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Journal of Distraction - by Michael Kelly

Week 4 - Thursday

I was in the new filing room when the news came through, stapling little cards to the shelves and getting quietly wistful at the thought of leaving. Bus there, bus back, morning Susan, morning Jane, morning Sigismond, same old same old, gruts for tea, but you miss it when it's gone.

I was happily doing a really pathetic thing with the idiot concentration I sometimes give to really pathetic things - I was putting labels on the ends of the shelves of the new store-room ____ my boss had me make the other week, to indicate roughly which names were where, but I was fiddling things so that as far as possible each label consisted of a nice pair of words - I'd very nearly got it so that the whole room formed a lovely abstract poem. Some of the couples I managed were:

A - Apple
Ash - Beech
Bran - Bread
Cast - Che
Cow - Crow
Fir - Forest
Green - Gro
Haze - Heat
Heat - Hell
Ho - Hum
Kelly - King
Lone - Love
Mad - Man
Walls - War
Will - Win
Wood - Wool

Some had fallen out serendipitously but I'd had to really mess around with the files to get others to fit, having them all spaced out on some shelves and really jammed into others with punches, kicks and shoulder-charges so they got a bit tattered and mangled and would require crowbars to get out, and a couple of awkward names that would have really messed things up hidden under a table at the back of the room, but I think it was worth it. It's the sort of thing Nabokov might have done, if he'd been a filing clerk and had had no fucking life whatsoever.

Kelly-King, not to mention Mad-Man, stapled to a shelf in a dusty store-room, to hell with publishing, that's immortality... or it would have been.

'Have you heard...' 'Bastards' 'I can't believe it...' 'It's been confirmed, then...?' The voices came drifting out of the corridor and I wandered out to see what was going down. They'd disappeared round the corner, I followed, piecing things together from the snatches I could hear. By some shared instinct everyone was gathering in the kitchen.

The verdict was in, ---- from head office had spoken. As already rumoured, the building to be abandoned, everyone to be moved to a hideous unit on a godforsaken out-of-town industrial estate. All inquiry calls to be outsourced somewhere. Mrs. Prendergast and Pryor and half a dozen of the girls from downstairs to be laid off. _____ my boss to be temporarily replaced and sent on a training course somewhere: a re-education camp where she would be taught to bullshit. For those who remained, the introduction of 'personal goal statements' and monthly forms for self-evaluation of their job performance, and daily time-log sheets where they would describe each day's work by the quarter hour.

There was worse. R. was ashen and trembling.

'They... they are sending me to the Wrexham office!'

I hugged her as she broke down sobbing.

Reg the boiler man came in, devastated. The little geeky health-and-safety type was still on the premises condemning everything. 'My boiler,' faltered Reg, his dirty old fingers clenching reflexively on his shovel, shaking his head and frowning, 'they say my boiler's a menace.' I hugged him as he broke down sobbing.

It was Mrs. Prendergast who started the insurrection. 'Fuck that shit,' she said, 'I'm not going down like that. I've got grandchildren who are going to have to live in this world.' She pulled the knife out of the last cake we would ever share. 'Are you with me?'

We found the bloke from head office in the big room downstairs leaning back in my boss's swivel-chair. He'd put his feet on her desk, and a little sign that said 'You don't have to be a drone to work here, but...'

He steepled his fingers like the slimy villain he was. 'Ladies,' he said, 'shouldn't you be at work now? I'm afraid you're going to have to enter the last fifteen minutes on your time-sheets as 'cake and hysterics'.'

'There's always time for cake, ----,' my boss drawled, 'and get your fucking feet off my desk.' She kicked him in the throat sending him sprawling. The girls closed in on him.

'You'll pay for that!' he screamed as he hauled himself up. 'You're all fired!' He pressed a button on the desk and a thuggish new security man came running in and started laying into the women with a truncheon. He caught R. on her elbow. I found I still had the heavy-duty staple-gun in my hand. I shot him nine times at point-blank range, causing him to say 'Ouch'. But I'd slowed him down enough for the girls to finish him off with their handbags and heels and nails and little emery-boards.

---- was making a fight of it, dodging round desks to escape his pursuers, hurling a computer monitor that caught my boss a glancing blow on the head and temporarily stunned her. With two deft shots I stapled him to the wall by his ears. Screaming, Mrs. Prendergast stabbed him seventeen times and then started to eat him a bit before I pulled her off the body.

I reloaded and we went to hunt down the health-and-safety man. We ran him to earth in the boiler room. He swallowed as he saw my staple-gun pointed at him. 'You shouldn't use that thing without goggles,' he squeaked.

Reg advanced with his shovel raised. 'You're trying to kill my boiler... old Bessy... she never did you no harm.'

He licked his lips as he backed away. 'Too old... too dangerous... fire-escapes rusted... need a sprinkler system... no properly designated escape routes...'

'There are no fire regulations in hell, wuss-boy,' I said as I plugged him in the chest, piercing his nipple.

He shrieked and looked around for a properly designated escape route, but already Reg's shovel was descending... We watched in silence in the flickering shadows as he fed his vanquished foe to Bessy.

I showed them where to hide the other bodies.

'Now what do we do?' my boss asked. 'We have nowhere to go.'

'We can stay here,' I said. 'They're going to abandon the building anyway, we can come out at night and use it on the sly, set up in business on our own. I'm used to working at night, the rest of you will have to manage as best you can. You can wear pyjamas and negligees and stuff if you want.'

