We are All Mad Here

… Perturbed and confused, he got into his car, as he did every morning, and made his way to work. As he went into the brightly lit open plan office, he nodded with a smile of recognition to the receptionist sitting in the entrance way. She ignored him. She often did, though he wondered if there was something unusual about the way she ignored him this morning. He sat at his desk, switched on his computer and looked about the office. He was early. Only a few people had arrived at the far end of the office. He raised his hand to wave good morning, but they didn’t see him. He stared at his monitor screen and saw the twin shadows dancing before him. He sat that way for quite some time before he felt a tap on the shoulder. He looked up and saw the receptionist looking down at him, steely faced, overly made up with savagely plucked eyebrows and dank brown hair scraped back into a French twist that looked like a protruding seam enclosing her head. Something like the folded seam on a Cornish pasty encasing all the hot meaty potato goodies inside. Her shimmering pinky lips were moving though he couldn’t hear what she was saying above the drilling. He winced and moved his head up closer to her. She looked away in annoyance, looked back at him, moved her lips again, rolled her eyes dramatically towards her thin black eyebrows and then clip clopped with her heavy heels, vibrating thunderously loud, back to her desk. From this distance he thought he could see her giving him a dirty look but he couldn’t be sure. He looked around him and saw that the office had filled up. People were all typing and talking away and he considered it odd that he hadn’t noticed up until now. He had been preoccupied with the drilling and the twin shadows that seemed to be hanging about him like a giant dark cloud. He looked at the young new starter who sat at the desk closest to him. The boy was deeply engrossed in some kind of chart printed onto a large sheet of paper. Edward coughed to get the boy’s attention. Nothing. He leaned forward and grinned in what he felt was a friendly way. Nothing. To which Edward leaned back in his swivel chair and started whistling. Nothing.

Except the whistling grated against the drilling and hurt his ears. Edward winced, held his ear and stopped whistling. He looked around him at the colleagues he saw every day and started to feel irritated by them. He couldn’t hear properly above the hum but he started to feel vibrations when they made large movements – such as when a hefty man across the room started laughing with his whole body, or the new starter pushed a desk stapler through a thick wad of papers, or when the receptionist slammed her desk phone down. The additional vibrations gave him a headache. He looked up at the blazing strip lights on the ceiling and thought he could hear the electricity buzzing inside the glass cylinder like a trapped wasp.

He looked around. No one seemed to be put out by this noise. He wondered if it was just him. Was he going mad? Did something happen while he was asleep? Did the world change overnight? Or did something happen to him? He tried to remember the events of yesterday. Woke up. Bathroom. Car. Work. Lunch. Work. Car. Home. Cooked dinner. Ate dinner. Bathroom. Bed. Nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinanry. It was just the same as every working day. And as every working day had been for several years. On Saturdays he did his laundry, went for a jog and then went to the grocery store. For lunch he liked to choose between one of several busy cafes and pubs near his street. Saturday afternoon was a good time to watch people going about their day, enjoying their lives. He had to be back home by 6pm though. Partly to get the dinner on in time for the Saturday night film on TV. And partly because it started to get too rowdy in the streets by then. It was less easy to just watch people without people watching back and complete strangers feeling the need to interrupt his solitude by asking him stupid or personal questions. Anyhow, most important however, was not to be late for the Saturday night film. It was the highlight of the week and a ritual he tended to religiously. On Sundays he went to visit his mother in her home. They read the papers together. Ate lunch. Drank tea. Had biscuits (gingernut or shortbread) or a slice of cake (madeira or fruit) – depending on which he had brought over. And then he drove home. It was very simple. And it was always the same. Last weekend had been the same. As had yesterday. Nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary.

He looked up at the strip light and wondered if perhaps there was actually a wasp trapped inside. He leaned back in his swivel chair and couldn’t make out much aside from the glare of the light. He stood up, climbed onto his desk and peered at the light. The new starter was now looking up at him. The hefty man from across the room was looking up at him. He couldn’t be too sure with the drilling, but he felt that the other noises in the room had quietened down, there seemed to be less interference anyhow. The receptionist with the pearlised lips was sashaying back over towards him. Her frosty little mouth was moving exaggeratedly. She stood under him by his desk, gesticulating with her bony arms, her face contorted into a scowl. As he looked around, he realised most of his colleagues were all staring up at him. He slowly climbed back down onto his desk and mumbled that he had a headache, perhaps he would go out for a drink and some fresh air. The words oozed out as though he was speaking under water. He couldn’t hear them and hoped that they had all understood. The receptionist stepped back as he sheepishly picked up his jacket from the back of his chair and slowly walked out the office again, feeling all eyes burning into the back of his head…

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