Isaac had been in the bathroom for slightly too long. Glancing at his watch, he exhaled quietly. Nerves were not something that he was normally used too. This feeling was strange, odd something about this whole situation was completely wrong.
He felt like he did when he was ten and had gotten flu. Collapsing at the new supermarket that had just opened. Isaac vaguely remembered his mother shrieking and hitting him before the world became comfortable and black. That loss of control that he gave willingly, he enjoyed not having to worry any more. He began to slowly slide down to the floor knowing that he was relinquishing worry and pain and fear.
Only a few hours earlier, at least that is what it felt like, he strolled through the double doors of the old (and exceedingly small law firm). He had his CV typed up (though embarrassed that he could not afford a professional typist to do the job) and was following her into the building. The girl.
On the bus he had to take on the way over he had re read it again for what seemed like the fiftieth time. He noticed the mistake. The one on the line; in the first fucking sentence. Great.
The bus pulled up in its cream and burgundy livery belching thick diesel plumes. As he exited, he could not help thinking he had been vomited out into the street. He stared at the paper in his hand and his feet shuffled forward. Isaac stared at the record of black on white. He hoped it would instantly vanish into the page, wither and become nothing. His eyes bored into the paper and despite his best attempts to will the mistake into oblivion nothing happened.
Isaac did not notice the absence. Funny how people notice nothing, literally nothing. That voice that lurks at the back of your mind and warns you about the danger. It was no less a part of him than anyone else. But still he was unable to listen to the guidance his desperate brain was giving him. He kept surging forward, trying to appear confident.
The hungry look from hidden animals watched; the thin ragged and hungry animals that somehow survive in a city. They smelled potential in him. Potential to end their hunger.
Isaac knew there was no alternative to his situation. He had graduated over a year ago and this was the only job that had even given him the time of day. He was one of those that had gotten to university via a grant, no rich parents to pave the way and grease the wheels and no old boys network to rely on. This coupled with mass unemployment only added to the gloomy outlook. Even the new PM offered little hope. At this he chuckled bitterly to himself, I mean he knew these were progressive times, this was after all 1979 but bloody hell, a woman in charge. Industry was dying in Britain, in Hull the fisheries were closing and it was not like any companies were hiring. The place that was dying, ironically slowly drowning, forgotten.
“Excuse me, is this Manor Street?” he asked the only person he had seen since leaving the steel coffin of the bus. The act of passing through its doors seeming a long time ago. The man he noticed, held a vacant and haggard expression. Eyes almost milky.
A curt “yes,” and the stranger vanished into a colliding kaleidoscopic mist of greys that Isaac was only now aware of. The smell of the place was not encouraging, a smell of old corruption, and rotten fruit. Still he carried on forward, squinting to make out faded brass plaques and building numbers.
“Isaac?” a voice, kindly and warm called out, not a voice with the usual thickness of the Hull accent, but one more clipped and refined. His inner snob shook itself out of the shadows completely reborn in seconds. It filled him with hope, something that had been missing for a long time.
“Yes, that’s me,” false voice and accent, desperately trying to make itself more Southern. To exude confidence. The way those others at university had been, self-assured, knowing they would do well from life. The kind of people that saw him in the corridors of buildings and mistook him for a cleaner or porter, or those that knew of him a smile of condescension, barely tolerating him in their midst.
“Yes, come this way, I was expecting you, this place can be an absolute pig to find.” A gentle smile from her accompanying this statement, did he notice a hint of flirtatious humour?
Isaac tried, unsuccessfully, not to grin. The voice belonged to a very pretty woman wearing one of those skirts he remembered from his teenage years. Those miniskirts and she had the legs for it. She noticed him staring and smiled back. He followed her, eyes fixated, just enough of a distraction not to notice the fetid alleyway to the side of the stairs leading into the building. He fairly skipped up them.
“Wait here please, Mr Colston will see you soon.”
“Yes of course… Miss, erm.”
“Oh, Bridgid please,” she said flashing him with a warm grin. He was flushed with his own strange feeling, a sense of adrenaline and something else. He was feeling incredibly warm now. This was ridiculous, being like this because a pretty girl had told him her name.
