Ian D. Moore
Today was just going to be ‘one of those days’ – I knew it the minute I fell out of bed a full hour late. It seemed like mere seconds in my hazy, bleary eyed awakening, the recollection of snuggling down into the pillow having bounced the alarm from the bedside table.
The realisation that my impeccable routine was about to disintegrate sent me hurtling for the bathroom, yanking on yesterday’s shirt and willing my feet through the bottoms of trousers I staggered over.
My life ran like clockwork, it had done for as long as I’d been employed – never missed a day and I was never late. The routine that I had created was a work of art, timings had been calculated to the very second, distances measured door-to-door and practice runs completed long before I’d ever been offered my job.
0630hrs: Up and out of bed. Then to the bathroom to wash, shave, empty my usually screaming bladder and finally, dress.
0645hrs: Downstairs, kettle on, coffee in the cup ready. Prep car keys, wallet and briefcase.
0700hrs: Drink coffee and listen to the early morning traffic bulletin on the radio, two slices of multigrain bread in the toaster, low fat spread from the fridge, knife ready on a clean side plate. Replace the spread, take a small glass and fill with pure orange juice. Not the cheap nasty stuff either.
0710hrs: Eat the freshly made toast, has to be hot still, drink the juice, then put on shoes that were polished the night before.
0715hrs: Suit jacket on, quick check for fluff, overcoat over arm, briefcase in hand, lock the house and leave for the journey into the city.
0720hrs: Start the car, head to work, arriving precisely 35 minutes later; parking in my usual spot, opposite the clock tower.
That was my routine: Clockwork.
Now, over an hour late, the control I had over the rest of my usually predictable day was rapidly slipping away from any kind of rescue attempt. The somersaults in my gut merely enhanced the feeling of shame that I knew would consume me as eventually I walked into work. I called the office, feigning a forgotten early morning appointment and the need to arrive late.
Having cut myself shaving, the indignity of it… and of all the times it had to happen! I pressed a small piece of toilet paper onto the offending nick. It was only a small wound and yet the blood flowed as if I’d been slashed, seemingly with no immediate clotting on the horizon.
Resigned to a lousy day, I finished my coffee and binned the practically half-cooked toast – such was my haste to hurry my usually precise morning routine to its conclusion. The inner trembling inside my entire body willed me into motion.
Firstly my jacket, thrown around my shoulders as my left arm began a frantic fight to find the sleeve, while my right hand grabbed at the briefcase, which decided to keel over onto its side. With my jacket now on, albeit a little crumpled and riding up my back as I bent for the case, I grabbed at the handle, yanking the tool of my trade to my side.
Long, fast strides saw me exit the kitchen, leaving the dirty plate, cup and glass on the side and mentally scolding myself for the slovenly action.
It simply wouldn’t do.
As I passed the hanging coats, I grabbed my long black executive trench, cradling it in the crook of my arm as I pulled the latch on the door. Typical! Grey looming clouds accompanied by a light drizzle – you know the kind, you’re wet through in under five minutes and it stays that way all day.
I flicked the key fob; the car beeped and flashed as if annoyed at being awoken from its overnight slumber. The handle left a cold, wet imprint on my hand which soon found the right cheek of my pinstriped trousers. Another slovenly act, and again I cursed.
With the woes of a morning already alien to me, the mere act of throwing my coat at the passenger seat – closely followed by the over firm positioning of my briefcase on top of it – seemed to quell the beginnings of a frustrated furrow to my brow. The pangs of guilt made me swallow the remains of the anaemic toast that fought for ejection.
Not in this car by golly!That simply wouldn’t do.
As I inserted the key into the ignition, I briefly glanced at the rear-view, instantly spotting the now blood red, oversized full stop piece of tissue positioned just below my nose. The dilemma is this… do I leave it there until I have to see someone, or do I tentatively peel if off, hoping that it won’t re-open the wound? With the clock on the dashboard reminding me that time was running, not walking away from me, I decided upon the latter.
My left hand clutched the steering wheel tightly enough for me to notice the whiteness at the knuckles. I let go and waggled the gearstick as I always did; checking that the car was in neutral as my right hand twisted the key. The lights on the once darkened panel sprang into a myriad of illuminations as the various self-check analyses completed. I turned the key to the next stage and… Nothing! Nothing happened.
This cannot be; it simply cannot be.
