Month: December 2017

I See Everything – A Short Story

By Gabrielle Blondell

I see everything and by this I mean I see too much. I’ll give you an example. Right now, my work colleague, Jonah, is walking down the hall and I know, at the very last minute, he will veer toward me and perform one of two actions. A) He will try out a joke on me; one that he may or may not be put to work later on people he actually wants to impress, or B) he will angle his hips in my direction and practice one of his pick-up lines, like “How’s it going sweetie?” I have started to look away recently and count the seconds. 1-2-3. You see, I have seen it all before.
“Debra, did you hear the one about the-?” he asks me.
So its the joke today and I shake my head, no I have not, because congruence is important even though I will not listen. While Jonah tells me his joke, I am looking toward Michael McGuire’s door. This is the reason I am here. I am waiting for that door to open.
Jonah guffaws. “So what do you think, Deb? It’s a good one, isn’t it?” He splutters and a droplet of his saliva lands on the back of my hand.
“It is a good one,” I say, still looking at the door and wiping my hand on the side of my skirt.
The door opens. My boss, Michael McGuire, pokes his head and shoulders out into the hall to see if the coast is clear. Clear of what, though? Terrorists, ex-lovers, pushy executives. He always closes it immediately to fetch his coat and briefcase and only then does he brave the outer offices. I am at the door ready for this eventuality and we very nearly collide. I would be happy for a stomp on my ingrown toenail if it means he will feel bad and give me a moment of his time, but Michael McGuire is nimble on his feet. He steps quickly to one side.
“Ms Wilson,” he says, nodding at me.
“Mr McGuire,” I counter. “I am wondering if I could have a moment?”
I watch as he clears his throat and while doing so, he places a hand delicately over his mouth. This, and other delicacies, are what I don’t like about him. They make him appear weak and furtive.
“I’m afraid I have no time,” he says. “I have an appointment.”
This has me thinking he is possibly unwell. Cancer comes to mind. I look at him sadly. “Oh, not right now,” I say, laying a hand gently on his forearm. “But could I book in some time for tomorrow?”
He shakes my hand free. “Yes, tomorrow, but I really must go.”
I stand further in his way then. “What time?” I ask.
“Come after 5pm. I’ll be working late,” he says, hurriedly.
“Thank you.” I lower my hand which has remained hovering above his forearm for comfort. “And good luck,” I add, stepping to one side to clear his way.
He is a couple of steps down the the hall before this registers. He stops and turns back. “Good luck for what?”
“Oh good luck for whatever appointment you are off to,” I say breezily, but with enough intent that if cancer is on the cards, he will feel encouraged.

I live in an apartment block twenty minutes walk from my workplace. It is a comfortable walk under big shade trees and is only disturbed when the magpies swoop. That is when I think of driving. Mostly though, I walk, even when it rains. I am at the corner waiting for a break in the traffic, when a sense of satisfaction flows over me. I am sure Michael McGuire will grant me my raise. I am a useful statistician. I am good with projections. It is to me they come to work the numbers on this or that new product. I am the one who collates and analyses the questionnaires from our test groups too. I have a sense for such things.
One of my neighbours in my apartment complex is watering the flowering bushes by the driveway. He is an older gentleman, who has taken on the gardening, for a bit of extra cash. His name is George.
“Nice day for it,” George calls to me as I step carefully around the water seeping onto the drive.
“Yes,” I say, knowing the ‘it’ isn’t at all important. What George means is simply that the day is nice, which is true.
I am at the door to my downstairs flat when George asks me, “Did you have a nice day at work?”
“I did, thank you. Quite successful,” I say. George is a nice man.
Click. As soon as I close the door, I remove my shoes. My toe, which is swaddled in some cotton wool and a light breathable bandage, throbs on its release and I am already boiling my kettle so I can soak my foot in a bowl of warmish hot water with a dash of tea tree oil. While I’m waiting, I take a TV dinner from the freezer and place in it in the microwave to defrost. While the kettle is boiling and the microwave defrosting, I cue up my Game of Thrones DVD. I am late to the series, but having recently succumbed, I am held captive by it.
The microwave pings and the kettle clicks off. I sit with my meal and press play. I sway gently to the opening credits and begin to eat.

