The sky was full of rain as Christina left for work. Grey clouds hung heavy and threatening, low in the sky above her as she walked the short distance to the bus stop. Although it wasn’t cold for January, she wrapped her cardigan closer around her ribs.
It was a relief to go to work. To leave the stale atmosphere of the flat. She could already imagine the smell of the old documents in her nostrils, the quiet peace of being left alone in the dusty room to work for an hour or two.
The kettle was hot, when she got in, and she smiled at the kind gesture from Spencer the Caretaker, who finished as she arrived and always put the kettle to boil for her so she could have her steaming cup of tea first thing. Reaching for her mug and the tea bags simultaneously she smiled again at the little rituals that impregnated our days with meaning and comfort.
She checked her e-mails as she drank her tea, enquiries about old financial records, a titbit of information about when so and so did this or that. Information that seemed queer and obscure out of context and she often passed a whole bus journey mulling over why on earth someone would need to know these things.
Jotting down a few notes on dates and names of records she would need to retrieve she swivelled off her chair and headed down the archives. Unlocking the door and sliding the key into the tight, little pocket on the hip of her black trousers she turned the knob. The cold hit her like a body blow, it slammed into her face, torso and the fronts of her legs like a physical force and instantly she could feel all her exposed skin turn icy. She shook her head and recovered from the shock then cleared the room in four long strides to access the radiator between too large filing cabinets, ones specially designed to deflect the heat and protect its contents.
She placed the whole of her hand, palm down on the top of the old fashioned tubular radiator and the grimace got stuck in her throat. The ice of her fingers combined with the intense heat of the radiator into an excruciating cold burn. She retracted her hand and waved it in the air feeling dazed and swallowed in this sudden turn of events.
Slowly she came round, it felt like focusing an internal eye. As she became aware of her surroundings she realised the temperature of the room was chilly, but normal for this early in the morning. What the hell had happened just then? Maybe there was a pocket of cold air trapped somewhere? Maybe the radiator had just kicked in? She knew these explanations weren’t feasible but the horrible alternative that what had just happened was in her mind made Christina feel a weakening in her stomach and knees. So she didn’t think about it. What did she know about how central heating works, especially an archaic system like this?
Setting her note pad down on the desk, she got to work, pulling the large, heavy drawers out and adeptly flicking through files. She had no idea how much time had passed when the door at the other end of the room to the one she had entered through, flung open and a cheery looking guy, who looked to be in his late twenties strolled up the photocopier with a friendly ‘Hey there.’
‘Er Hi’ she uttered taken off guard, who was this? Shaven dark hair, mischievous brown eyes and a lopsided grin. She’d have noticed him before she was certain.
There was a conference room the other end of the building, often used by other factions of the organisation, and there were regulars who came often and knew their way around the labyrinthine layout, but he was not one of them, and his easy and confident beeline to the photocopier, like he used it every day unnerved her.
Then she had a sudden flashback to her nightmare the night before, the face in the fire, the eyes, even though they were something horrible and his were something alluring, they seemed one and the same for a second. The face formed more completely, like a photograph dropped in a tray of developing agent, the teeth and tongue of a wolf in the flames, that was somehow the same creature as this man.
He was looking sideways at her and smiling from the photocopier, so she buried her head deeper into the file, but instinctively made sure he was never out of her line of sight. A tapping in to the deeper recesses of our human nature, even in this modern world our bodies react to a threat in the same way, eyes widen, breath deepens, and we are so socially pruned that sometimes we aren’t even aware that we are reacting at all. There is just an awkward feeling, that something is not right that prevails and blocks us from analysing, of course we are safe we tell ourselves.
‘So, you having a good day?’ He turned, smiling and looking sure of himself.
‘Yeah I am thanks, how about you?’ Regaining composure, lowering her shoulders and elongating her neck. A mirror of his cocksure demeanour.
‘Good, glad to hear it, I’m having a blast.’ He scooped his copies out of the tray and sauntered to the door in the same breezy manner in which he entered through it. ‘See you later.’
Christina paused looking at the empty spot where he had just been, as if distrusting that he had really left, a distant feeling that he was still lurking somewhere with his eyes on her. She checked her watch, it was half past eleven already! Sandy the part time admin lady should be in by now and she relished the idea of Sandy’s flowing conversation and gossip. She gathered an armful of the documents she needed and headed up to the office.
‘Hey Sandy, how are you? Was it raining when you got in?’
‘Nah, but it is still dark out there and I heard someone on the bus talking about snow.’
‘Ooh, I like snow, it makes everything look so clean and pretty.’
‘Ha yes even this shitty town!’ Sandy said looking up and stapling some papers together. ‘So are you putting the kettle on or am I?’
Christina, watching her own hands at work making tea, tried to judge how best to sound curious but not overly so.
‘So who’s the new guy that’s around? I saw him using the photocopier earlier.’ She asked as casually as she could manage.
‘What new guy?’ Sandy looked slightly annoyed at the prospect that there could be a new guy that she hadn’t known about. ‘Is he good looking?’
‘Yeah, but what difference does that make, we are both spoken for, remember?’ Christina stressed the last word offering Sandy a mock disapproving glance.
‘Oh, do you see Jase here right now?’
‘Well then, what difference does it make? Everyone loves a bit of eye candy.’
Christina laughed and walked over to Sandy’s desk with a cup of tea in each hand. ‘We’ll ask Spencer later when he comes back if he knows who he is.’
‘Spencer’s off sick today, chest infection apparently, poor thing.’
Hesitation. Panic. Who had boiled the kettle for her first thing this morning then?
‘Right’ she forced the word out and got back to her desk to begin drafting letters and e-mails. And that is where she stayed for the rest of the day, unable to face the usually peaceful solitude of the archives. It was just approaching lunchtime and she felt as though today had already been a roller coaster. The idea that she was loosing grip on reality was nagging at her, but in her gut she was sure that she hadn’t imagined the hot kettle or the wave of frozen air earlier on.
But then, she thought, that’s what qualified you as crazy wasn’t it? Believing that things like that actually happened.