There is a man, let's call him Adam. For all intents and purposes, Adam has ticked all the boxes a man his age should have ticked. He has a reasonably acceptable job which affords him a reasonably acceptable pay which affords him a reasonably acceptable standard of living. Adam maintains several social media accounts and has an appropriate amount of friends. He had an above average childhood and two above average parents. Adam socialises on a frequent basis and documents this online so that his friends or maybe someone he went to high school with twelve years ago might acknowledge it. Adam is as content with life as he feels someone his age should be.
He isn't depressed. He isn't unhappy. He knows that,
But there's an itch.
It's an itch that began poking it's head some years ago, soon after he started his job. An itch that could not be located nor it demand being scratched. It was the type of itch that only really surfaced when time seemed to stand still. When he took the train to work and forgot his earphones, late at night when watching a seven minute long teleshopping advertisement, when colouring in the white parts of the font on his newspaper. At first he wasn't even aware that it was occurring, a simple yawn or stretch would scratch it. As time passed however, the itch, as itches have a tendency to do, became more pronounced the more it was neglected. It began to surface when he would listen to a particular type of music or when watching people pass from the window of the coffee shop. It became so intense that he would find himself zoning out of entire conversations. Glancing intently at each person in four second intervals, nodding in agreement, but completely oblivious to what any of them were saying. Like he was on autopilot but didn't know why. These lapses from reality weren't filled with anything else. It was just nothingness.
Until one day, all at once...
It was the most typical morning a person could have. It was the kind of morning that matures into the kind of day that concludes with the kind of evening you would not reminisce of on your death bed. At least you hope you wouldn't. More than Adam liked to admit to himself, he already wanted it to be over.
The Tuesday morning melody sounded from his phone at 0630. Adam had recently devised a theory that if he programmed a different alarm tone from Monday to Friday, each progressively more upbeat than the last, then by the time Thursday and Friday rolled around his buoyancy for life would be regenerated for the weekend – This did not work.
By purposely choosing the most unfavourable possible melody on his phone for a Monday he always began the week with a repellent attitude. The Monday melody, Cat Fight, was by far the worst. Midweek he had moved on to a more mellow tone, Ocean Breeze, clearly resembling whale songs and by Friday he would wake up to the sounds of Boogie Time. His best friend Marcus had, on hearing this theory, suggested that a complete reversal of this system would probably prove more effective.
Adam showers, shaves, brushes his teeth, dons his red, blue and white vertically striped shirt ironed and worn yesterday - still good. Walks to the train, and throws on his Tuesday playlist for the thirty six minute train journey to work. There is nothing unorthodox about today.
It was somewhere after his third coffee that morning in the staff room of the Supermarket he managed. It was Michelle, 47, the checkout operator; poor Michelle. It could have been anyone to be fair. Michelle has three children whose pictures she keeps taped to her cash register, a great conversation starter. Michelle is mortgage free because her husband is successful doing something Adam does not care enough about to remember. Michelle is also about seven stone overweight and has, as far as Adam is concerned, checked out. She has checked out of trying and checked out of life. In fact Adam is quite sure she has never really tried to do anything. Instead her existence revolves around talking about her offspring and the pride she takes in belittling her husband.
Michelle is currently poured into 'her' chair in he corner of the room. The chair does in fact not belong to Michelle, she did not pay for it, it was not assigned specifically to her. About four months ago, having squeezed out her latest seasonally named calf, she was back. Amongst the four thousand photographs Michelle had something else suffocating under her arm. Somewhere between where her mass meets one of those all encompassing tents that she frequently passes off as clothing, Adam could see this contraption. He didn't care what it was, but he was already annoyed that he was going to find out. It was her conversation piece for the day, there was always one. The criteria for what qualified as interesting with Michelle wasn't too stringent. Today's piece is lingering under her arm, tactically placed to not necessarily warrant attention yet still visible enough to be noticed. It is simply a back support that she intends to fit to her chair – that's it. Adam had seen them before, it was not interesting and it did not merit an explanation. Adams gaze is fixed on it although curiosity is not high on his list of reasons for doing so.
