The Voice in my head

I barely had a chance to open my eyes before the words floated into my head:

“What’s the point??”

I stretched a little and wriggled my toes. The ol’ knees creaked as I stood up, flicking the blanket to the floors. It was still dark outside. I stumbled a little but managed to catch myself, hanging on to the wall for a moment. I was pleased for a moment, I hadn’t fallen. Not this time. I clenched my hands tightly, as they shook a little in response to the shock, but I continued rubbing them as if to convince my limbs that I was okay.

My mouth was dry, like I’d been licking a dirty sponge. My head pounded, it felt like I’d run a marathon and been hit by a truck – all in equal measure. 

In the kitchen, I flicked the light switch, quickly shielding my eyes from the sudden brightness. I turned the kettle on and while I waited for it to boil, I poured myself a glass of water, adding a slice of lemon. That intense thumping in my chest quickened. I’m sure I have a panadol around here somewhere, I thought… I opened the ever-reliable third kitchen drawer of crap, looking for a naprogesic, an endone, oxy, anything.

“Maybe you should call in sick?” The voice asked.

“No. I’m fine. I’m fine. It’ll be over soon..”

(Whatever “It” was)

I bent left, then right, extending and stretching my upper torso, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Feel the feels, let the blood flow. Taking a sip of tea, I consciously made an effort to be present in this moment.

Breathe. Take a beat.

I focused on the next 20 minutes, going through the DVD yoga routine. It felt like torture. It was supposed to help; to transcend minds, or some such nonsense. All it did was remind me that my body ached and nothing would ever fix it. I was getting sick of people going on about how awesome yoga is. Is it? What happens if your entire body was damaged from a young age? What if everything you ever knew hurt by the time you knew how to speak words? What if by the time you could speak words, no one heard or believed your pain? Where do you put that part of reality? What if head hurting and body aching led to forever never-ending pain? How do you recover from that? How do you pretend that your experience is okay? How do you plaster a happy face on when you wanted to scream your brains out or physically hurt a particularly stupid human? Every day felt like the ultimate exercise in self-control. And for very day you didn’t kill someone, you chalk it up to a win. So how do you respond to someone when they ask if you’re okay? What do you say? Instead, you focus on being grateful to get through another day and feel relieved that you’ve managed to put on clothes and leave the house. How do you deal when you are so desperate for your life to be different so that you can luxuriate in the hope of a normal life… what then???

The Voice chuckled a little. “You know you’ll never be normal, right?”

I would never want to be. What the fuck is normal, anyway?

I finished my yoga poses, inhaling and exhaling. That would have to do for today. One box ticked.

Time for breakfast. I took grabbed some juice. Full of herbs and minerals, she was able to see the veggie goodness, all the fruits and vegetables that went into this spectacular juicing. The routine was to juice the fruits and veg the night before, so she could juice on the go. She felt her body consume the celery, the spinach, the carrots, the ginger, the kale, the lemon and the rest. A detox for her body was exactly what was needed. I took a sip and gagged a little but forced myself to swallow just the same. Another box ticked.

Not that it really mattered. It was all just millennial bullshit all this yoga and juicing. She was still the same person. Everything she did was a waste of time, it barely made a difference. Lemon water, celery juice, yoga, who was she kidding? Last night she ate a tube of choc-mint cookie dough and three glasses of cab sav. Alright, it was four. Four glasses. That meant that three panadols should do it.

Just to take the pain off.

The pain of what? Life.

The pain of life, she told the Voice.

I looked at the time. Seven am. I didn’t want to be late again. I couldn’t bear more eye rolling and looks from the people she worked with.

I scrolled through my clothes options, each one a bit crappier than the last. If I had tried harder to look after my stuff, I wouldn’t have to choose between the trousers with a hole in them or the skirt with a dropped hemline. I grabbed a dress with a coffee stain on it, but I can wear blouse over the top. I put tights on again because I have forgotten to shave my legs. For like the tenth week in a row. I looked down at my shoes, it was getting to the point where I can no longer hide the scuff marks. Hopefully no one knew that they were $20 on sale. They were awful shoes, cheap and nasty, but they were black and they didn’t hurt. They would have to do. Occasionally, I thought about buying new ones, but she knew she wouldn’t. Maybe if she liked her job more, I might try a bit harder to care. But I just didn’t care.