'Hooray!' the girls said, jiggling a bit.

'But what would we do?' asked R.

I hesitated a moment and then fetched a bag from the filing room. 'I brought this in to show you,' I said. I opened it and brought out the gleaming form of the Mellerware 84300. 'We could have a bakery. It makes cakes too.'

All the girls gasped and knelt and wept as they beheld the wondrous machine.

But it was not to be, they wouldn't leave us alone... Minutes later ____ made a grim discovery, ----'s mobile lying open in the downstairs room, still connected to head office, he must have speed-dialled... they'd heard everything.

Already it was too late. They'd sent replacements. There was a screech of tyres outside, cars, vans, we could see grim-faced security guards and blank-faced middle-management types, serried ranks of consultants, pagers and earpiece-phones, wires coming out of their heads, robot men, we were surrounded...

Quickly we barricaded the doors and retreated to the second floor and started to drop filing cabinets on their heads out the windows. We set the Mellerware to maximum speed and made cakes to pelt them with, and eat as well. Most of the women were semi-naked by this point so they could run around more easily. We cheered defiantly and hurled things at the enemy but it was no good, they were over-running us, they'd broken down the doors...

Then there was a mighty explosion from down in the basement. I understood at once: Reg had decided to go out with Bessy. Flames billowed from the doorways, the management drones lay dead in the entrance...

It was at this juncture we realised the health and safety man had had a fucking point about the fire regs. I led them through the warren of corridors to the fire-escape at the back but as soon as ____ set foot on it the whole structure swayed and crashed away from the building and I was barely able to yank her back.

We were doomed. Unless... 'This way,' I cried. As the passages started to get smoky I led the way to the store-room on the fourth floor and the disused rubbish chute. 'Down there, quick.' I helped the girls into the chute one after the other, nervously watching the smoke grow thicker. Finally I hurled Mr. Pryor in bodily, tossing one slipper in after him... there was a terrific crash... I dived into the chute.

In Mr. Fezzigig's office there was no sign of the fire. The clerks crowded around goggling at the women, who goggled back. There was something different about the place, it seemed brighter, nicer. There were plant-pots, little ornaments, flowery curtains on the windows. Mr. Fezzigig came out of his inner sanctum, hand in hand with ____ our ex-receptionist, who was blushing and dimpling as he chucked her under the chin and murmured sweet nothings.

'My dear, your friends are here! Welcome, naked harlots from the future!' he boomed genially. 'Mrs. Fezzigig and I bid you a warm welcome to the 19th Century! If you will adjourn to our parlour, we would be pleased to offer teacakes and double lattes. If the clerks offend you, flog them.'

Dazed, I wandered out into the reception. The door was open, no longer bricked off; sunlight flooded in. Outside, it was summer, dazzlingly sunny; ladies with parasols promenaded and there was a brass band playing in the park. I walked around the building. It was intact and very beautiful. As I reached the terraced houses a lady with a parasol emerged from the first house; opening it she inadvertantly swatted me in the eye, causing me to swerve and bump into a lamp-post. She didn't notice and walked on.

I went back to the office. The girls were holding a council in the big copying room.

'We'll do all right,' said my boss.

'We'll do better than that,' I said. 'Remember, we still have the Mellerware!' For all the way through the smoke I'd kept a tight hold of R. with one hand and that with the other. I opened the bag and showed it to them to remind them of its power. They wept and held hands.

'The filing monkey is right,' said my boss. 'With technology like that there's no stopping us. We can rule here!'

'It's true,' I said, 'the timeline will be all changed now. We can do what we want with this age, keep what's best and change what we don't like. And we'll know what mistakes not to make. We can ruthlessly cull anyone who looks like their descendants will be management consultants or similar nasties.'

'Change the Victorian age?' said ____ O'______ suspiciously.

'Why not? For example we could keep the spiffy uniforms and the sense of national purpose and yet bring in liberated women and orgies.'

'Hooray!' cried the girls. 'Orgies!'

And they took off what remained of their clothes and threw themselves on top of the clerks, who looked surprised but happy... Mrs. Prendergast said to Mr. Pryor, 'I've had my eye on you for a long time, Sigismond,' and threw him down on the table... his slippers curled up as she got a grip of him... my boss took Jorkins' pince-nez off with her tongue... and I found myself left alone watching the mayhem.

There was a discreet cough from behind me. I turned to see R. smiling at me.

'You handled yourself pretty well back there,' she said.

'Well,' I said coolly, 'I've had a lot of experience handling myself.'

She said something sultry in foreign and came a step closer.

'Filing boy,' she said, putting a finger on my chest, 'you have long been in my Pending tray.'

'And you have long been on my 'to do' list.'

'Oho?' She blinked saucily. 'Then perhaps I can now move you to my - how you say - In tray?'

'Gurg!' I said.

'We may even become, how you say, relevant attached documents.'

'File me under I for Interested!'

'Then you wish, perhaps, to stamp me for immediate action?'

'In triplicate!'

'We might even... merge files.'

'And one day, perhaps, open a few new sub-folders?'

'Yes, I have the hips for it.'

'So you're giving me a return to point of origin order?'

'Do not be vulgar. But I will certainly circulate you to all interested departments...'

This went on for some time before we finally managed to fuck like weasels.


...While I was scribbling notes for the above, muttering things like 'I've had a lot of experience handling myself,' and sniggering, everyone tiptoed into the filing room to give me a leaving party.

- May 1st-May 25th 2006

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