The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes: Work/No Work
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
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 couldnt send
me in there cold, he had to say something. And it didnt 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 wasnt sure what the
job entailed. All I knew was that I had to take the callers 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 bosss door.
- Mr Johnson? Alex?
I opened the door. I couldnt 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 didnt 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.
- Hows it going? Coping alright, are we?
- Everythings fine, Mr Johnson. I had a problem with one of our
callers but I managed to sort it out, Shaz told him.
- Good, good. Thats what I want to hear. And William, how are
you getting on? Any problems?
I shook my head.
- Wonderful. Right. Well, Ill be...
- Well 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 didnt care.
I expected the following day to be different, but it wasnt. I
didnt receive a single call.
It was the same on Wednesday.
Then on Friday something strange happened.
It was ten-thirty. I was leaning back in my chair, staring up at the
- William. Shazra. I need to talk to you both. It wont take a
I followed Shaz into his room and closed the door.
- Right, I will keep this short and sweet. Im 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! 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
- Whats happened, Mr Johnson?
- Im sorry, Shaz, but I cant 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
- Right, I said, getting out of my seat, Ill be off then.
- Ill give you a call when were up and running again, Alex
I went out the building and started walking.
- Bill, wait!
I swung around. Shaz...
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, youre okay. Weve just got a round in, Ed said.
I nodded, still grinning, and went over to the bar.
- So, Ed said when I sat down, hows 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 werent too bad at
- This is me youre talking to, Ed said.
I didnt like where this was going. I decided to keep quiet for
a while. Whatever I said, it was bound to lead me somewhere I didnt
want to go. And anyway, I hadnt seen either of them for years.
So it wasnt 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 hadnt 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 shouldve seen
him. He was like...Hey, Hibbert! Tell Bill what he was like.
- A mess. A complete and utter fucking mess, Hibbert said.
- Hes a smackhead, Ed said.
I couldnt 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
- His face, its all over the place, Hibbert went on. Theres
lumps sticking out of it. Sores. Hes like -
- 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?
- Theres thousands of people like that, Hibbert said.
- No, thats 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 dont know. You just snap, I said. One day, you just snap.
For some reason you just cant cope anymore. Youve 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 didnt have a clue.
© Alan Stokes Feb 2006
buying the rock?
Stone Cold in the staffroom
Alan Stokes on happy families
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.