I, ever the keen labourer, complied, especially since I’d made great headway on Friday and believed I would be finished early on Saturday; I could then even take a nap before the evening’s event, and proudly explain at the party to the friend who’d celebrated the night before, but was also expected to attend this consecutive evening, that my vocational duties had forced me to make a choice, and the most practical had, to me, seemed to be to attend only one party this week and use this chance to congratulate the one whose party I’d missed. As for Wednesday’s afternoon get-together with my family—well, who cares about their cousins nowadays?
All this to say that: no delivery arrived on Monday, or ever. The room I freed up is free to this day. When I asked Mr Coin about it, he pretended like he didn’t know what I was talking about.
Even this I let slide, determined to be a good worker, to receive praise and, in some distant future, a pay raise.
Then I missed parties number four and five because the bosses had me meet with partners and run errands out of town, from which I failed to return the same evenings because I had the honour of being provided with hotel rooms for those nights, and because I was too tired to drive by the time the errands were completed.
I neglected to go to party number six because our computer system failed us that day, had only been rebooted half an hour before it would’ve been my time to go home, and that day’s work needed to be completed no matter what.
I would have had time to go to party number seven, but the birthday boy sent me a text telling me that Marcia—who happened to be his girlfriend—was “thoroughly pissed” at me for having been AWOL for so long now, and that, perhaps, I should skip that night and he and I would go for drinks some other time.
I feel it is redundant to mention that he and I never went for drinks, and that I haven’t heard from him since that depressing message.
I trust the general outline (and complete lunacy) of my accusations against my bosses has become clear by now.
I believe that they monitor my private life, and orchestrate a series of either pointless or strenuous (depending on what’s available) tasks and challenges to prevent me from living this private life of mine.
I know, I know. This conspiracy worthy of a communist’s agenda, of course, impossibly corresponds to reality. And I’m only writing this down because I’m aware of how absurd it all sounds, and I wish to collect these more inane thoughts of mine for future reference—both in case I ever decide to go back to writing fiction again and need inspiration, and in case I ever feel stupid or crazy, and need a standard to which to compare my state: I can’t imagine ever entertaining any other notion as troublesome and dim-witted as the speculations presented above, so this entry will soothe me should I ever again worry that I’ve lost my mind.
First, however, I presume I’ll have to regain it. Because even after confessing to its nonsensicality, my narrative, upon rereading it now, still appeals to me as a tightknit tale of rigorous recital, so I must have lost my mind. I will leave it for now. Having written all this down and commented on its absurdity should be the first step in the right direction.
Diary, I know I broke my promise to keep you updated on a regular basis. But too much is happening, and yet too little, for there to be any point to my intended journaling. I am constantly busy—with work, of course, but also with other aspects of the “daily grind.”
When I’m not working, I’m shopping, or repairing something in my apartment, or cleaning my apartment, or cooking what I’ve shopped, or eating what I’ve cooked, or keeping up with the modern world either through news or the latest episodes of all the hottest TV shows, et cetera, et cetera. Sounds witless and boring, I know, and let me tell you something: it is.
My life has become an unstoppable river of sameness, a sequence forever repeated—or at least, repeated until death—considering of nothing of substance or worthy of note.
The worst part? I don’t even mind. I suppose this is the famous “growing up” everybody’s been talking about. I feel relatively happy doing my chores, I feel cosy and safe in my apartment, I do nice polite chatter with my colleagues and such friends as I still have who are not also workmates. I’m alright. There’s just nothing to report, let alone chronicle.
Except maybe that Miss Drowse has gone into well-earned retirement at the beginning of the month and that I now serve under one Mr. Dult, a rather unorganised fellow.
So… until next time?
Dear Diary, I have resolutely changed my mind.
Since my last entry, I have begun to wonder what I’d had to say in my previous scribbled monologues, and have, yesterday evening, reread the entirety of you.
I snorted condescendingly at my mindless spinning from April—until I did not. Until my eyes flew wide open and my body froze, then shook as though it had been dowsed in icy water. For you see, giving expression to my spiralling thoughts of apparent lunacy and over-dramatisation has, instead of helping me understand, helped rid me of my worries, written them out of my brain to be revealed, on paper, as ludicrous, and thus banned them from my mind.
