The Regime: Pause

I slide out from under Partner in the middle of the night. Drag feet as I walk into the bathroom. Sit down to pee, and then realise I don’t need to. Go over to the sink, look at myself in the mirror.

Not Verity anymore. To my astonishment.

Just little old me. Jet black eyes, stern mouth. Special.

I think I’m hungry. Or thirsty.

I think I need to get out of this flat.

Pull hoodie on over T-Shirt and slip out into the night. Walk along the street searching for a light. I think about running away. But where would I go? I don’t know where-

I can’t go home, so what’s the point?

I decide I am hungry when I see a petrol station up ahead. Bright light flashing snacks.

Two cars parked, but apart from that, empty. Quiet. Door chimes as I enter. Boy (Man?) looks up from phone. Nods at me. I nod back.

I peruse the aisles. Chocolate. Wrenches. Crisps. Plasters. I pick the colours that I like and head to the counter. He rings me up.

Fourteen pounds.

I blink at him. Startled, like I’ve never heard of currency.

I don’t have any money.

What?

I look down, hands in pockets. I don’t have any money. I didn’t think-

How much did you say it was?

Fourteen pounds.

I feel about in my pockets still, knowing that I have nothing in them. I could put the snacks back…

But I don’t want to.

I want the snacks. And I used to only do things that I wanted. So, I decide to try that again.

I look up at BoyMan. Smile. He doesn’t smile back but he does watch me long enough for me to form a connection. I reflect his eyes back at him. It’s a weak line; I haven’t practiced in a while. But he’s not a challenge. He works in a petrol station after all.

Let me off this time.

He blinks.

I’ll let you off this time.

Really?

I…think so, yeah.

That’s so nice of you.

I smile.

So, so nice.

He nods, a little dazed. I pick up my treats and begin to leave.

But I can’t. I’m wide awake now. I want to play.

Hey.

Yeah?

It’s easier this time to connect. He waits, slack jawed, for my command.

Empty out the till.

He reaches into the till.I act surprised for the CCTV.

What are you doing?

What does it look like I’m doing?

Put it in a bag and give-

Wrong move.

Put it in a bag and leave the bag in the wheelie bin outside 23 Burns Avenue.

He continues to fill the bag. I head out.

I run, actually. All the way home. I dump all my snacks on the kitchen counter and stare at them.

What have I done?

What a stupid-

What if he can’t find my address?

I stay up the rest of the night, sitting at the living room window, overlooking the drive. I brace every time a car goes past. An hour later, maybe four, I see a figure in a hoodie walking up. He opens the wheelie bin, my wheelie bin, and drops something in it. He looks up at the house and I duck. I don’t know if he sees me. But when I next look out, he’s gone.

I go back to bed like nothing has happened.  Five minutes later Partner’s alarm goes off.

We get up, start our morning routine. I take my pills and the night before fades like a dream. Like with every day, I take the rubbish out to the bins. But when I look inside: There is the bag, full of cash, and what looks like a hand gun.

The Supervisor toots the horn of the car. I drop the rubbish in surprise and go towards him.

I should tell him about the cash, but I don’t.

For the first time in a long time, I lie.

For the first time in a long time, I can see the exit sign.

Some Written III

That’s how this ends.

How this was always going to end.

We’ll become those people.

Those people everyone gossips about.

‘What? Those two? Nah, they’re not together anymore. Don’t know why. Maybe cheating? He seems too nice. Probably her. She’s a real sour-faced bint. Uppity, you know. Likes to run rings round people with big words. Probably to hide the fact that she makes up her job as she goes along. But he’s nice. Real salt of the earth type. I wanted to set him up with a friend but…She got him still. Got her claws in him. Something about childhood trauma and they’ve got a son together. Gorgeous. Eyes just like his dad.

(She is crying again.)

Big and honest. When he laughs it’s like his whole being laughs, he laughs from the corners of his eyes down to his tippie toes. I wish he’d date again. But she really broke his heart. Keeps breaking his heart. Won’t let him in, won’t let him go. It’s sad. They’re definitely still in love with each other. They’re probably still fucking each other. But they just, you know, love misery more.’

Some Written II

People died!

People died because my brother had given up on life and when he got tired of hacking people to pieces, he blew himself up.

How do I apologise for that?

How am I supposed to apologise for something like that?

Something I could never do, never in my darkest moments.

Something I had no part in, that I had no idea was going to happen, that I am still struggling to get my head round.

My brother.

Do you understand?

My baby brother, who used to sleep in my bed when he was scared.

My brother, who I watched grow up.

My brother, who I thought would outlive me.

He’s just done.

Dead.

And he took as many people as he could with him.

And I don’t know why.

I will never really know why.

And I have to live with that.

That’s suffering enough.

That’s pain enough.