There was no click, no whirring of the starter motor, no lurch of the automatic choke as the engine supposedly ignited the miniscule amounts of unleaded fuel that were forced into the compressed chambers. The lights were on, yet nothing else mechanical was.
The first thought that entered my head was: This car has had it! Closely followed by sheer and complete panic as the fine droplets of sweat began to bead over my brow. My mouth became as dry as the Sahara itself, my tongue rough and sandy. A peculiar shaking feeling took slow, deliberate control of my entire body, and were it not for the vice-like grip of the steering wheel I now had, I doubt that I would have remained upright in the driver’s seat.
My stomach began to tighten and dip, lurching and contracting, the desperation of my situation slowly, but surely, hitting home. The utter compulsion to dash for the house became overwhelming and it took every ounce of willpower for me to stay put, inside the car.
Through narrowed eyes, partly with self-disgust at the lie I’d told, partly at my own growing weakness, the anger that burned within at the injustice of the timing began to level out. My hand dipped for the phone, pressing a quick-dial digit before holding the device to my ear, or as close as I could keep it, given the trembling.
“Thank-you for calling the RAC, can I help you?” the cheery voice asked.
“Uh, yes, uh yes, my car won’t start and I really need to be somewhere,” I said, mumbling the words as if pre-programmed to do so.
“Ok sir, no problem. Could I take your name, membership number or vehicle registration please, so that I can find you on the system?”
“What? Oh yes, yes, vehicle registration and my name…” I babbled.
The operator took my details, assuring me with only the barest hint of uncertainty in his voice that a patrol would be with me within the hour. The line went dead but the phone remained pressed tightly to my ear. I could feel it judder in my damp, sweaty palm.
The rain began to form larger droplets on the screen which proceeded to trickle in crazy lines, connecting with other droplets as the water snake wound its way down. This notion of winding down to nothing became my own thoughts of my life. The intricate, defined structure of my daily routine, my resolve and dedication to my goal, had now been destroyed first by an hour’s indulgence and then by a machine – of all things.
My mind made crazy interpretations of the patterns adorning the windscreen – monsters and demons appeared to glare back at me as I stared. These were hallucinations and blurred erratic images enhanced by my mind’s eye, filling me with an irrational fear of what really wasn’t physically there at all.
After what seemed like an eternity, a gentle tap on the driver’s window snapped me from my distant place. My hand trembled without proper control as I grabbed at the door handle, before pushing it wide with my foot.
“Are you ok sir?” the genuinely concerned voice of an orange suited engineer asked.
“Y… Yes, I’m fine… really… I, I just need to get the car started so that I can go to work.”
I could hear my own voice, the syllables fragmenting slightly as I spoke. I could see the young-looking mechanic and I tried desperately to focus my vision on the RAC logo at the left breast of his jacket.
As the engineer asked me to describe the car’s symptoms in order to ascertain a possible cause, he appeared to me like some sort of ghost. The outlined image of him began to swoon and ripple like some ethereal entity and it took considerable willpower to restrain myself from reaching out to touch him – to make sure that he was real.
My hand hovered over his shoulder as he bent under the bonnet, wiggling wires and checking connections. Another second and I’d no doubt startle him… assuming he was real.
“Ah, I see the problem sir. The battery connection has corroded through, look here, see?” His eyes urged me to look down at the rusty looking connection that he held in a blue gloved hand.
The realisation that my car probably hadn’t ‘had it’ caused me to let out a long wistful sigh of utter relief, loud enough for the mechanic to pick up on.
“Are you sure you’re ok sir? You look like you could use a drink,” he said cheerily.
“Drink? Oh… No… believe me, that’s the last thing I need right now, but thank you, I’ll be fine, really,” I replied, trying to hurry the procedure of repair along.
“There, all done, just jump in and we’ll see if she’ll start.”
“She, umm, who? Oh, you mean the car! I’d never really considered the fact that my car might be a ‘she’,” I stammered.
“It’s a mechanic thing sir. The vehicles I work on are usually ‘ladies’ so to speak. It’s metaphorical tomfoolery, I guess.”
I flopped on to the threadbare driver’s seat, pushed in the key and turned it, almost in one fluid motion. The car whined, coughed and finally chugged into life, belching out a cloud of dark smoke as the diesel engine fired up.
“That seems to be fine sir – life in the old girl yet. If you could just sign here for me, that’ll be us done,” he said, proffering a clip-board mounted work card.