It has veiled my eyes and ears from the truth which I have caught a glimpse of and then forgotten.
Reading the story I conveyed to you, my perspective is now cleared again.
There has been more. More signs of the unbelievable. More indicators that the impossible is in fact not merely possible but very true. There have been incidents which, now that I think back to and revaluate them, I appear to have waved away, ignoring the feeling that something is off, that I’m gaining upon dark, esoteric, incredible truths in my mindless everyday life as a simple workman. The only thing that is lacking now that I see and begin to accept again … is understanding. For I can’t make sense of any of it.
Here now, for your consideration and before I—and how I shudder at the thought now—have to get back to the office, is the latest wonder in a series of strange occurrences at which I—stupidly—shrugged my shoulders, and which—now that my shoulders are set—keep me awake at night.
I mentioned in my previous, most naïve and ignorant entry that Miss Drowse has left the company. I termed it a “well-earned retirement” then, and I still agree with my six-days-past’s self that Drowse has been an excellent workforce, a companionable superior, a fair leader and just simply an all-round good sport worthy of catching a break after years of diligence and good results. At her retirement party—for which we even had permission to quit work an hour early—every individual gathered in the tiny office kitchen had good things to say about her and to her.
The woman, grey-haired, her face riddled with lines, stood accepting these things with weak smiles and casual nods, but I could see that, really, what she wanted was to get out of there as quickly as possible. I noticed—with internal, good-natured laughter then (and with nothing short of horror now)—that she was wearing clothes befitting a much younger, much fitter person: her jeans were tight and seamed in part with pretend-rips and fake holes, her shirt was daring in an innocuous way and had, above one breast, a little pocket depicting a highly stylised, rather modern-looking cat-like logo.
In addition, I thought I saw traces of recently attempted colouration in her grey hair, a streak which might have been a decisively youthful shade of purple. I liked the idea that she was ready to embrace a second adolescence now that her retirement was upon her better than the more intrusive assumption that she was afraid of growing old, so I rolled with the first and did my best to enjoy the party.
This wasn’t difficult, despite my unhappiness at seeing Drowse go.
The bosses had pitched in and covered all expenses for food and drink, regaling us in what seemed a magnanimous gesture (when in fact, as we all knew and pretended not to know, it was a shameless attempt to endear themselves to us, keep us in their debts, and motivate us for future endeavours), and for the first time in a long,long while, I feasted without restraint–and got well and truly drunk.
And that was the last time I saw Miss Drowse, three weeks ago, apparently ready to embrace her future as a senior citizen. Like I said above, she is a great woman, she has done a great job, and she deserves a break. And yet, I am forced to rethink my judgment, or at least my terminology, in one crucial respect: Miss Drowse is not ready for retirement because, dear Diary, Miss Drowse is—or was—not that much older than me. I recognised the outfit she wore to her farewell party as one belonging on a younger person, not because I have suddenly developed a finely attuned sense of fashion, but because I had seen it on her a few times before… and it had suited her perfectly then.
When I started working at Rebro in January, the woman was all of thirty-five years old.
Excuse the abruptness with which I ended my last entry. I left you with a cliffhanger not because I did not have more to say, but because my hand was beginning to shake by the time I wrote that final reveal. And I haven’t returned to the story until now because, dear Diary, I am afraid. Writing it down and believing it now—or at least believing that something is wrong—is decisively more difficult, more of a nerve-wrecking exertion, than I would have thought; in fact, believing it seems to put more of a strain on me than simply living it. This documentation of things unthinkable seems to disturb me more than the disturbing things I bore witness to did themselves. It clearly does not aid me in my quest for understanding. Not yet.
For a bigger picture of what I think might be going on—or don’t think, for all details are beyond me and my head fails to wrap itself around the enormity that I vaguely sense—let me describe another series of interlinked scenes which paint the abhorrence before me in lines and colours quite blatant.
