. Yeah, he's one of those guys. And at 5'4 with a belly the size of a keg and more hair on his neck than his head, he isn't exactly the head of the pride. I don't think I've ever seen him make a move, he just watches. It doesn't matter to him that these girls will only ever interact with him in his mind, just as it doesn't matter to me that he isn't really listening to my story. We do these things to relax and organise our thoughts. And, though we are essentially doing them independently, it helps to do them together. Plus if either of us did them alone we'd draw attention to ourselves pretty damn quickly. 

There must not be that many girls in tonight though, because Freddie interrupts me halfway through my description of the sort of hobbies and interests she probably has (based on her clothing and glances of her shopping bags on the many times I've 'bumped in to her' in the hallway).
"I know all of this. You tell me these things every time we come out."
"Do I? What, all of it?"
"Yes. You tell me how you listen out for her and try to catch her as she comes out of her flat. How you've been obsessed with her ever since you moved in. How it's not really that clichéd to be in love with the girl next door. And how you still don't know her name after three months because you're too afraid to ask and the label by her flats buzzer is blank."
"Damn, that was going to be my next bit."
"Then I tell you that you're pathetic and you tell me that this time it went better than ever before and you really think that the next time you meet her you'll be able to keep her interested in what you're saying long enough for her to become interested in you."
"Ah, yes but...this time it really did go well."
"You're pathetic."
There's a brief pause in the conversation while two girls in very low cut tops walk past our table. I wait until Freddie stops drooling before carrying on.
"Listen. I managed to make her think that I was coming out tonight with a load of friends who are all music producers. And that we go out to cool parties and things and that they borrow my shoes for fashion shoots." 
"But instead you're in a Wetherspoons with me, round the corner from your flat with no shoes on."
"It doesn't matter what I'm really doing, it matters what she thinks I'm doing. Reality is just an illusion. Who we are is whoever other people think we are."
"And when you next see her, you'll trip over your own web of lies and she'll think you're a twat. Which is in fact the real reality, so the world will balance out."
"I won't trip. I'll handle it."
"You'll fuck up. You've got yourself locked up in the plot of some shitty emo music video. Except the beautiful girl's not going to turn out to love the weird loser boy as the chorus rises because you live in the real world. You can't keep this up, she'll realise you're clearly lying. Cut your losses now and find someone else."
"Oh like you? How many girls have you found so far tonight and how many are you ever going to talk to?"
"I don't need to talk to them. These aren't the girls I'm going for. This is like stretching. This is me getting psyched up so that when we get in to town later I'm on top form."
"You'd be a sex pest, if you were ever actually successful."
"I get a lot more than you and you know it. Because I'm not as fussy. You can't afford the gourmet steak, so come with me to the all you can eat buffet."
"I don't want the buffet, I want the steak. And I'm not going to fill up on crap when there's still a chance I can get it."
"You don't even know this girl. You've had five conversations with her, three of which were less than ten words long and one of which you weren't wearing shoes for."
"Eight actually, and that's not the point. I go out in that corridor and I feel something special. It makes me dizzy and happy. And I'm not giving it up."
"Sounds like you need your corridor checking for asbestos."
"That's possibly also true, but until we get any proof that I'm being slowly poisoned, let's assume that it's love and let's leave it at that."
"Can I tell you that you're pathetic again?"
"Then I'm going to get another drink."
Freddie stands up, leaving me to continue pondering what I was going to say next time I ran in to the girl from 15B, and how I was going to avoid - as Freddie said - tripping over my web of lies. 

This is what we need helplines for. Not to find out when your online order's going to be delivered. No, we need a number to call to tell you what to do to make a girl like you.
"Hello, Wingmen Ltd. How can I help?"
"Hi, yes I wonder if you can. I'm having some trouble with the girl next door. See there's a party next week and I'd really like to take her, but she doesn't really know me, and I'd really like her to think that I'm cool. I've been waiting in all day to hear her come home and..."

Ding ding ding.

Maybe not.