I washed my face thoroughly and make sure to scrub it with the loofah. The water almost helped. I looked straight into my eyes in the mirror, they were still blood shot and itchy, even make up couldn’t hide that reality. At forty, what else could you do but stare middle age straight in the eye and tell it to fuck right off.

My eyeball twitched. It was happening more and more lately. Maybe if I brushed my hair, just so…no one would notice the horror of my bleeding eyeballs. But the hair? There was really no point in trying. I’d walk outside and the wind would mess it up anyway, so none of it mattered.

I carefully applied my makeup. Just a touch of foundation to cover the hormonal pimples. They were growing by the day, like a bulging undergrowth in her skin, the oil was accumulating daily. You’d think a woman of her age wouldn’t have to deal with this. I lacquered a goopy mess of foundation over them, just to strangle them a bit more. A touch of eyeliner and mascara to distract the droopy, bloodshot eyeballs. Really, who was she kidding? I’d have panda eye by 10am. I applied a thicker coat. At least I could look good for the first ten minutes of the day.

I hoped I didn’t look too disgusting today. Or at least nothing too obvious to single me out. That was such a big fear, that someone would single her out and draw attention to her cheap clothes and ratty hair. No matter how much I brushed my hair, no matter how much I blow waved, straightened it, it was always awful. That little tuft at the top of her head that stood up to attention like it was ready to salute. I gelled the shit out of it but it looked terrible. Every time I talked to someone, it made me paranoid. Were they looking at it? What was the tuft doing? Was it re-enacting that “something about Mary” scene? Could I do a subtle hair flick or maybe a head tilt and no one would notice the tuft…? There would be at least three bathroom visits throughout the day to check the tuft.

I checked my watch. Yep, already late – time to go. This would have to do. There was nothing I could do about my face now.

I picked up my handbag, noticing that the tiny little stitches were starting to unpick themselves. This is why I can’t have nice things. They always broke. I’m the girl with the goopy makeup , the panda eye, the bumpy hair, the shirt with the coffee stain, this mismatched socks and the broken handbag. I had given up looking like the girls in the magazines a long time ago. That ship had sailed. 

With each step out the door, I felt the never-ending death knell. Dead Woman Walking. Her heels clicked to the tune, every step echoed in her heart, crushing her soul, dooming her dream.

Arriving at work, I swiped my security tag. Once, twice. It beeped. Denied. Was this a sign, should I go home? I swiped it a third time and finally the door did the long beeping thing and the door released. Oh well, another day of work.

I felt the metaphorical chill.

‘Good morning Suzi! I love that shirt on you.’

Fuck off Verity. Can’t you see how shit I look?

I plastered on my best ‘happy days’ face.

‘Hey’.

Who the fuck was this happy in the morning? Happy and wearing floral, it made her sick. It was like spring fashion had vomited all over her. It was like the word “under-stated” had never occurred to Verity. And not only that, she didn’t know how to mix it up. It was the same every day. Every single day. Floral on floral on floral. It’s was so frustrating, that this gorgeous woman could make anything look good and she chose 80-year-old, floppy potato-sack maxi-dresses. I wish I could look as good as Verity. Even if it were floral.

I looked down, refusing to make further eye contact. Just keep walking. Don’t look back. You might catch yourself in a conversation about the weather. Or worse, children.

I inhaled slowly. Every step I took, the voice told her to run for the hills. Another day to endure. You chose this, the voice said.

Seven fifty eight am. Only eight more hours to go.

Eight hours. Forty hours. Forty eight weeks. Thirty five more years. She could do this. It was going to be fine, the voice told her.

I headed to the kitchen. My hands were shaking. I clenched my fingers today to steady them. You can do this. Coffee would help, surely? And did it matter -whatever got you through the day.

I opened the fridge. There was a rotting apple and some dodgy milk that had expired two weeks ago. Great, some arsehole just left them there. Pouring the milk down the sink, I took a piece of paper towel and put the apple in the bin. As gross as it looked, I couldn’t help but stare at the rotting food. It felt like a metaphor. It was all rotting. Her face, her life, her sandwich. It was all just dying. And there was nothing that she could do about it. I put the salad sandwich at the very bottom, wrapped in paper towel.

As I approached my desk, I heard the sound of female laughter. The two women on the other side of the petition, Cassandra and Carla stopped talking. There was nothing more I hated than their stupid pointless office gossip. It was exhausting. I purposefully avoided eye contact with them, at all times. Just in case she got swept up in the vortex of their mindless chatter.

