The International Writers Magazine
:Dreamscapes: Work/No Work

Alan Stokes

I could not allow my persona, for want of a better word, to intrude into my work. As far as possible, I had to adhere to the prescribed rules and regulations of the company. I was now a cog in a well-oiled machine. I had my place and, no matter how lowly I felt that place to be, it was nevertheless a place and all places led to other places.

I was at the bottom rung of the ladder, true, but there was no reason why I could not advance if I displaced the correct attitude, showed the company that I was as diligent and honest and reliable and loyal and ambitious...Everyone had to start somewhere. There were worse places to be was the gist of what he was saying.

I shifted on my feet, looked out the window. I wanted to walk out. I wanted to tell him that I had changed my mind, but I knew that I could not do that. Or rather, I knew that I could do that - of course I could do that! - but I knew that it would be a mistake.

He snorted maybe, or coughed, and I turned my head and looked at him and for a second or so we locked eyes. It was like we both knew that what he had been saying was nonsense. That the real reason, the only reason he had said it was to fill in some time. He couldn’t send me in there cold, he had to say something. And it didn’t matter what he said. Whatever he said was meaningless, of no value whatsoever. He may as well have told me a joke.
- Sounds great, I said.
He offered me his hand and I shook it.
- Enjoy yourself, he said.

I closed his door and sat down at my desk. I wasn’t sure what the job entailed. All I knew was that I had to take the caller’s details. The rest, he said, I would pick up as I went along.
I sat, waiting for the phone to ring. Then Shaz said it was time for my lunch and I walked around town for a bit. I was tempted to go for a beer but I knew that, if I did, I would not go back. And that was out of the question. I was determined to stick it out. Like the man said, I had to start somewhere.

When I got back to the office Shaz asked me to mind her phone while she went out for her lunch.
- No problem, I said.
Soon as Shaz left the office I knocked on my boss’s door.
- Mr Johnson? Alex?
I opened the door. I couldn’t believe it. He was asleep in his chair. I closed the door and went back to my desk.
I pulled my cigarettes out my pocket and lit one. It was against company rules but I didn’t care. I was bored. I needed to do something.
Finally, Shaz came back into the office.
- Is it always like this, Shaz?
Before she could say anything, Alex came out of his room.
- How’s it going? Coping alright, are we?
- Everything’s fine, Mr Johnson. I had a problem with one of our callers but I managed to sort it out, Shaz told him.
- Good, good. That’s what I want to hear. And William, how are you getting on? Any problems?
I shook my head.
- Wonderful. Right. Well, I’ll be...
- We’ll call you if we need you, Shaz told him.

The afternoon went the same way: no calls. Before I left I thought about asking Alex if he needed me, then decided against it. There was no point. So long as I was getting paid, I didn’t care.
I expected the following day to be different, but it wasn’t. I didn’t receive a single call.
It was the same on Wednesday.
And Thursday.
Then on Friday something strange happened.
It was ten-thirty. I was leaning back in my chair, staring up at the ceiling.
- William. Shazra. I need to talk to you both. It won’t take a minute.
I followed Shaz into his room and closed the door.
- Right, I will keep this short and sweet. I’m not one for speeches.
Not one for speeches! Fuck off.
- You will have noticed that the calls are a bit thin on the ground this week. There is a reason for this. We have been -
He cleared his throat.
- Suspended.
- Suspended! How do you mean? Shaz said.
- Until a certain matter has been resolved, our business cannot operate.
Again he cleared his throat.
- I realise, William, that this must seem odd to you, but I can assure you that I had no idea this was going to happen. I am as shocked as you are.
- What’s happened, Mr Johnson?
- I’m sorry, Shaz, but I can’t go into it.
I had only one question.
- Am I going to be paid?
- Oh, yes, of course, of course!
He reached into a drawer and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to me.
- Right, I said, getting out of my seat, I’ll be off then.
- I’ll give you a call when we’re up and running again, Alex said.
I went out the building and started walking.
- Bill, wait!
I swung around. Shaz...

John Flood

I spotted them sitting at a table over in the corner. I went over to them, grinning, and shook their hands. They seemed pleased to see me.
- Anybody want a drink? I asked them.
- Nah, you’re okay. We’ve just got a round in, Ed said.
I nodded, still grinning, and went over to the bar.
- So, Ed said when I sat down, how’s things? You okay?
I paused a moment, taking the question seriously. Finally I decided to lie and I told him that I was fine, things weren’t too bad at all.
- This is me you’re talking to, Ed said.

I didn’t like where this was going. I decided to keep quiet for a while. Whatever I said, it was bound to lead me somewhere I didn’t want to go. And anyway, I hadn’t seen either of them for years. So it wasn’t advisable to get too excited. Probably I had nothing in common with them now.
Ed was still looking at me, awaiting an answer, some kind of response. I inhaled on my cigarette. Then I laughed. Then I looked at Hibbert and Mark and then back at Ed and I realised that they hadn’t changed at all, they were exactly the same. Even Mark, which was weird because before I arrived here I thought Mark would have been the size of a fucking whale. I mean the man had no self-control whatsoever. When we used to go out, Mark was the first to the bar, the first to get totally hammered. He drank like there was no end to it. And he was the same with food. If you left Mark in your kitchen unattended, turned your back on him, even for a second, he would eat you out of your house and home. The man was incredible. Everyone commented on it.

- I saw John Flood the other day, Ed laughed. You should’ve seen him. He was like...Hey, Hibbert! Tell Bill what he was like.
- A mess. A complete and utter fucking mess, Hibbert said.
- He’s a smackhead, Ed said.
I couldn’t believe it. John had been the sensible one. Out of all of us, he was the one who never did anything wrong. While the rest of us were out stealing cars, doing drugs, whatever, John was at home watching TV.
- His face, it’s all over the place, Hibbert went on. There’s lumps sticking out of it. Sores. He’s like -
He hesitated.
- Elephant Man.
A slight pause, then everyone laughed, including myself.
- Elephant Man, I muttered, picking up my drink.
Then Ed said: How do you get like that?
- There’s thousands of people like that, Hibbert said.
- No, that’s not what I mean, Ed said. What I mean is, how do you get like that? What makes you want to do it?
He waited for someone to answer him.
- I don’t know. You just snap, I said. One day, you just snap. For some reason you just can’t cope anymore. You’ve had enough.
Silence. They were staring at me. Maybe I had said too much. Had I said too much? No. That was nothing. The tip of the iceberg. They should see me when I was really motoring. Jesus, they didn’t have a clue.

© Alan Stokes Feb 2006
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