Office Mouse by S.J.Budd
It was the third time that Clara had dreamt that horrible dream again, but even worse, it was a Monday; the beginning of another week.
She hated her job, and the job hated her back. She arrived on Monday’s dawn swathed in the faceless crowd invading the city from London Bridge station, the current of it carried her to work. Each morning she often thought about breaking her regimented routine turning the other way and walking against it, away from her office, to a different future, but she never did. The current was too strong.
Clara had 20 minutes until her week officially started at 9AM. Even listening to her favourite album on her phone could not shake off the black heavy claws clenching her shoulders.
Daniel had not called once over the weekend and she’d spent it alone in protest bathing in self-pity and despair. Clara hoped he’d been busy with his mates and not out seeing other women. They had been together for around six months but he’d never referred to her as his girlfriend and she hadn’t met his friends yet.
As she left the pavement of Gracechurch Street she jolted and sprang back, she had not been watching the road and sensed a car was coming too fast, too near. She fell backwards onto the dirty street pockmarked with old chewing gum and free newspapers. There was no car but the sense of danger prevailed. No one helped her up, but of course this was London.
Clara felt uneasy and she rubbed the back of her head to see if she’d hit it. The feeling was still there, she shouldn’t be here. She felt she was being watched. And when she turned her head she knew why.
It was the narrow alley way in her dream. She looked stunned, it was exactly the same, littered with tatty cardboard boxes from the nearby bar and forgotten debris. Here was the place where the young girl in her recurring dream had been killed from a blow to the back of the head after a failed mugging. Her throat felt tight. Never once had she harboured a notion that she could be psychic, she’d never believed in it. However the evidence was mounting. She must be having that dream for a reason? Was the girl trying to contact her to help her live?
The call of her office was looming ahead. The weekend had gone too fast, her life was going too fast. She was aging at a rate faster than what she was able to do with her life. She was 27 but she hadn’t yet landed that amazing job which would validate her existence. She hadn’t found the one, let alone been in a position to purchase a flat or start a family, though she was willing to compromise with a small promotion and Daniel. He was alright. However time at the office always stood still, in a time zone of its own. Office days were endless and empty, and she imagined it was a bit like hell.
Outside her office were the regular gang smokers huddled together trying to block out the wind so they could light up and keep warm, they ignored her as usual even though she smiled and politely addressed them. She was nothing to them, and quite frankly they were nothing to her, but in the world of her office she was just an office girl. She was one of those subordinates who resided in the unfortunate status of being easily replaceable and of very little importance unless they had nice legs.
Each Monday morning she vowed to start looking for a new job elsewhere but by Monday afternoon she always drew the same conclusion. If she was to get another job it would be just as bad, she would be paid the same little pittance and treated badly by whoever happened to be having a bad day, there could be worse bosses out there waiting for her in another job.
The front door beeped once as Clara swiped herself in, she felt very tired and slowly walked up the stairs savouring her last bit of freedom. The office was busy as she entered inside, a cacophony of ringing phones, the tiny beat-beat of keyboards, warm printing photocopiers and shouts across the floor. She slipped in unnoticed and sat by her desk.
The other girls who sat opposite her did not even acknowledge her and began to loudly talk about their wild night out after work last Friday. They had not invited her and she felt her ears burn with shame.
She knew she needed to make more of an effort to fit in with her colleagues but they seemed so strange to her. There was a part of her that wished to remain quiet and unseen in case her strange nature be discovered and scrutinised.
Life was passing her by because she was too meek and quiet. It was her that was the problem not her job, she needed to change and show herself to the world.
“Hey girls, who’d like a coffee?” She said in her brightest cheeriest voice. No one looked up, they were too engrossed in conversation. She pondered as she hastily retreated to the staff room. Had they been talking about her on Friday night? Had she done something wrong? Had it been agreed that she just didn’t belong in their little clique?
It was so embarrassing that she had not been invited and felt something inside her crumple whenever one of the girls mentioned their mantra; we girls have got to stick together yeah? They had not invited her to lunch either, probably because she had not been there last Friday. She had decided to stay late after work. She needed an image change; new clothes, a new haircut, better shoes and surely a brand new revitalised personality would follow? That would make her less invisible to Daniel at least. There must be some really hip bars she could look for near work that she could invite the girls to.
