The below is a very, very short story I named ‘Until Five’. I kind of like it in a bleak sort of way and I doubt I’ll ever do anything with it, so that’s why I’m posting it here.
One of my legs feels fuzzy against the other, like a kiwi. I can’t work out which leg it is. Maybe it’s both. The blue ethernet cable pokes its plastic head out of the hole in the middle of the boardroom table, like a little animal, and begins to slither towards my laptop. I think of the electric eels Jack and I saw when we snorkeled off the coast of Madagascar, back when we did that sort of thing.
“Is that far enough?” Fat Tim says from under the table.
Black John and Sexy Jenny both say yes. Black John leans across me and tries to push the head of the cable into the corresponding hole in the side of my laptop. I can smell him. He smells of shower gel, the blue type, and I guess that he played squash at his fancy health centre again this morning. When I was in my twenties I went to 6 am spin classes every day but I can’t remember why. The end of his pale pink tie dangles like a tongue. The cable doesn’t go in so he flips it the other way. It still doesn’t go in so he flips it back and then it does.
“Bloody WiFi,” Fat Tim says as he backs out from under the table. His jeans have slipped down too far, exposing hairy white flesh and the line between his buttocks. I catch Sexy Jenny’s eye and she looks down at her iPhone.
“Sorry about this Bea,” Black John says to me. “Looks like the WiFi’s down again. We’ll have to go old-school for now.”
“I don’t mind the cable,” I say, staring at it. It’s like a blue river, a serpent, a vein, an umbilical cord feeding us with its endless streams of data. Little ones and zeros, sparks of electricity, electrons, protons, neutrons. I’ve thought about ropes before, Jack’s work ties, even the light cord in the bathroom. Everything looks possible, once you start looking. Our bodies are just lumps of pink gristle wrapped up in skin. I like to think it can’t take much but people try and fail all the time, even when they do things like jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which is sixty-seven metres high.
“Would anybody like a hot bevvie before we start?” says Motherly Grace like she always does. People make affirmative noises. While she’s gone Fat Tim lowers his bulk into one of the new ergonomic chairs and asks if anyone saw the latest episode of the Walking Dead. I don’t bother asking what it is. I run my palm down the prickly bulge of my left shin. That’s the culprit. I must have forgotten to shave it in the shower this morning.
“Did you get up to anything nice Bea?” Sexy Jenny says. She’s looking at me without blinking and I can imagine the types of things she’s thinking. Things to do with my bare face and bitten nails. These things matter a lot to women like Sexy Jenny. I try to remember something we did at the weekend. Motherly Grace comes back with the tea tray. I remember that Jack took the girls out to the marina for fish and chips on Saturday evening but I said I had to work because I didn’t want to have to sit across a table from them. Eye contact with my children has become particularly difficult recently. I tell Sexy Jenny I didn’t do much. Sexy Jenny presses her lips into the shape of a smile and carries on with her iPhone.
Some of the floor in the office is covered in wood-look linoleum. The bit under my desk is scratchy blue. I can’t remember if I’ve always felt this way. Fat Tim puts some papers on my desk. On the way to the toilets I pass the fire escape and think about walking out and never coming back, but I end up in a lemon-scented cubicle staring at a sign telling me to put my sanitary products in the bins provided, and when I’m done with that I walk past the fire escape to my square of scratchy blue carpet and I sit at my desk and hold my breath for 53 seconds, which is good because it’s three seconds longer than my last attempt.
At 4.59 I switch my computer off and check that the ethernet cable is still in my handbag. It is. It’s coiled up amongst the old receipts and scrunched up tissues like a blue sleeping serpent.