He chided himself and took in the reception. It was as if he had been transported back into the 1940s. Things in muted tones looking sparse. He looked in finer detail and was surprised: from the plants to the variety of lifeless flying insects on the windowsill. It all looked dead and drained no vitality. This had to be an odd reticent thought, he turned his mind from it, noticing how increasingly thirsty he had become. At least all the flies were dead, no incessant buzzing from tiny mass bumping into windowpane.
So, he waited, he thought about his situation. He knew life was terrible but here was a potential job. He waited and waited. And now he would be able to ensure that he could provide for her, for his mother. Why else would he have stayed din hull? At least now he would no longer have to be in that soul destroying dole queue, wating for money from the state.
God, he felt faint.
“Not long now,” Bridgid had appeared from nowhere. “Sorry I cannot offer you a drink, we’ve been having an issue with the watermain, I think that was what the plumber said.” It was like she had read his mind about the drink. Isaac murmured something in reply, that was more a sound of acceptance. Damn even his tongue felt dry. Isaac nodded to add emphasis to the noise, he caught his reflection in something reflective his eyes were burdened with dark purple borders. Jesus, there must have been something that was bothering them, it was amazing how he was down about being on the dole, draining his self-respect, leaving him hollow. Well, no more of that.
He glanced down at his shoes resting on the edges of their souls. Touching the linoleum floor, patched and dusty and sticky. He did not know how but he was sure that he had polished the damn things. They now looked scuffed, foggy almost. That was the only advice his dad had given him: always have polished shoes. Bastard, at least he had the decency to die young. Though that meant he had to look after his mother, having to return to Hull never leaving, to be left on the dole, rotting away.
God, he felt faint.
“Are you okay Mr Hayes?” there was something maternal in the voice. She had not called him Isaac. “You look awfully peaky,” she came over and sat next to him. “If you can make it, Mr Colston will be here soon.” she patted the back of his hand gently, he had feelings of desire and an overwhelming sense of not wanting to let her down.
A fly buzzed overhead, making slow fat lazy circles. He sweated, at least a sign of life. “Bathroom?” he asked, she nodded and pointed. “Oh wait, I can’t if you have no water.”
Bridgid smiled and it stayed frozen on her face. “Oh, that’s been sorted”
“Wait I thought…”
“While you were waiting,” she nodded in the vicinity of a corridor. “Sorry, he kept you waiting, you will be in to see him soon. Just wait a little longer.”
Isaac stared at his watch, his vision blurring slightly. But if the hands were to be believed and not lying it was gone midday. He said, “Bloody hell,” almost as a matter of course he immediately apologised to the lady. And headed towards the bathroom.
It was odd there was graffiti in neat copperplate handwriting, hardly the look of normal toilet vandalism. ‘qui huc intrasti omissa spe.’ One door was locked. He sat in another and inhaled, a mistake, there was the clawing burning smell of drains. His hands felt dry and looked old. He felt sick but had to stay. He needed the money.
As he went to stand, the room looked different cleaner and fresher. His sleeve was frayed. He felt like he had when ten years old and had the flu. He started to fall to the floor it felt more than sticky. It held him like fly paper. He tried to raise himself his cheek leaving tendrils of flesh anchoring him to the floor. He managed to mumble “help,” Bridgid appeared, he felt overwhelmed, the pain and the fear.
“Shhh, don’t worry, I’m here,” she cooed and patted and made him feel safe even as he was becoming nothing. Moments moved forward, Isaac’s watch had stopped, the batteries drained, unable to keep the pulse of time any longer.
The outside of the old building did not look the same, it looked fresher more vital. Bridgid slowly moved to the window, even though a necessity, she did not like doing it. She felt guilty, corrupt. She tacked a sign to the window facing the street, now clear from mist and visible. VACANCY APPLY WITHIN.
Isaac felt odd, he could not move or see “don’t worry,” said a voice. With each word more joined. All male and young. “At least we are all in this together.” Isaac felt at home before everything turned black again, comfortable dark, free from pain and responsibility. Free from everything.