by Cee Olaleye
The time was 09:23. I had made my way directly home from the school run, dressed in what I thought was “activewear” - a solid uniform of baseball cap, oversized tee, colourful yoga leggings - but now realised was the ugliest pair of running trainers the running-shop assistant could flog on the fateful day I decided I needed running trainers. It was a disguise commonly donned in order to avoid the post-drop off playground chatter, enabling me to decline invitations to morning coffee and croissants without looking completely standoffish. Methodology: raising my shoulders and hands in mock exasperation, signalling the inviter’s attention to said activewear, mouthing an exaggerated “sorry” and ending with a smile. It rarely failed. Today, there was no messing about.
Now, at my desk in the spare bedroom-come-office, I surveyed my tools. The notepad, number five of ten on someone’s list (I couldn’t remember whose), was fifty pages of A5 paper (ensuring portability), 100 GSM (for reduced ink leakage), spiral-bound and blank. It was black, but matt black, so it didn’t look like it had been stolen from a stationery cupboard. Functional, yet tasteful. A Mortal Kombat “perfect” echoed inside my head. I smiled.
The pen was a beautiful, stainless steel, bullet-shaped ballpoint; fat enough not to give me finger cramp, thin enough to fit into the super-slim leather pencil case that I’d also purchased. The monogram had cost £25, the unexpected and additional charge generating a slight anxiety-induced back and underboob sweat. Right now, that no longer mattered. What did matter was how I felt when I saw it there on my desk. Those were my initials embossed into the baby pink, Italian, full-grain calf hide. I imagined myself at my future book signings, armed with my own bespoke fountain pen, possibly gifted from a well-known luxury writing-instrument manufacturer, along with matching pouch, embossed with some iconic emblem or other.
I was getting distracted again. This happened often. I would find myself whisked away into a state of reverie, imagining my future greatness. And, while my imagination was an untapped goldmine, primed and ready for the extraction of this raw future greatness, ironically there could be no future greatness without present targeted focus.
An overwhelming thirst came over me. Viciously eyeing the empty, watermarked glass on my desk, I swallowed, trying my hardest to avoid the trip downstairs to the kitchen sink. Had I refilled the filter jug this morning after filling the kids’ water bottles for school? I couldn’t remember. Couldn’t face drinking from the bathroom sink either. Still haunted by an account of a dead pigeon found in a loft water tank, I tried to recall where I had first heard this tale.
Someone had somehow discovered that they had been drinking dead pigeon juice. But who? I couldn’t remember. In any case, I wasn’t willing to risk it. I pondered the benefits of an under-sink, water filtration system.Then I remembered that we didn’t actually have a water tank in our loft. So, maybe a little sip from the bathroom would be OK? No. No, it wasn’t OK. I shook my head, fiercely, to shift the idea, sighed, choked a little on the dry air that accompanied the sigh, and swallowed again.
Right, where was I? I glanced down at the bullet in my hand and sighed again.
I heard the nee-naw of a police siren. Or was it? I often confused ambulance and police sirens, playing a guessing game with myself, and changing my mind on its origin until the answer presented itself, flashing lights and all. The sound became progressively louder, reaching a crescendo, and, almost immediately, faded into silence.
My attention was drawn to some activity at the open window. I froze, channelling demonic mannequin, my eyes tracking the motion. A spider. Not a significant one, not a massive one, but a spider all the same. Casually traversing the length of the weather-worn window sill, dangerously close to the inner edge of the frame. Dread and hatred washed over me in equal amounts. There was no way that I could write while I had one eye on the spider. And I felt the beginnings of pins and needles in my right foot. Concentrating fully on limiting any superfluous movement, I flexed my toes a couple of times to get the blood pumping in my foot. The tingling grew worse and I involuntarily clenched my buttocks, cursing silently, but careful not to alert the spider to my awareness of its threat. I continued to watch it move purposefully until it crossed the boundary, entering my office space. One of us would die today.
A dusty cough pushed its way up from my diaphragm and into my chest, and I slowly swallowed to quell it. Stealthily I reached out to my left, maintaining full integrity in my upper body, clasped the empty glass, and, in one deft movement, upturned it over Incy Wincy Spider.
One eye was trained on the trapped spider, the other squinted at the clock that hung above my desk. 09:25. I sighed and looked at my unopened notepad. I picked it up, laying it flush against the window sill and slid the glass straight onto it. Pressing the glass and making sure not to disconnect the two, I swallowed again, suddenly feeling hungry, got up from my desk and made my way downstairs.