100 Themes 033 - Expectations

I've been out of writing for a long time. My last piece was Easter, about two months ago, and before that it was a long old time.

My reasons for this sound, to my ears at least, mournfully self-pitying. However, as far as I'm concerned, this is my story and I'm sticking with it. My job has kept me very busy and I simply haven't had the mental space to write. I sometimes feel like writing requires at least two of these three: Time, willpower, energy. Pick two. I haven't managed to have two of those in the same space for nearly a year now.

Anyway, I'm on my way out of this particular job and hopefully moving on to doing some writing. I'd love to write a long piece again, using these little vignettes as mere warm-up pieces.

Let's hope this happens.

Written on two separate evenings, here is a piece of more realistic fiction. My wife said it's unlike a lot of my stuff, where I think there's usually something a bit weird or supernatural, or an odd twist. I suppose this has an odd twist, but it's not as twisted as most of my stuff. Please enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.


033 - Expectations

Jessica let the water sluice over her body, revelling in the warmth. Steam filled the air and the smell of her mint shower gel mingled with the warm-shower smell. Bliss, she thought.

While she washed, letting the foamy suds wash away the mire of sleep, her mind wandered. The day ahead was going to be busy; the call had come early that Overseer Simon wasn’t going to be in, and Jessica would be expected to take his place. It was at once thrilling and terrifying, with today being stocktake day and Mr Fujikama visiting from the Tokyo branch. One of those alone would have kept them busy, but both at the same time was a potential nightmare waiting to happen. Or, she reflected, it could be the thing that finally shows Management what a useless sack of shit Simon really was.

Either way, expectations were high, and she didn’t intend to disappoint. Washing the last of the soap off, Jessica watched it swirl down the drain, then shut the shower off. The air outside the cubicle was unpleasantly cold, and she quickly wrapped her towel around her thin body. Padding wetly into the bedroom, she opened the wardrobe doors and took out a work shirt, suit, pair of shoes, laying each item on the unmade bed. Then, as she turned to go back to the bathroom, she caught sight of the clock. 8:32, the numbers seeming to leer out at her. You’re late, they said. Sucker.

“Shit,” she muttered, and began to frantically dry herself. The commute was twenty minutes in good traffic, and the morning meeting, which she was expected to lead, was at 9:15. There might just be time.

Barely ten minutes later, her hair still slightly damp, Jessica flew down the stairs from her front door and turned right. Thin terraced houses, identical to hers, lined the streets and bordered the grey skies above, but her eyes took none of this in; they were fastened, as if by magnets, on the empty parking space where she had left her Fiat the previous night.

Bewildered, Jessica stood in the middle of the space, as if the blue car was merely invisible. It’s not even a good car, she thought, why would anyone want it? The icy panic, held at bay by having made it out the door in good time, returned to encase her heart. She fumbled her phone out of her handbag and called work.

“Kingman Footlin, how may I direct your call?”

“Materials, please.”

“One moment…” and a click. Dead silence on the line. Wasn’t there supposed to be hold music? Jessica tried to think back to the last time she had called the switchboard. Had there been music then? The silence stretched, and she began to pace in the empty parking space, eyes jerking aimlessly around as if she could will the small pink car back into existence.

Jessica took the phone away from her ear, looked at it, then ended the call. She bit her lip and pressed Redial.

“Kingman Footlin, how may I-“

“Materials, please.”

“Did you call here a moment ago?” The operator’s voice was nasal, bored. Slow.

“Yes, I need to speak to Materials, please.”

“Get cut off, did you?”

“Please, this is an emergency.”

A sniff of derision, then “One moment…” and a click. A jazz version of Greensleeves flooded out of the speaker. Jessica began to walk in the direction of work.

The jazz ground to a halt and left a blessed moment of crackly dead air before it began again. Then, mid-phrase, the phone rang again and a deep voice replaced it.

“Materials, John speaking.”

“John, thank God. This is Jessica.”

“Jessica, everything ok?”

“No. My car’s been stolen, or towed, or something. It’s not where I left it, anyway.” She was walking through the park now, the wind starting to pick up. The huge tower, tallest thing for miles around, was still at least a fifteen-minute car journey away.

“That’s awful, Jessica. How are you getting to work?”

“At the minute, I’m walking.”

“I can hear. Probably not worth getting a taxi; by the time you’ve waited for it, you might as well have walked.” Jessica gritted her teeth. John didn’t sound at all sympathetic, sat there snug in the warm office. Probably sipping a cup of that foul black coffee he loved so much.

“Just… stall things for a few minutes, ok?”

“You want me to stall Mr Fujikama?”

Jessica stopped walking. Suddenly her legs didn’t seem to work. “Oh, God, he’s there already?”

“Has been for half an hour. I made him coffee, he seems very nice.”

Her heart thumped in her chest, so loud that she was sure John could hear it, and slowly she began to walk again, picking up speed, then almost running in a mad rush.

“I’ll be there soon,” she gasped, and hung up. Her commute to work, never pleasant, suddenly became a tumult of impressions; her suddenly not-so-sensible shoes were even less so, and she clopped awkwardly out of the park and onto the pavement. There were leaves blowing in a mini-cyclone, and as Jessica hurried through them a few slapped against her legs, cold wetness suddenly soaking through her tights. Without warning a bicycle loomed out of a doorway and she stumbled into it, almost falling. “Sorry, sorry,” Jessica panted, limping on through the sharp pain in her knee. Looking back she grabbed a quick impression of a tall man, helmet, safety jacket, frowning after her.

It was almost a relief when she tried to cross Church Street without looking both ways. The car that knocked her over was a Fiat 500, blue, identical in every way to her own, and when the man driving it got out he ran away, leaving the keys in the ignition and the engine running.

Dazed and aching all over, Jessica stumbled upright and leant on the bonnet. A few passers-by had gathered around, including the man with the bicycle. This is all kind of surreal, thought the part of Jessica’s mind that wasn’t trying to cope with pain and embarrassment. Perhaps I’ll wake up in a moment.

“You all right?” Bicycle Man asked, reaching out a hand but not quite touching her shoulder. Up close, standing still, he was actually kind of handsome with a small beard stubbling his chin. Jessica nodded, then looked around at the car. Somewhere in the cotton-wool of her mind the thought penetrated that this was her car. Her car. Somehow. To be honest, she thought, this morning can’t get any more confusing.

“It’s… it’s my car,” she managed. “Stolen this morning. It’s kind of…” but the crowd had already begun to move away, women with pushchairs tutting loudly at this lack of entertainment. Bicycle Man patted her once on the shoulder and pushed off, half-on his bike. Jessica moved round the open door and climbed in to her car. It smelt funny, even from the short time it had been driven, like old cigarettes and stale sweat. Underneath, the disgusting air freshener actually managed to make things smell worse.

As she began to drive Jessica put her body on automatic, surveying her injuries and situation. Her knee hurt from the bike. Her tights were wet. Both feet ached from the pace she had kept up. She had a headache and an enormous ache in her side, but not enough to warrant medical attention. One of her hands had a small graze on it. For being hit by a car, she thought, I got off lightly.

Within minutes she was pulling into a parking space at the tower. Sitting in the silent car, her own quiet space, Jessica took a moment to clear her mind and prepare for the day ahead. Then, with a quiet groan as her muscles cried out in pain, she climbed out of the car and walked towards the front entrance.