Short Story #01: The Routine

At precisely 7:45 AM, Felix Terrace wakes up.

By the time his phone’s alarm begins to sound, he is already out of bed and performing 25 push ups. He heads into the bathroom for a four minute shave and an eight and a half minute shower.

After coming back from the bathroom, he pulls out the top drawer (ten pairs of boxer shorts on the left, folded in half and arranged in rows; ten pairs of balled black socks on the right) and selects the day’s underwear. Opening his wardrobe (hanging from left to right: two white t-shirts, two pairs of blue jeans, ten white shirts, three dark grey suits, tie hanger with 8 ties—four red and four blue), he puts on a shirt, suit (second from the left) and tie (blue). Underneath, on the shoe rack (from left to right: three pairs of identical shining black patent leather shoes, one pair of white sneakers), he takes the third pair of shoes from the left (Wednesday’s).

He brushes the shoulders of his jacket and replaces the clothes brush back on top of his chest of drawers, takes a moment to fix his hair with a squirt of gel and straightens his black-framed glasses. He checks his watch. The whole process took five minutes and eighteen seconds. With a curt nod to his reflection, he heads downstairs for breakfast.

He grabs The Financial Times, hanging like a pink burrito from his letterbox, and goes into the kitchen where he puts on an apron.

There is a mug sitting by the programmable coffee maker which he fills with the coffee that finished brewing thirty seconds before he arrived in the small kitchen. Next to the stove, a chopping board and knife lie neatly on the counter next to it, ready for use.

He prepares a simple omelette (two eggs and half an onion) and two slices of toast (buttered), and sets a timer on his phone, allowing himself exactly twelve minutes to eat breakfast and scan the headlines. He marks any interesting-looking articles with a neat X for reading later.

At 8:20 he leaves his house (remembering to check and double check both the mortise lock and the dead bolt on the front door), closes the bright white gate that sits at the end of his small, immaculately presented front lawn, and walks the three and a half minutes to the bus stop to catch the 192 into the centre of Manchester.

Today, the traffic is in his favour and he arrives at his desk in the Coaxial Insurance building where he works as a Quality Analyst at 8:48 AM with a full twelve minutes to spare.

He sits down at his desk and turns on his old Dell machine. While it slowly boots, he looks at his in-tray and flicks through the mail and memos for anything urgent. Finding nothing of note, he turns to his monitor and checks his calendar. He has an Analyst meeting at 10:00 (which, he notes to himself, will no doubt run late thanks to Derek) giving him an hour to finish preparing his monthly report.

He fires up Word and begins to write.

#

Fifteen minutes in to his writing, the phone rings. He picks it up and tucks it into his shoulder, continuing to type as he talks.

“Felix Terrace, how can I help you?”

“Hello Felix,” a woman’s voice says.

“Hello. What can I do for you?”

“Straight down to business,” she laughs. “I like it! I appreciate someone who knows himself.”

“Thank you. I am, however, rather busy.”

“Do you know where I am?” She asks.

“How would I?”

“I’m in bed, Felix.”

He pauses at this before leaning slowly back into his chair.

“I’m in bed and I’m all alone, Felix,” she continues. “I’m in bed and I’m all alone and I don’t like being alone, Felix.”

He clears his throat. “I’m sorry but I, uh, don’t believe that this is appropriate for the work environment. If this is one of Derek’s little jokes, you should be aware that I am not known for my sense of humour. Good day.”

He hangs up the phone, a little more aggressively than he meant to, and stares at it.

After a few minutes, he takes off his glasses, closes his eyes and massages the bridge of his nose.

“Right,” he says to himself, and resumes his typing.

#

The meeting is with Josh, his manager, who sports a fashionably thin beard and a tailored navy Brooks Brothers suit; and Derek, who has unkept shoulder length hair, and wears a pair of bright orange glasses and a cartoon character tie that Felix, despite his best efforts, can barely contain his repulsion for.

His floor (the fourth) is open plan in the centre, surrounded by offices and meeting rooms that are enclosed in floor-to-ceiling windows. These rooms have thin, sand-coloured partition walls between them, and look like a wall of futuristic prison cells, with each captive unable to see the man next to him while remaining on display to the world at large.

Felix sits in the meeting room looking out into the mess of heads and computer monitors, and he feels a pang for the days where offices had walls and wooden doors and cubicles had full-size partitions.

Derek and Josh sit opposite him, with their backs to the office floor. They are discussing some of Felix’s recommendations between them when a tall woman walks into his view from the right hand side of the glass.

She has short brown hair, set into a wave across her forehead that frames the softly angular face. She is pale, a feature that is accented by the bright red lipstick she wears. She has the collar up on her short woollen trench coat, which is buttoned tightly and reveals nothing underneath, with only her bare legs coming out of the bottom before disappearing into a pair of dark, knee-length boots. Her movements are confident and deliberate.

Felix stares at her as she walks past. Despite the striking contrast to the standard shirts and blouses around her, no one else on the rest of the floor seems to notice her. When she reaches the centre of the windows, right between Derek and Josh, she turns her head and winks at him, then turns back and continues walking.

“That…that…” He stammers.

