On returning

There were two skies. One crystalline, balanced on a blade, the waterfall of light enveloping Astrid’s gaze; the other bleached, shy and aloof, a pale reflection across the smeared and rain-pocked windows of Worcester House. As her gaze ascended the copycat storeys to her own, Astrid wondered why they ever named such awkward, unhomely beasts a “house”, like calling a pitbull “poppet”. But she was back, standing as she did repetitively, unconsciously, for so many years, taking a final moment before crossing the revolving threshold, a long slow breath to straighten the nerve endings.

Yet this was the first time since the team were sent into the caffeinated wilderness to work, left to their own devices with their own devices to embroider a spirit. Curiosity had snaked her here this morning, the train as cloying as ever, the glazed gaze of sallow faces upon her. Astrid wished she was a mirror. On the street, people walked by Worcester House without so much as a glance, as though it were a collapsed drunk. The revolver was jammed, but trying the fire exit door at the rear corner of the building Astrid was surprised to find it give. She found herself in the unforgiving concrete stairway, moving against the invisible track to the seventh floor, a chill rushing through her like a thousand ghosts in a hurried evacuation.

Having been cast to the fifth wind, it had transpired to be directionless, erratic but weak – it was not so bad. Her team had moulded a routine from the vacuum, given themselves a structure to cling to, and found they had more time and far less intrusion. They spoke, but shared little. They corresponded, but with the unobtrusive warmth of pre-teen penfriends. Yet they realised that they had mostly craved time when there was none, and that in even the earliest stage the glut became a millstone. So Astrid created her own pressure, layer upon layer, until she felt the denial bite. Her gains and losses from the transaction had no exchange rate.

Astrid’s footsteps echoed, reminding her with each of her trespass. She arrived at the oversized plastic “7” with its chipped corners, and pushed against the door to the floor. Again it opened with more than expected ease. The office was a thicket of doors. There was rarely any sense in lowering the outstretched palm. A distant visitor may have wondered if humans defensively flat-handed their way through life. When two palms met, it might have been a kiss.

There, amidst the abandoned skeletal remains of the seventh, were her team, making do. Amidst the trailing workarounds, the home surplus, the trestles, eBay steals and cuddle of the smell of toast, were the easy smiles of delight that said stay. The familiarity was dusty, tardier than she recalled, but the space had been filled. It worked, but it was a different work. Her favourite spot was free, it had been left with the expectation of her return, everyone else had and they weren’t so different. There had been no doubt on anyone’s part that her heart beat as theirs. The agoraphobia had just taken a little longer to percolate.

From the window, there were two skies. One bumbled along the accidental and pockmarked horizon, a hazy and familiar outline. The other, crystalline, balanced on a blade, was where it should have been, outside, beyond. Astrid unpacked. So much to do.