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Dept 17

UNDER FIRE

I could hear the knocking and that was through two doors, so… you know? The door being knocked on and my door. Two doors. Which meant the sound had to be travelling across the office. It had to be. In order to reach my door, and then go through my door, and into my head. That’s science.

Knock, knock, knock.

I closed my eyes. They were getting louder. They were fucking getting louder. Come on, I thought. I sucked on my upper teeth and wiped some white specks from my laptop with my fingertip. It could have been dandruff. My ears felt like a time-lapse of radar dishes from a movie about radar dishes searching for messages from space. It was like they were flexing. My ears on the side of my head were that tense. I was tense already. Before the knocking. I’d tried changing the fan belt on the Land Rover at the weekend but not only was the replacement I ordered wrong, but I also snapped a wire while taking the old one off. So, fuck! You know? You can’t just buy car wires on Amazon, it was turning out.

Knock, knock-

Fucking people, I thought, standing up and marching over to my office door. I opened the door pretty aggressively. Really operated the door handle fastly, before I pulled the door towards me. Yep, they were there. Of course. “You can’t hear that?” I said, addressing them like they’re idiots, which they are.

Tan slowly spun in his swivel chair. The chair which he was spilling over the side of. “Wha?”

“You can’t hear that?” I said. Another series of knocks was due and so I held up the index finger of my right hand and waited. They looked at me. My finger, which I was holding up, slowly curled. We waited. “That!” I said, straightening it again. Nothing. And so I marched over to the door. “This!” I said, opening the door. There was a woman behind the door. “That!” I said, pointing to the woman. “Nobody heard that?

“I thought it was workmen,” said Firelighter.

What?” I asked, not quite able to comprehend what she was saying. Firelighter might be sardonic, and lacking in motivation, but she isn’t deaf, she heard the bamboozlement in my voice. She looked at the woman in the doorhole and shook her head slightly. I wasn’t done. “You thought workmen had just turned up, and?”

“Yeah, maybe,” she replied, sardonically. Sardonic. That was an answer in a crossword. We had to look up what it meant and there may as well have been a picture of Firelighter in the dictionary, instead of the definition, because it summed her up. Can’t remember the exact definition but it means, like, bitchy.

“And, what? They were fixing the door by knocking on it?” I asked. That sentence rose in pitch more than I wanted it to. Last bit was almost a squeak. “That’s literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life.”

“Stupider than the mole?”

“Oh, yeah, good one Laura.” Firelighter hates being called Laura. Fucking mole. That hadn’t even been my fault. – The mole. She was referring to the other week when we went to the Governor’s house to deal with a mole. It was really weird. The guy’s, like, 100 years-old and there was massive confusion all around. Like, somebody told us to go, to deal with a mole and when we got there the Governor was all, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you,” and I said it was to deal with a mole and he instantly went mental. He was surprised to find out we knew about the mole and, like, demanded we find out who it was who told us. I think it was his secretary. It was an email. Anyway, the guy was ranting and I promised we would find the mole and outside we just stood around for a bit, on the lawn, which was fucked up because of a mole, and, well, and then we just drove back here. – “Sorry about this,” I said to the woman who was on the other side of the threshold. “I work with idiots.” I rolled my eyes.

“Yes, well, that’s why I’m here,” she replied and then she started talking as I tried to work out if she’d just called us idiots. I kinda thought she had so as she spoke I cocked my head and squinted at Firelighter. Firelighter was looking at the woman.

I turned to the woman. “Sorry, what?” I asked, because she’d finally stopped talking and I was now ready to listen.

“The grass?”

“The grass? What about the grass?”

“You’ve… you’ve killed it.”

I’ve killed grass?” I said, placing a hand on my chest. I was careful not to let that one get too high. What the fuck are you on about? I thought. I looked at the three in the office and they all shook their heads in turn. I turned back to the woman. “I’m sorry, I don’t…” and it was true, I didn’t…

“It’s just, and you’re probably not aware, but I pay for it. I don’t mind if you… if you…”

“You pay for what?” I asked, putting her under pressure. She was wearing a very big cardigan. It was almost a cloak. She reminded me of somebody. Somebody off the telly. Somebody who wore massive cloaky cardigans. Not Grotbags but somebody like her.