“So what’s up, Debra?”
Jonah is checking me out, while I wait in the hall again. I am tired from a full day of spreadsheets and my patience is thin. “I’m waiting for Mr McGuire to consider my raise,” I say. It is the most I have ever said to Jonah.
“Oh, I see,” he says, swivelling his hips away from me. Apparently, shop talk and limp sexual harassment are not compatible.
I watch as he fades away down the corridor like a ghost with second thoughts. “See you later,” he says, but I can’t see him anymore. I walk up to the door. Through it I can hear voices. I check the hall and, finding it clear, I place my ear to the cheap hollow panelling. “So who are we considering?” my boss asks.
I hear a rustling of papers and I am hoping my name comes up. It would be nice to hear myself spoken of. The comments would seem more genuine.
“There is only Jonah.” This voice belongs to Geraldine from HR.
“He has scored rather high on our questionnaire and it did come up at his recent review,” Geraldine explains.
I am wondering what questionnaire that might be and who it was who designed it because I know it wasn’t me. I am twice miffed. I can hear my anxious blood swooshing in my ears, but then there is this.
“Right. I suppose there has been talk then?” Michael McGuire asks.
Talk? I am simultaneously relieved for myself and concerned for Jonah.
“Yes,” Geraldine says. “Missy from accounts has had a word.”
Bugger Missy. Already I know what this is about. Jonah’s come-hither banter and Missy’s wish to be sexually harassed have met in the middle and I am incensed on Jonah’s behalf.
Just as I mean to push my ear closer to the door, a trolley rounds the corner pushed by Thomas, our third floor cleaner. He smiles and waves a gloved hand. I step hastily away from Michael McGuire’s door on the pretence of making room for Thomas and his equipment. As I do so, the door opens and Geraldine steps out into the hall and almost into the trolley. A mop handle glances off her shoulder and she looks more wounded than she should do. I smile at Thomas as he passes to make up for her.
Both of us stand still across from each other, watching Thomas recede down the hall. When he turns the corner at the end, Geraldine clears her throat with a guttural, “Well…”. I smile at her and indicate Michael McGuire’s door. I know she expects me to follow her down the hall and I wish her to know I still have business to conduct.
“Right,” she says. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“I don’t think you will,” I say, sternly to show a sense of solidarity with Jonah.
She stares.
“I’ll be crunching the data on the pantyhose campaign,” I explain.
She frowns at me, shakes her head.

When I enter, my boss is standing at the window overlooking the river snaking its way through the city below. I move to stand beside him in a companionable way. At first, he does not notice me and I take advantage of the time to compose myself. I watch the cars moving along the expressway which overhangs the north bank of the river, the steady stream of their headlights drawing loops as fireflies do. I realise I do not want Jonah to be another casualty of another sickly hyper-social workplace. No, I do not.
My boss jolts beside me and I imagine his psyche has been pricked by my anger.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, as if he knows nothing of our meeting.
“You told me to come after five,” I say. I look pointedly at my watch. “It is after five.”
“Right,” he says, moving away and going to sit behind his desk.
I stand for a second longer at the window. Sometimes I take the time to honour limbo, to slow it down. It is that place between the past of things and future of things, if you know what I mean. The headlights of the cars still swoop beneath me.
“Debra, take a seat, why don’t you?”
I turn to my boss and I see his frown. I sit and take a deep breath. “I have come to ask you for a raise in salary,” I say it straight out. I had meant to be less blunt, to finesse him a bit, but I am slightly off-kilter.
“Oh,” he says. He makes a steeple of his fingers and with his elbows on the desk, his hands are in front of his mouth again.
“I do valuable work here,” I say. I am meaning that I do more valuable work than I am remunerated for. I can show him the figures, if he should doubt it.
He nods. His hands are still in place in front of his mouth and I wish to knock them away as my mother would have done. I have said what I mean to say though and so I wait.
Michael McGuire’s fingers remain steepled, but begin to pulse, as he relaxes them into a curve and then points them toward the ceiling again. I am reminded of inch worms and jellyfish. A small silence is allowed to grow. Then suddenly the fingers stop moving and are snapped away from his mouth.
“I’m sorry, Debra, but we are in a cost-cutting cycle,” he says. “So you can imagine, it would be irresponsible of me to grant a raise to anyone right now.”
No, I can’t imagine. Not for one minute. He says ‘cost-cutting cycle’ as if it is a seasonal thing, like winter.
I watch him nod to himself. He thinks I am agreeable and this presumption along with my deep shock hurls me onto a distant shore. A tremor begins deep in my belly and I am aware from past experiences that when this breaks the surface of my being, I will lash out.
He looks down at some papers on his desk and picks up a pen. ”Let’s revisit this in a few months or so,” he says off-handedly.
I feel the bubbling pushing outward from my organs into muscle and skin. There are dark patches in my vision now and I know I should leave.
He makes a few notes on a page in front of him, as if I no longer exist. I am horrified and throw my next words out there as a shield to hunker down behind. “Missy is a stupid girl,” I say.
He raises his pen and frowns. “What?”
“Missy from accounts. Jonah Whittaker is harmless,” I add.
I feel safer now. The burning sensation on my skin is subsiding. “Jonah means no harm. He sometimes has difficulty with people.”
He sneers at me and then he lies. “I don’t know what you are talking about, Ms Wilson. Were you listening at the door?”
A geometric pattern dances across Michael McGuire’s face. There a bursts of white light in the corners of my vision like decaying stars. They do not soften my boss’s stony glare. I nod. It is true. I was listening at the door.

