SATURATED IN a cold sweat, he opened his eyes, but could not recall what he had dreamt. He sat up in bed and glanced at the alarm clock. 1:42AM blinked off and on, that obnoxious glow mocking him. Thoughtless moments passed, and then his heart dropped.
Adrenaline surged as he struggled to detangle his body from the blankets. He snatched at his watch. 8:20AM. He should be stepping on the bus this minute. Of all days, why today did he have to be late?
He was ready to leave the apartment fifteen minutes later, having skipped some chief components of his morning routine, like showering, and completing only the ones that mattered most, like brushing his teeth. On his dash to the front door, he tripped over Nick’s shoes and landed face-first on the dirty doormat. It was already shaping up to be a fine day. He picked himself up from the floor and kicked the shoes into the living room.
“How many times do I have to tell you to put your fucking shoes away, huh?” he shouted. He checked his clothes to make sure they were clear of filth.
Nick peeked over the back of the couch. “Calm down, mate! You won’t have to worry about my shoes much longer now, will you? Besides, what’s your big hurry, anyway?”
Ethan jammed his feet into his shoes and tied the laces in a hurry. “The damned electricity went out and fucked my alarm, didn’t it? Why wouldn’t you have made sure I was awake if you were already up? You know what bloody time I have to leave! I’m going to be late, now!”
Nick glanced up at the clock and smirked. “Hey, what do you know? You’re right! Wouldn’t that be a coincidence if we both lost our jobs this week? We could both move back home. It would be like old times! Pub every night!”
Ethan glared at him, not in the least bit amused. Chest smarting, he stood up tall to assert himself. “Don’t be a git! You—no, fuck it; I have no time to row.”
He stormed out the door, slamming it behind him. The dank hallway reeked of stale marijuana and beer. A corridor party might have taken place here last night, but for the lack of the common cheerful racket that would have indicated such. He punched the elevator down button and waited, then punched it again. He could hear the elevator climbing its way up the cables to his floor. Any day now, he might just breathe fresh air. He looked down at the ground and saw that he was tapping his foot in impatience. He looked at his watch. 8:38AM.
The doors slid open at last to reveal the familiar, unstable elevator car. The cracked speckled mirror reflected the image of an anxious man he scarcely recognized. He needed to compose himself, and breathe. He stepped into the deserted lift, pressed G, and closed his eyes. He took a few deep breaths on his way down to a world that did not care how shitty he felt or how dishevelled he looked. No one would give him a second glance, nor would his co-workers. Everything would be fine. No one would notice that he was late. They wouldn’t. Damn it! Why did he have to be late on the day of his potential promotion? Breathe. Nick was moving out, abandoning him, but that was fine. Breathe. He would just find another flatmate or go out and buy a house at last. Everything would be fine, just bloody brilliant.
IT WAS ENOUGH that she had already missed her bus, but now she was lying on the filthy sidewalk, flattened wads of gum at eye-level, old sandwich crust at arm’s length, and her purse at her feet. Important papers began to flutter out of her briefcase and drift down the sidewalk. The back of her head throbbed from the landing impact and her right knee burned. She sat up in a daze and glanced down at her leg to find her pantyhose ripped and a deep gash in her kneecap that was bleeding quite badly. She peered around and saw her bus heading towards her stop.
“Flaming heck! I am sosorry!” a man exclaimed from behind her. The concern in his voice was far beyond anything she had come to expect from a man. It was strange, yet satisfying to hear compassion in the voice of an absolute stranger. “Are you all right?” the man asked. “I’m sorry! I’m just a bloody idiot today!”
Still unable to see the instigator of all this mess, she seized her purse and attempted to stand, using her palms as supports as she tried to steady herself on her black high-heeled boots. She yanked down the hem of her grey skirt before exposing herself to the world. When she straightened her leg, her knee stung. Wanting to cry, not from the fall, but from emotional exhaustion and defeat, she gazed about with arms listless at her side in attempt to locate the source of the voice, wondering if the day could get any worse.