I told you that I had to clear out the office’s attic room at one point early in my career. I also chronicled how the large delivery we allegedly expected and were to store in the emptied-out space never arrived, and how Mr Coin pretended like he didn’t know what I was talking about when I beseeched him to educate me on the whereabouts of the rumoured bulk.
Now, after portraying my observations in my last entries, I hatched a plan and, come next evening at the office, when most of my colleagues had cleared out (and the bosses, as was their wont, had never even shown), I determinedly ventured up the stairs to the attic, guided by a feeling that there would be something to discover up there, something to harden and particularise my suspicions.
Rest assured, there was—and wasn’t.
For you see, the attic door was locked. I am no fool and naturally brought the key, expecting this.
But the key would not fit. The management floor had had the locks changed without informing anyone or fashioning new keys for us lowly clerks.
I left it at that for the nonce, but decided there and then that I would not let it rest until I had answers to questions I had yet to phrase adequately.
So when, the next morning, I learned to my surprise that Mr Coin had decided to bless us with a rare visit, I bravely entered his office and enquired as to the plans for the attic. I went about it smartly: not wishing to reveal that I had already investigated into matters I was likely not supposed to know about, I simply referred to my long ago task of cleaning out the room, and claimed that I was wondering whether we might not move some of the thick ring binders taking up valuable space in our offices up there.
Mr Coin did nothing but stare at me with those large eyes of his for a while. Then, the neatly trimmed moustache quivering in his slim face, he said—and I quote, for his words burned themselves into my memory and still send shivers down my spine when I think of them …
“The attic is not your business any longer.”
He then dismissed me by lowering his gaze and ignoring my presence in his office.
Dear Diary, I am afraid I must put an end to my investigations. I believe I am being watched. The same black car drives by my apartment every evening. What is more, a new colleague has been employed—and it seems that all his job entails is to sit in the same room as me and observe my movements. His name is Steve Mustard, a codename if I ever I heard one, and an annoyingly nonsensical one, at that—how stupid do they think I am? He is old and bald and has a nose like a hawk, and the only times he is not around me are those when he is in Mr Coin’s office, obviously reporting on me.
Whatever is going on, I fear I was not supposed to find out about it. I seem to have tapped into a world of secrets which not only has coexisted with Rebro since its conception, but is Rebro. I have seen my manager age, sucked dry of her life, and I have seen myself blocked from my private life, my friends, and my family, and all to serve the office, all to serve the company, all to serve the bosses—who, I should inform you, look strikingly young for their age, and as I saw in pictures of staff outings and Christmas parties past have looked almost the same for years now…
It’s beginning to make sense to me now. Too late, I’m afraid. There is no more escape: the bosses know that I know.
And I have, this morning, discovered grey hairs on my head.
It’s not just here. Not just this place. Not just Miss Drowse and me. Oh God, dear Diary, it’s not just here. It’s everywhere.
Marcia, that friend I can no longer call so, has been hospitalised after breaking down—“like a crippled old woman,” as her boyfriend has so vividly described it to me—at the hardware store where she’s been working twenty hours a week for two years now.
My father, whom I’ve never heard complain either of bad health or about his duties as a security guard, suffered a coronary last week. There is no history of heart failures in our family. The doctors told him his metabolism is in a condition befitting a man his own father’s age.
I am truly beginning to see now. The way it is. They are taking us; they are making us invest all our energy into their aims; they are harnessing that energy, and making sure that we have none left for other matters, until there are, by effect and in perverse reversion, no other matters left on which to spend our days and efforts; they are paying us little in currencies of short-lived value, while we pay them in our time, our life’s blood, our very existence.
This is it. I’ve been working for a year. Factually, a year. I look at the calendar and I see that it’s January 9 again.
But I feel an old man’s beard hang from my chin. I touch my skin and it is wrinkled and shrivelled; I listen to my mind and sense how it is slow and suppressed; I breathe and my chest rises and falls weakly. My body is riddled with ache and sorrow.
One year has passed on the calendar. But the truth is, Diary: I’ve been working here for twelve at least. I know it is not possible. I know that, to you, or any potential future reader, it will sound like a metaphor.
It is not.