On the way home, I don’t stop at the corner, but walk straight out into the road. A car horn blares. The driver yells something through his window as he drives by, but I don’t hear him. All I see is a red face and an open mouth from the glare of the streetlight. My head is full of my mistake. It is a new one. In every other circumstance, my coping strategies have been confined to me, but now there is Jonah.
George is bent over weeding around the pedestal light in the front garden. He looks up at the sky as if to make comment on the day, but night has come and even darker clouds have rolled in.
“Long day?” he asks me instead.
“Yes,” I say.
George stands tall and stretches his back. I hear the clicking of his spine. He studies me. “Are you alright?”
“No,” I say, letting myself into my apartment. Click.
I look in the refrigerator for something to eat, but know I’m not hungry. I sit on the sofa and watch an episode of Game of Thrones, but I cannot follow it. Soon after, I am in my car crawling along Kingsford Smith Drive. I remember Jonah’s house is in a side street with a fish and chips shop on the corner from a shared cab ride last Spring. There were large trees with red flowers and a pale-bricked square apartment block across the street.
I drive the streets in a grid pattern the way one might examine a crime scene. Luckily, I spot the pale-bricked building for it is the wrong time of year for the red flowered trees. A light is on in one of the front rooms and I see a figure cross in front of it. I know its Jonah by the shape of him.
Heavy drops of rain begin to fall as I walk along a path to the front door. I knock. A figure crosses in front of the light again and the door knob turns.
By the way Jonah looks at me, I know he thinks me a stranger. He is waiting for me to state my business, so he may get on with watching whatever I can hear blaring from his television. There is an contrarian male voice, cut by a authoritarian female one which both bend around me and twist back together before pushing out into the wet night. In the face of such noise, I cannot speak, and still Jonah waits, his face blank with non-recognition. I move to stand closer under the eaves to escape the rain and that is when he knows me.
“Deb! Is that you, Deb? Come in out of the rain, why don’t you?” He takes my wet cardigan from me, as if this is necessary and hangs it on one of the hooks in his hall. It droops like a dead cat. “I’m sorry,” he says, walking away from me toward the sound of the television voices.
—But don’t you think President Trump has deliberately inflamed North Korea?
—No, I believe he is taking a strict line where a strict line should be taken.
“Sit anywhere,” Jonah says, indicating a large corner lounge in front of an enormous television.
I sit because I don’t know what else to do. I have come to the end of my plan, which was to locate Jonah’s house ✅ and gain entry ✅.
—What measures will be taken to prevent escalation? Is there a belief that the US playing hardball is what will itself be preventative?
—But what if it doesn’t work?
Amidst this uncertainty, I realise Jonah has left the room and everything feels strange having moved so quickly since my meeting with Michael McGuire. That seems a continent away….ballistically, I mean. But then Jonah has returned carrying two glasses of wine, one of which he thrusts into my hand. I take it because the alternative is to watch it fall.
“So, what do you think of this?” he asks me, cocking his head toward the television. “Do you think he’s after a war?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“All leaders want a war, don’t you think? It makes them look good.”
“Only if they win,” I say.
Jonah snorts, while drinking from his glass, then coughs and wine sprays out of his nostrils. “Good one!” he splutters. “That’s a good one,” he says, recovering himself and leaning back into the lounge, as it were common for me to turn up uninvited and make witty statements about political affairs.
I want him to ask me why I am in his lounge room. That would catapult us out of this weirdness, but instead he says, “I was thinking of ordering some Thai food. Would you like some?”
I nod with some enthusiasm. This will give me the time I need to say what I mean to.
“Righto, then,” Jonah says, pulling himself together and rising from the lounge. “I’ll order, shall I? I know what’s good. Do you like chilli?”
I nod. Yes to all of the above, the ordering, the chilli even. I really want to tell him that under the circumstances he should start cooking for himself to save a bit of money, but these are circumstances of which he is unaware. I sit very still listening to him ordering our food over the telephone. He is practiced in a way that I am not.
