Finally, some fiction?
The animosity was as thick as it was incomprehensible. It sat there glowing vehemently in the sodium glow of the screen in his palm. A wave of exhaustion washed over him, imperceptibly at first, and then with a growing insistence that leaded his legs. Sighing briefly as though to exorcise the retaliatory fuse that tempted him, he slid the phone back into his pants pocket and glanced up at the tableau presented by the rush hour train station.
It always amazed him that it all somehow worked. In a society where all our grievances were amplified digitally and anxiety was consuming each successive generation in ever foamier waves, somehow this seething sea of people could coexist twice a day in this testing ordeal of a commute.
Line upon line of worker ants snaking up and down the thoroughfare, largely on autopilot though each harbouring their own world behind the uniformed façade. The thousand little indignities they endured as they were jostled and cramped into carriages sliding off their Teflon sheen as harried face after wrinkled brow succumbed to this strange dance of cooperation. It was a miracle really.
The boys in their shorts playing keep-away with a companion’s boater hat, future neuroses forming with each arc of its straw sphere and every peal of laughter. The women with severe cheekbones, pulled tighter by an unforgiving bun fastidiously sprayed in place like a helmet, the click-clack of their purposeful heels on the tiles like a military tattoo. The frayed hi-vis vests of the station staff, each of them alive to a pattern and method in the madness as they conducted the throng with languid flag, whistle and mime.
Oscar shifted in his seat. It was Friday morning. If every day has a flavour then Friday’s flavour is that of anticipation. Two whole days beckoned. Unformed and groaning with possibility. Friday also tasted like familiarity, and in that contrast was its real tang. The umami that lingered. Where possibility wrestled with pattern to see what might be. Whether Schrodinger’s cat was carpe-ing it’s feverish diem, or sitting curled in comfortable ball behind the quantum veil.
Friday asked more of you than other days. It asked you to take the rudder.
Almost unconsciously he returned the phone from pocket to palm and toyed with it listlessly. The motoric scrolling whirred vertically with its unending screed of war and cats. He needed a drink. Pattern was peering over his shoulder.
The tint on the 5th floor windows lent every day the same hue, but he knew it was Friday. The ambience was a kind of corporate twilight that invited comparisons to rainy days but without the smell of wet roads or the drone of the droplets against the windows. This was replaced by the hum of the photocopier and the murmur of pleasantries muffled by carpeted dividers. It was an inadequate facsimile but had a similar hypnotic effect. Somnambulism in grey. But it was a Friday.
Oscar spooned the coffee granules into his mug and braved the sting of the urn before making his way to his desk. Pattern peered over his shoulder. Emails first. Housekeeping. HR memorandums, updates from the Christmas Party committee, briefs, debriefs, re-briefs. Dutifully he read them all as he sipped gingerly, clicking and tapping, scrolling and earning.
He worked best in the mornings, his attention span still taut as still nuzzled up beside him. He usually skipped breakfast. His bodily quirks meant that food in the mornings seemed a wildly unpleasant prospect, so he cradled his coffee even as his stomach curdled, and sought to find meaning in the allotment of tasks before him. Something to dig into, something to engage him, at least until 11.30.
Something about today was stirring though. His equilibrium was off. Unsettled. He had awoken to the tones of his alarm as usual, a tone selected to sit somewhere between jarring and inspirational so as to rouse him. REM sleep came late to him, as the sun was beginning to crest over the city, so he usually had a long way to surface. Little fragments of dream slipping away as he fumbled across the blankets to hit the snooze button. Three times. No more, no less. Each interval a five-minute window where he could enjoy the drug that was sleep whilst being conscious enough to do so. The feel of the blankets, the texture of the pillow. The womblike caress he would shortly forfeit.
Then he would reach for his phone. I mean, everyone did right? Pattern was persistent. Sometimes it would yank him from reverie with promise, sometimes it would stultify him with inanity and sometimes it would be serendipitous in a way that framed the day. This morning however it had been ugly. It had left a cold stone in his stomach and tilted him into reaction. The words sitting there inert but full of import. Probably hastily composed and sent hurtling into the ether, now preserved and blinking. And dripping.
He let it wash over him in the shower as the suds tangled his hair, rising and falling as the glass misted into an opaque sheen. His Friday had been seasoned.
It was still nagging at him hours later as he resumed the report he had been soporifically editing the afternoon before. Not a white-hot niggling, just a firm but insistent feeling of frustration and unease as he tapped and clicked, hyphenating and punctuating, marrying form with function to funnel funds.
It was family. You can’t pick them.
The afternoon drifted languidly, and Oscars thirst was beginning to become insistent. It was 3.00pm and he was wondering what to drink. Wine was nice but it invited melancholy. It ratcheted him up to poetry far too quickly and then people had to indulge him. Of all the existential elements that haunted his hangovers it was this that returned to him the most relentlessly. 750 mls of rose coloured pretention. Or 1500. Or heaven forbid that third bottle sitting chilled and rattling in his fridge door. Rarely finished, but once the seal was broken it inevitably meant he had entered a palace of pure self-indulgence. A rarefied air where everything hinged on his tongue and he would battle the stairs in a bruised stalemate as he made his way to bed.
Beer was refreshing, for the first three, then it clouded him in a hoppy malaise. Whiskey was purely medicinal. Topped off from the tap and sipped, then slurped, then slurred and spilled. Possibility toyed with pattern as he went through the motions to call time on his day. No plans were afoot, which was positively liberating and at the same time deeply unsettling. Without a map he knew his own devices well.
He put his deliberations aside and tried to focus. Whatever he didn’t finish today would greet him on Monday and he wanted desperately to find time for a new thread. Something to ravel or unravel as momentum or entropy dictated. Something to rouse some ambition, some certainty.
People were drifting out by now. It was a lax environment and the people crowded the elevator in dribs and drabs. Some of them alive with camaraderie, some of them visibly defeated, all of them acutely aware which day it was. He stretched methodically and returned to his keyboard. Had he remembered to take his pill this morning? Come Armageddon, come.
Last night he had dreamt long and deep. One of those dreams where his subconscious had somehow formed a coherent narrative out of the wisps of interconnection bonding the various vignettes, at least in the hindsight of morning. He had trudged a snowy tundra to a distant land where animals spoke in human tongue. They had something urgent they needed to tell him when he arrived but his travelling companions had set fire to them with a flourish and demanded they return to more temperate climes before their food ran out. The animals did not scream. Preparing for the return journey he realised his shoes were in fact tissue boxes that were unfolding at the seams. The rest of the party left as he struggled to repair them. Then that alarm. Then that message.
He liked these dreams the best. Better than the recurring ones full of import, better than the erotic ones he could never complete, better certainly than the ones that woke him panting in frustration, a veil of deeply felt injustice heaved atop him. These faintly wistful dreams of faraway places left him something to savour. Usually until he checked his phone.
He was tired now, not the pleasant weariness of righteous exertion but the grey sluggishness of ennui. The kind that creeps up on you as the hours drag in a cruel trick of time dilation. It would be nice to sleep for a while. But he knew what day it was.
Friday was like New Year’s Eve in miniature. It sat with so many invitations, so much expectation, replete with the promise of foamy abandon and plastic trumpets, incandescent views, stolen glances and future stories. It demanded more of you than other days.
He checked his bag and tensed, curling his toes for a second wind, before plunging into the twilight.