You’re awake four and a half minutes before your alarm goes off for six o’clock. The same as every morning. You reach out to turn it off; as always, you have to stretch slightly, a dull ache forming in your left bicep. The same as every morning. Robotically, you pull yourself from under the faded grey sheets. You suppose they were coloured once as you stare bleary-eyed at the plain calendar adorning the otherwise empty walls, but you don’t care enough to recall.
The same as every morning.
Shower. Not too hot, not too cold. Clothes – a white shirt and black tie. Simple, non-offensive colours, as the manager demands. Breakfast. Oatmeal, you think. After twenty-three years of the routine, it’s hard to recall exactly what it is. Not that it matters – it’s been a long time since the grey mush has tasted of anything as you mindlessly chew and swallow, chew and swallow, sip of lukewarm instant coffee, chew and swallow.
There’s traffic on the way to the office. Sixteen cars ahead of you at the lights. No need to count when there’s traffic every morning, when there are always sixteen cars ahead of you, when you can go on the third green as you do so now.
It takes you forty-seven minutes to get to work. Two to park the car and head to reception. Paste on a smile. Ask the woman at reception how the family is. She chatters on as you ignore her, as you do every morning, nodding and wearing a smile in all the right places as the details of her plain, uninteresting life sail over your head.
The same as every morning.
You don’t really care much for your cubicle. You can vaguely remember when you first started; posters of loud music and gorgeous landscapes and colour and sound and life, pictures of a time before this dreary existence began, and a Rubix Cube adorned your desk and the walls – they were a pleasant shade of blue, you recall. The new manager (you’d never bothered to learn his name) had decreed that such things were unprofessional, and now empty magnolia walls stare bleakly at you as you file report after report after report. The ergonomic keyboard is still fairly new. Its set at the perfect angle to prevent wrist ache in employees, as your chair is angled perfectly to prevent stress on your back without being comfortable, as the water cooler is exactly seven paces from your desk to keep you properly hydrated throughout the day. It is the perfect office.
You despise it.
Lunch. You go to the cafeteria, as always, and buy an egg salad sandwich. Brown bread, not enough mayonnaise. It was meat, one time, but the doctor had ordered a diet change after your last appointment eight years ago and you weren’t about to change the routine any time soon. Peter joins you at the table, as always, and asks you how the wife is, as he does every day. She is okay, you say, as you always do, and Peter smiles and nods as he always does and then focuses on his lunch as he always does before bidding you farewell and telling you to “stay cool” as he always does.
More reports. Your headache starts to kick in from the lack of coffee – a sharp pain above your left temple that time and monotonous repetition have dulled to a barely noticeable twinge. Peter slaps you on the back as you leave and tells you that you simply must join him for a beer sometime, as he always does, and you paste that smile on your face and nod and agree with him, as you always do.
In the thirteen years you have known Peter, you have never gone for a beer.
Home after forty-two minutes. It’s always quicker going home, and you don’t care to find out why. Your wife greets you in the kitchen with dinner. Tuesday. Grey fish and flaccid chips with tasteless peas. English food, your brain supplies. Every Tuesday. More bland coffee. Curl your lips into a smile. Lips on hers for a second; any passion had died long ago. Mechanically fork dinner into your mouth as you both watch the latest crime drama. No need to pay much attention – you can already guess the cliché plotline. You’re left alone downstairs as she goes to bed, claiming her sinuses are playing up, as they always do, leaving you alone with the TV on whatever channel it was last on and the radio in the kitchen oozing run-of-the-mill pop music and the smell of cheap air freshener and semen from your wife’s affair of six years. The neighbour. You find it hard to bring yourself to feel anything more than a slight twinge of irritation.
Bed at eleven o’clock. Wake four and a half minutes before the alarm rings at six. You break routine and glance at your wife quickly as you ignore the calendar for once. Not too pretty, not too ugly. No distinguishable personality traits. You suppose you loved her once, as she lies in bed. There must have been something, at least, or maybe marriage was just an expectation you knew you would have to abide by. It’s hard to muster up any feelings but a dull, empty antipathy towards her now. You’re not really that bothered, to be honest. It’d been a long time since you’d felt anything but that dull, empty antipathy towards anything.
Shower. You finger the lump on your chest after you wash your hair with the required two squirts of shampoo. No bigger, no smaller, as has been the case for the last eight years. The diet change hadn’t really done much, you think, but you find it hard to care. Like always.
Breakfast. Forty-seven minutes. Third green light. Put on that fucking smile as the receptionist regales you with grand tales of how her new born son said his first word like it’s the gospel of fucking *Christ* last night and you just want to scream and jump over the desk and smash her head into the magnolia walls and splatter the world a vibrant, wonderful red but you just continue to smile and nod as you always do and you feel just a tiny bit more of yourself wither and die inside you as you politely excuse yourself.
Reports. Your wrist doesn’t ache, your back is perfectly supported by the chair, and you have three cups of water before lunch. Ignore the people at the water cooler, as always. You feel your headache coming back again; it’s early, which almost surprises you, if you were still capable of feeling surprise. You blame the caffeine addiction. There was a time, before the manager came, when you brought a thermos to work. Hot, black Nestlé that scorched your tongue and lit up your being as liquid fire rushed down your throat and a warm glow started in your stomach.
Not anymore though. A workplace running on coffee is unprofessional.
Egg salad sandwich. You can in fact confirm that brown bread is used and there isn’t enough mayonnaise. You can’t really taste it, like normal. The grey, monotonous, boring, lifeless world around you has permeated every fibre of your being and robbed your sense of taste from you. You shrug internally, taking another bite of your sandwich as Peter approaches. It’s hard to care.
