automaton

…it’s human nature      

What else could Helen do?

Nothing. Helen could do nothing else but do what Helen would do, should do, could only do, must do, is about to do, is doing right now.

There she is, doing what she had to do. This would be a great comfort to her, if her thoughts were to lead this way, towards self-doubt, seeking absolution of blame, seeking relief from the moral quandaries which can and do plague us. But not Helen. Helen’s thoughts didn’t lead that way. Didn’t lead any way. Didn’t lead. Just cropped up. Appeared as though out of nowhere. Were just thoughts. Ideas. She had an idea. To be caught up in her own nature and have no choice but to do what her nature dictated, was a not welcome break from having to think about what she should, might or could possibly do. Helen just did. Helen was. Helen is. Helen must.

And what must Helen do?

Helen had little choice but to jumble up the newspaper’s central filing system.

“Don’t we keep computer records?” Helen had asked earlier that day.

“Of course. But we need to know where certain pieces of paper are. Pieces of paper are still what we always go back to. They’re the beginning and the end.”

Randomly pulling out files from the beginning of the alphabet, Helen restored them to shelves at the other end of the room. As she busied herself with placing files from “c” into “s” and files from “f” into “r”, Helen realised that she was following a simple pattern. If she was to continue in this manner for the next ten or twenty years, she would merely reverse the alphabet. So she altered the manner in which she was proceeding, introducing an element of randomness into her jumbling up, placing some “b” files in “a” and “s” files in “t”. Of course, she changed the labels of the files, so that the files could not be located. There would be no beginning, nor would there be an end.

The filing clerk would have to be fired. There was nothing else for it.

Helen might be the slave of her own nature, but she was also the master of the fate of someone else; but her thoughts didn’t stray that way.

The filing clerk was a fairly nice, harmless, inoffensive young man. The type of young man you could not find it in you to dislike, let alone hate. This bothered Helen. It bothered her to such a degree that she found herself hating the filing clerk – which was convenient, though not essential. Helen didn’t have to persuade herself of the evil inherent in the filing clerk. She didn’t convince herself. She was just convinced.

“Do you have anything that needs filing?” he asked every morning, an innocent and polite smile colouring his features.

Helen nourished her hatred of him.

“I couldn’t find that file on the Murphy story,” he told her one afternoon. “Are you sure it was filed?”

Helen relished the control she had of his fate.

What would happen to this inoffensive and jolly young man upon being fired was of as much interest to Helen as what happened to him when he left work every evening. It wasn’t that she didn’t care; it was just that she wasn’t aware of his having an existence at either end of her awareness of him.

“I had one hell of a crazy night last night,” he stated one morning.

Helen could only look at him with a puzzled face. She didn’t understand what he could mean.

But Helen was at the same time a keen observer of her fellow man. She spent nearly fifteen minutes watching him go about his business in the office yesterday. He spoke at length to nearly everybody, speaking longer to the young women than to the men, spending longer with the more junior staff, seeming to be a little wary of older and more senior members of staff – as you’d expect. Helen, as a keen observer of her fellow man, expected this.

When he wasn’t speaking to anyone, and when he paused in his work, hovering between one menial task and another, he let his eyes rest on the features of one or two particular young women. He seemed mostly absorbed by their breasts. Helen noted this.

Helen prided herself on her awareness of other people, despite the fact that it was almost non-existent. She treasured the fact that she had unearthed about the young filing clerk – he was an admirer of young women’s breasts. And Helen had breasts. A plan slowly formed in her mind.

“I can’t find that file,” he said to a reporter from sport yesterday morning. It was becoming his regular refrain. Becoming more and more frustrated with the missing files and with his inability to meet basic requests for files, the filing clerk seemed to be a little on edge – which was duly noted by Helen: he liked young women’s breasts and he was a little on edge.

“Perhaps I could help you find that file.” Helen startled him as he sat alone amongst the shelves of the filing room, lost amongst his thoughts. Helen had a good idea of what was occupying those thoughts.

He didn’t have the wherewithal to respond, especially as her breasts were almost touching his face.

“The file I requested this morning,” Helen added.

“The file?”

Helen bent down slightly and arched her back. “The Winton file.” Helen couldn’t repress a little titter. She had no choice.

He looked flustered. He eventually caught her eye, but wasn’t sure what to make of the manner in which she was looking at him. This look of confusion, stained slightly by fear, was noted by Helen. She had noted so many things about this young man. She now had as full a picture of him in her head as she was ever likely to get. This was the peak of her understanding of him. He was more real to her now than he ever was or would be.

“What’s wrong?” Helen adopted the soft tone and troubled appearance of someone who was genuinely concerned, at least she thought she did.

The young filing clerk told her everything. However, after half an hour, Helen had forgotten the majority of his everything. But she retained the fact that he had just been spurned in love. Of course, there was also the fact that he was frustrated by his job: files kept going missing and everyone took it out on him.

“Who else could be to blame?” Helen had asked him. It was at this point he walked quickly from the room, tears clearly collecting in his eyes.

Helen could have acted out of compassion at this point, but that wasn’t in her nature. Not that she even considered it – acting out of compassion. Nor did she, at this point, consider her nature. Nor did she consider any alternative to what she was about to do.

When the office had emptied out that evening Helen went from desk to desk, taking files which had been left out for filing the next morning. She was careful to take files at random, making sure that there was no pattern to her actions. Also, she took no files from the desks of the most junior reporters and staff, whose desks ran along a glass wall beneath the sweep of the close circuit cameras. Having collected as many files as she could comfortably carry, Helen made her way to the filing room at the back of the office. Intent on acting quickly, Helen fell over the outstretched legs of the filing clerk as soon as she entered the room. The files she was carrying spread across the floor.

Getting quickly to his feet, the young man was almost all apologies, but he couldn’t get out a single word. Helen was about to explain what she was doing, when she noticed that the filing room was in quite a bit of disarray. There were files spilt onto the floor all the way down the main corridor between the shelves. There was a pile of files thrown into the far corner. The whole of the “r” section was spilled onto the floor.

“Don’t say anything,” were the only words the young filing clerk could manage.

Helen had no choice.

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