That Little Old Fear

There’s probably a word for this in German, she thinks. The relentless progress publicity that she knows, underneath the smiles, won’t happen.

New boots click across the office floor every few months, footsteps haunted by echos of change and culture and future proofing that somehow get lost in the hall between management and the rest of the office.

Yeah, na, she thinks, and flicks a dangerous look at her co-worker. It’s a fine blend of exhaustion, cynicism and fuck-me-what’s-happening-this-time.

This state can only be cured by one thing.

“White or red?” Greg asks her, face heavy with a tired grin.

It’s fucking annoying living with an optimist.

Even an infestation of spiders somehow isn’t a downside to their flat.

“At least they’ll take care of the —”

She’d rather have the flies.

She’s thought about going to therapy, but she’s terrified of being asked what she wants.

To be happy. To be hopeful. To have something to look forward to, beyond becoming blissfully unaware thanks to the multiple bottles of red.

To feel again. Like she used to be able to.

Yeah. No thanks.

Greg betrays her on a Thursday, unearthing a bottle of gin to ease the blow.

“I’ve met someone,” he says, ripping at a packet of chips with his teeth, wincing when the vinegar seeps into his mouth.

“How’d you manage that?” She asks.

“Ha, ha,” he says, pouring her a generous gin and tonic. “On Tinder, like most freaks now days.”

“So she’s a freak, then?”

“No more or less than you or me,” he shrugs.

She swipes at the glass he’s slid across the table for her, clutching her fingers around the stem.

“Is this the moment when you tell me you’ve become an optimist? That love cures all?”

He laughs, mixing his own potent brew. “Hardly, but I have decided to finally get the fuck out of here. You know, we’ve both been stuck for too long. I dunno about you, but I’d forgotten the power of change.”

Somewhere, underneath all those numb and buried feelings, she feels the slight jolt of her heart falling.

“Bastard,” is what slips out. “Leaving me to destroy the children’s hopes and dreams all by myself.”

“Oh, come on,” he exhales, looking at her frighteningly, like he really means it. “They don’t need us to do that for them.”

Time keeps ticking, even without Greg in the office to watch the clock.

Gone is the wine, the gin, the conspiratory looks when something goes belly-side up.

He sends her a few texts from his new workplace in his new city with his new girlfriend… And somehow, freakishly, it doesn’t hurt.

Surprisingly, it makes her feel like the office walls are a little less insurmountable. The footsteps in the hallway slightly more honest. The spiders in the house almost amicable.

All those years they spent together made her feel like they were in it together. The only two who understood each other and this job; self-sacrificing sufferers who had seen the reality of the world — and had settled for what they could hold in both hands.

But he got out; eyes wide, hands open.

Fingers tasting the corners of her half-full tonic glass, she wonders if this is what hope feels like.

About the author
Grace Archer writes marketing stuff for a living, but is keen to write other things.