“How’s the wife?” She is okay, you say with that smile on your face. As always, you are polite, nodding in all the right places and smiling politely as you politely listen to his incessant, polite, dreary conversation and rage silently inside your skull at the world and God and anyone who will listen.
Nobody listens. Just like always. You idly reflect that people would probably listen if you voiced your opinion somewhere that wasn’t inside your head, but you’re saving that for later.
More reports. New mortgages. Insurance purchases. Pay-outs. The same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that and the day before that too. Peter slaps your back and tells you to stay cool, asks you for a beer sometime, and all you can think of is snapping his wrist with a loud, white-hot crack so he never lays his hand upon you again. You smile and nod. Politely, of course.
Wednesday is meatloaf night. You don’t care all that much; it tastes the same as last night’s dinner anyway. You eat at the table tonight, as you do every Wednesday. She blathers on and on about how she went shopping with her friends today and how the neighbour is such a dear and reminds you to take your medication from the doctor eight years ago. You paste on a smile and reassure her that you’re still taking your pills when the bottle has been left mostly untouched for years – they made your head feel cloudy and your thoughts sluggish, and it was hard to keep yourself aware of exactly how the world worked around you, how the monotony and magnolia and the professionalism and your own rotten luck seeps into every single thing that has been and is and will be.
You don’t want to forget that.
Begging off to bed early on account of a headache that doesn’t exist, you find yourself unable to fall asleep. Maybe because it isn’t eleven o’clock yet. Your wife slips into bed next to you, lying as she always does; her back to yours, with two and a half inches of space between you. Any form of physical contact, in bed or otherwise, hasn’t occurred for about ten years now – it’s been almost twenty-eight years since you’ve been intimate as a couple, since you were found to be infertile and your wife had been repulsed by your touch whilst trying to conceive anyway. She was just happy she didn’t have to pretend to enjoy sex anymore, and was all too happy to tell you this and prohibit you from making contact with her.
The clock hits eleven o’clock in glowing red figures next to you and you promptly fall asleep.
Morning. You freeze as you lean slightly to turn off your alarm after four and a half minutes of lying in bed. It still reads 5:46. You start to shake slightly as your eyes drift towards the calendar on the wall and you spy a red ring around today’s date. You feel your lips twitch slightly as something builds in your stomach. A kind of fluttering feeling. It’s unfamiliar, but the twitching of your lips slowly curls into a wicked smile. Must be a good thing. 5:48. You shift your pillow over slightly as you lie down for twelve more minutes. It’s a bit uncomfortable, and you think you’re definitely lying on something, but you don’t want to move again.
On the way to work, you stop at the gas station. You’ve been meaning to do this for a while anyway, but on your birthday it seems more appropriate to change the routine a bit. After being assaulted by the heavy odour of cheap alcohol and gas, you enter the shop and pick yourself up a small surprise for at work later. The guy at the counter, a young man who looks as bored with life as you are, looks at you strangely when you put it on the counter, but you are soon on your way to work with it safely tucked into your bag.
As the morning continues, you find it hard to not break into a smile as you think of the surprise in your bag. Even the pale magnolia walls look especially vibrant today as you file report after report at your desk and drink double the amount of water you normally drink, tasting every tasteless drop.
Lunch. Nobody pays attention as you scarf down a chicken and bacon sandwich at the table, although you feel some are slightly repulsed by your rapid eating. You shrug them off, and reach into your bag under the table to lightly finger the surprise. The smooth material is cool to the touch but slightly sticky from being in your bag, and you get goosebumps when your wandering finger reaches the rough, tingly area that sets your nerves alight. It feels so different to the ergonomic keyboard and tasteless water and magnolia walls and not touching your wife. It’s powerful, sexual, alive. You didn’t even notice Peter sit down opposite you and start to flap his fucking mouth again as you ignore his existence completely.
You fade back into reality as you pull the gun from your bag and fire at Peter.
The world explodes with a cacophony of noise and red and the screams of the woman who works three desks behind you and blood and the faint taste of copper and chicken in your mouth. Peter looks surprised as he inspects the hole in his chest curiously and you decide to give him another to match through his forehead. Everyone is running for the door now and you are honestly rather confused; why aren’t they fucking thankful for you bringing variety to their dull, tedious, same-old same-old lives? They should be praising you! You’ve saved them from the mediocrity of their own existence!
You vaguely note that your thought process probably isn’t wholly sane as adrenaline courses through your body, lighting up every nerve and synapse in a glorious display of lightning and fire and power illuminating your aged, decaying muscles and the lump on your chest. The walls are splattered with a brilliant, oozing red that slowly worms its way towards the floor where Peter splattered it everywhere. You personally like the look – it beats the dull magnolia from before that seemed to pretty much represent your life up till now.
You don’t think the manager agrees. He’s staring at you as you sit opposite Peter, who’ll never ask for a beer again or how the wife is. Probably not too good after you smothered her with the pillow this morning, you idly ponder as you gaze dispassionately into the purpling face of the man next to you. You wonder if the manager is about to explode? Well, you can help with that.
The manager decorates the cafeteria with the same sensual, gorgeous red Peter does. Maybe they had similar artistic visions. Either way, you’re incredibly pleased with your own redecorating efforts – you like the new look of the cafeteria. The grin that is starting to hurt your face that went completely unnoticed slowly begins to dissipate as you hear the sound of police sirens in the distance. You figure one of those ungrateful bastards must have called them. The adrenaline begins to leave your system as you sag, exhausted, in your seat. You almost pity the people who ran; they’ll have to return in a few weeks and everything will be magnolia and tasteless and ergonomic keyboards again. Well, it is their choice, you suppose, idly trailing a finger up and down the barrel of the gun. Your last thought as you hear the doors downstairs burst open and shouts waft up the stairs is how beautiful blood-stained plastic tastes, and you pull the trigger of the gun as your tongue lights up with euphoria.