By Paul Ewen.
A woman is sitting at a desk, typing numbers into a computer. Her fingers make a clickety noise, like a troupe of dancing buttons. There is a low hum in the office surrounds, perhaps generated by an air-conditioning unit, or possibly emanating from the woman herself. From her nose holes.
The source of the hum is not important however, nor indeed, is the hum itself. For the hum is about to be eclipsed in audibility by the rumble. The rumble begins as a deep, distant roar, like an avalanche in some far-off mountain ravine, or the movement of large tectonic plates in the depths of the earth’s molten core. In the context of an office environment, such a sound might well appear rather disconcerting; ominous even. But the woman sitting at the desk is not alarmed. She continues typing numbers into her computer, engrossed in the finer details of her, rather unsexy, Excel programme.
The rumbling intensifies, like a bowling ball. Various office items on the woman’s desk, and a second desk adjoining hers, are shaking. A cardboard coffee cup jerks violently on its thin circular rim. A pencil taps itself. A pile of papers collapse in a sudden, dramatic shush. Still the woman offers no hint of acknowledgement, her hardened face permitting no form of reaction to this threatening, ever-approaching, rumbling situation.
The door to the office is open. Whatever the cause of the rumble, it appears to be channelled out there, in the corridor. A blind on the door has been pulled up and a small bell-like cord end is tapping on the glass. Impact of some kind seems imminent.
Everything is jumping about like crazy. A stapler is hopping around in a full circle, barking like a chained dog. Two paperclips have thrown themselves off the desk and continue to leap far below like small thin children on a bouncy carpet castle. The cardboard cup is now on its side and swings in circular sweeps, like a shuttlecock made from a toilet roll. The rumbling sound is much, much nearer, and the noise is overbearing and intense. The impending arrival of the rumble is now so close, it’s unbearable.
At the moment of impact, just as the office seems set to explode, a log rolls into view. It bumps along the corridor carpet, appearing through the frame of the doorway, where it slowly rocks to a stop. As logs go, it’s impressive. A great, hulking, unstripped length of rough, raw tree. The log is being pushed by a red-faced, wizened old man who walks bent behind it, heaving the large weight forward on its turbulent path. His small weathered figure remains, hunched, and he turns his head towards the open office doorway and calls out in a breathless, raspy voice.
The woman remains focused on the screen. On the numbers. Her concentration is admirable. The old man rests his blistered fingers on the tremendous chunk of fallen wood and calls out a third time.
Sawdust clings to his sweaty face and arms, and he pulls up his shirt, burying his face within, twisting it with his callused hand, as if screwing in a large, squidgy light bulb. The woman continues to ignore him, drifting a raised finger across the computer screen like a little electronic correcting sausage. Satisfied, she resumes the clickety, clickety. The old man, unable to hook her interest, stands and stretches his twisted back before he too resumes position, preparing his onward journey along the corridor path. With a strained grunt, he palms the log’s bulk forward, tipping it over the gnarls and knots that seek to hinder its progress. The rumbling tree wood choruses once more, rolling on its way, out of sight, and the sound grows fainter, until the paperclips cease to leap.
Some time passes and another, older woman enters the office. She removes her coat, placing it over the back of the chair that sits behind the adjoining desk. Once seated, she fires up her computer with a sound akin to a church organ, and begins typing clickety, clickety. In the background, we hear the hum. The first woman, having proffered no greeting at the others’ arrival, now glances up and says:
YOU MISSED THE LOG.
The newcomer stops typing, abruptly. Her annoyance is in no way disguised, and she brings the side of her fist down heavily on the desk, making the pens jump and the stapler bite. She tsks, heavily, and sighs.
After a brief period of reflection, she sits back in her chair, placing her hands on her hips. Attempting to compose herself, she asks in an off-hand way:
WHICH WAY DID IT GO?
The younger woman tilts her head slightly to the right, but her eyeballs don’t move from the lighted screen.
The elder woman pushes back her chair and stands, her coat swinging sideways, as if clicking its heels. She walks determinedly towards the doorway, her coat now draping from her arm like a towel on a heated rail. Once in the corridor she moves briskly, in the direction of the log.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Ewen is the author of London Pub Reviews.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, June 12th, 2009.