The Job, Part Five: Work Colleagues

A serialized story in seven parts

Ken Preston

29 January 2024

A drill bit on a dark and grungy background.

Have you ever had a job like this one? Or a first day as confusing and dispiriting?

Part Five is here, and there might be a ray of light in Susan's first day at her new job after all.

Or maybe not.

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5. Work Colleagues

When the bell sounded, it was like a drill boring through her brain. Susan flinched and bit back a scream. For a moment she thought she had fallen asleep, but she was sitting upright and the book lay open on the desk. The bell stopped its insistent, shrill shriek and Susan heard movement behind her as the other women left their cubicles. She looked at the page number on the book.

One hundred and fifty-two.

Had she really read all that? She couldn’t remember the details, they were fuzzy and just out of reach as though they had been a dream. But yes, she remembered reading the book. She remembered becoming engrossed in it, and the bell had been an unwelcome interruption, dragging her back into the real world.

‘It’s time to go now,’ someone said behind her.

Susan twisted in her seat. A young woman, pretty, looked down at Susan.

‘Today’s your first day, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ Susan said.

‘I know how you feel, it’s all a bit odd and strange, isn’t it? But don’t worry, it gets better.’

Susan stood up, adjusted her skirt. Realized that the gnawing ache in her stomach was hunger. ‘Is it lunchtime?’

The woman giggled. ‘No, it’s home time.’

‘We … worked straight through the day?’

‘Uh-huh.’ The woman nodded. ‘Come with me, I’ll show you the way out. My name’s Betsy, how about you?’

‘Susan.’ They began walking, following the other women through the maze of cubicles.

‘Bring yourself some lunch tomorrow,’ Betsy said. ‘Mr. Withershaw doesn’t really like us eating while we’re working, but he’s never around that much, so you’ll be all right.’

‘Tomorrow?’ A tiny, but insistent thud started up behind Susan’s left eye. ‘Oh, I’m not coming back. I couldn’t stand another day of this.’

Betsy laughed. ‘That’s what I said after my first day. But I came back, and you will too. You’ll see.’

Betsy clattered down the stairs with practised ease. Susan followed at a slower pace, placing her feet carefully on each step. They both stepped outside. The sounds of traffic, the smell of the city, all seemed alien to Susan, as though this was a dream.

‘Oh, I don’t think I’ll be back,’ Susan said. ‘Thank you for being so kind to me.’

Betsy laughed again. ‘See you tomorrow!’

Back in her small, box-like apartment, Susan, despite her hunger, climbed straight into bed and fell asleep. She wasn’t sure she had ever experienced this level of tiredness before. Her sleep was deep and dreamless.