ButterI realised I was doomed when the clairvoyant offered my money back.
She couldn’t even be bothered to lie about my fortune. All she needed to do was say, I see great riches, but no, professional pride stopped her. She saw only greyness and so did I.
I sighed and waved the money away. She wasn’t responsible for the future.
The train to work sometimes goes slower, sometimes faster. Sometimes it stops in a tunnel and everyone who has a watch looks at it, and those who don’t are thinking they should buy one at the next opportunity. I am looking at the pretty legs of the girl opposite and thinking about butter.
I don’t eat it because the fat is no good for your heart and you have to keep the cholesterol down. But I start thinking, a good heart is no use to anyone if you’re not living. And I have never understood cholesterol. I’m just doing what the doctor orders and hoping to live forever. I have no idea why.
When the sandwich woman stops at our office, the competitive types are first to reach her. I sometimes wonder, if they’re that keen, why they don’t just run down to the shop. Then I start thinking, if I really cared myself what sandwich I had, I’d run down there myself.
But I don’t care. Perhaps there was a time when a sandwich was a thing of joy; when the fillings were novel and the experience was fresh. I am doubting it though. Sandwiches are a fixture of the working day, like the PC, the aircon, the tube train scuttling along the tracks: you only ever need to think much of them when they go wrong. I take prawn and avocado and smile at the lady. She doesn’t even look up.
Perks calls me in after lunch. We’re going to have to let you go, he says.
Oh, I say.
It is very quiet in his office. I can hear his PC whirring away and the distant murmur of people on the phone in another room, but nothing intrudes.
Is there anything I can tell you? he is saying.
It’s not you. Well, it’s you but you know.
You don’t seem... quite as bothered as I might have expected.
Well, are you?
Yes, of course.
I raise an eyebrow. I know it is impressive. I have been practising.
He shuffles some papers. No, you’re right. Best for everybody. End of the week, okay? We’ll pay the month but, well, you know.
No need to have the condemned man around, eh?
Perks frowns but he doesn’t say anything.
I am staring at my screensaver, a slowly revolving diamond. A fake diamond, I am thinking. I look closer. How could you tell? I don’t know how you’d know. I remember a friend’s wife had an eternity ring he had bought her – the stones were cubic zirconium. She didn’t mind. It’s the thought that counts, she said, and I was puzzled because I was wondering what she thought the thought was, actually.
Walking into the house, I shout, Hi honey, I’ve been sacked. It seemed as though it would be funnier when I thought it up on the train.
Sorry darling, Jem is saying. I didn’t catch that.
Sorry darling, I am saying, I was canned.
Fired, you know, given the boot.
Oh, I’m sorry.
No, it’s okay.
They’re restructuring, I say to her as we eat dinner.
She doesn’t look up. She is eating the whole of her meal with her head bowed. She isn’t looking at me at all.
I think that’s business talk for sending all the jobs to China.
Did you have a job that they could send to China?
She puts the plates in the dishwasher and goes to watch some television. I am standing in the kitchen. It is already dark outside. Not much moon to see by. I am glad I have no reason to go out.
I have something to tell you too, she is saying.
I don’t know whether it’s the right time, she is saying.
I know she has something to tell me. I do not need to be a clairvoyant to know what is coming.
I have met someone else.
Which is a curious thing to say because you would hardly expect to get married and then never meet a single other person.
Oh, I say. I am wondering whether she needs me to be angry. Perhaps I could give indignant a shot. I have never really done indignant. I am thinking about how you do it. A harsh tone? A scowl?
I am scowling.
Please don’t be upset, she says.
I want to say, I’m not upset, I’m just trying out a scowl, but she is already crying.
Do you want to know who it is? she is asking.
No, I say.
It’s Alistair Perks. I’m so sorry. We met at a party.
Yes, I know.
You know it’s Alistair?
I know you met at a party.
Which one of us leaves? I am asking her.
Well, I think you should, she says.
I don’t ask why. I glance out of the window. It has started to rain.
Okay, I say. I am thinking about what I should pack. Can I get by with a holdall?
The station is dark and quiet. I sit alone on the platform. I am thinking, perhaps I will just not bother going into the office. Perhaps I’ll just be sacked right now. I am thinking about going to the seaside and getting some sand in between my toes. Perhaps I’ll do that instead of going to the office tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll just have an away day break. Perhaps I just won’t come back.
The rain is falling lightly. I am waiting for a train to somewhere else. I knew I was doomed when I lost the will to contest my doom, but it feels just like waiting for a train always did.