Eley Williams works at Royal Holloway, University of London. Alongside her novel, The Liar’s Dictionary, and her collection of short fiction, Attrib., her writing is published in journals and anthologies including Modern Queer Poets, The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story, and Liberating the Canon, with stories and serialised fiction also recently commissioned by BBC Radio 4. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her work displays a roving intelligence, and delights in lexigraphy and the world of words.
Listen to an audio extract from ‘Rostrum’
Apparently Sue would have to endure the cold morning air of her commute a little longer: the entrance to her office building did not work. How can an entrance not work? Try again, Sue. The usually-automatic, usually-sliding doors to Sue’s office building appeared to be functioning irregularly, refusing to acknowledge her approach. Sue laughed for no one’s benefit and advanced, ready to be greeted by the doors’ normal hiss and welcoming split, but once again she came up close against the glass of the door and watched her reflection stiffen.
Sue ran through various second-guessings as she regrouped. It was definitely a working day and she hadn’t accidentally misread her calendar. This was definitely the right building, the same one as always, and these were the same doors she had sluiced through for nigh on seven years. She was awake. She was almost certain she was awake.
Sue planted her feet a little further apart so that her body might become a slightly more assertive shape. During a training day at work some months ago, a bright-eyed external consultant had breezed into the building and made all of Sue’s colleagues line up and one by one strike different poses. This was meant to inform or improve office culture, or customer support, or business skills. Something along those lines. He promised that after an hour with him they would all not only be able to physically impress a room but ensure that ‘clients, onlookers and interlocutors from this moment on will experience value-added comportment denoting frank and open dynamism’. She watched each of her colleagues attempt frank and dynamic standing, sitting down, handshakes, and she patiently listened to the consultant outline how they might improve. When it was Sue’s turn, by which time everyone was bored and fidgety, the consultant instructed her to stand as if she were addressing a room full of hostile negotiators. She did so, earnestly. The consultant tutted, then came right up next to her and ducked down, and Sue felt a hand tugging at her ankle chivvying her leg and foot into a new configuration. She kept her smile fixed for the imagined hostile patrons, and allowed her leg to be redirected. ‘Far better,’ Sue heard the consultant say, his grip still around her ankle, his bowed head at the level of her hip. There was a warmth in his voice that made Sue dart a glance downward, to see if he was proud of her, but he did not meet her gaze. Sue craned frankly, dynamically, earnestly at the top of the consultant’s head. The parting in his hair was so neat that long after the exercise was over, after the training day was finished, and over the course of the following weeks, Sue found herself compulsively thinking about it: that neat, clean parting in his hair. It intruded on her thoughts as she rode home on the bus, smoothing a seam into a bus ticket with the edge of her thumb. It occupied her as she took a shortcut through the park, following the desire lines that communally hemmed and stitched the official design of its squares of grass. She thought of the parting in that bowed consultant’s hair every time she passed a framing shop, or saw vapour trails carving across the sky. She couldn’t recall what the consultant’s face looked like, or what clothes he was wearing, or whether he spoke with any particular accent or what his name might be, but for whatever reason she knew the quality and definition of that parting in his hair would be with her until her dying day.
Continue reading ‘Rostrum’ here.
Explore more of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.
Image © Alice Zoo