He was sure he had only taken two, but then when he hadn’t been able to find the other one he started to seriously question himself. It was only 9.17am and already his head had begun pounding. He needed coffee.
He shrugged off his jacket at his desk hoping no-one had seen him walk in late. Taking purposeful steps, head down, he navigated the clinical cubicles towards the coffee room, unsure if the air conditioning’s objective was to actually succeed in penetrating his skin. He remembered the sensation of the carpet against his cheek and he flushed a little in shame. It was no wonder he was feeling a little tender.
As the coffee bar appeared in front of him he overenthusiastically doused the nearest cheap white mug with black coffee before haphazardly tearing at two sugar packets with his teeth and emptying the contents into the swirling liquid.
“See you at four Ethan”, her voice broke the mechanical silence and Ethan’s arm noticeably jolted.
“Didn’t see you there Ange, yeah, see you at four” he smiled as convincingly as he could muster.
His attention back on his coffee, he nearly missed the raindrop sized splashes of syrupy sludge he’d left behind. He quickly dabbed at them with a napkin and headed back to his desk. His desk chair felt like sinking into a bottomless marshmallow and for a second he wondered if he would be able to escape its seductive charms long enough to even pretend to look productive. Snapping himself out of this most recent wave of impending stupor, he grabbed at a stack of paperwork and began sifting through it, placing it into three loosely organised piles. Then he turned on the Mac and stared into the screensaver that had never seemed so accusatory until now. He remembered the trip down to the Norfolk broads last year and exhaled over the snapshot of happiness they had once had. It’s not that they weren’t unhappy or not even not happy, or whatever…his brain slowed. That smile was a good part of the reason things were this hard anyway. He stared harder until the picture became pixelated and increasingly unfamiliar.
“This is not my life”, he whispered under his breath.
Logging in he opened up his email server and immediately noticed a message from Gavin Wright; a client he had ensured he would get back to the previous day. This really wasn’t like him. His hands were already moist and his fingertips smeared over the keyboard as he made an erratic reply, as if the extra few seconds saved made any difference at all.
My most sincere apologies for the late reply. I can assure you the time has been put to good use and we are now in the final stages of composing the advertising package, tailored specifically to your individual business requirements. I can have the finished draft ready for your perusal by tomorrow. Are you able to meet after 5pm?
Advertising and Marketing Officer
EUG Marketing Pty Ltd.
0845 300 extn – 4783
The contents of this message are intended for the addressee only.
There was an audible and onomatopoeic ‘snap’ from the keyboard as he hit send.
“Fuck”, he flinched. He hadn’t meant to speak aloud.
He would have to reschedule date night with Anna. After 5 years of living with her she’d only recently introduced date night to try and “make things more spontaneous again”. He wasn’t quite sure how that worked, considering the whole point of date night was to schedule time together at the same time every single week, it seemed a little bit backwards in its logic. Then again, what did he really know anyway, anymore, ever. It didn’t really take a giant leap of his imagination to process how things had got that bad last night. The pressure was obviously getting to him more than he had realised though. His eyes glazed.
He had laid there last night on the living room floor not knowing if he was going to be sick or explode instead. He had counted his breaths; one, two, three, heart racing at four times the pace, five six, seven, he vomited. He squeezed the Mont Blanc pen she’d bought him in his hand and tried to bring himself back into reality; back to the office. It’s OK to feel like it’s a chore having sex with your wife right? His breathing quickened again…
You can’t breathe when you’re sick like that…there’s nothing. Just an expanding space where anticipation is the only existence and all you can do is wait for relief, or worse.
He opened up a word document.
“Sort your head out Eth. Now.” He badgered himself.
He typed one finger at a time. T,o,space,w,h,o,m,space,i,t,space,m,a,y…
And then, from nowhere: Eight, nine, ten. He remembered how his senses had intertwined. It’s not possible to feel the sound of your own vomit is it? He’d sat with his shoes brushing that carpet drinking tea with Anna and Jas many times before. That had been the first time he’d really seen it though. Understood it. Felt it breathing with him, slowly though as if to soothe him, in, out, back and forth like a wave.
He’d seen the flecks of grey in the beige and felt the warmth of the shag pile, this time under his fingers. He relived the moment he had seen himself take two squashy fistfuls of wool blend into his hands and pull them up over his head like stretchy putty.
“Hello”, the carpet had said, “It’s been a while.”
He slammed his fist into the desk.
“You OK Ethan?” Jared in the next office space had his head cocked over the dividing partition like an obedient spaniel. Ethan thought he might just throw up.
“Fine!” he retorted a little too sharply before he threw himself out of the cubicle and along the corridor towards the men’s room.
His chin safely against the cool porcelain bowl he relaxed.
“Acid reflux” he joked to himself and let himself smile a smile that was probably just a little too wide.