She Speaks – Saturday

Every single day is the same. Every single day. Every single one. The exact same. The words are different. Yes. The words are different, sometimes. Sometimes, the tone. But the feelings- The feelings. The feelings don’t change. The feelings are always, always the same. Same depth, same breadth, same place. I return to that same place, same bristling-

Even the clothes are the same. The steps I take in my shoes. Left, right. Left, right. Left, right, trip over own leg, right. Is that right? The exact same thing- everyday? Why are we here? Why am I here? What do I want? Why does this matter?

 I don’t think any of this matters. I don’t think anything matters. We only care about the things we care about because…because they give us something. Meaning. Meaning? Is that what I mean? I don’t know. But I know that I don’t care about anything the way you do. I don’t think I know how. I don’t think I can let myself. Let myself feel- 

Shush. Shush now. That was almost too much. You’re starting to feel…that was entirely too much. 

Conquest

Someone knocks on your door mid afternoon. Before this, you’d been sitting at your desk, watching Mad Men, eating a slice of peanut butter toast. You’re alone. You’ve been alone for a while, but you are more alone than usual. Someone is missing. But you put it out of you head, you put him out of your head and think about how much better life was when social interactions had more formal rules. You hear the knock a second time round. You get up to answer the door and he’s standing there.

You immediately become tense. He stares at the floor, speaks quietly.

We need to talk.

You’ve never been in a situation like this before. Usually, if you’re having trouble with someone, you avoid them for a while, sleep it off. But this is different, you live together. And despite ignoring his messages, and despite quietly brooding in your room all weekend, he’s come up to talk to you. To ‘fix it’. But you’re still angry. You want to slam the door in his face, but you know it’ll make him the victim. And you absolutely can’t have that. So you take a deep breath and shrug.

Fine.

He slinks inside. You take a seat at your desk, while he stands awkwardly, eyes downcast. He’s really playing up the ‘wounded puppy’ routine and you can’t wait to tear him down. For a second you feel like a queen. How a queen must feel when a peasant comes into her chambers, grovelling. You wonder if he’ll get on his knees. You wonder if you’ll ask him to. Order him to do more than apologise. Make him beg. Your mind wanders…

You realise that there must be a thin line between love and hate. At this point, you dislike him. You really do. But at the back of your mind you know how good things will be when the two of you make up. You’re momentarily torn. You want to strangle and then embrace him. Or the other way round. Or maybe both at the same time.

I’d like to apologise for my behavior on Friday.

He starts his speech while you remain stony faced. When he’s done, you don’t say anything. He looks surprised. Perhaps he thought this would be a lot easier. All he would have to do is say the words and you’d forgive. Because, at the end of the day, no one died. You’re here. He’s here. So kiss and make up, no?

Are you done?

What do you mean?

Because that’s not how I remember it.

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for. Rebuttals. Two people giving minute by minute accounts of the same night. You’ll say he was being off with you, he’ll say he was tired. He’ll say that he’s sorry you took it that way, you’ll say there was no other way to take it. You’ll say he was annoyed about something, and he was taking it out on you. He’ll say that maybe, yeah, he was annoyed, but he didn’t mean to take it on you, not on purpose anyway. You’ll go back and forth, neither of you telling the truth. ‘I want you to be who I want you be, all the time, in every situation, and when you’re not, I’m going to turn on you. Because I’m angry at myself. I’m angry at myself for projecting all my hopes and dreams onto yet another unsuccessful candidate.’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

You can’t say it. You can’t say it because you don’t know it to be true yet. In your unsophisticated mind, you think he is in the wrong, and you can’t understand his thought process, so you’ll just go back and forth until one of you, exhausted by the tension, gives in. But what he doesn’t know is that you’re made for this. This is your wheelhouse. Grudges, animosity, it’s how you’ve made it this far in life. You don’t feel alive unless your jaw is tensed, and your heart is thudding and your fist is clenched. Anger is something you understand. Affection is not.

So he gives in. But he doesn’t just give in. There are tears in his eyes and his voice cracks.

I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings…I’m sorry for all of it. The reason I walked away was because I was upset, like I am now, about…about…

He never tells you why. He doesn’t have to. All your anger is gone at the sight of him crumbling, your quest for answers or domination, whatever it was, withers away as he turns from you. He is vulnerable. He is ashamed. He is scared. You know what that feels like. You can’t press him any further. You don’t want to anyway. You’ve never seen him look so small.

I…What can I- Are you alright?

He mumbles something. Calls himself an idiot. You tell him that he’s not. Your tone has changed. You’re softer, quieter. You want to comfort him. You never want to make him sad. You go over, wrap your arms around him. He grips you back, tightly.

I don’t want things to be awkward between us.

I know. I’m sorry.

And just like that, you switch roles. You don’t know it at the time, but he’s got you, just as tightly as his hands grip yours. And all he had to do was let his pretty blue eyes get glassy and choke up a little. You should have known. What kind of peasant is allowed into the Queen’s chambers? You have met your match.