Something's wrong. I can feel it before I even wake up. This isn't my bed. Where am I? Answers start arriving one by one as my body registers my consciousness. Pain! My neck is bent at an odd angle. Several somethings are digging in to my back. But that's not the worst. My head! A sharp, cold pain on the left hand side and a duller hurt spreading right across to my right ear. I try to open my eyes. Argh! Nothing but a bright light, piercing straight through and burning my retinas. Try to move. My feet are cold. I'm falling! I'm upside down. I keep rolling, feeling whatever is digging in to my back coming unstuck. I'm lying flat now. I can feel the pressure in my head relieving as the blood flows back through my body. I try opening my eyes again. My left one takes some effort, as though it's glued shut with something sticky. Everything's blurry, like opening your eyes underwater. I'm at the bottom of the stairs. I've been lying upside down on the staircase!

I attempt standing up, but obviously this is much too ambitious an endeavour. Just sitting up makes me dizzy, and there seems to be a considerable amount of sweat running down my face from the effort. I reach behind myself and run my fingers down my back, feeling the sunken lines that have been carved in there. Stairs, it seems, are not a comfortable substitution for a bed. I feel some of the sweat drip from my face on to the floor, and when I look down I see, to my horror, that it's red. 

I close my eyes for a minute, before reaching up and touching the left side of my head, right above my ear, where it feels coldest. My fingers gently touch the wound with an acidic burn, and I pull my hand away quickly. As I do so I realise how much blood is running down the side of my face, and how much is in a small puddle on the second step, where my head has been resting for God-knows-how-long.

Focus. What happened? I was drunk, clearly. Images come back to me. The pub. A taxi. Bright lights in every colour. Flat 15B. Heavy rain under a streetlight. Freddie getting off with some girl a foot taller than him. Beer. The stairs. My feet. 

I'm not wearing shoes. It was raining and I wasn't wearing shoes. How did I get in a club? Not important. I must have slipped somewhere up the stairs. I feel sick just thinking about it. I imagine my limp, drunken body bouncing off each step. I imagine the sound my head made when it cracked on the edge. I wonder how long I was lying there for, before I came to. Is this why I still can't see properly? Is this brain damage or a hangover? I need a doctor.

I try standing again. It takes all my concentration, and I need the wall to help me, but finally I get up. I slowly move towards the doors. I just need to get outside, attract someone, get help. Maybe someone can call me an ambulance. God I'm dizzy. And I can hear something over the ringing in my ears. It sounds like angels singing. That's not a good sign. What's that they're saying? They're calling my name! Shit, that's really not a good sign. Move quicker, I need help. Through the doors. OK, I'm outside. Look around. A taxi! Perfect. Get in. Hospital please. Quickly. He's shaking his head. He has a sandwich in his hand. I can't wait for you to finish breakfast! I show him the gash on the side of my head and start explaining that the angels are coming for me. He sees the blood on my face and drops his sandwich. I can't tell what he's saying, but he's nodding. The taxi sets off. We're on our way. Relax. Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine.


Twelve stitches I needed in the end. Twelve stitches on the left hand side of my beautiful head, leaving a scar stretching from my eyebrow to my ear. Twelve stitches and they kept me in overnight for observation, subjecting me to the meanest, most judgemental nurse they had on staff who spent my time there sternly lecturing me on the dangers of drinking too much. As if I wasn't already fully aware of that. 

I get back to my flat in time to see the curtain close on the weekend. Since no-one had come to visit me I still didn't have any shoes. You'd think hospitals would be prepared for that sort of thing, but apparently not. When I'm not on any more pain medication my MP's going to receive such a strongly worded letter on the matter of NHS funded shoes. I notice that my blood's been mopped up from the bottom of the stairs. I wonder if the cleaner knows it was mine. Think I'll keep quiet next time I pass her - let her bring it up first. No point getting in to all of that if she thinks it's someone else. I reach my flat and collapse on the sofa, noticing my shoes by the door. What now? What do you do when you return from the hospital? It seems like I should have some revelation about the fragility of the human body, or the shortness of life, that will lead me to call up my parents and all my old friends from school, clean up my flat, clean up my life. That's what happens, right? That's what you're supposed to do.

That still seems like too much effort. I decide to just fall asleep on the sofa instead. 

Some time later I hear footsteps outside. She's coming back to her flat. Do I go for it? Do I try and see her? I roll over and go back to sleep.