When she found him standing there with his hand on his forehead and what she recognized as a look of utter bewilderment on his face, her heart dropped. The man that had bowled into her appeared a perfect human specimen. His dark, curly locks of hair rustled in the breeze. It was obvious that he had not yet shaved today. Perhaps he was growing a beard, or perhaps, like her, he was late. His green-eyed gaze bore into her. Her stomach performed somersaults; she struggled to find words to speak.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her papers float down the sidewalk without so much as a care in the world, releasing her from her sudden trance. As though by unspoken command, they scrambled for them, but the man held his hand out to stop her.
“Please, allow me,” he insisted and chased after the stray papers as she gathered up the ones around her. When he returned with a small stack, his expression of urgency had heightened, yet the unfamiliar display of concern had not disappeared either. “Are you all right?”
She nodded her head, spellbound, but at last, she found words. “Yes, but I can’t very well go into work looking like this, now can I?” The bus rolled to a screeching halt, the shrill sound causing her to cringe.
The man gazed at her, mouth agape as he tried without success to respond. “Uh…”
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “That was rude of me. You must think I’m unappreciative. You startled me, that’s all. Thank you for fetching my papers.” They stared at each other now, an uncomfortable silence hanging in the air between them. What else should she say?
The man opened his mouth to speak, closed it, and then opened it again. “I—I’m sorry I ran into you,” he said. “I’m late. I wasn’t paying a lick of attention to where I was heading.” He glanced up at the bus behind her.
“Well,” she replied, “now I’m going to be even later than I already was. I had better be going.” She gazed one last time at him. He nodded and offered a hint of a smile, then jumped onto the bus. She peered at the doorway for a moment, wondering if she should just get on the bus and tend to her wounds at work. She decided against it; her leg could develop an infection and produce gangrene, which might necessitate amputation of her much-adored limb. She started down the sidewalk back home, stepping with care over the cracks in the cement. The bus pulled away, discarding suffocating exhaust in its wake.
She shifted the papers to her left hand and covered her mouth as she coughed, but her left, holding also the handle of her briefcase, was nowhere near was nimble as her right, and it dropped three or four sheets to the ground. She cried out in aggravation and commenced another chase after the drifters.
“I HOPE YOU’RE on your way out to the Thames with Joe,” Jacob Reyk inquired as he passed by her desk.
“I’m going already,” she replied, a hint of annoyance emerging from her voice. She picked up her briefcase and took a deep breath. Some of the papers were scuffed and muddy from their journey down her street that morning. She glanced out the window. The sky was growing uncharacteristically dark for being early afternoon. She dreaded the idea of spending another moment out in the rain.
“Hey!” Joe appeared beside her from out of nowhere. “You ready or what? Let’s get this bloody thing filmed for Reyk before it pisses on us again.”
She gave him a sarcastic smile. “Want to be the reporter today?” She grabbed her purse and checked her appearance in her powder mirror before they headed out.
“Me? Give up this lovely job as cameraman? You’re daft,” Joe replied. “Besides, this face would shatter every telly in Britain.”
“Well, I certainly can’t argue with that,” she smirked.
When they reached the crime scene, the sky seemed to be releasing drops of warm rain one by one. By the time she was ready to film, the rain was falling in torrents again. The wind had for the moment come to a standstill, which was fortunate for her, as she was clutching her umbrella in one hand and a microphone in the other, leaving no free hands to yank her skirt down if need be at any time throughout the filming.
“We’re here at Battersea Park, where just this morning, a local runner discovered the body of a man drifting along the river bank of the Thames. According to Inspector James Carrow, police coroners believe that the body has been in this state for nearly two weeks, though perhaps not at this location, due to the river’s currents. The Inspector could not comment further, but police have not ruled out foul play. As of this moment, they have not yet identified the man. If anyone has any information pertaining to this case, you are to inform the London Metropolitan Police or Crime-Stoppers of your details. This has been a
BBC News Report. I’m—”