Striking the stamp down hard against the white sheet of paper gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction. My hand rocks back and forth before I lift the bulky implement, the red ink soggy where the date has been left on the pristine surface. Just like the running, I’m finding the repetitive work doing wonders for my mind. It leaves me clear to focus and keeps the voices at bay.
I rest the stamp back on its inkpad, then shuffle the marked sheet into the pile on my desk. Without really looking, I slide another delivery record across the metallic surface. Thump. I wallop down the stamp once more and can’t help but beam from ear to ear. The movement, the noise, it all brings back fond memories. For a second, I’m cuddled up on the sofa with Lily, watching the library scene in Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. It’s one of her favourite movies, and she always chuckled during that part. Her nose would scrunch up, a delicate line creasing her forehead, while her delicate laughter filled the flat. I know it’s silly, but the simple task reminds me of those lazy afternoons when we were tucked under a blanket. We didn’t always make it to the end of the film.
“Come on, Dole, please!”
Tara’s less than delicate backside lands on the top of my work surface, causing my neatly organised documents to slide away from me. I sigh, my eyes lifting slightly. I’ve gone past the point of being annoyed, especially since this request has become an almost hourly occurrence. Tara has been after me ever since she decided she needed something.
“How can I help you?” I ask brightly, knowing exactly what she’s going to say and how. It’s been the same ever since she concocted her plan.
“Come on, help a mate out,” she whines, her shrill tone jumping up a notch. “Maude would do it, wouldn’t you?”
The blonde stares across at our elderly colleague, who peers over delicate reading glasses, her attention momentarily wrenched from her own paper shuffling. The furrowed forehead lightly bobs up and down, giving silent confirmation that she would have agreed if the situation was reversed. If it was her, rather than me, being harassed. “But she’s already working tomorrow. Be a dear.” Tara lays a hand on my arm, and something stirs deep inside me. It’s been a while since an attractive…well, any woman touched me.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?! Just take her down to the bathrooms and fucking well screw her brains out!”
I can’t help but poke my tongue out slightly, my mirth at the screaming in my head clear only to me. It’s been a long month, but the monotonous nature of this role has been exactly what I needed. It’s allowed me to re-centre myself. Good, honest graft has been a marvellous tonic for me. Plus, it has wound the voices up something chronic.
I suddenly realise I’ve left Tara’s question hanging in the air a little too long.
“What exactly was it you wanted, pal?” My tone matches the clueless expression on my face.
“Dole,” she lightly bats at my chest, and, again, a little urge runs up my spine. “We’ve been over this. Swap days off with me, will you? You know I’m going out with some of the lads tonight, and we’re hitting it large. I can’t let old Peasbody see me hungover tomorrow. I’ll end up with as many strikes as you.”
I shift uncomfortably. Getting on the boss’s bad side had never been part of my plan. It’s not that I have a problem with my lowly position in the organisation or the dull tasks dished down to me. I just don’t like being told what to do. I never have, never will. It was always one of the problems I had back home and part of the reason the family got annoyed with me. Well, that and the tricks. Apparently, I was difficult to live with andore effort than I was worth. I should have just done what I was told. Imagine what they’d say if they could see me now.
“What do you think they would bloody well thing if you brought a mortal home?!”
The yell screeches up from my neck and almost catches me, makes me engage. But I won’t speak to it, not any of them. I know the answer, but I don’t need to discuss it with the voices. They, the family, always thought I liked mortals too much, and was too interested in them. What do I care, though? Mum, Dad, my brothers and sisters, they are long behind me. Although, I imagine they’d be impressed to know I’m now settled into work and controlling my rebellious side. It might not be glamorous, but scheduling deliveries is surprisingly fun. It plays to my strengths of planning and organisation. Now I’ve got my behaviour in check, and I’m practically a model employee. This time I wince ever so slightly as the sigh whooshes through my skull.
“Are you kidding us?!”
I realise Tara’s been talking all this time, and I haven’t heard a word. I nod, slightly shaken that I got up in my head enough to miss what was happening. I must focus and avoid getting dragged in by reflections of days gone by. Chubby fingers come to rest on my shoulder. “You alright, Dole?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, thank you for asking.” The deceit rolls off my tongue as I remind myself that I have a meditation session tomorrow night. I’m not sure it helps, but I’ve been doing it a few times a week, and I’m not keen to lose the progress I’ve made.
“Don’t worry about it, hun. It’s what pals do, isn’t it, Maude?” Tara breezes over to the old woman and affectionately lays her hands on her cardigan clad shoulders. Tara gets a polite nod from the sixty-one-year-old, oblivious to the disdain buried under the wrinkles. No one else sees it, but I know it’s there. Maude would be the first to point the finger at Tara should anything go wrong. Tara isn’t aware, but I can see it clearly. “It’s us, all together. We’ve got to watch out for each other, ain’t that right? Can’t let management get anything on us, can we?”