Observation 151

41fc8b2c15c1269363d1f1975abd3215

Subject 2514

  • Subject has reached Stage Four of observation: A Game.
  • Subject has been docile throughout process and condition appears dormant, if not non-existent.
  • This is the last observation before subject is potentially struck off from register.
  • Subject is seated on the bed, reading, when Supervisor arrives.
  • She responds cordially to his small talk, but reveals nothing about herself despite pointed questions.
  • Supervisor asks Subject if she would like to play a game. Subject obliges and asks what game they will be playing. Supervisor states that she will pick it up as they go along. Subject seems tense for a split second.
  • Supervisor and Subject begin card game. Supervisor wins first round. Subject asks if the game they are playing is Snap. Supervisor says the game they are playing is the game that they are playing. He asks Subject if she would like to continue playing. She agrees.
  • Supervisor wins second round. Subject states that this was an illegal move. Supervisor insists that it was a legal move. Subject asks for a list of rules for the game. Supervisor states that the Subject will pick them up as they go along. He asks Subject if she wishes to continue playing. She hesitates for a moment but agrees to continue.
  • Subject thinks she has won third round. Supervisor tells her the move was illegal, and therefore he has won the round. Subject firmly asks him to tell her how her move was illegal or how he has won the round because of it. Supervisor states that the rules are obvious, if Subject is paying attention. He asks Subject if she wishes to continue playing. Subject takes a minute and through gritted teeth agrees to continue.
  • This goes on for eight more rounds, Subject is visibly growing more and more tense and angry. She slams her fist on the table, swears profusely and one point sweeps all the cards off the table. However, whenever asked to continue she agrees.
  • Subject has a hard time admitting defeat?
  • At the commencement of the twelfth round, Subject asks the Supervisor again for the rules of the game. Supervisor states that the rules are so simple, even a child could pick them up. Subject calls the Supervisor a cheat. Supervisor suggests that maybe she is just stupid.
  • Subject falls silent. Pulls herself to her full height and stares at supervisor. She says the following: You are the stupid one, coming into this room alone with me.
  • Supervisor asks her what she means. Subject continues to stare at him.
  • The rest of these notes are pieced together from eye witness accounts and surveillance footage.  Observation was disrupted by the following incident (See Appendix titled ‘2514 Overpowers Supvisor’).
  • At this point, on the tape, we notice that her eyes have changed from a dark brown, almost black, to hazel. She whispers something to the Supervisor, which, after viewing the surveillance footage, we believe to be a command to drop the cards he is holding. He does so.
  • She tells him to get up, according to what could be made out from the surveillance footage. The Supervisor does as he is told.
  • Subject tells him to run headfirst into the observation widow until, direct quote: Either the glass cracks or your skull does. He does so.
  • This entire exchange takes less than 30 seconds. Supervisor is running at the window for at least 2 minutes before we think to intervene.
  • When we enter the room and ask him to stop, he does not. It is like he cannot hear us. Attempts to get his attention are useless.
  • Against protocol, we address the Subject.
  •  She is nonchalant when we ask her what she has done. She shrugs and places the cards in neat pile before getting into the bed and facing away from us.
  • Security is called to restrain Supervisor, who at this point is bloody from the effort, but will not stop.
  • We attempt to engage the Subject again but she has fallen asleep.
  • Without empathy?
  • Supervisor is finally subdued, strapped to a stretcher. His hazel eyes appear vacant.
  • Observation is paused to attend to Supervisor.
  • Final Thoughts: As of now, we have no research on this manifestation of the condition. This is the first time we have seen anything like it. We are referring to it as ‘Submission of Will’ until we can study the subject further.
  • The board have signed off on keeping Subject 2514 for further observation.

The Visitor, Part IV

I didn’t get much sleep that night.

I’m being generous. I didn’t get any sleep that night. I didn’t do the traditional thing of tossing and turning. I just lay in my bed, poker straight, staring into the dark. It was like I didn’t want to sleep, and wouldn’t want to even if I could. I kept thinking about the old man.

The old man that wasn’t that old.

I’d given up on trying to recollect the hours I’d forgotten. They were lost now, that much I understood. But there was something in that exchange, there had to be. Some sort of clue. Something to show us how and when, maybe even why, that time was taken from us.

The old man. At first I thought he was unsettling because of how he spoke. How he seemed to not understand our answers or be able to follow the conversation. But now…his face. His face wasn’t right. His skin was taut, youthful, healthy looking. His hair was a solid mass of black. He was tall and, in his trendy suit, he cut a broad, toned figure. There was nothing to suggest he was old at all. But I’d been so sure of it. Maybe it was his slow, deliberate walk. Or maybe it was his shadowy eyes. Or maybe it was that he looked too youthful. Too artificial. Studied. Like he was an old man masquerading as something young.

