distance fiction short story Uncategorized

Your Space or Mine?

When boundaries are crossed in Zoe Paskett's short story, an office space becomes a setting that must be carefully navigated.

by Zoe Paskett

There are eleven steps between me and the kitchen: that’s four to the end of the desk row, one in the right-angle turn past the printer and six to the door. I imagine it’s about seven steps as the crow flies. I can see the microwave and coffee machine when I’m sitting at my desk, but I can’t see the fridge, sink, dishwasher or water cooler.

I know the exact process that everyone goes through to make tea or coffee and whose drinks they have responsibility for. Since Mary and Flo left and Jack arrived who doesn’t like hot beverages (I know . . .), there are only three of us remaining on our desk tea rota. I miss the others, but this is much better. Less time in the kitchen.

It’s interesting how differently people approach brewing. My tea production at home is art – most will agree that I make a smashing English Breakfast, unless you want it with sugar, in which case don’t bother asking – but at work it’s all about speed and efficiency.

Don’t brew, just squeeze and stir.
Bit of milk.
Done.
Deliver Bella’s first.
Go back for Al’s and mine.
Return to desk.
A couple of minutes at most.

I feel safe between the arms of my swivel chair. They tuck neatly under the table, penning me into my oblong of calm, where I stare ahead for hours on end. Type away, share the occasional chuckle with my colleagues, sip on my tea, crack my knuckles and neck every once in a while.

“The arrogance of a man willingly putting permanence behind his pestering by committing it to the annals of an email inbox will never cease to amaze me.”

At lunchtime, my eyes wander over to the kitchen to see who is there. Though I can’t see the fridge, I’m close enough to hear if someone is bending down to retrieve last night’s leftovers. I’ll hold off going in until I know who it is. A quick scan of the office indicates that Theo is either at Sainsbury’s or in the kitchen.

It’s fine. It’s Jack. I was so engrossed I didn’t even notice him get up. Theo must have gone out for lunch. I have a window.

It takes about two and a half minutes to reach Sainsbury’s, if you count waiting at the traffic lights. Two and a half there, two and a half back. Maybe it will take about 8 minutes to wander around and decide what to buy – it’s one of those big superstore Sainsbury’s with school uniforms and TVs and bird houses, not a Local – so I would have approximately 13 minutes to sort my lunch out and get back into my calm oblong. Would have . . . if I’d seen when he left.

But I’m too hungry not to risk it. I haven’t snacked at all, subsisting all morning on chain-drinking tea. I can almost taste the stir fry I made last night. The eleven steps turn into ten with a bit of urgency.

Tupperware out of the fridge, remove lid and rest lightly on top.
Place into microwave.
Turn on for two minutes.
Pretend I haven’t noticed Theo come in with a Sainsbury’s bag.
Look at Twitter on my phone.
Small talk about the weekend.
Ding. Stir and cook for a further 30 seconds.
Ignore comments about my legs.
Transfer to bowl.
Avoid eye contact as he says I’m turning him on.
Take nine steps back to desk.
Revel excessively in rudimentary culinary skill.

I used to like talking to Theo. He was one of the first people to reach out when I started here. Then he started reaching too far. The escalating messages, now saved in a folder labelled FOR FUTURE REFERENCE, grew to be peppered with too many winking faces. The arrogance of a man willingly putting permanence behind his pestering by committing it to the annals of an email inbox will never cease to amaze me.

Ping.

‘I just wanted to say the boots make you look XTRA Hot – I’m impressed – and like – LOTS.’

Straight into the folder that goes.

Ping.

‘In my world, not replying to an email is considered rude. But that’s just me.’

I can feel his eyes on the left side of my neck from ten metres away. Looking for a visual reaction if he can’t get one in writing. But I give no indication I have seen and I carry on writing a feature about the local drag scene. I get no more emails from him for the rest of the day.

At least I still have my safe, little oblong of calm. He doesn’t come over to talk any more. To ask me to close deals for him in the evening. My indifference is slowly chipping away at his persistence, but it’s not the satisfactory resistance I want to deliver.

Everything is about balance. Between water, bag, time and milk. Between risk, reward and being caught off guard. Between being trapped in the confines of a desk chair to feel safe and making a break for the kitchen in an act of defiance.

Between doing your job and keeping your fucking distance.


Zoe Paskett @zoepaskett
Zoe is an arts journalist, writer and photographer from London, with a deep love for books and a hatred for displaying them backwards.

The illustration for ‘Your Space or Mine?’  is by Lilly Pollard. Find more of Lilly’s work on Instagram: @lillys_pad_ 

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