Ring Ring. Ring Ring.
"Hello, Baltler and Sons, how can I help?"
"Yes, I wonder if you can..."
I throw my imaginary bingo card out of the open window that now exists in the side of my head. I'm not in the mood for this. I can't take this incessant drivel from wound up people moaning about their fucking plates. This is a bad one again. She's trying to blame me personally for her order being broken on delivery. Like I've decided that I don't like this person that I've never met and have taken it upon myself to find her order, break everything inside and send it to her. The cut on my head throbs harder with every word she says. I'm sure being on the phone makes it worse. It takes everything I have not to scream down the receiver. 

I know, I know. I shouldn't have come in to work. I'd had a pretty bad injury, I was on pain meds, I could have legitimately taken the day off. But what else was I going to do? I'd have to go back to work eventually, and there's no point hanging around waiting. People are going to see my head and ask questions, then pull that face when they find out I was drunk. That patronising, unimpressed face that says "well it was your own fault really, wasn't it". Take a day off and you just add a layer of resentment to that face - "Oh, he gets drunk and does something stupid and gets a holiday out of it." As soon as you tell someone you were drunk all sympathy goes out of the window. 

Everyone's forgotten by ten o'clock anyway. I've told the story so many times as each person comes in to the office that I'm glad when they move on to their boring gossip about Saturday's X Factor and I can go back to dodging phone calls. It's busy today as well. There's always one phone going - a constant ringing in the background. 

I'm trapped in a hamster wheel. I'm running and running through life and getting nowhere, while outside my cage I can see everyone else, all these giants slowly moving about, easily reaching anywhere they want to go and laughing at me helplessly running forever. 

Eleven o'clock. Two hours until lunch. Forty and a half working hours until the weekend. 

Do you understand now why I come across as miserable? Because it doesn't matter what I do, everything just turns to shit. I just try to get by, just quietly following the path in front of me without bothering anyone, and I immediately lose my footing and crack my head on some stairs. And then, after all that, I have to come right back here. Right back to being yelled at down the phone by strangers for things that aren't my fault. How can anyone stand this life? 

Twelve o'clock. 

That's it. I'm out. I'm amazed I lasted this long. 

I don't even say anything. Really I know that there is protocol for this. I've seen it in films. I'm supposed to slam the phone down, throw some papers in the air, march in to the boss's office and tell him in my most forceful tones exactly what's wrong with this job, and where he can stick it. Then I'm supposed to march out, head held high while my co-workers look on  in awe. Maybe I throw some more important looking papers from their desks around. 

I don't do this. I calmly finish my phone call, hang up and leave the office. No-one looks up. No-one even tries to stop me. I just walk out, get in my car and drive away. 

I wonder how long it will be before someone notices I've left my desk. How much longer before someone notices I've left the building. And finally how log it will take before it dawns on them that I might not be coming back, and that I no longer consider myself an employee of Baltler & Sons. The thought of them all coming to terms with this makes me giggle. As does the expectation of several phone calls over the next few days - none of which I'll answer - asking where I've been and whether I'll be back in work the next day. My whole body spasms with laughter and I have to pull over until I've finished. Tears drip from my chine and the muscles in my stomach burn, begging me to start breathing normally again. 

Yes it was honestly pretty reckless. And I know that it's not going to be easy moving on from here. I doubt I'm going to be able to get a reference from my previous employers when I apply for future jobs. But I honestly don't care. I've jumped off the hamster wheel.


As I walk up the stairs towards my flat I wonder what my next move is. Obviously I'm going to need a new job. I have no idea what it is I want to do. Do I start looking now? Do I leave it a few days? Do I try to come up with some sort of lifeplan? What happens when I first walk through the door of my flat? Should I immediately get online and rewrite my CV? Or is it OK to just lie down and watch TV for a bit? There's no structure any more. How am I supposed to know what to do next?