I was pissed at myself for not getting his name. I was pissed at myself for not pressing him further. A man doesn’t just walk into an office by accident. He came for something and it seemed as though he didn’t get it.

Chaim Woodbine and Bethan Hardy.

Who or what did he want with them?

If they were his friends, why didn’t he ask for a forwarding address? If he was a client, why didn’t he ask for their replacements? He seemed sure that he’d gleamed all the information he needed from Ward and I. Had he come to make sure they were no longer there? Was he some kind of…hitman?

By the time first light streamed through my window, I had completely given in to the idea that the old man was an FBI agent undercover, who’s sole mission was to seek and destroy Woodbine and Hardy, who had used Ward and I to get information and then made us forget, Men in Black style. It wasn’t entirely implausible. But what had he possibly gathered from three hours of us seemingly going about our daily routine?

The next day was probably the most haggard I’d ever looked at work. I waited semi anxiously, semi excitedly for Ward to walk through the foyer so that I could tell him my theory.

But he never did. From my desk I could see shadows moving about in the post room. At times the door would swing open as someone else left or entered, and I would hear his muffled tones. By mid afternoon, I had figured out that he was avoiding me.

I could see where he was coming from. I was his only real link to the bizarre and random events of the day before. Avoid me and he could avoid it. But that didn’t suit my needs at all. I’m a talker. I need to talk things through. I’ve got an overactive imagination and the only time I can quiet it is when I’m talking, when someone else is talking to me and making sense.

So I opened my draw, chose a random item of stationery and shoved it in an envelope addressed to me. Totally out of company guidelines, but so was a weird man erasing my memories. That’s how I justified it anyway.

I called the post room. Much like I expected, it wasn’t Ward that picked up.

‘Hello, Post Room.’

‘Hi, I have a courier to go down.’

Ward’s supervisor, Mike, groaned.

‘I’ll be out in a second.’

I rolled my eyes at the hiccup in my plan but I was not disheartened. As soon as he took the parcel, I created another one.

‘Hi, I have a courier to go down.’

‘Another one?’ Ward’s desk mate, Fletcher, asked.

‘You know what the secretaries are like. Any excuse.’

He came out and took the package. So I made a third.

I called the post room. No one picked up. When the line cut off, I called again. No answer. I was calling a third time, when the phone was abruptly answered. There was a pause. And then Ward’s exasperated voice.

‘What?’

‘I have a courier to go down.’

‘I know what you’re doing.’ He said, quietly.

‘I’m trying to get a courier sent down.’ I replied, firmly.

There was another pause and then Ward sighed deeply and hung up the phone. An agonizing minute later, he stepped into the foyer.

He did not look haggard, like I did. More rugged, if anything. Like the stubble was a style choice rather then a drowsy oversight. If I hadn’t been up the night before myself, I wouldn’t have guessed he had.

‘Where’s this parcel then?’ He asked. He wouldn’t meet my gaze.

‘Why are you avoiding me?’ I asked, gripping the parcel in my hands.

‘Can I have the parcel or not?’

‘You’re going to have to talk to me eventually.’

‘If you won’t give me the parcel, I’m going to go back to my desk.’ He said and began walking away

‘I think I know what happened-‘ I started, l

Suddenly, Ward spun around and leaned over my computer screen.

‘No, you don’t!’ He spat. ‘If you did know, you wouldn’t be talking about it here!’

His fingers gripped the screen so hard his knuckles were white. I just stared at him.

‘Do you know something?’ I whispered. His eyes darted around the room.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘You do know something. Don’t you?’ I pressed. Ward opened his mouth.

A member of finance came stumbling through the foyer, with a tray of coffees. She glanced in our direction. Ward let go of the screen and straightened up.

‘Can I have the parcel, please?’ He asked.

I handed Ward the parcel and he walked away. For a while I sat stewing. How dare he freeze me out of his investigation? How dare he let me fester here, alone in the dark, while he had all the answers?

I had begun to type a strongly worded email when he came back, parcel in hand.

‘The address is wrong.’ He said.

‘What?’

‘The address is wrong.’

‘It can’t be. It’s my own-‘

He shoved the envelope at me. In between the lines that I had written was another message so small it was almost illegible. It read: Something happened to Woodbine and Hardy, and I think the company is involved. Unless you want something to happen to us, we have to stop looking for answers.

I looked up at Ward. He looked from me to the camera above us.

‘Oh right.’ I said, eventually. ‘I’ll get a new envelope.’

I tore the envelope apart and shoved the shreds in my bag instead of the bin. Ward saw the large roll of cellotape that had been inside and rolled his eyes, but he didn’t leave. I put it in a new envelope, wrote the address and handed it over. Ward took it with a slight nod and walked away.

I went back to my work. But every so often, I’d glance at the camera above me.