Scenes of life - Week 003 (21.9.20)
Week 003 (21.9.20)
I tuck my hands in my trouser pockets to guard them from the cold as I walk through the open field of a local park. I blow out a breath but the droplets of water are not transforming into clouds. It is not this kind of cold yet.
The ground beneath my feet is damp, the light grey of my shoes turning dark as I tread through the grass. I am glad that the waterproof coating on them is still efficient. Above me the sky is milky white, hanging onto the mist that had shrouded my neighbourhood in the small hours of the morning. I can feel the remnants of it hanging in the air. It has stilled the world, keeping most of the usual dog walkers close to their houses, letting the park be mine for the hour I am here.
The sound of traffic behind the tall hedges and trees is muffled more than usual, the mist dispersing the roar of their exhaust before it can reach my ears.
I walk on, the bottom of my ears cold where my beanie doesn’t quite reach. I am not wearing a pair of headphones this morning. I want to be part of this quiet moment. In the near silence of the park, I can imagine I am further away, past the motorway that encircles the neighbourhood, past the endless rows of brick houses, and into the wide landscape of the estuary a few miles away.
I stop at the bridge crossing Stoke brook. I have a choice here. I can walk around the boundary of the park, keeping to the edges of the open field, or I can cut through the tall grass into a cluster of trees. My decision is quickly made. I step forward, through the cleared path within the tall grass, to the trees. Not for the first time, I wonder if this path was a desire path before the parish council took to maintaining it.
The light dims under the canopy, leaves still plentiful to nestle you into their embrace. I drop my gaze from the leaves to the path in front of me. At the end of a short dark alley of trees, a pool of light glows as if the sun was out, the droplets of dew on the grass making it almost sparkle. In the middle of this circle, a fox has stopped in their track. They have their head turned to me, their face too far away for me to be able to make out any details.
My breath catches in my throat, trapped within my lungs. I look back at the fox, their ginger fur set alight. We stare at one another us, neither of us moving. In the quiet of the morning, neither of us expected the other’s presence. Footsteps muffled by the mist, echoes trapped in the air, we have both believed this place to be ours and ours alone.
The fox refocuses their attention to the invisible path ahead of them and bolts out of the way, leaving me standing at the opposite end of the mass of trees, still not breathing. The pool of light is empty again, not a blade of grass or speck of earth moving. Has a fox truly been in this space a few seconds ago?
I do not see another living being until I reach the residential streets around the park. People are streaming out of their houses, shuffling children into coats, hurrying along the pavement for the school run. The world is louder here, every action reverberating against the harsh brick of houses and the shining metal of cars.
‘Tea,’ I ask.
‘Sure.’ My partner returns to the kitchen while I sink into the living room sofa. I should be heading to the study on the first floor, rummaging through the pile of notes I have made for my interview tomorrow but I cannot bring myself to do it. Instead I eagerly grab the steaming mug of tea my partner brings me, and sip at it, the tip of my tongue nearly getting burned.
I retrieve my phone out of my pocket, instinctively nestling my finger on the back pad to unlock the screen. Without a thought I open the reading app and select the latest fanfiction I have on the go, losing myself in a world I have come to know well. A voice at the back of my mind tries to nag me to stop but I ignore it. Just one chapter, I think, while I drink this tea and warm myself up. I swallow the words on the screen, my thumb flicking pages fast. One chapter turns to two, the mug empty on the coffee table beside me. I hear my partner shuffle at the dining table. ‘Are you going to stay there all day reading fanfiction?’
Yep, I want to answer. Those are my last days of being on furlough and after seven months of frenzied activity, breakdowns, and recovery, I want to luxuriate in the time afforded to me, wasting it by doing nothing else but read fanfictions, lounge on the sofa, walk in the park, and let the hours tick by without a care in the world.
‘No,’ I answer.
Reluctantly I rise from the sofa and make my way to the study. My notes are spread across the desk in vaguely organised piles. I straighten them in attempt to bring order to them before going over the words I wrote regarding volunteers in public libraries, about how I fit all of the criteria of the person specification (just). My writing soon blurs under my gaze, my brain looping back to the disbelief I have felt ever since I have been invited for an interview. I feel inadequate, inexperienced for the role of library development officer but at the same time my entire being pines for this role.
My eyes travel to my application where the first position I had in libraries is highlighted. This job had a different name back then but it was basically the same. The position was axed too soon, another budget cut sweeping its way across the library service. After learning the news, I had spent a month crying in suburban trains ferrying me from one side of London to the other.
I stop myself from going back to those memories. I cannot hope for this role, I cannot believe it is available to me. I have to believe they will not choose me but someone else. Someone else who cannot care as much as I do about this job, someone else who fits the mould of the Council more than me, someone else who… Just someone else.
I rub my eyes, trying to push the thoughts away, pulling my focus back to my notes. I force my brain to concentrate but it is to no avail. The words are movements and shapes on a sea of white. I sigh, pulling my phone out of my pocket, and leave the chair for the sofa bed behind me. I open the fanfiction and return to reading. In a matter of seconds, I have vanished into a world of colour and magic, forgetting about how much I do really truly want this job.
The sky is clear this morning as I walk around the park for my pretend commute, the sun so bright I have to wear sunglasses. Colours pop in an explosion of yellows, oranges, and greens and I wonder where spring and summer have gone. They feel like a lifetime ago, my mind sheltering behind time barriers more often than not.
Dry fallen leaves crinkle as I crunch their skeleton under my feet. The sound is loud in the open space around me. I stop at the edge of the clump of trees, my eyes scanning my surroundings for any trace of the fox. They are not here today. Instead a dog walker comes into view, stepping into the pool of light previously filled by the fox. The dog walker does not look at me, their eyes too busy scanning the screen between their hands.