I get to the top of the stairs as the door to 15B opens.
"Oh, hello. Coming and going again."
"Hi. I know...crazy."
Her hair is tied back today, and her white shirt is fitted around her stomach, accentuating her breasts. She looks good.
"Um, are you alright? I saw you the other day. You seemed to be staggering."
"Oh, yeah...I fell. Down the stairs. You saw me?"
"Yeah, I tried calling you to see if you were alright, but you didn't turn around. You just went outside and disappeared." The angels were calling my name... "Are you OK? There was a lot of blood on the floor."
"Yeah I'm...well I needed stitches but I'm mostly OK."
I show her the side of my head.
"Oh God that looks awful!"
"Yeah I know. It looks worse than it is. It's stupid really, I was drunk and I had nothing on my feet and I just slipped and...well, you know."
"Jesus. Why weren't you wearing anything on your feet? I thought your friends were bringing your shoes?"
"Huh?" Damnit. Freddie was right. Two minutes in to a conversation and I've already tripped. "Oh...yeah. No they didn't. It's - umm..." Fuck it. "Listen, I wasn't really meeting anyone. I never had any shoes. It's a stupid story. And I know that you're probably confused and I'm sure I look like a complete idiot right now. And I probably am. But I just quit my job, possibly due to a severe head injury, and I don't really know what to do right now. I mean I literally have no plans. Not for today, not for the rest of my life. But I feel like before I actually try and sit down and sort myself out I really need to find somewhere to start and since I've already taken one big chance today - that I hope will turn out well in the long run rather than completely fuck me over - and keeping in mind that we don't really know each other that well, and that I'm a complete idiot I really feel that I need to just ask you anyway if you fancy going to out for a drink with me?"
"A drink. Would you like to come out with me now and get a drink and I can tell you the whole stupid story of how I fell down the stairs and hurt my head and quit my job and you can decide if you think all that makes me endearing or insane."
"Oh, er...right. I'm not really sure what to say..."
It dawns on my what just happened. I replay the whole speech back to myself and marvel at how little sense I've managed to make. 
"I'm sorry. I'm clearly talking shit, but..."
"Yeah, look you clearly have some issues. And I have no idea what you're talking about and you're kind of scary, so I think I'm just going to go to work right now."
"Right, yes, sure."
"Look, I finish at about 8. Why don't you go and lie down or calm down or whatever, and then we can start again after my shift"
She shrugs. "I'd like to hear your story. It must be good if it's making you act like this. Plus I kind of have a favour to ask you anyway..."
"Oh? What?"
"It's nothing, it's just about your friends - the ones you were telling me about the other day? We can talk about it later, I really have to go right now."
"Oh, it's just..." I should really tell her before this goes any further. On the other hand...
"Just what?"
"Nothing. Doesn't matter. Where do you work?"
"Oh, just at the Horses Head round the corner. I work behind the bar."
"The Horses Head? That's right opposite Wetherspoons isn't it?"
"Yeah, we always complain that they take all our customers. 
All that time. All that time I've spent in the wrong pub, on the wrong side of the road. Unbelievable.
"Anyway, I'll come knock on your door when I get back, if that's OK?"
"Yeah, sure of course."
"Great, see you."
She turns and leaves down the same stairs that I tumbled down just two days ago. For the first time since I woke up that morning the pain in my head goes away. I open the door to my flat. The giggles are back. 

Sure I may have no idea what I'm doing with my life. I may not know what my next move is regarding my career. I am now unemployed and have very little money. There's still a gash on the side of my head that will probably leave a scar. But at least I'm not stalled any more. I don't have to answer phones and listen to the mundane problems of middle aged women. I don't have to spend 8 hours a day waiting for the day to come to an end. And I have a - sort of - date tonight with the girl I've been obsessed with for the last few months, and I've done it with minimal lying. Tonight she will come round, we'll sit back on my sofa and I'll tell her the truth. I'll leave out the parts about my waiting for her to come back - girls tend to see that as creepy - but I'll explain that I made up the bit about my cool, successful friends. I'll do it with so much humility that she'll see the funny side of it, and then I'll talk about my trip to the hospital and how I left my crappy job and she'll feel sympathetic and affectionate to the poor boy who lives just a few feet away from her. 

Sometimes, it seems, to get what you want you have to really be prepared to take these chances. Even when it seems like you have no hope. Even when it seems like just trying would be a monumentally stupid idea. Even when you don't know where it's going to lead. That's when you really have to go for it. 

And sometimes all it takes is a drunken fall down a flight of stairs, a mild concussion, twelve stitches in the side of your head and the smile of a pretty girl to convince you to do just that. 

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