She was an invaluable member of the team, or so they claimed. The promised wine flowed, and Rachael basked in the admiration of her fellow co-workers. The bigwigs remained silent simply nodding their agreement here and there, raising their glasses in unison as if mannequins attached to the same string, gifting the occasional smile.
We partied for several hours, ate well, drank better, then readied for home. Rachael was the last to leave having the hands of all to shake before departing. I’d waited, being her only friend in the office, on the prior promise to walk her to her front door; the city was never safe at night.
It wasn’t until we were outside alone and well down the high street that she started to cry. Inconsolable, she drenched her handkerchief, then sleeve, then my shoulder.
I didn’t know what to say or do, I’d never been good with such things. Instead, I held her until she was ready to speak. What on earth had upset her so was beyond me? She was new to the company yet had risen fast. Yes, she might not have been popular because of it, but that wasn’t her fault. Three months into her stint, she’d gained the promotion to Staff Manager that several of us had coveted, yet failed to gain.
Eventually, she ceased her tears.
“Better?” I asked.
She shook her head and passed me a small envelope bearing the company seal: a ferocious tiger ripping out a deer’s throat with ruthless determination.
I poured the contents into my hand and read as follows.
Dear Miss R. Smith, you have become invaluable to our organisation and are hereby promoted to Staff Manager. Many congratulations! Your first task is to fire the office staff. They are now surplus to requirements.
Yours sincerely Bertram Bosch
“They said I was invaluable,” she whispered. “But how can I be when I’ve now nothing to be invaluable for?”
“Business is business,” I’d replied, as she passed me the note with my final salary.
A menacing exchange of glowering, slitted eyes, the two antagonists circled in soundless rage. Not for the faint-hearted, each appraised the other like Great White sharks in oceanic depths unwilling to fight unless necessary. Who'd blink first? Who'd rule the street? A hiss, a meow, and the ginger cat fled.
Author’s Note: I recently shared this story on the wonderful Nicola Auckland‘s blog and have also just published it on Medium. I wouldn’t want anyone having to read it who already has. However, I wanted to showcase this on my own site because I don’t often publish stories that I would say are very me; this is. As a shy Gemini (not a good combination where split personalities are concerned) who has lots of dark thoughts, work like this flows easily. When my mind is that way out and I just allow the words to flow, I often venture into darker realms than normal. You can read into that whatever you like, but nonetheless, it is me.
I hope you enjoy
Ghostlike the city’s inhabitants roam the streets. The metropolis has sucked them dry. A procession of timorous deer frightened and waiting to bolt, they make their way to wherever it is one goes during the day in a wide-eyed trance. I watch them with sadness, and I hope compassion. I hate to think someone would not extend me the same small civility.
The cityscape rises skyward in undulating waves of concrete and steel; the ghosts don’t see it. What they do see is questionable? Glass eyes, unblinking, roam everywhere but where they wish. The city’s full sidewalks suffer them to present a weak delusion of sanity. That’s all it is. The city is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet.
Old school, my mother would say, and I suppose I am. When a pretty girl slides by, her feet unseen in the city’s oppressive smog, I raise my hat and smile politely. Sometimes, they even respond. Most times, they don’t. On the rare occasion when one looks my way starry-eyed and shell-shocked, a rabbit in the headlights, it makes my heart beat. I like to feel my heart beat as it reassures me I am not like they. I am alive. Yes, I am alive. I must be, mustn’t I?
My perambulations conform to the city’s expectations: I stick to the main streets, ignore the side streets, and never ever enter the backstreets. There are weird creatures in those inhospitable dark spots, strange and un-wonderful beings. I fear them as they fear life.
The waterfront offers the greatest relief from my waking nightmare. Looking out upon a sea comprising trillions of raindrops, the very same that’ve run down my face and tickled my nose and will one day become an ocean of even greater values, makes me dream. Imagining the recycling atoms, what they must have seen on their journeys through every stage of the earth’s awakening and impending departure, gets the old grey matter churning. I hope that’s the case, anyway, as I’d hate to think it’s old memories relived. I’ve already forgotten too much to bear, having lost even more.
Vitreous, I think to myself, as the harbour stands like a millpond, not a ripple, not a blemish in sight, glasslike. It is almost the exact same consistency as the skins of the urbanites who roam the disconsolate streets. And I wonder, has fate dipped them in the ocean and sent them on their way? Should I? Will it help to blend in with the other poor, unfortunate souls?
I must stop thinking such rubbish if I am to remain apart. Uniqueness is a gift one should embrace and take pride in, not disparage. Some call it mutation, but not I, for is it not uniqueness that has transformed us from one thing to another, bettered ourselves, not abnormality. But it takes two unique individuals to proliferate the theory and I am only one. Still, one of the blank faces may one day smile back and I’ll know a fellow human exists, not a translucent fake as is the case.
Sometimes on clear nights when the moon is full and the city sleeps, I sit out on my balcony and take in the vista. I enjoy it. The sheen of celestial splendour enlivens the soul if you have one. There is a certain freedom in gazing out upon a world that no other appreciates. I’ll wink to the moon and he’ll wink back, our secret safe in the midnight, our pact still operating. Like a spectral spotlight picking out the ghosts of suburbia, I’ll watch the moon highlight passers by and shake my head: no, not that one, she’s lost; no, not that one, she’s smiling too much, etcetera, etcetera. One day, I’ll see a smooth-skinned beauty with tears in her eyes and I’ll know she too cries for the world, as do I. One day. Yes, one day.
For now, I’ll keep walking, collecting the welfare checks when I can, and perusing the city’s glassless shop window. She’ll come. I’m sure of it. She’ll come as a pellucid ghost made real, and we’ll live out a happy ever after like in a fairytale. Or we won’t, who can say?
My overwhelming impression was one of colour. If ever a place wrapped you in the protective cocoon of butterfly wings, it was this. Tokyo blazed with vermillions, neons and citrines each more resplendent than the next, each devastating in conception. Beautiful I thought, as I tried to remember the moon.
I’d dreamt of gold and glass and colour and light and beauty and women with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. The city I stood in was none of those things.
Was a lie a lie to everyone or just the person who’d envisioned it? Was it wrong to have thought only the best and ignored the unashamed truths? I supposed I’d never know as I wiped the detritus from my shoes and tears from my eyes.
Another city another day would become my motto. I lived it. I hated it. Those imperfect dreams, they haunted me.