The back support is luminous pink as a contingency to the slim chance nobody will notice it - but nobody has. Michelle has paraded this contraption past just about everybody in the store since she arrived and nobody has passed comment, her demeanour is noticeably changing. As she greets each staff member with a "Good morning" the sincerity suffers. Adam is captivated. He notices everything she does. He even notices how, as time has moved on Michelle has allowed the device to protrude a little more from under her arm. She is desperate now, her shift started five minutes ago and she still has her rain jacket on. Adam watches in astonishment as she shamelessly attempts to have the piece noticed by gesturing with it during conversations and even going so far as to use it as a means of directing somebody. In the case of Michelle, Adam often secretly compares himself to someone who has devoted their life to studying another species. He is an expert on every move she makes or word she speaks. He knows when to challenge her and, more commonly, when to back down. As he ponders his findings on the subjects behaviour today he unwillingly gives Michelle the opening she has been looking for. Whilst preoccupied with his wandering contemplation it has not occurred to Adam that whilst staring at this back support he has been inadvertently staring at her sandbag of a breast.
"Eh... Can I help you?"
It is loud enough to get the attention of the staff room - clever move. In one perfect strike she has delivered a devastating blow. Simultaneously bringing attention to her latest purchase whilst accusing Adam of being the store pervert. He is furious.
"No, I was, I was looking at...the eh... the..."
The words do not find him in time. Everybody within a thirty metre radius is now looking.
"Mm hmm" Michelle purrs, as if there was any other realistic explanation to be had. As if Adam was actually looking at her with anything other than loathing. She looks at him in a manner that nobody but Michelle has done since his primary school French teacher. She tilts her head slightly forward so as her glasses drop about half an inch down her nose, peers over the lenses and holds the stare - it's impressive. It is a look that immediately discredits any combination of words you could conceive before they even begin their journey from your brain to your lips.
"Okay Adam." The tone is sarcastic and patronising and accompanied with a grin, reaffirming to her loyal subjects that Adam is indeed infatuated with her. The sniggers from her most devoted followers are muffled yet deliberately loud enough for Michelle to hear. This place is a well-oiled machine - her machine. Governed by fear of banishment if you do not cheer the fat clown.
"It's a back support Adam, you'd know about back pain if you'd had three kids in the last five years...Oh... and that's also why my breasts are larger."
No muffling this time. Her subjects laugh openly – Ducks to bread.
He reminds himself that he is in fact the manager, "O...Okay everyone, back to work." The delivery is poor and weak.
"Yes Boss!" Michelle barks.
Realistically, Michelle hasn't done a whole lot wrong. Not by a long shot. Nothing she couldn't defend as playful fun. In fact, poor Michelle is less at fault for what is about to happen than Adam is.
But what is wrong with Adam? Why does he feel this disdain toward Michelle? What has she ever actually done to him other than the odd jibe here and there? Everybody else seems to enjoy her company. She orchestrates a relatively joyous lunch break atmosphere. Realistically she is harmless.
That's just it though. Who assigned her the composer of the daily conversations, the conductor of the colourless? And perhaps, the most irritating part of it all; Why? Why is Adam the only person in this building who feels like Michelle is the host to a virus. A virus so toxic that he is petrified at the thought of surrendering to it. This virus, as Adam sees it, is not a virus as we know it. It is more in the line of a sickness of the senses. The effects of which are an absolute removal of the conscious from the last ounce of natural human fibre. If Adam submits to stomaching much more of her drivel, he will sooner or later become one of them. Infected with a state of paralysis, floating through life in an unaware condition of content. Satisfied that the prospect that shitting out a couple of kids is grounds enough to take your foot off the gas and sail straight into an early grave with a big stupid smile on your face.
Janet, 29, works at the Deli, she is lovely. Janet, who used to have some substance to her, has been infected. She has her first on the way and unknowingly, apparently, to Janet, she has become one of Michelle's zombies. Hanging on her every word and fuelling the fires of the dictator's favourite topic of conversation - herself.
