…the briefest of hopes, chances, possibilities
Helen was vaguely considering the whole concept of work, the nature of work, what it amounted to, what it was, while she worked. If it could be said that she worked. If it could be said that she considered. She was just sitting there. Not really thinking, one thought building on the previous thought etc. etc. And she wasn’t doing anything. But she was getting paid. She wasn’t involved in the production of the newspaper. Though the odd thought did occur to her. She wasn’t making any contribution, visible or notional. Yet, here she was – at work. So she was working. The thought of working.
Of course, she could be pretending to work, Helen thought. She could be lying. She could be deceiving everybody, about her intentions, her efficiency, her productivity. But then, Helen thought, she wasn’t doing anything. Nothing. Not even deceiving people. If people thought she was working, if those two women on reception wanted to think, wanted to deceive themselves, had some idea about her, some notion in their little heads, talking to each other about her, saying this and that, and would you believe it, no way, are you serious, red shoes, brushing her hair all day, spends half the day in the toilet with her face in the mirror, must be sucking the man’s… well then let them. Let them have their own thoughts, their own opinions, their own existence. That was all to do with them. That was nothing to do with her. How could Helen be taken to account for what she doesn’t know. Helen knows nothing of these people and their hypothetical, their supposed, their possible thoughts, on subjects as diverse as whether Helen was working or whether Helen was sucking the man’s…
Helen went to get a glass of water.
Helen promised herself that she wouldn’t pretend to work, that she wouldn’t do anything, wouldn’t go out of her way, say anything, not do something, or not say something, in order to preserve this myth that she was in fact working, working hard, working at all. Not that she was aware of this promise. Not that there was a dialogue going on in her head which came to a conclusion, such as “I will not pretend to work.” And it wasn’t that Helen had any distaste for lying. Helen liked to lie. She enjoyed lying. There was nothing more that Helen enjoyed doing. Lying was an essential aspect of who she was. Lying made her who she is. To lie. What else to do? What else defines her? Is that all she is, a lie? Is her whole existence a lie? But such questions didn’t flit about at the edges of her preconscious. Such questions didn’t bother Helen. Such questions weren’t asked. Didn’t exist. Unperturbed by this possibility that she was nothing but a long string of lies, Helen didn’t consider the other alternatives.
One alternative stood in front of her in the shape of Jimmy the Nod. Whilst his whole being was also tied up with deception, there was something else to him over and above a long string of lies. He was dishonest, whereas Helen was honest. His lies were traditional lies, boring lies, ordinary lies, mundane lies, lie lies, lying, nothing but lying: I didn’t eat the cake, beak the window, lose the ball, see your breast. That’s dishonesty. Nothing else. Nothing more. Reprehensible. Helen’s lies were of a different order: I’ve got the most god awful headache from all that screaming, bloody screaming, that high-pitched screaming echoing in my bloody head, since that moment, that crash, there was a spectacular crash on the far end of Deansgate, and there’s some grandmother stuck under the wheels of a jeep, a van turned over onto its roof, and there’s school kids screaming, and everyone else is just stood there looking at it, like it’s some kind of show on television. Jesus Christ. This world is losing its significance.
Helen didn’t choose to lie. She just lied. She wasn’t dishonest. Nor could it be said that she was honest. Honesty just didn’t come into it. When Helen told Oscar that The Chief had propositioned her, that he had stood in his office with his pants around his ankles, holding a putter in one hand and an unlit cigarillo in the other, that he had turned around and bent over and asked her to punish him, and that she did, she had, she had severely punished him, that she hit him with a thin metal ruler so hard that several welts rose almost immediately on his buttocks, that he barked like a dog and then cried like a child, that he calmly pulled up his pants once the punishment was over and lit the cigarillo, at which point she was dismissed with a wave of The Chief’s hand, him standing there looking out his window – this wasn’t dishonesty. Helen hadn’t chosen to lie. Helen just opened her mouth.
When Jimmy the Nod told her that The Chief was on his way up, Helen’s instinct made her suspect dishonesty. She despised dishonesty. She despised Jimmy the Nod, for being the most adept practitioner of dishonesty she had ever known. When she saw The Chief almost running down the corridor towards her, she resisted the temptation to look busy – she would rise above the dishonesty of the likes of Jimmy the Nod. However, it must be said that the temptation was almost non-existent, the vague hint of temptation she caught from the sudden industry of those around her. But Helen wouldn’t even smile, she wouldn’t even switch on her computer, nor open a book. She certainly wouldn’t spread papers on her desk. Why should she suppress a yawn?
“My office, Miss Anderson.”
The Chief repelled Helen, but for no particular reason. He wasn’t repellent. At least he didn’t repel anyone else. Just Helen. Though he was called The Chief, insisted on being called The Chief, he wasn’t pathetic. He wasn’t repellent, nor was he pathetic. He wore a full-length navy Mac.
Helen stood at the door to his office, leaning with her shoulder against the doorframe. She didn’t look like someone who worked there. The Chief didn’t think she looked like someone who worked anywhere. Helen didn’t think about what she looked like standing there – she had only the fuzziest picture in her mind of this situation.
“I’ve got something that needs doing,” he said.
Helen didn’t seem to hear him.
“Something needs doing.” He raised his voice to a level just about commensurate with Helen’s desire to hear what he had to say.
Helen didn’t look like someone who would do anything that needed to be done.
“You’re to be my eyes and ears.”
Helen’s eyes and her ears.
“There are things happening…” The Chief doesn’t quite know how to put this. “Things you’re unaware of. For god’s sake, there are things I’m unaware of. Whole lots of things. Things I can’t know. I can know only so much. But there are other things. Things I should know. Things I don’t know.”
Helen didn’t know either. “Things you don’t know?”
“Exactly.” The Chief smiled with relief. “And there are people. People in this very newspaper. People in my employ. People who are close to me.”
Helen nodded. There certainly are.
“That’s where you come in. You’re outside. You’re no one. Who knows who you are? I don’t even know who you are. I threw your references in the bin; they were probably made up anyway. You’re nobody. And that’s who I need.”
“Exactly. And you’re such a pretty nobody.”
Helen smiled. She had been working after all.