I let my eyebrows rise good-humouredly as I meet her expectant gaze. “And why is that?”
“Because they are all making shitloads off us, aren’t they? We bust our humps for just above minimum wage making sure that all these sodding crates and packages get where they need to, yet they take all the cuts. All the perks. They don’t even give us a sodding pay raise!”
Tara moves across the small office, swinging her ample hips from side to side. She leans over my desk, the opening in her top dangling just a little too low. I look up, filling my mind with thoughts of Lily. It won’t be long. Very soon, I’ll rid myself of this inability to speak the truth. Then I can tell her what she means to me, and I’ll have everything I want. Everything I need.
“Even when you could have anyone?” It’s at it once more, softly goading me, trying to undo all the good progress I’ve made recently. I continue out loud, “You think they should distribute the wealth more fairly?”
“Absolutely!” Tara leers at me.
“Maybe some free snacks in the mess room?”
“And then some,” she fumes. “Why, if I had my chance, I’d take what they owe me. I’d crack open one of those packages and do whatever I could with it.” She twirls, almost as if she’s a princess being showered with jewels. I slip a look at Maude. Her attention is back on her work, but I can tell she’s listening to every word. I sense she’s heard all this before. “You know what I did last week?” Tara leans over me, her face so close I can smell the stale coffee and cigarettes that infuse her breath, despite the many mints she’s had.
“What?” I ask, already knowing the answer.
Tara’s voice drops low, “You remember that vending machine that was broken? The one that was giving out free chocolate to anyone?” I nod, pleased with what she says next. “Well, no one knows how it started doing it, but that didn’t stop me. I took my fair share and told as many of the others too. Not all of them did, but plenty helped themselves and really rinsed the company that day. I heard old Peasbody almost had a fit when he was told he had to pay.”
“That’s unfortunate,” I lie, pleased with my final little act of rebellion against the company.
“Why shouldn’t we get a little something extra every now and then?” Tara demands. “It’s not like we don’t do our hours and more when it’s needed.”
“What we deserve for services rendered?” I ask as I arch my eyebrow at my loud colleague.
“Absolutely! It’s the least we deserve.” She shifts gear, getting close to me once again. “Anyway, tomorrow, are we on?”
I sigh, then nod. Tara throws her arms around me, her squeal almost deafening in my ear. When she finally releases me from the bear hug, she winks. “You are so wonderful, Dole. We need more like you. Isn’t that right, Maude?” No reply comes from the other desk, just an extra deepening of the frown lines. A thought suddenly hits Tara smack between the eyes. “Say, Dole, why don’t you come with us?”
I pause like I’m giving it half a thought before I shake my head, almost sadly.
“I’d like to. I would.” I give a slight shrug of my shoulders. “You understand, don’t you?”
Tara beams. “I get it, love. Missus giving you a hard time?”
“Something like that,” I throw off, knowing that what I will be doing tonight is going somewhere busy, with witnesses where I can pay by debit card. “Oh, before I forget.” I shuffle together my completed delivery schedules and hand them over to Tara. She flicks through them and then pauses.
“Oh no, hun. Dave isn’t doing runs over the bridge today. He’s got, well, you know.” She rubs her stomach, wiggling her fingers near her backside. “Haven’t you heard?”
“No, I hadn’t.”
“Yeah, they got some extra bloke in to take his stuff. It’ll affect the tyres’ deliveries, the regular bits for Drury Lane, the five crates of clay…” Tara reels off a few more drop-offs and then passes the paperwork back to me. “Can you redo them, please? You’ll find the cover chaps details on the system. Shouldn’t take a whizz like you too long.”
I separate the mistakes from the correct schedules and set about my task. A hand rests on my arm. I glance up, paying no attention to the murmurings in my mind. “It’s okay, pal, you’ve got a few minutes, and I won’t say anything to the boss. We’re all in this together. Us, against them.” I pat her hand and let the corners of my mouth turn up further.
“We are indeed,” I tell her, knowing that we’re not. When the police come calling about certain undelivered goods and delivery drivers with bogus credentials, the finger will be pointed around the office. Of course, I’ll be at work tomorrow, when everything is discovered, with an airtight alibi for my whereabouts tonight. I won’t have been out bad-mouthing the company, laughing it up with other members of staff. Of course, there will be fingers pointed at me. After all, I’m the new guy who’s had a few run-ins with management. But Maude would never say a bad word against me. Not hard-working Dole, the guy who was turning it around, helping his colleagues. I’ll still be here in a few weeks. Although, that will only be to keep up appearances and keep me above suspicion. I smile again as I concentrate on my menial work, so far away from my usual tricky business.