But there was one other girl who worked in the office that Clara had forgotten about, someone that even Clara though was weird. Was it possible for Clara to make a friend at work? Deanne also liked to keep herself to herself, she was the IT person and wore strange t-shirts, and she didn’t have to dress smart as she never saw clients. Deanne never really saw anyone. People left her alone and she had very successfully stayed out of the way on the second floor and rarely spoke to anyone. Clara couldn’t help feel jealous. It was worth a try to approach Deanne and attempt to befriend her. She didn’t want to eat lunch on her own, not when everyone but her was having fun.
She heard the regular soft tapping of fingers on keyboards as she came near Deanne’s desk. Clara straightened her shirt and knocked lightly on the open office door.
“Hey Deanne you had lunch yet?”
Deanne looked up and studied her for a long time clearly upset at being disturbed. Even she doesn’t know who I am. She did not move.
“It’s me Clara.”
“Leave me alone.” Deanne rushed forward and kicked shut her office door. Clara couldn’t believe it when she heard the lock in the door click.
Did everyone in the office hate her so much? What had she done wrong? Feeling humiliated once more she walked back downstairs, almost as if nothing had happened. She should have said something but the strength had left her. Her arms felt limp as they descended the stairs. A coffee was what she needed.
“Deanne’s just been sent home from work,” One of the girls said after putting down the receiver after returning from a long lunch.
“Apparently she went a bit mental.” The girls sniggered. Clara couldn’t see the funny side.
“Coffee anyone?” She said to deaf ears.
It was her fifth trip to the staff room that day. It was the only place to go where she knew no one else would be. It was largely uninhabited, everyone but her smoked and took all their breaks outside.
I mustn’t cry now. Although it was tempting.
Everyone hated her and now they weren’t even bothering to be civil, how could she have let things get this bad? Maybe her only option was to learn from her mistakes and move to another job. Being quiet and shy got you nowhere. Clara had to stop blaming others; it was her that was at fault. She should have called Daniel over the weekend, maybe he was waiting for her to get in touch? If he’d been out with someone else it was her fault. She wasn’t paying him enough attention. She didn’t pay anyone any attention.
Now was the time to change.
She needed to help herself, and then she needed to find that girl who was attacked in her premonition before it was too late. Clara had to find a way of rescuing her and stop it from happening. Clara was sure of her dream now. Should she call the police?
But first she needed to help herself, on the table was a battered copy of Look Magazine, it was old but her wardrobe was even older and she wanted to see what she should be wearing instead of her old shirts and skirts. The other girls always looked stylish and she needed to start looking more like them than herself.
Underneath where the magazine had been there was a printed memo. Clara looked down and fingered it, one she had not been privy to.
“It is with deep regret that we have to announce the sad passing of Clara Davies. As you may have seen on the news, Clara tragically lost her life when she was mugged near Gracechurch Street last Friday.
We will be holding a collection to send flowers to her parents and there is also a card to sign if you wish.
A jolt of clarity came, it had not been a dream but a flashback. She raised her hand and studied it, she could not see through it nor was there a pale glow.
How could she be dead?
If I had made more of an effort with the other girls I would have been out with them on Friday rather than staying late looking for ways to reinvent myself.
What must her mother and father be going through right now? Clara stood up at once and ran back to the office. No one took a blind bit of notice of her and she let out an almighty scream, still no one looked up. She giggled uncontrollably and still, no reaction.
“I really must be dead.” Clara turned and ran to the staircase towards the doors to the building. Her heart raced she had always wanted to do this, to just walk out. She could go wherever she wanted to.
However when she came to the doors they wouldn’t open, she couldn’t get out. Not even when someone came in from the other side. She was trapped in an office where time stood still. Where nothing really happened other than the tiny beat-beat of the keyboards, the cacophony of ringing phones and the warm printing photocopiers, shouting across the floor.
“This is a bit like hell.”
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright S.J.Budd 2017