Michelle, who is seemingly the only woman on the planet to have given birth, lowers herself into her throne in the corner. She ritualistically shuffles her excess body mass into the spaces between the armrests. As she performs this dance, she carries out a balancing act, like a puppeteer. In one paw she clutches her monstrous serving of salad, because she's on a diet, marinated in full fat dressing. In the other, she wields a conversation piece from six months ago, a Spork.
That one piece of plastic irrelevance was responsible, in the not too distant past, for an entire episode of the Michelle Show. It literally encompassed the entire seventy minutes of one of her lunch time lectures. Adam counted during that particular session, and in total the collective contribution to conversation from anyone else in the room comprised of five words. Five words in seventy minutes. Now lunch break is only an hour long but Michelle had not yet dismissed her class.
Today however, there are only the three of them on break. Michelle, Janet, Adam - in that order. He knows what is coming. He can feel a sharp pain originating from the centre of his forehead and resonating uniformly. She hasn't even begun the address yet but, it's the room, the smell of stale coffee in the carpet, the unnecessarily loud tick of the clock and of course, the sound of her grunting with eminence as she shuffles into position, takes in her audience and passes a look that expects your attention. Adam is the manager but Michelle is the Queen. It's a shit kingdom to rule.
And it begins…..
"So…Janet, did you try that exercise I recommended?"
The pain from his forehead is already increasing and he can feel the skin on his face begin to develop a darker more crimson complexion.
"Honestly Michelle, by the time I got home yesterday all I could do was sleep".
Janet has made a categorical error with regard to The Michelle Show etiquette. She has quite foolishly made the assumption that what she has to say is of any relevance to these 'discussions'. Michelle stops aimlessly knocking lettuce leaves around her plate and breaks Janet's eye contact with a glare.
The pain now is so severe it recalls a memory Adam didn't even know he had. The exact sensation he had when he was a child and cried so hard that he nearly passed out. Every muscle in his face is aching, there is no suitable reason to excuse himself that wouldn't in itself appear strange.
"Well it's your baby, what would I know, I've only successfully delivered three healthy children".
His heart is pounding now, his palms muggy and gluey. He tells himself to relax. Why should he care? The more he fights it the worse he feels. The skin on his forehead feels taut. Then, like the calm before a storm, he drifts into a trance-like state and for a number of seconds, his vision becomes less focused, his head feels weightless. Adam is no longer in control. There is nobody at the helm.
"You're some fucking bitch"
He is looking at her now in a manner his facial muscles don't recognise. The type of face you pull when you see vomit on the street, or indeed, the type of face you pull when you've just vomited on the street.
Michelle begins to become limp in her chair. The uncertainty of her body language is encouraging. Like a lion hearing a gunshot for the first time. She is in shock. She knows what she heard but her inability to process it is physically apparent. The Spork is now being held between her fingers with the proficiency of a mannequin. Out of his peripherals he can see Janet. Janet's stature is still, except for an almost unnoticeable vibration down her arms. The type of vibration you usually only notice when you look for it, like concentrating carefully on a small speaker. Her fixed gaze is too deliberate to be natural. In this moment, this exact moment, Adam realises that he is not going to apologise. That fail-safe that is bred into each and every one of us to retract when we let out a glimpse of our natural state does not trigger in Adam this time. In fact, unbeknownst to poor Michelle, she is the one who has worn away the safety mechanism. She has in effect pulled the trigger on herself. Something has to give, it has literally only been seconds but feels like minutes.
At this stage Michelle has processed what has been said to her and that it was not meant as a joke.
Janet wants out but can only remain still. For a moment she reminds Adam of that scene in Jurassic Park about the T-Rex not being able to see you if you remain perfectly still - Janet does not want to be here.
Adam, well Adam is calm. In fact Adam even has time to contemplate how he is thinking about Jurassic Park when he has just said what he did. Eventually something gives; Janet.