I enter the woodland path, my feet carrying me to the undergrowth beside the path to avoid any close proximity with this other human being I do not know. The noises of leaves and twigs under my steps make them raise their head.
We exchange a brief smile before crossing path, our backs turned to one another. I swerve onto the lane, my footsteps dampened by the already broken twigs trodden on by many other people.
Out of the clutter of trees I catch the familiar scuffle of squirrels to my left. I turn my head in their direction. There are four of them this morning running in a line, scrambling frantically to climb an old oak tree. I observe them as they run and jump around, their arms and legs moving too fast for me to be able to focus on any of them at once.
Squirrels seem to be everywhere of late, every ounce of the park invaded by their small grey figures. They are always in movement, never standing still for more than a breath. I study them for a while longer until they disappear into the foliage of the canopy and I lose sight of them. Are all of the squirrels over Britain caught in this last mad dash before the long winter sets in? The park will grow quieter then and I will be somewhere different. At this time of a day I will be halfway through Bristol, panting on my bike as I struggle to make it up a particularly steep hill. Or maybe I’ll be on a flatter part of my commute. I do not yet know the timing of my new commute route to say with precision. Soon though my change of job will become a reality and I will no longer be in stasis.
I leave the squirrels behind and continue my pretend commute, looping back on myself to return to my house. I make a mental list of everything I want to get done between bouts of fanfictions reading. There are e-mails to be sent, articles to be read, notes to be transferred from my phone onto a notebook, and the more mundane tasks of washing and cleaning. I have until 2pm to complete everything. After this time, I will have to leave the house again to meet up with my soon to be ex-colleagues. I have not seen them for over two weeks and already my memories of them are fading. I remember the shape of their body and the intonation of their voice, but the details are slipping away. We only came together because of a job shared and without it I am unsure how we fit within one another’s lives. I know for certain that we would have never formed a bond like we did if we had met outside of work. I want to see them again but at the same time, I am far too removed from their lives now. What will we talk about at my leaving do? I know the answer to that but how do I take part in work talk when I haven’t been there properly since March? I leave the thought aside and put my headphones on. I do not want to hear the words in my head.
The wind pierces through the layers of clothes I am wearing, chasing away the last of the heat coming from the sun. I take a sip of my ginger beer trying not to think about the e-mail from one of the interviewer I have received earlier in the day.
I wanted to let you know that we are taking more time to consider the candidates for this post and so will be back in touch with you again with a decision at the beginning of next week.
I would have liked to know now, celebrate a new job with my soon to be ex-colleagues or let them distract me from the pain I do not want to address at the idea of not being offered this position. Instead I have to wait until next week. Monday? Tuesday? Is Wednesday still early in the week?
I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. I have done all I could and my part is over. Lies, my brain screams at me. Shut up, I reply picking up my phone and opening the now familiar fanfiction. My screen turns black, the light fading imperceptibly as words take centre stage in the cradle of my hand. Before I can read more than one paragraph, a familiar voice booms through the pub garden.
I rise from my chair, the metal feet scrapping uncomfortably against the stone. I ignore the sound and greet my colleagues as they appear one by one. I wave my arms in my air in the gesture of a hug. H. rolls his eyes at the behaviour, hands firmly stuck in his pockets.
‘You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,’ I reply laughing. ‘Sorry about the shade,’ I add pointing at the table. ‘The other ones would have been awkward for five people.’
They look around and nod. We settle around the mostly shaded table, our clothing inadequate for this cold autumnal day. We glance inside, the pub deserted but none of us dare suggest moving indoors. They are all aware of the anxiety that lives within me. The moment passes and my colleagues duck their heads to their phone screens, attempting to make sense of the pub online ordering system. I watch them all in turn, keenly aware that this is very likely the last time I will ever see them all together. My heart aches at the sight of them sitting here, so comfortable around one another. Have they missed me at all?
I have no time to linger on the thought. Their orders are placed and they are asking how I have been.
‘Well you know, living the life, going on walks, taking photos, reading…,’ I reply jokingly, my voice trailing off into silence. Forgetting about the office, excited to start a new role, moving on. I do not add those words.
Soon enough, we regress to conversations of work, our private lives remaining just that, but I do not share their enthusiasm. I urge them on, asking questions and listening intently, but the more they talk the less I hear the words. I am an enclave in this small gathering, the woes of that particular workplace already drifting away from my daily preoccupations.
I want to stop the words flowing out of their mouths by hurtling my body against theirs and tightening my arms around their backs in a strong hug. I want to squeeze them so hard to let them know how good they have all been, how great a team they have been, how sorry I am for leaving them, and how happy I am that they chose to be here with me even though I am already of the past. And then, I would let them go, release the pressure of the hug to let a rush of cold air slither its way between our bodies.
‘We have to do this more regularly,’ one of them comments. I know they do not mean meeting up with me but letting off steam at the pub after a long week at work.
‘Definitely. And you should come too,’ another hastens to add towards to me.
‘Sure thing. I only live around the corner after all,’ I reply smiling.
We rise from our chairs, our bodies in need of movement and heat after an hour in the wind.
‘Stay in touch, yeah?’
‘Absolutely,’ I answer, the promise broken before I even made it. We all know this will not happen. There is nothing to bind us together but work. Once I start my new role (whichever one it might be), I will be irrelevant.
My colleagues all disappear in their cars while I walk away from the pub, towards my home via the nature reserve. Hands in my pockets to keep them warm, I smile at the departing cars. They merge into rush hour traffic, their cars swallowed by the sea of metal all around. I dip under a tree and vanish from sight of the road.