“You can use it, but please be careful… the grass.”

“Look, lady, I don’t know… What grass are you even talking about?”

“Over at the…” The woman pointed down the dark narrow stairway behind her, down to the white oblong which was the glass door at the bottom. “The grass at the picnic table.”

“The picnic table?”

“Yes, you…”

“That’s public.”

“Well, no, you see that grass area is… in my lease, if you…” she handed me a document and I thought, yeah, I’ll just get my lawyer to give that the a once over, while pretending to read it. I handed it back to her. “I actually paid for that bench, and I don’t mind if you use it, it’s just when she…” the woman nodded her head at Firelighter. “It kills the grass.”

I remembered where I knew the woman from. She wasn’t off the telly, she had to weird shop downstairs. The one that stinks. They sell crystals and ribbons. Not fancy crystals. Mad crystals. Dreamcatchers. I’ve never been in. It looks haunted.

“Okay, fine,” I said.

“As I said, you can use-“

“No, it’s fine, we won’t use it anymore.”

“It’s just the grass.”

“Nah, forget it. We’ll just spend our days protecting the Island, protecting you, and then we’ll sit by the bins to have our lunch, if that’s okay?” Tan sat up straight when I said that. “Or are the bins yours too?”

“Ha, no, please don’t. I… it’s only the grass, it won’t grow back now, until next year.”

“Okay, got it. We’ll sit in the bin and that’ll save your precious grass. I didn’t realize it’s endangered. I’ll probably phone David… Daviiiiid…” shit, I couldn’t think of that old naturalist’s surname.

“Look… You really… I didn’t want to…”

“Bellamy!”

“…”

“Is that it?”

“Well… I just-“

“Okay, well thanks a lot!” I said, closing the door on her as she stuttered some more. I had to lift the door slightly to close it. It hits the frame. I think one of the hinges are loose. And then I listened for her footsteps going down the stairs. “What a witch!” I said, quietly, though I was sure she couldn’t hear. I looked at the others. “Eh? What a witch.” I said that a bit louder and looked at the door.

“You were a bit mean to her,” said Sub.

“What?” I snorted, turning to him. I chuckled. He was looking at his hands. Firelighter raised her eyebrows and her lower lip covered her upper one. “I wasn’t mean,” I told her. She made a noncommittal face.

“A bit nasty,” said Tan, tilting his head.

“What are you on about? My god! You’re all idiots. Complete fucking idiots. She was… urgh.” What’s the point of explaining things to dimwits. “I was sticking up for you lot. Won’t do that again.”

“Obrigada,” said Tan

“She was only worried about her grass,” said Sub.

Muttering, I went over to the window by the filing cabinet and pulled up the blind. It was drizzling. The grass surrounding the picnic was marked with large yellow patches which were black in the center. Looked a bit like flat sunflowers. Or bullet wounds in a decaying Kermit the Frog. It looked pretty shit, in all honesty. The funny thing is the first time we roasted chestnuts I had actually been sort of conscious that the grass was getting ruined, but nobody had ever said anything, so, fuck it, right? And it grows back.

“Should I say sorry?”

“I think so,” said Sub. Firelighter just moved one cupped hand forward, like she was holding an invisible orb, twisted it slightly, like she was about to say something and then put her hand back to her face.

“Very horrible to her,” said Tan.

“Fucking hell,” I said.

Anyway, I went down and she looked a bit nervous when the she looked up to see who had made her door jangle, but she was okay after I apologized. Told her it was a bad day. Opened up a bit. I maybe even overshared. Teared up a bit. Got to the point where I pretended to be interested in the stuff she sold, so of course that meant I ended up £12 worse off and the proud owner of a fucking rose quartz. £12! Ah, she seems nice enough. Mark me well, though, we’re never going to use her bench again. Just for spite. I hope she feels bad about that.

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