Before the young mechanic left, I shook his hand firmly, perhaps too much so, not only because he’d fixed my car, but to affirm that he really was there – that this really was happening. The confirmation of his presence sent my stomach into further cartwheels. The realisation that I now had to face the office loomed into reality.
The drive into the city was noticeably quieter, the rush hour now long gone. Office workers who would usually be making their way to the bustling maelstrom of the financial districts were already busily at work, making and losing tens of thousands of pounds without ever leaving their desks.
The offices I pulled up just across the road from were less imposing, no glitzy glass fronts or bold, emblazoned signs shouting to the world of their existence. No, this was an old, subdued building, dignified and in its place, unimposing in appearance despite the allure towards it of so many people.
I was unable to park in my usual spot; the luxury of the ability to do so was taken by a huge 4 x 4, the owner of which must have been thanking a higher power when they saw it empty. Instead, I parked a little way down, got out, locked the car and began the walk back to the office foyer.
My legs felt as if the actual bones were trembling under my skin, my head twitched from side to side, eyes darting nervously to be sure that no-one was watching me. The sensation of the perspiration under my arms became enhanced as the cooler air circulated through my jacket, chilling each pit until it became almost soothing. Beads of fine moisture gathered once more at my brow as I clutched the briefcase in my left hand, pausing briefly at the open doors before pushing my way through the plate glass foyer entrance. A young, made-up and very attractive secretary sat behind a large, light coloured wooden desk, intermittently looking into the foyer area in between furiously updating files on a computer screen in front of her.
She paused briefly in her work, looked up and me and smiled.
“Good morning, Mr Coulson.”
“G… Ahem, pardon me… Good morning Sarah, am I too late?”
“The first meeting ended half an hour or so ago but if you take a seat, I’ll see if I can get you into the next one. I’ll let Jerry know that you’re here,” Sarah said.
“Ah, thank you.”
I felt like a schoolboy having been sent to see the headmaster on the grounds of unruly behaviour. My palms began to sweat profusely and the briefcase clattered to the floor in the seating area, prompting a concerned stare from Sarah. She must have seen the blind panic in my demeanour, understood the significance of my delayed arrival and the effect it was now having, knocking the next domino in my neatly created line.
She stood, slowly walking over to my corner, holding a clean glass in one hand and a jug of cool, clear water in the other. She placed the glass before me and filled it three quarters full and then, without a word, she returned to her desk, offering only a knowing smile as my shaking hand grasped at the glass.
The liquid, simple as it was, felt like a magic, medicinal remedy and while it couldn’t possibly cure all of my anxiety, it certainly helped.
“Jerry will see you now, Mr Coulson. If you’d like to go to Conference Room 2 you’ll find the second group waiting for you,” Sarah said.
“Thank you Sarah – for everything,” I replied, feebly.
I took the lift to the second floor and tentatively pushed open the door of Conference Room 2. A ring of faces turned at my arrival and I felt the burning desire to turn and run… as I’d done so many times before.
“Martin, how lovely to see you – thank you for joining us. Please, come in and take a seat right here,”Jerry said boldly.
He studied me as I shuffled to my allocated seat. My eyes refused to meet his, afraid of the potentially accusatory knowing that I might see in them. Little did I know; there was none.
“It’s been a few months now, since your first visit to us Martin. You look fantastic. Job interview, was it? For those of you who haven’t met Martin before, please take the time to get to know him. Would you like to introduce yourself to the group, Martin?” Jerry said. His voice was always so soft, caring. He never seemed to judge and I’d never heard him express anything but kindness in his tone.
I finally prised my chin from my chest, looking around the room at the various faces and degrees of dress.
“M… my name is… is…is…Martin – and I am an alcoholic,” I blurted out.
I stared directly at Jerry. His face beamed a proud, knowing smile at my affirmation of what I’d become since losing my high powered executive position 6 months ago. Sure, I dressed each day to go to ‘work’ – I kept my routine, despite not having a job to go to. The Mercedes I’d once taken for granted was long gone, replaced by a battered Ford, but it was still my car.
The thrice-weekly Alcoholics Anonymous sessions had become my work. In my confused, alcohol starved mind, Jerry was now my boss, the one I had to meet the targets for, the one who depended upon me to deliver the goods.
It wasn’t so much the group therapy that I needed. It was the feeling of belonging once again, the feeling of connection, of relationship to those in a similar situation to my own.
Better late than never.