I caught myself, overwhelmed. I closed my eyes. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Seven fifty nine am. I can do this, I tell myself. It’s going to be okay.

‘But what was the point?’ the voice in my head reminded me.

I stared at the computer screen. This chair felt like a punishment. Every time I sat in it, it sank lower to the ground and the arms were slippery and stabby in equal measures. The nuts and bolts had slipped off years ago. The online forum to request OHS chair repairs was down for maintenance. The page had been ‘down for maintenance’ since she started in the role. It was fitting, really. This was her chair for life now – a dodgy, stabby, broken chair.

Eight-oh-one. I took a sip of coffee and swallowed.  Opened the spreadsheet and began –

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Her middle finger cracked.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

I scrolled down to the end, to check the requests. 2658. Yesterday the total was 4839. It felt like progress. I wonder what happens when I’ve finished this?

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

This was her life now.

Sally, the blonde girl who had sat next to her for eighteen months, sneezed. I surreptitiously pulled out a bottle of hand sanitiser and wiped my keyboard and desk.

‘Look away, do not make eye contact.’ I told the Voice. ‘Be cool.’ I slightly angled my body away from Sally.

Click close. Click complete.

All of this was so pointless. I hate this. I hate my job. I hated my life. I hate myself. I hate every single moment of my life that has led to this moment.

Nine fifteen am. Time seemed to be moving backwards.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly –

Sally’s phone  rang. They all stopped what they were doing and stared at the phone. Sally looked round as if to say ‘what now?’

The phone continued ringing.

This hadn’t happened before.

‘What-?

They all went back to their work. 

The phone continued ringing.

Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten times.

It was if they had all psychically agreed to ignore it.

Sally picked up the phone and hung it up again. She took the phone off the hook.

They passed the rest of the morning in silence.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Brain is leaking out of my ears, I felt my soul draining out. I could literally do this with my eyes closed. Sometimes I did.

The lights feel very bright in this office. I rubbed my left eyeball, it was starting to twitch again. That must mean it was lunch time. I can only sit and stare at the computer for so long before my eyes start to ache.

The clock ticked over from eleven fifty nine to… lunchtime! I grabbed my handbag and took the twenty three steps to the kitchen without a word. I took my sandwich from the fridge and sat down to read the newspaper.

Flooding in Cambodia.

Earthquakes in California.

Volcano eruption in Italian village.

Slowly, I unwrap the glad-wrap and slowly chewed her salad sandwich. Forty six chews per bite. A swig of water. Another bite.

Tornadoes in Kansas.

Icecaps melting in Greenland.

I coughed a little. My heart was racing. I took another sip of water. My eyes lost focus a little.

War in Syria. Iran. North Korea continues secret nuclear testing. US President has dementia. Prime Minister locking up refugees in concentration camps. Housing slump. Job losses. Economy Crash. Recession.

I closed my eyes. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

That was enough world news for today.

I wiped my mouth and took a mint out of her handbag and ate it. As a test, I blew on my hand and sniffed. My breath smelt ok. I checked my face in my hand mirror. Slight panda eye, so she wiped the black mascara off from under her eye. There wasn’t much else I can do – it will have to do. 

My heart felt like it was skipping a beat. I can’t control it. It was beating so fast. Remember to breathe. Pretend you’re a robot like the rest of them.

‘I heard she was looking for a new job’, ‘I heard she was difficult’, ‘I heard they were going to fire her’ , ‘I heard she was an idiot’, ‘Useless’, ‘Breaks things’, ‘Stupid’, ‘Incapable’, ‘Terrible.’

I sat back down at my desk. The voices stopped.

Twelve fifty seven.

Sally was gone. 

She opened her emails. A new report.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Tab. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.Tab. Shift F5. X 100. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Tab. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Enter. CTRL+S. 

Close.

One Report. Ten to go. That should fill her day. She completed them in two hours.

Click close. Click. Click Click Click –

I looked out the window. The sun had gone behind the clouds. I should have gone for a walk. I keep saying that I will go for a walk in my lunch break. That I would drink more water. That I would stop and meditate, that I would remember to breathe, that I should-

The phone rang again. The room hesitated again. It rang four five times and –

I reached over Sally’s desk and answered it.

