This was the time. Marion had decided. The fire alarm seemed to smile at her as it rested on the wall. It was fire red, smooth. It looked polished, untouched. Inviting. Marion studied the clear white lettering, "PULL."
It stood out against the pale tan walls and the cubicles in "mist grey" and " soft blue." There had been a staff meeting over the new colours, as Mark, the second administrative assistant, brought in swatches of cloth, each with a somewhat sappy name: evening blue, summer yellow, peaches and cream, lilac. The meeting was short and decided by secret ballot. Next week the grey and blue appeared and everyone assumed their votes for "dusty rose" or "sea foam green" had been outnumbered. The grey was horrible against the tan and only made worse by the drooping holly supposed to give the office a festive feel.
The only bright colour, the only relief, was the fire alarm. Every time Marion passed it, she imagined her jacket sleeve catching the edge of the handle. Ledger books would clatter to the floor at the sound, emails would suddenly be deleted. The alarm would destroy the document she was on her way to fax, the pile of documents resting on the edge of her desk, waiting to be dispatched.
She imagined shattering her days - these long lists of emails and the cubicles silent except for keyboards clicking and chairs creaking. In this office, ties were straightened, glasses adjusted. The plastic plant stood, slightly dusty, beside the photocopier, while the kitchen was little more than a counter with little more than the coffee maker, kettle and sink for rinsing the plain ceramic mugs.
It was normal, safe. And here, always, was the fire alarm. A siren, silently waiting for its chance to sing.
Sometimes as Marion passed it, she imagined reaching out, curling her small fingers around its metallic surface. She would stroke its smooth paint, entwine her fingers about it, feel her heart begin to pound as she pulled.
She never imagined the sound, only the reactions. John would push his hair back anxiously. Sometimes he did this if they went for a drink after work, a careful distance between their bodies, their drinks. The conversation was always slow, slightly awkward. They agreed not to talk about work, but found little else to discuss. Marion might mention a news story she had read on the bus that morning. John might offer baseball scores, or hockey, if it was winter. Yes, John would be surprised,
Then there was Rick, who had once leaned over the edge of her cubicle during lunch and asked if she would like to come over for dinner. He would order in, and had a bottle of Chardonnay. His wife was at a conference for the week. She had refused, avoiding looking at his mousy brown hair, or his dark, blusteringly nervous eyes. Rick would be surprised.
So would Peter, who always wore a brown suit with a blue tie, and Charles, who clothes always seemed to big for him. So would all the others, like Ann. Ann had begun working there before anyone could remember, her hair always pulled back and heels clicking coldly on the floor. Ann might twist her ankle, the shoes becoming treacherous in her haste. There could be blood and sirens. There would be searches and suspicion.
If Marion reached forward, she could change herself, her life. She stared at the fire alarm, willing it to move. She felt like a moth, seeing a flame. Or perhaps she was a phoenix. Perhaps.
She smoothed her charcoal skirt, turned toward the desk, and continued checking her email.