I shut the cubicle door, locked it and sat down on the closed toilet seat. I took a moment to compose myself. This morning had been a nightmare and now I needed to get some control back.
Veronica, the Office Manager, had been storming around with her side-kick Julie following behind her. There had been a problem with one of the big client claims and Veronica was looking for someone to blame. She had fixed me, because I hadn't followed up on one little telephone call, that hadn't even been an important one, and therefore it was my all fault. She'd found me at my desk, started to scream at me, before I could say a word, shouting about all my faults, so loud that everyone in our open-plan office could hear her. All the time Julie's fat face smiled at me, the way she does.
I'd wanted to disappear under my desk as Veronica screamed at me. I simply sat there as she shouted at me, every word ripping into me. She can be really vicious, but I heard every word she shouted at me. They stung me, sharp and painful. If she had such a low opinion of me it was obviously my fault. My stomach was such a tight and hard knot that it was making me feel sick.
Her final criticism, bellowed across the office, was that I had to sort out all this mess and keep this client or else my job was on the line. Then she stormed away.
Before Julie rushed off after Veronica, she pushed her fat face into mine and hissed:
"You're not as clever as you think you are, Claire!"
"I don't think I'm clever," I whispered back but Julie was already stomping away.
When I pulled up all the files for that client, on my computer, I was shocked at the poor state they were in. I had no hope of clearing this mess up. Veronica would be back soon, wanting my head and there was nothing I could do to stop her.
I stared at my computer and felt sick again. There was not a chance I could sort out this mess. If I couldn't do what Veronica wanted my job was gone. I had to get some control back.
I picked up my bag and slipped off to the staff toilet.
Sitting there, on the closed toilet seat, I opened my bag and took out my tin box. It was an old mint tin; it was the perfect hiding place for my things. If anyone saw it, they would just think of it as a tin of mints.
Last night I had used it in my bedroom for the same thing. Paul, my useless boyfriend, had called me on my way home from work, only to tell me he'd gone off the idea of us moving in together because he didn't know if we were "ready". Us moving in together would have been my way out of my awful flatshare, with my moaning and food stealing flatmate Mia. Paul had let me down again. I needed to release my stress.
Now I needed to release my stress again.
I opened my tin box and inside was all I needed. In the left-hand side were my sterile plasters, in the middle were the neatly folded paper tissues and on the right-hand side, still wrapped in its wax paper, was what I really needed. I always keep my tin box very neat; it is simply better that way.
I rolled up my blouse's sleeve, then I took the most important thing out of my tin box and unwrapped it. It is not often you see a plain razor blade now, with all the safety razors and electric shavers and such, and this shiny steel one had been so hard to find.
Holding it between my thumb and forefinger, I carefully raised the blade up to my arm and drew it across my skin. It slid over it and painlessly parted the top layer of it. As I did this two bright red drops of blood appeared along the cut. For a moment, a long and satisfying moment, those drops of blood grew in size, still clinging to my skin, perfect red and shiny spheres. I felt all the tension and frustration in my body flowing out into those drops of blood. Then that moment was gone as one of the drops rolled quickly down my arm, taking all those negative feelings with it.
As I dabbed at the blood with a tissue, I felt another rush of relief. With the release of blood had come the release of all the negativity and frustration from inside of me. It was my method of taking back control and every time it had worked.
Quickly I covered the new cut with a plaster and re-wrapped the razor blade back into its wax paper. If I was gone too long it would be noticed.
As I left the toilet cubicle, I found Katy, from Recruitment, washing her hands at the white, row of sinks. I always tried to avoid her, not because she's a bitch or anything, she's always friendly, but she has a degree in psychology and her boyfriend's a psychiatric nurse. I always feel uncomfortable around her, I'm afraid she knows more about me than she says.
I smiled at her and she said:
"Good, I caught you. Sorry about what happened with Veronica."
"It happens," I said. I didn't want her to know how much Veronica had really got to me.
"It wasn't even your fault," she said. "Julie screwed up that account; she went and shouted at the client, on the phone, last week when Veronica was having one of her long lunches. Don't worry, Darren, one of the Project Managers, is already onto this. He'll sort the mess out, and he owes me more than one favour."
"Thanks," I told her. It was reassuring to hear, but why was she telling me it now?
"Don't worry, we all hate Julie the Leach," she said. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," I said.
"Your arm, you're bleeding." And before I could stop her, she'd taken hold of my arm and was pushing my sleeve up. There was my new plaster with a spot of blood oozing from under it, and all the old scars in various stages of healing.
I clamped my hand over my arm but it was too late.
"You cut yourself," she said. Her face was covered in surprise, but there was something else, pity in her eyes.
"Yes, I know," I snapped.
"Because it stops the pain and lets me keep control of things," I snapped back at her.
"You cut yourself to stop your pain... that's..." she stumbled over her words, but it was the pity in her eyes I wanted to look away from
"I know, crazy isn't it," I hissed.
Before she could say anything else, I stormed out of there, slamming the door behind me. Her stupid words and that deep look of pity had got to me. I couldn't face her.
It was only when I sat back at my desk that I realised, she now knew. I'd been so stupid and she'd found out and next everyone would know. They'd all be looking at me with that same pity. I did it to keep control of things but now that little control had been taken away from me. I felt so frustrated but there wasn't anything I could do... God, I needed some control back...
YOU ARE READING
The People of the CityShort Story
A collection of twenty different stories that all share one thing, the central characters all live in a city, but that is all they share. These are twenty different stories with twenty very different themes, about twenty different people.