“Yes?” Asks Derek, looking up. “Got something to add to this already comprehensive report?”

“That…is totally inappropriate wear for an office environment!” He manages.

Derek and Josh swivel around in their chairs but she is already past the left edge of the wall. All three of them get up, Derek and Felix pressing their faces against the window while Josh goes to the door and steps out into the hall trying to get a look at what has Felix so flustered.

“Who are you talking about?” Asks Josh.

“It’s not Alice again, is it?” Asks Derek, who has joined Josh in the doorway and is scanning the office. “She wore quite the outfit to last year’s Christmas party.”

He smiles at this memory while Felix, mumbling something incomprehensible about human resources, steps outside, ready to point the offending lady out to Josh.

He doesn’t see her.

“I suppose Janet’s top is a little fluorescent,” offers Derek, squinting into the distance.

“She…she was wearing boots,” says Felix.

“The miserable hussy!” Says Derek.

“Excuse me,” Felix says to an administrator sitting opposite the door. “Did you see a lady walk pass just now?”

“Quickly, Alan! This harlot must be found immediately for the decency of all society is at stake! She was wearing boots, man! Boots!” Derek says, punctuating his declarations with melodramatic flourishes.

The administrator shakes his head.

Josh puts a hand each on their shoulders. “OK, you two, let’s get back to it.” He notices his watch and checks the time. “Oh, shit! I have another meeting with Accounts in thirty minutes and I haven’t finished the spreadsheet they wanted. Let’s pick this up tomorrow, same time—no, wait. Make that 2pm. Derek, write up those notes, will you?”

He rushes back in to the meeting room to pick up his things. On the way back out Josh looks at Felix, who is still standing at the door staring at the direction the mysterious lady went with a bewildered expression.

“Maybe next time, squire,” says Derek to Felix, with mock sympathy.

#

After lunch he begins the afternoon by looking through his in-tray. In it, he finds an envelope with his name written in a flamboyant cursive script. His heart races as he turns over the envelope and retrieves the contents.

Felix,

Meet me at the Wiltshire Arms tonight at 5:45.

X

For a long time, he sits there, holding the note in his lap. Every so often, he lifts it up and reads it again.

“What you got there?” says Derek’s voice behind him. Felix plunges the note into his pocket.

“Nothing,” he answers without looking around. “Nothing that concerns you.”

“I’ll bet it’s a note from that girl,” Felix spins around to look at a smiling Derek, holding a coffee in one hand and Felix’s report in the other. Derek puts on a falsetto: “‘Dear Felix, my mate Jen fancies you. Write back if you fancy her.’”

Felix stares at Derek.

Derek, ignoring his questioning look, puts the coffee on the desk and flicks over a few pages of the report. “Anyway, about this. So these recommendations you made about user testing and reporting well, they’re not going to fly. Josh isn’t thrilled about them and, to be honest, neither am I.”

Felix turns back to his computer, unconsciously putting his hand protectively over the pocket, and stares blankly at the screen as Derek continues to flick through the pages.

“There’s also the business cost to increased reporting, which is what I said to Josh. And, like I said, he agrees. Any chance you could amend it before the meeting? Perhaps remove that whole section? Also, we’re probably going to need to get some sign off from the development team. You know how Paul gets if he feels he’s not in the loop. Maybe you should go and see him? Felix? Hello?”

“No problem. I’ll get that done this morning.” He says automatically.

Then he notices her again.

He stands up, alert like a meerkat, shoving Derek backwards. Derek curses.

She’s standing across the other side of the office in the same jacket, between a man and a woman. The man is holding an open folder and she is looking in at it over their shoulders, seemingly without their awareness.

He points at her and turns his head to see Derek staring at him, annoyed at being pushed.

“Look! There she is! There’s that woman!” He says.

The two of them turn to look at where Felix is indicating.

A couple of workmen are carrying a new partition wall for one of the side offices across the middle of the space, obscuring their view for a moment. When they depart, all three of them are gone. Felix looks around the office but finds no sign of her.

Derek’s mobile rings. He answers it gives Felix a strange look, and walks off.

#

At 5pm, Felix gathers his things and heads towards the elevator, deep in thought. He steps out on the ground floor and walks slowly across the lobby. People rush past him like forest animals fleeing a fire and he ignores their grunts of annoyance at his lethargic pace as they try to squeeze out of the glass front doors around him.

Outside, there is a concrete square with four, large L-shaped marble planters in every corner, framing the centre. Out of the planters grow young Japanese cherry trees, their leaves already turning brown as autumn approaches.

He stops in the middle of the square as it empties around him and takes the note out of his pocket. He reads it again and again.

“Assholes,” he whispers eventually, screwing up the note and putting it in his pocket.

He looks at his watch. He’s missed the 5:18, the 5:24 and the 5:30. Perhaps he can get the 5:42. He walks slowly towards the bus stop.

#

At precisely 7:45 AM, Felix Terrace wakes up.

A year has passed since that first phone call and he has not seen or heard form the strange woman since. No one has brought up the subject again.

After his exercise, his shower, and dressing, he goes to his chest of drawers, where he spends a moment reading a creased note that he keeps next to his clothes brush.

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