“We live in a world of labels,” the labels on the doors inform Stella. She looks at the labelled boxes stacked against her manila walls. Three years in her job, three years of boredom. No more late breakfasts, lunch-time sex and all-night student parties. Instead, this parallel universe that is ‘The Office’.
There’s one window in the room, with a C4-envelope-shape section unobscured by label-filing and office detritus. Visible through this, a patch of city garden, with bright red flowers, their petals tightly closed. A nobody is sitting on the bench.
Stella climbs on a chair to fix the clock’s faulty tock and move the labels blinding out the window’s sunlight. As she leans over to adjust the minute hand, Stella steadies herself against the pile of boxes. The stack overbalances. She moves back quickly. The ticking falls to silence. Paper’s strewn across the floor.
Enough! At 2.21pm on Thursday, April 6, 2017, Stella pushes the labelled doors wide open and walks outside into the garden. She sits at the other end of the bench to the nobody, who must be somebody, and feels the tired grass grow greener.
Swinging one foot, Stella kicks a discarded plastic bottle. The nearby bin is brimming with squashed cans and empty packets. Further along the tulipped path, a crumpled newspaper flaps in the wind like a poorly origamied swan failing to take off – about as useful as her degree certificate, Stella sighs.
The somebody stands up. He’s almost close enough to speak to, but… Stella fumbles in her pocket for loose change instead. He’s already moved off though. The coins rub roughly, dirtily, in her fingers.
Stella watches him pick carefully through the bin’s wrappers and shreds of sandwich lettuce, extracting the best bits. Of half-eaten snack bars and stale bread, she shivers. The man looks up, staring straight at her. She smiles, hesitantly. He smiles too, sparkling-eyed in the crisp sunshine, his gaze clearer than a spring lake. Then he turns his face towards the ground down again, zig-zagging his way along the tarmac to avoid the fresh pigeon shit. Stopped by the frantic newspaper bird, he smooths out the Metro, re-folds it neatly and slips it into his bulging carrier.
Stella smiles again, something light and almost feathery fluttering inside. Making sure no one is looking, she picks a tulip, cupping its soft redness in her hand. Then she stands up, leaving her coins on the bench as a payment, though she’s not sure to whom or for what.
Sliding lost time into her pocket, Stella strides purposefully back to ‘The Office’. By 2.27pm, she’s at her desk once more. Thirteen new labelled files are waiting for her to turn to digital data. She pushes them aside and opens her drawer. Pulling the tulip apart, she sticks the red petals one by one into an envelope and labels it ‘ACCOUNTS’. It’s a small gesture, but beautifully untraceable.
S.A. Leavesley is a journalist, fiction writer, poet and editor, with flash fiction published by Jellyfish Review, The Nottingham Review, Oxford Today, Under the Radar, Elbow Room, Fictive Dream and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. Her website is at sarah-james.co.uk and she runs V. Press, poetry and flash imprint.
Image: Jeremy Bishop