A nappy ad comes on the television. There are lots of babies crawling about like puppies with their diapered bottoms bouncing merrily.
“Do you fancy having children someday?”
The question comes before I realise Jonah is back on the sofa and I am surprised by both events.
“I don’t know,” I say. Really, I don’t know. While I don’t feel that magnetic pull toward babies the way some women do, I am not against them either.
“I’d like a little girl,” Jonah says, dreamily and I want to tell him that it is unfortunate statements like this which single him out.
Instead, I say, “A little girl?”
“Yes.” He nods gravely. “I had a little sister, but she died.”
Immediately, I am sorry for thinking him awkward. In light of things, he has every right to be awkward. “That’s terrible,” I say.
He nods and we both turn our attention to the television because it is safer that way. The political program has resumed.
—I find it hard to believe Trump will be elected for a second term.
—Well, most of us found it difficult to believe he would be President in the first place.
Both commentators fall silent and in a way not good for television. A button is pushed because music begins to play and the camera pulls back from the close-up of confused faces.
“Do you think they care about us as much as we care about them….the Americans, I mean?” I say.
“God no,” Jonah responds. “They don’t know we exist.”
I’m not sure I believe this to be true.
“It’s their media. They don’t report on world affairs like we do,” Jonah adds.
“So do you watch a lot of news shows?” I ask him, thinking of my Game of Thrones addiction.
“Oh yes,” Jonah says. “I like to know what is going on in the world.”
The door bell sounds and as Jonah gets up to answer it and bring in our dinner, I am stumped by how paradoxical people can be. Jonah, for example, is both vitally interested in the world and blissfully unaware of his effect on it.
“Can I help?” I ask, when he returns with a plastic carrier bag full of takeout containers. “Get some plates, perhaps?”
Jonah smiles at this, as if I have said just the right thing. He cocks his head toward a doorway behind him. “The kitchen is right through there.”
I find plates, spoons, forks and knives and a roll of kitchen towel for serviettes. Jonah is laying out the containers on the coffee table and I don’t know why I pick this time, but I do. “They are going to let you go,” I say.
He looks up at me. His forehead bunches upward while his eyebrows come together and slant downwards and I know he doesn’t understand me. “Work, I mean. Work are going to let you go,” I say because now there is no going back.
The takeout container in Jonah’s hands slides free and safely onto the coffee table like a live birth. He stands and comes over to me. “What are you talking about?” he asks blocking me from the coffee table. I juggle the cutlery and plates in my arms. The roll of kitchen towel bounces off onto the carpet and rolls under the sofa.
“What are you talking about, Deb?”
I tell him all at once about the meeting, the raise or lack of one, the overheard conversation and all the while he stares at me. Even when I’m done, he still stares. Finally, he asks me the question it is now too late to ask.
“Why are you here, Deb?”
Something has let go in his face. His lips and mouth have slackened. His cheeks have drooped.
“I wanted to be the one to tell you. I didn’t want it to be Michael McGuire,” I say. I am blubbering now because everything has gone so terribly wrong.
Jonah relieves me of the plates and cutlery and takes my elbow. “Please sit,” he says, but as we round the coffee table Jonah steps sideways onto my toe.
“What?” Jonah stops still and stares at me.
Pain has shot to my brain and with it, all the disease of my infected digit. I feel the heat and nausea of it. “Get off my sore toe,” I yell.
Jonah raises his foot and releases me. “Jesus, you really are nuts,” he says.
I ignore this statement. I put it down to shock. “I’m sorry about your job,” I say, pressing hard on that place where the toenail has embedded itself in the skin because now only pressure can help.
“I’m not going to lose my job, Debra,” Jonah says quietly.
I am intent on my toe, but look over to him. He has come to sit on the other wing of the corner lounge and has angled his body toward me.
“It’s quite the opposite,” he says. “I will be taking over from Michael McGuire in a couple of weeks.”
I blink at him. “Cancer,” I whisper.
Jonah’s lips and mouth loosen again and this time I see it is bewilderment. “How do you know?” he asks.
I straighten my spine and continue to apply pressure to my toe. I do not tell him I see everything.

Posted by Gabrielle Blondell in Stories, 0 comments