Joy checked her cheap digital watch for the umpteenth time, before sighing and wearily raising her head to face the dim flicker of the computer screen. Four hours of her life wasted, spent rearranging the names of so many dullards on an excel spreadsheet. No one would think to appreciate the effort involved, but then there wasn't anyone around to have those sorts of thoughts anymore. The supermarket was her life now; she resigned herself to this miniature tragedy. Enough for one night. She reached out a thin arm as she sat back in her tattered office chair, jabbing out a finger to switch off the monitor with transparent resentment. Her evening's work sped off into the centre of the screen, like a spaceship going to warp. Home now. To sleep, to lose the nagging internal monologue's incessant incantations, to stop the worry for a few hours, to fox the hunting-doubts. Forty winks. She stared at her elongated reflection in the dimness, a soul worn thin gazed back, unflinching but wibbly. Time to go.
Joy launched herself across the room on her chair, its wheels squeaked and her perm wobbled. She stood up, palms on knees, then closed the door to the office behind her, locking it with one of the cumbersome medley of keys that were her responsibility. A tuneless humming vibrated from her soft, lined throat as she made her way down the brown carpeted hallway. Joy checked all the doors as she went, never trusting for a second the other workers' competence, even when faced with the most basic of tasks. A brown and white vision of womanhood stepped down a flight of stairs. Humming, still. Her tights were think pink woollen affairs. The look was completed with a tight-fitting beige company blazer. How was it possible to feel pride, she wondered, if you're not even given the slightest indication that it's humanly possible with such compulsory uniform blandness?
The utter florescence of the next scene made her wince, as she shoved open the concertina wall separating the shop floor from the offices behind her, and Joy's sense of despair evolved tenfold for the thousandth time. Sometimes, she drifted, it was like some nightmarish, secured, solitary confinement. Stark, clinical and un-loving relentless light burning away the will to better one's self. A perpetually paused nuclear fire, overhead and overbearing. Like some retro SAD therapy that only serves to make the drones more and more compliant and docile, Joy thought. Compliance was the name of the game, for the customers and for the staff. You have forty years to comply. The last one at work. The last one to care. All the old gang had long since gone, onward and upward, or outward.
Contemptible reality. Oh, how it scolds. Everyday, like a witch screaming at her pyre. And I'm the unfortunate hag, Joy reasoned. If fire was intended to purify the soul, what of the flesh? Just a scattered handful of dirty ashes and a column of poisoned smoke rising to choke the very angels in their heaven. Biscuits. Joy liked the biscuit section of the supermarket. All those plasticly wrapped tubes sitting parallel to the aisle. How odd they look, resting in potential. One day their sugary cargo will find itself being raised to the fat, quivering, livery lips of someone, somewhere - deposited in front of the guardian glow of television, to be consumed and rolled around a hot pink mouth, mixed with thick saliva. Joy shuddered softly. A white featureless heat. Ruinous. Bathing contented bovine faces. Dripping into weak tea.
She could feel her own pulse, now, as her imagination's dynamo slowed. Her blood was too thick, she felt sure of this. When she stood naked, leaning into the mirror on her bathroom wall, she could see her blood trying to force its way out of her neck. Her throat throbbed like industrial tubing, filled with rich glutinous bounty. Her mind wandered again to biscuits for a moment, then returned to the more visceral line. Her blood, filling her veins and arteries to maximum capacity. And her brain like some great coiled maggot lying dormant beneath the bone. Restrained by her skull, an eggshell shield against an eruption she felt confident was inevitable. Maybe her mind would wake, squeal, and hatch-out. Crawl away to find a new existence, leaving her exploded cavity behind, without a backward glance.
Joy drifted along the row of checkouts, walking two bony fingers across each surface. It was dark outside, as it had been for hours. Now, what time was it? A time for contrasts. What did it matter? There was time enough for anything in those last few familiar moments. She span on her heel at the last of the tills, and gazed out at the regimented columns of products. Shopping. Joy checked each entrance and exit in turn, shaking the automatic doors firmly - testing for any give. There was none. All present and correct. She hurried, almost skipping, to the corrugated screen she had emerged from before, and slipped through it; grasping at the handle and dragging it shut with the momentum of her bodyweight. Joy stepped quickly through the gloom of the rear storerooms and continued on through some of the back offices. Joy checked the reinforced door to the saferoom then turned to go back out through the corridor that led to the carpark. Outside, she clunked the heavy red door shut and twisted some keys in some locks, the last of which only she had mastered: A lift of the handle, a twist of the key, push the handle all the way down, then twice the other way. Click. Simple. But she had been woken, rudely, from her slumber for less. The fools.
Her frail figure shadowed a path across the dirty concrete towards her car, under the blurred orange light of a single lamp. She couldn't see the stars. Joy drove a Ford. The Ford was cheap. Free, actually. An old boyfriend's parting gift to her, a gift more out of pity than affection. She could not have afforded a car back then, not on her salary. It had a few thousand miles left in it yet. Though it looked a little tired. Not as tired as some.
The car started on the fourth attempt, as per sodding usual. Joy rolled out of the carpark in a lazy arc, and started off down the road leading out of the shopping complex. There was no other traffic to indicate to, there were no randomly ambling pedestrians to check for. The darkness bled into her mind then, as the vehicle swallowed the miles to home. And whilst she welcomed the idea of resting, in her own space, her relief was tainted by a profound sadness. There would be no one there to greet her. It rained. Large gobbets of water sploshing against the windscreen. The wipers rallied in her defence.
As the first milkfloat of the day emerged with a whirring eccentricity behind her, like a battery-powered unicorn, Joy barely registered its presence. Lost in a mire of remembrance, as she was. The capped driver of the float wondered at her, out on the empty roads. He watched the old Ford accelerate away from him with a distant ponderous gaze, and, as the car disappeared around the bend, he coughed and checked his wrist. Time to be getting on, he thought.
The Sun ignited the horizon.
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