‘Finance Department.’

They all looked at her in disbelief. The message was clear – we don’t answer phones.

‘Thank God. Someone answered the phone. I need to speak to – ‘

‘I’ll just transfer you’

I ignored their stares.

Three oh-seven pm.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

This was the riskiest time of the day. The perfect nap time. 

I took a moment to delete thirty more emails. All neurotic clients. No answer required. Delete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Click close. Click complete.

Nope. My brain was starting to shut down. I’m starting to succumb to the three-thirty-itis. Everyone else appeared to be napping, why shouldn’t she? I grabbed my coffee mug, pretending to go for a coffee. Instead, I took the next left and went straight to the sick bay. Settling in for a nap, I closed my eyes.

This is my life now. Her beige life.

I’m swimming in a beautiful ocean, a sea of calm and serenity. In the distance, I hear thunder, a crash of lightening, the storm approached quickly. The waves began to thrash her around. I’m thrown underwater. Again and again. I battle against the water, sinking further down. I can’t breathe, I’m drowning. I fight more, but my lungs are heavy. And then a voice ‘Stop fighting it’. I stopped resisting it and began to sink.

I opened my eyes. There were voices right outside the door, was she busted? I grabbed a pen and paper from the door, as if to pretend I’d been taking notes and not bludging. I hovered by the door to wait for them to leave. But what were they saying?

‘She is gorgeous. Never a hair out of place. She radiates just this perfect energy, I wish I could be just like that. She is just so confident.’

‘If only she’d smile a bit more, she always looks like she’s worried.’

‘She’s so good at what she does, thorough, on point.’

‘Cassie, have you got a moment?’

I inched open the door. They were gone. I checked my phone for the time. Four fifty six pm. I walked the thirty one steps back .to my desk.

‘Wow, that training went forever!’ I said to Sally, as if I was in a hurry to leave for the day.

‘Sorry?’

‘Never mind.’

‘Another day done,’ Sally said.

I looked at the time- Four fifty nine pm. Finally! I did it. I took a breath. I couldn’t face walking out with Sally, so I pretended to keep typing for a few seconds. I could not bear the awkward small talk as they left the building.

I ignored Verity and walked straight out the front door.

‘Have a good evening’ echoed behind me and I didn’t stop. I kept walking.

I did it. I had made it through the day. Another pointless day completed. It was over. Only three more days until I could have two days respite. I felt so sick at the thought of another day of mind-dulling insanity, I couldn’t even bear to think about food. The memory of drowning stayed with her and her stomach couldn’t bear the thought of a meal. I stopped in at the bottle shop and the way home and got a bottle of Cab Sav. On Sale. Eight dollars and ninety nine cents, what a bargain. How could I possibly resist?

I should go for a run, I should cook some vegetables. But instead I poured myself a wine. Fuck Carla and Cassandra. Fuck Verity and Sally. What do they know? Who are they? They thought that I was useless, that I was going to get fired, they would probably get her fired. Maybe she should be fired. Who even cared if she was fired? I could get another job. I have skills, it wasn’t too late.

I poured myself another glass of wine. I turned on the TV and switched it to channel Nine. The perfect channel to watch to leave her brain at the door. I stared at the screen for a while, watching but not really listening.

Was this my life now? I’m nearly forty. I’m so tired. Perhaps I should eat something. 

I think there’s some of that cookie dough left.

I should take my make up off, have a shower, do the dishes. I should call my parents, check in on friends. I should do that. But instead of doing any of those things, I stared at their instagram pages and listened to fake looking women talk about their pretend marriages, this is what they called entertainment these days. In the ad break, I flicked through the channels. The news was on-

Flooding in Cambodia. Thousands Dead. Earthquakes in California. Businesses ruined. Volcano eruption in Italy. Flights cancelled.Tornadoes in Kansas. Houses flattened. Icecaps melting in Greenland. The environment is ruined. America is ruined, the UK broken, Australia is doomed. A housing slump. Job losses. Economy Crash. Recession.

I closed my eyes. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

That was enough news for today.

I poured the wine down the sink and sighed.

Time to go to bed.

Do you have any thoughts, comments, feedback about my short story? Leave your comments below!

One thought on “The Voice in my head

  1. Love it! Dark, humorous,sad and indicative of the lives of the souls trapped in the fear factory we call life at this moment in time.

    Liked by 1 person

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