…a lengthy tale consisting of innumerable acts of heroism, whose start is forgotten before the end is even half reached
Sitting in the absolute quiet and calm of her office, Helen reflected on the theory that she was the hero of a story, her own story, a story so elaborate and so intricate that it would defy telling; not that she didn’t try to tell herself this story if given a moment’s peace by the world, moments which she had been amply afforded over the last few years. The corollary to that theory – that each person is in turn the hero of his or her own story – escaped Helen’s notice.
But Helen wouldn’t begin her story at the beginning in the fashion of some old book from the nineteenth century which went on about how they were born – the hero – and who their parents and grandparents were and where their ancestors came from. Helen didn’t put much store in the value of grandparents in relation to her story. Nor did she assign much value to the role her parents played. But all this is by the way, because Helen wouldn’t have begun at the start – be that when she was born or when her grandparents arrived in this country escaping from the greater boredom of their homeland. Helen would have begun her story, as all good stories began, in the middle of things, in medias res, as she had heard Oscar describe this technique of beginning a story in the middle of the action. And here she was, sitting at her desk, behind a closed door in her office, her desk clear, her phone still, her window opening out onto a brick wall less then two meters away, her receptionist off sick, her colleagues ignoring her, her boss not even suspicious of her, her position lacking even the least hint of precariousness, and sitting back, variously twirling in her chair and rolling it around the four square meters of grey carpet tiles afforded her by the company, in the middle of the action.
Helen was soon looking back fondly on the more exciting moments of her heroic struggle with adversity – her lies and deceit, her near misses, the coffee stain spreading like blood across the taupe carpet of the conference room, and Mary, Jane or Susan stalking her, waiting for her to slip up and reveal herself to be an incompetent bungler. And of course their was that seminal struggle with her own demons – which she more or less conquered in her youth, about which she realised there was nothing you could do and from which her mantra “What can you do?” raised her from the ashes.
But getting back to the present moment, looking about herself, reacquainting herself with the here and now, the medias res, Helen took only a moment, this present moment, to acknowledge the props scattered around her, another moment to throw her pen at the wall, and yet another moment to twirl about in her chair once more, before she stood up and launched herself at the door, which she swung open with a force that would have injured anyone at the other side, if there was any malignant presence lurking there, and tore across the carpet and into the beyond of ringing phones, cluttered cubicles, water-coolers and photocopiers.
Walking into her red-faced boss’s office unannounced – his name for the moment escaping her, as did his presence, Helen was on her own. She could have done anything. Her back wasn’t against the wall. There was an infinite number of options open to her – she could have sat on his rather large and comfortable leather chair and twirled about, she could have looked in his little office fridge, or in each of his drawers, or in the cupboards behind the door, she could have looked through the papers on his desk, of which there were many, some of which would most likely relate directly to herself, she could have quickly scanned through the contents of his screen which had been left logged on, perhaps reading a few emails, or she could have turned around and walked out again. And there were an infinite number of other things she could have done which would by their number, and because of the constraints of prose fiction, prove impossible to list.
But what Helen did next would define her character – as you can really tell what a character is like when they could do anything at all.
Of course the fact that his desk was left in such disarray and that his computer was still logged on and that his coffee was still steaming hot and that his bagel was only half eaten – that his office resembled the abandoned decks of the Marie Celeste, would have, must have struck Helen, as indicative of an office which was abandoned but for a moment, that its possessor would return momentarily, and that the chances of her doing anything substantial and not getting caught in “the middle of the action” were very slim.
But Helen acted without a second’s hesitation, indeed she was in and out of that office in less time than it has taken to elucidate upon the situation she was in fact in. And it was the fact that she didn’t even stop when she walked into the room, not even the briefest of pauses to consider a situation which must have come as some surprise to her (but there was no look of surprise) – i.e. the office being empty and the red-faced manager not sitting in his desk and smiling inanely at her… all of which is most telling. She acted without thought, without any reflection on the likely consequences of what could only be described as a monstrous act – she ducked down supplely, slid off each shoe gracefully, without appreciably affecting her gait or momentum, and threw both of her very high-heeled black-patent shoes at the large full-length window at the back of the office.
Nor did she pause to view the results of such a grotesque and bizarre act, but continued in her path which transcribed the figure of a looping arc, of which her monstrous performance marked its furthest extreme, and left through the door in the manner she entered it, which is a manner which doesn’t allow for description.
Is Helen a monster? Was her act truly monstrous? And does one monstrous act make a person a monster?
Walking back along the corridor in her bare feet, Helen’s face had none of the markings of joy, regret, fear, wonder, etc. which such an act might occasion. In a word her face was “blank”. She didn’t even smile as she slowed down and passed behind her secretary’s empty desk where she slid on a pair of black high-heeled shoes and then turned back on herself and straight back into the middle of the action which consisted of several people grinning in disbelief as they gathered around the door of her boss’s office, where a miraculous story was just then unfolding.