…a sharp pain consequent of over-exertion or over-speculating or over-whelming     

Helen was in control. She rolled the heavy grey ball of the mouse from one side of desk to the other. This was important to her. To feel in control. Because that’s all being in control was – feeling in control. It was a feeling. A sense. Knowing. How you feel about things happening around you. Knowing that you’re in control. And feeling out of control? – well, that would be disastrous. Helen felt a sharp pain in her stomach.

The little ball rebounded from her coffee cup into her hand. The very thought of her having no control over what was happening to her, the thought of her control being undermined by all those other people or processes beyond her control, the idea that it didn’t matter what she did, that whatever she did, no matter what, the outcome would be the same, that there was nothing she could do – such a thought was an anathema to Helen. She always caught the little grey mouse ball just as it was about to roll off the desk.

Helen had to be in control, so Helen just worked out what was going to happen, what would have happened regardless of her exertions, and accepted it. Not that she just accepted it; she actually sought it out. Not that she sat around and worked things out; she didn’t go through every possible permutation and calculate the odds, the likelihood of Jimmy the Nod tripping over her foot and falling down the emergency stairs, breaking both his legs so badly that he was confined to a wheelchair for six months, the likelihood of The Chief having a fetish for skin tight rubber and studded collars, the likelihood of the two women working at the main reception spreading the most awful rumours about her, the likelihood of her never discovering the specifics of those rumours… there was never any kind of calm and sustained deliberation on any of these subjects. There was no conscious calculation. No consideration of external influences, the impossibility of overestimating the depths to which other people would sink, the grubby meanderings towards one or other sexual perversion… none of this went on. Helen just knew. She knew how the world worked and she cut her expectations according to it. She was neither hopeful nor hopeless. She was neither realistic nor pessimistic. She strove towards the inevitable with a laudable tenacity.

Not only did she accept the inevitable, but she christened it her goal and she worked towards it. Though this wasn’t fatalism. It wasn’t resignation. It was a way of engaging with the world, of dealing with the world, with the chaos of events and people, whilst retaining a modicum of self respect, as well as a raft of other feelings such as self-worth, pride, arrogance, vanity, confidence, smugness, self-centredness and some other-nesses for which there are no names. It wasn’t that. It wasn’t this. It just was. It is.

That Oscar’s love for her had dissolved into nothingness had now taken on the appearance of inevitability, the way that things which have happened tend to do. What could be more inevitable than something which had already happened? Surely such things were the most inevitable. More inevitable than all the cars passing by on the street below, or the sun setting, or those people who die everyday on the other side of the world. She had once played with the thought of Oscar falling in love with her. She had been certain. But looking back on it now, considering how things had turned out, Helen felt the warm glow of having done the right thing – pointing Oscar in another direction, dissuading him. So even though she had seduced him, even though she had devised a plan and put that plan into action to get Oscar to fall in love with her, she could now smile at the way things had turned out, nod her head at the inevitability of things, and smile at getting her own way, and smile. Just smile.

Considering that Oscar’s efforts, whatever he might be working towards, would come to nothing, just as her seduction of him had come to nothing, that both were a foregone conclusion, each as foregone as the other, each as inevitable as the already-happened, Helen would commit herself to working towards undermining Oscar’s efforts, ensuring that his ultimate goal, whatever that might be, would be unrealised. His seemingly genuine intention to engage with the world as a normal human being would not be realised. That failure would be ably assisted by Helen. Though that failure needed no assistance (it was inevitable), Helen still looked forward to the moment when she could taste success.

That taste of success was sharpest when she reported to The Chief over a lunch of thin sandwiches at his desk on the malicious scheme Oscar had been maliciously scheming, to ruin the newspaper by getting grossly inappropriate news articles into print.

That evening, the office emptied to a quiet hum, Jimmy the Nod was sat in his wheelchair at the back of the office, next to the stationary cupboard, almost hidden by a metre high stack of files awaiting his attention. On seeing him lurking there, Helen realised that he would be a participant in her demise. Managing to look over his shoulder, hidden behind the open door of the stationary cupboard, Helen saw the file he was holding – the file of Bill Simmons, or Tommy Kilpatrick, or the man she had no choice but to love, or the man who Smith was obsessed with, or the man that Henry was afraid of, or the man that Oscar was writing about, or the man whose picture Jimmy the Nod was chuckling at. As well as chuckling, Jimmy the Nod was making indecipherable notes on a scrap of paper. Other scraps of paper, carefully laid out on his lap on top of other files, were covered with intricate diagrams, tables, graphs, curious sketches and maps. Helen knew that Jimmy the Nod would get his revenge on her.

As well as Oscar’s failure being assured, so too was hers. Therefore Helen had to prove to herself her own connivance in it. It would be unthinkable for her to be fired for a reason either beyond her control or outside of her knowledge. Her incompetence must be a studied incompetence. Her failure must be deliberate and carefully thought out. What better way to gain control over the vagaries of the world and the people in it, than to choreograph your own failure. So this is what Helen had decided to do, after a negligible string of if-then-and-therefores, less than a moment’s reflection and little more thought than made up the shape of the conclusion: I will perform the final scene in this tragedy with great assurance.

The Chief was stood smiling at his office door when Helen sat back at her desk. She could leave in fifteen minutes. She would have to, she realised at that moment, there was no other choice, it was inevitable, she must devise her own catastrophic failure such that it dragged The Chief down, and Oscar too, and everybody else, whoever she could drag down with her. It would be a catastrophe. It would be worthy of her starring role. And Jimmy the Nod too. A wheelchair would feature in the final scene. A scene in which she was undone. A scene in which she finally met the man she could not stop thinking about. It would be perfect. It would be just what she always wanted, whatever it was that happened. Everything was perfect. But then Helen felt a pang. A pang of conscience perhaps, guilt, remorse, shame… a pang of something. But it passed.


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