Mr K. sat down at his desk. It was a beautiful day outside and in the office it was calm and cool. Mr K. was unhappy. He felt entirely alone. Mrs B., sitting just a few meters away, typing at her desk was no comfort. And since sitting down, a dread feeling had come over him; he felt his life would soon be ending. Mr K. turned in his chair, leant one arm on the windowsill and looked outside.
The park was bright and lush in the summer sun, though over the tops of the trees clouds were beginning to gather. In an hour or two the shadows in the park would blur and the grass would turn a shade darker. But for now, the grass was a brilliant green, almost too bright to look at, and the shadows were deep and sharp. A man pushed a pram across the grass whilst balancing shopping bags on the cot. A little blot of pink looked out from under the hood. A smile. A happy little baby.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. For lunch he’d eaten a salad brought in from home. He didn’t know why he’d put rocket leaves in the tub, they always got stuck in his teeth. There was a bit there now, stuck between two teeth in the top left of his mouth. There didn’t seem much point staying in the canteen once he’d finished so he’d brought his tea back to his desk instead. He blew on his mug and looked out of the window.
In the park a man pushed a pram across the grass and balanced his shopping on the cot. In the shadows below the trees there was a deeper dark. Out stepped two legs and a pair of white hands. The branches were low, heavy with green leaves. They obscured his face. He pushed them aside.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. He felt lost in the familiar office. Everything was how it should be, his desk by the window, the blue light reflecting in Mrs B.’s glasses. He had his pens and pencils in their cup, his stack of work and his computer. But these things, his things – the office that he could navigate with his eyes pressed shut, stoic Mrs B. – he felt unmoored from them all, like they weren’t there at all.
He blew on his tea and tried to think of something else. He found a shred of rocket stuck in his teeth with the tip of his tongue. It was still peppery. He rested his arm on the windowsill and looked down into the park. There was a man with white hands walking across the grass. He looked up into Mr K.’s window and Mr K. was overcome with despair.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. He thought about leaving early and looked at the clock on his computer screen. What would he do with the extra time? He could go out to a show or the cinema, or for a walk into the country and get wet in the rain that would surely come. Or perhaps he would go to a bar and meet someone. He leant his elbow on the windowsill and blew on his hot tea and thought about all the possibilities. He’d probably just end up sitting at home. That’s the problem with so many choices, he thought. If I’d had fewer choices maybe I wouldn’t be here at all.
Outside, a man pushed a pram over the grass. It bumped along and the shopping bags almost fell off. A man with white hands stopped and let the pram pass. The father ignored him, too busy with the bags. The baby screwed up its face and wailed. Even from up here in his office Mr K. could hear it scream. It didn’t like the look of the man and neither did Mr K. He didn’t like the way he walked or the way he looked up into his window. Mr K. focused on the man’s face.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. He didn’t want to look at the pile of papers in his tray, they would be there whether he looked or not, sitting waiting like the hours of his life stacked one on the other. Once they were gone someone would come and add some more and his life would go on, and on. I could swap this day for yesterday and not know the difference, he thought. But today had been different, he’d skipped most of his lunch. Today the papers could wait, and he could lean on the windowsill and look outside.
There was a man on the grass looking up into his window. They held each-others gaze and Mr K. felt afraid. Not threatened, nor panicked, it was something else. On his way home he would walk by a river. Sometimes in the winter the river would rise and become a pale brown thunder riding up the banks. Any higher and it would spill over and wash him away and there’d be nothing he could do but flail and swallow the thick brown water. That was what he felt as he watched the man with white hands cross the grass; he felt the rising water coming to meet him. The man pushed open the door below Mr K.’s window.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. He thought about tracing his tongue over the back of his teeth to find the bit of rocket leaf stuck there from lunch. No, he’d wait and wash it away when his tea had cooled. That would be something to look forward to. He would filter the tea down between the roof of his mouth and his tongue, then catch the little flake and grind it between his teeth. But his tea was still too hot.
He leaned on the windowsill and looked out on the park. The lift down the hall made a sound, someone was coming up, they were on the first floor, and now the second. His was the fifth floor. He thought about the river he passed on his way home and how high it would have to rise to reach his desk.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. There was a man out in the hall looking at him. He’d seen him before, he was sure. He’d seen those white hands and that face. A far away nightmare of recognition. Please don’t let him come this way, thought Mr K. as he blew on his tea and turned to the window.
Mr K. sat down at his desk. A man had appeared in the office from nowhere. Mr K. looked up from his tea and there he was. He put down his cup on the stack of papers. He knew why the man had come.
He put both hands on the windowsill and looked outside and wished he was pushing the baby across the grass. He wished he was someone else, somewhere else, anyone anywhere but here. He wished he had a child and a busy life and a wife. Something to come home to, something to love. He wished he couldn’t hear the steps behind him. He wished –
Mr K. sat down at his desk.
‘Well?’ said the man with white hands.
Mrs B. typed away, deaf to the man and to Mr K.
‘Please leave me alone. I want to go home.’
‘Tell me that you’re happy and then you may leave,’ said the man.
‘Because it wouldn’t be true?’
‘Then we’ll start again.’
‘No,’ said Mr K.
‘Be here with every look and breath and sorrow and joy. Repeat them, again, and again. And when you have learned to love each of these moments, and you want nothing different in this small eternity, then you may go. Let this be your end and beginning.’
‘I just want to leave this place,’ said Mr K. ‘Let me go.’
‘This was your wish.’
‘I don’t want it.’
Mr K. ate his lunch alone and unhappy. He picked around the lettuce with his fork to find the last flakes of tuna. He ate them with some rocket. As he chewed the peppery leaf, he thought about all the things he’d wanted to do, and all the things he hadn’t done. I wish I could start again, he thought. If I could relive my life everything would be fine, everything would be different. He skipped the rest of lunch and took his tea to his desk
‘I don’t want it.’
Mr K. ate his lunch alone and unhappy. He picked around the lettuce with his fork to find the last flakes of tuna. He ate them with some rocket. As he chewed the peppery leaf, he thought about all the things he’d wanted to do, and all the things he hadn’t done. I wish I could start again, he thought. If I could relive my life everything would be fine, everything would be different. He skipped the rest of lunch and took his tea to his desk.
About The Author
William Nuth was born in London and now lives on the border of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. He has previously been published in Structo magazine. In his spare time he can be found writing and talking to his dog.
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