Sunday, February 17, 2013


At least he doesn't have to look himself in the eye. The brushed steel door of the lift reflects him back as a barely human smear, a charcoal and white blotch without the fidelity to show judgment. His finger moves towards the button on its own accord, it takes a lot to interfere with that kind of unconscious motion. The clear plastic button lighting up is accompanied by the smooth mechanical sound of a dozen fail safes not having to kick in. He becomes aware of a person moving to stand next to him, the unusually close distance acceptable only when waiting for lifts or walk signals. Three tinny notes and a buzz from his jacket pocket. Fifteen minute reminder. His fingers are sweaty, dragging enough against the screen as he swipes that he ends up hitting snooze instead of dismiss. The numbers indicate the lift is at the fourth floor and descending. It's too much. He walks away looking at his phone as if he has a message and leans against the cool wall. The sound of the door opening is loud but has a delicate hiss that makes it seem quiet. It slides shut, swallowing the person who had stood next him whole. He tries to look like he's waiting for someone, not like he's barely able to stand. Nobody seems to notice so it must be working.

Three more times he watches someone step into that cavity and get whisked away, and each time he gets closer to getting in, but never does. His pocket buzzes again. Five minutes. His stomach twists, pushing hot and sharp into the back of his throat. Around the corner and into the toilets. The stalls are all empty so he takes the closest, hangs his jacket on the back of the door and pulls down his well pressed trousers. Nothing but cramps and the burning in his throat. Reaching awkwardly for his jacket he retrieves the foil sheet studded with antacids. He pops out two white discs and crunches down hard. Peppermint chalk fills his mouth and absorbs what little moisture there is. Chew, chew, swallow. Buzz. Zero minutes. He's late. Three deep breaths and the comfort of little rituals: flush toilet, double check zip, turn down jacket collar. Don't look in the mirror. Paper towels, scrunch and drop in the bin. Don't look in the mirror.

He makes his way back to the foyer and sees the lift door closing. A forearm shoots out and the door slams back open to reveal the face of someone just doing what's polite. Now he has no choice and doesn't even get the satisfaction of making the decision himself. He gives the necessary smile of gratitude and muted thanks then watches as his finger hits the button marked seventeen. The slight lightness in the stomach as the lift accelerates is completely drowned out by the unabated churning. The polite door-holder gets out at thirteen, he waits until the door closes and hits the buttons for every floor to come. Fourteen. He lets the corner of the lift take his weight. The door opens and closes slowly, but not nearly slowly enough. Fifteen. He shrugs at the woman who raises a eyebrow when nobody gets out and pretends to hit the close button. Sixteen. He closes his eyes, doesn't see display flick over to seventeen but feels the clunk as something heavy locks into place. The door opens one more time.
"Good morning." He extends the first word to breaking point.
"Good morning." the empty good humour of rote banter, "Ready for another big week?"
"You bet." A forced smile, a nod, the lingering taste of peppermint chalk.

Next week's word is data.

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