Remembering his habit, Mark checked the clock once more. Three minutes past.
Feeling a faint stab of freedom, he sighed (it was always a sigh, these days) and packed away.
Breathing in, bracing himself, he stepped into the office.
“Yes boss,” his redheaded secretary replied.
“Take all the care in the world and have a good evening.”
Her face lit up as he turned. Headed on.
He stuck a finger across the room.
“Wheatley, my friend, don’t be too long now, you’ll be getting in trouble with that wife of yours!”
The newly married man cast a grin back.
“You said it.” He said.
“Josie,” Mark carried his root across the room. “Anybody told you you look wonderful today?”
Josie turned, smiled. “Thank you, Mark.”
His step wouldn’t slow.
“Peter, you’ve been working here long enough to afford some kind of suit, am I right?”
The tech dweeb mumbled something and went red.
Mark neared the door. Turned.
“All the best guys. Busy day again tomorrow.” He feigned a duck, feigned a punch. “Keep rolling with ’em.”
A chorus of goodbyes saw him out the door. They may be a collective of geeks and do-gooders, but at least he could get something out of them when he tried.
He glided down forty-two floors and saw that it was raining.
He cursed the fact his Jaeger trench was the thinner of his two jackets and made his way into the downpour. The drenching commute. His staple favourite.
He looked up and saw the dogged thousands joining him on this soaking commute and knew that it would be a long journey home.
Bending his head to somehow offer it a protection it didn’t have, he made his dreary way to Canary Wharf tube, joining the growing throng trapped into the station’s bottleneck entrance. He elbowed past a fellow traveller to grab hold of a Standard. He wondered if there was any way to get a Standard without elbowing anyone. Tucking it under that very elbow, his weapon of intent on every commute, he squirmed back to his place in the throng. The downpour became a spit, and then nothing, as his part of the throng got under shelter. A collective sigh was breathed.
Soon enough, Mark’s section of the crowd had pressed all but right onto the Tube track. The next train came along, he entered and sat, only to let out a sigh, more like the hiss of a piston than anything human, as he tried open his now sodden copy of the Standard.
Without anything to distract you from the routine London commute, it becomes unbearable. Mind-numbing. Each phase of the journey carries itself wearily into the next phase, and the next, each one slowing the hands on the clock, stretching itself to the extreme. The Tube spits you out, flights of escalators haul your tired corpse up to the milling Waterloo, which chucks you onto a Southwestern that sits for twenty minutes as it fills to the brim, before shunting you along towards your final stop, which was not actually your final stop but the stop before you get into your car and drive the final ten, twenty, thirty minutes home through the rain and residue of a rush hour that feels like it never leaves.
Mark’s final stop was Guildford. Drenched a second time from the unrelenting rain, he climbed into the Audi estate. Put the heating on full blast to dry his Jaeger. Immediately he flicked the ignition and the engine kicked into life. He navigated his way out of Station Car Park and sidled into his place in line with the usual traffic. It was moving. Thank God. Five minutes and he’d be home in Abbotswood.
It was at this point in the commute that his mind would go to his wife and kids, the only point in the day. Arriving back in Guildford, it was as if he remembered he had them. Remembered he wasn’t just living out his life within the walls of KMT. They always felt like a vague memory at this point, as if he couldn’t quite figure out if they were real. Sometimes, he didn’t know if it mattered whether they were or not. Sometimes, he wondered if he was even real to them himself. Stranger. Pays mortgage and bills. Lives in at weekends. Away pretty much the whole rest of the time.
He felt like an onlooker in his own home. The feeling wasn’t increasing – when his kids first stopped confiding in him he was too blind to notice – nor he imagined, was it uncommon, only painful the more time went on. Painful the more he realised – in spite of the vows – that he was too late.
He’d come home to an immediately empty front hall. One would be in some far off room, another would be out. Jess, his wife, would call to him and he’d take his shoes off and hang up his jacket and walk on through to the kitchen and hope, in vain, for a better evening than the day he’d had at work.