The Job, Part Six: Tuesday

A serialized story in seven parts

Ken Preston

30 January 2024

A close up illustration of a grimy watchface

Only one more part of this story to go now.

I hope you have been enjoying it.

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6. Tuesday

The next morning, she awoke early and had some breakfast. Without really thinking about what she was doing, she got dressed and headed into the city. The door was easy to find this morning because there was a crowd of women waiting for it to open. Susan realized she had to have been early today, and wondered if Mr. Withershaw, or Miss Evangeline, would notice and comment.

‘I told you you’d be back!’

Betsy looked very pleased with herself, triumphant even, because of her accurate prediction.

Susan had to gather her thoughts for a moment. It was true, she had returned. But the scariest of all was the fact that she hadn’t even been aware that she was coming back. As though she had walked here on autopilot.

‘You didn’t realize you were coming back, did you?’ Betsy said. ‘Don’t worry, it happens to everyone.’

‘What do you mean?’ Susan said.

‘We all come back, even those that don’t want to.’

‘But why?’

‘Who knows?’ Betsy said. ‘I guess it’s better than hanging around at home all day. A girl’s got to have some fun, right?’

Susan thought of the endless space inside, the rows and rows of cubicles with the women sat at their desks, reading.

‘You think this is fun?’ she said.

The door opened, and Mr. Withershaw stepped out. The women began filing inside and up the stairs. Betsy joined them.

Susan hung back, and then wished she hadn’t. She would have liked to have stayed with Betsy.

Mr. Withershaw stood beside the open door, scratching notes into a tiny notebook as the women filed past him.

Upstairs, it took her an age to find an empty cubicle. She wandered up and down the rows of cubicles and in each one a woman sat with her back facing Susan, bent over whatever it was she was reading on her desk. Finally, just as she was giving up hope of ever finding an empty cubicle, she found one and slipped gratefully inside, sitting down on the chair with relief.

That relief only lasted a few seconds, however.

‘Hey! Whaddaya doin’ in my seat?’

‘I’m sorry?’ Susan said, turning around.

‘I said, whaddaya doin’ in my seat?’

‘I … I didn’t realize it was yours!’

‘Yeah, well now you do, so go find your own.’

Susan stood up and left the cubicle. The woman sat down and immediately began reading.

Susan looked helplessly at the rows of cubicles disappearing into the gloom, the only lights coming from the desk lamps in each one.

‘This way, this way,’ Mr. Withershaw squeaked as he bustled past her. ‘You’re going to have to do better than this, you know, if you want to stay on.’

‘But no one told me that we all had our own workspace,’ Susan said, despising the pleading tone in her voice.

‘Wasn’t it obvious?’ the little man said.

‘I was here on time today,’ Susan replied.

‘Well, you’re not on time now, are you?’ Mr. Withershaw said, glancing at his watch. ‘All this fussing around has made you late to start work. You’re going to have to pull your socks up, young lady.’

Mr. Withershaw came to an abrupt halt. There they were, standing in front of Susan’s cubicle, the book open on the desk just as she had left it yesterday.

‘Now, sit down and get reading before you cause any more trouble.’

Susan sat down. For a moment she couldn’t read, as tears gathered in her eyes and blurred her vision. Today, she decided, was going to be her last day in this hateful place. There was no reason on earth that would drag her back here again tomorrow morning.

Dabbing at her eyes, Susan started reading.

Just like yesterday, the bell ripped through her skull like a drill through rock. Susan snapped awake (except she hadn’t been asleep, had she?) and lifted her hands from the book on her desk. As she heard the scrape of chairs being pulled back, and the other women standing up, Susan gazed at the book. She was now on page two hundred and eighty-nine. She turned her hands palm up. Her fingertips were smudged black with dirt and ink.

Her stomach growled with hunger.

Susan collected her handbag and stood up. She joined the line of women queuing to leave through the only exit, that single door at the top of the stairs. Surely that breached fire exit regulations?

Determined not to make the same mistake tomorrow as she’d made this morning, Susan counted the rows of cubicles she passed on her way to the exit. If she returned tomorrow, she would be sure to find her way straight to her cubicle.

As she followed the line out through the doorway and down the stairs, Susan kept a lookout for Betsy. But she couldn’t see her anywhere.

Mr. Withershaw was standing at the foot of the metal staircase, a tiny notebook in one hand and a pencil stub in the other. As each girl passed him, he made a mark in his notebook.

‘Mr. Withershaw?’ Susan paused at the foot of the stairs.

‘Yes?’

‘Have you…? I mean, I was…’

‘Yes? Come on, I haven’t got all day, young lady.’

‘Betsy,’ Susan said, ‘I was looking for Betsy.’

Mr. Withershaw snapped his tiny notebook shut. ‘Dear me, Miss Evangeline does not like it when you girls make friends.’ He sighed, and opened up his notebook again. ‘Betsy, you said?’

‘Uh-huh.’ Susan nodded.

Mr. Withershaw scratched some notes into his book and then snapped it shut again. ‘Well? What are you waiting for? Off you go.’

Susan hurried back to her apartment where, once again, she was exhausted enough to go straight to bed and sleep the night through.

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