Everyone in the office looked shocked to see Mike when he walked in. He knew he wasn’t looking his best, but he also knew that wasn’t the reason for their look. He had sat in the car for ten minutes, wondering if this was the right thing to do, but was unable to think of anything else. He was awake, he was dressed, and it was only Wednesday, so it was time to go to work.
His clothes were rumpled and stained. He had been wearing them since yesterday morning –only yesterday? – and he hadn’t even had a chance to change his underwear or socks. But it was a work day, so he was there.
As he had stared out through the windscreen, hot eyes following the teardrops of rain which ran down the windscreen, he had attempted to gather himself together ready to face the day. He had scrubbed his hands down across his face, hearing and feeling the sandpaper rasp of stubble on his palms. He had known he looked bad, with his hair unwashed and his body reeking of adrenaline sweat, but it was Wednesday, so he had to go to work.
The shocked looks followed him to his desk in silence and gathered around him. No-one left their desk, no-one said a word. They all knew what had happened, but none of them knew what to say. So they said nothing. Mike wasn’t surprised. He was the one it had happened to and he didn’t know what to say either. But it was a work day, so he was here.
He sat at his desk and stared at his computer. He didn’t type anything, or touch the mouse. But when the phone rang he picked it up and answered. His voice sounded normal to his ears, and he asked all the right questions and gave all the right answers. He made no notes, made no move even to pick up his pen, and as soon as the phone was returned to its rest he had forgotten it all. In his mind, all he could see was his wife where he had left her: sitting by Daniel’s bed, still in the jeans and t-shirt she had been wearing yesterday, her knees pulled up to her chest, her hands over her face, and every fibre of her being forcing him from the room, forcing him to leave her alone in her grief. Downstairs in the kitchen the radio had told him it was still only Wednesday morning – the spirits had done it all in one night! – and that it was time to go to work.
At lunchtime he went to the cafeteria. He bought a meal deal without speaking to anyone, enduring the stares and the whispers, and sat at his usual table with the sandwich and the crisps and the drink unopened in front of him. He looked at the food and knew that Daniel would never eat anything again. After ten minutes of sitting, he placed the unopened box, bag and bottle in the bin and returned upstairs for the afternoon’s work.
No-one spoke to him as he sat at his desk, but from time to time one or another of his colleagues approached him. He didn’t look up or acknowledge them, but carried on staring at his blank monitor screen. He was waiting, but he didn’t know for what. He was just waiting. Whichever colleague it was would stand behind him for a time, from moments to minutes, and then would retreat again. Mike heard the whispered conversations that followed these attempts, but the words were meaningless to him. There had been whispering in the hospital, between the doctors and the nurses, but it had also meant nothing. All that had mattered had been his son’s swollen face, the glass-filled gashes on his chest, and the feel of his small hand holding onto Mike’s much larger, but utterly helpless one.
When five thirty arrived, the other people in the office started to pack up and leave. One person placed a hand on Mike’s shoulder as they passed, but still nothing was said. Mike took that as he cue. He stood and left the office with the others. He stood, silently, in the lift with them. He walked out of the building with them and returned to his car.
He sat, staring out through the windscreen, into the dark winter evening, as the car-park emptied around him. The black windscreen played images to him, of his wife dropping the phone and falling to the floor, screaming, of Daniel’s chest rising and falling, rising and falling, hitching and stilling, and of himself being pushed backwards by a passing doctor as a single tone filled the world and everyone had a job to do except for him.
He watched these memories as they looped, over and over. He wanted to scream and cry, but he couldn’t. His hands tightened on the steering wheel and nothing happened. He thought about driving home. He thought about driving away. He tried to imagine that Thursday might follow on from Wednesday.
He sat in his car as evening turned into night.