It is somewhere between a whimper and a yell, but perhaps the most involuntarily hilarious thing that could have happened at this moment in time, but nobody is laughing. Adams' eye contact does not falter. He continues,
"You are, without a doubt, the most, disgusting excuse for a human being I have ever had the misfortune of laying my eyes on! With your stupid fucking children and your stupid fucking life! People in this place must be brain dead to tolerate you! A manipulative, scheming, sanctimonious, useless sack of shit!"
His delivery is slow and careful. He pronounces every syllable and gestures with his hand to maintain her attention. He wants her to read the words off his lips. He wants her to fully understand how he feels toward her. By this stage, Michelle is done. He sees the briefest split second in her eye that she considers a counter strike. He watches it come and go. This will not be her moment. The next thing he sees in her eyes is the reflection of the ceiling fan. She has shifted to the only strategy she has left, defence; and the tears are coming. At first it is somewhat like a desperate sniffle, as though she expected to be physically attacked. The quivering lip and running nose are manifesting themselves but there is still no sound. She is unsure of the situation and in turn unsure if she can cry. Michelle is terrified, like she is being held at gunpoint and can't look away. It eventually becomes apparent to her that the worst is over, and with that, the wailing begins...the noise is outstanding.
It is the catalyst that brings Adam back into the room. As though this had just been another fantasy on his train ride home, but this was real. Janet had fled like an antelope to locate somebody capable of social interaction. Adam watches her rock in her chair, holding her hands inches from her face like she is catching tears, howling in agony like a dying cow. He is beginning to come around. The realisation of what has just happened is beginning to settle. As he stands to leave he maintains eye contact. Her eyes are for the most part closed but every few seconds she opens them to check if he is still there. As she does they widen as though she is seeing a ghost and the roaring increases. Adam walks to the coat hooks and slowly puts on his jacket all the time watching her. As he moves to the door he stops. He looks back one last time and takes it in. He enjoys that he has embarrassed her and how repulsive she looks crying. He waits for the eyes to open one more time so that she can see him smile. As he takes his leave he passes Janet on her way back from her expedition with help in tow. As he walks through the sliding doors Adams mind is blank. Like holding a brush inches from a fresh canvas trying to decide what the first stroke should be.
This is not how people handle their problems. They talk them through and they embrace and they maybe even cry and then they leave the room and shift the loathing back into gear – and nothing is achieved. Something has however been achieved here today. He is a mercenary who just assassinated a psychological terrorist and for this momentary act of whatever it is Adam did, reality has not been suspended. Quite the contrary;
Reality, has been reinstated…
The walk from work to the train was always conducted in a state of partial awareness, something that had not previously been apparent to him. More than he cared to admit, perhaps narcissistically, Adam had always considered himself capable of something great, he believed it with a ferocious conviction. The shortcomings of his ambitions, the failures to address them and the fact that he alone was the only person to be held accountable all amalgamated into one resultant – the deflated, lifeless, departed treading his best years into the same path beneath his feet on a daily basis. Probably the reason Michelle got both barrels less than half an hour ago, but Adam was not going to apologise, he had already decided that, she was an appalling person and her opinion of him did not warrant a second thought.
As he walks the short walk to the train and takes in his surroundings he observes passers-by going about their daily routines. He imagines he's an undercover agent, a wolf amongst the sheep, disguised as one of 'them' but in possession of a dark secret – you don't have to do what people expect you to. He just verbally attacked and demolished a person's character and walked out of his job and his heart is still beating and the world is still turning.
Adam thought to himself of how he will retell the story of what just happened in that staff room by opening with, "Well it wasn't my proudest moment..." but it was. He had finally done something, he had finally stood up for himself against a tyrant and just as he felt like life had got the better of him he shocked himself back from the edge. The lingering question of, 'What next?' had not escaped him, but that didn't matter now.
As a matter of fact, nothing mattered right now. For the first time since he was a child Adam was free. He did not have to worry about study, a girlfriend, a job or any of the social requirements expected of a man who has, in the eyes of the world, had his fill of living and should now be planning his demise.
For today however, nothing else mattered and cliché as it may be, Adam's only intentions were to get as drunk as humanly possible.