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.
She daydreamed about the consultant’s bedside table. She could envisage such a table quite clearly. It would be neatly arranged with a variety of obscure tools dedicated to precision which he would apply to his body every morning. Some kind of emery board or sandpaper to buff any creasing traces of sleep from his eyelids; a burin to finesse every pore; he might floss his teeth and between his toes with a fine wire gauge. The parting put her in mind of awls and chisels.
This morning, confronted with the closed doors, Sue thought of the parting in the consultant’s hair, his clean hands clasped around her ankle, and marshalled her body into action. She shifted her balance, lifted her chin, and advanced towards the doors once more. They did not respond. Her shoulders drooped as she looked, hurt, at the speckled grey matting of the prohibited floor beyond.
It must be the case of some unseen, unknowable sensor misfiring, Sue thought, or perhaps something as simple as dust or other occluded gubbins jamming the doors’ mechanism. Certainly this kind of thing just happened sometimes – it was a glitch, an unfortunate error, and could happen to anyone. Sue tried again and this time she performed a pantomime swing of her arms, as if the problem lay in a lack of momentum rather than perceived conviction, but there was no corresponding twitch of recognition from the office doors, no elegant glide of metal and glass permitting her through. This was dreadful and obscene – a complete joke. Sue looked around. She hoped to lock eyes with a passer-by and establish the whole business as daft and forgivable or gently unforgettable rather than monstrous, but no one along the busy city street seemed to be facing her direction. It felt like she was being watched, and the uneasy heat or pressure that surveillance brings to the surface of one’s skin lay taut and coiling at her nape and ears, but as far as she could see nobody seemed to be giving her any mind. If anything all the commuters around her seemed to be pointedly not looking at Sue, hurrying past and pulling their coats more closely about their bodies. Sue returned to the doors and gnawed her lip, looking them up and down. Not even a CCTV camera to wave towards, hopefully, apologetically.
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