CuiousPages - fiction and nonfiction
CuriousPages - fiction and nonfiction
Herbert’s pale and sullen face told me, “You achieved the highest score under ‘emotional detachment’ the Department has ever seen. Under some circumstances you could have become a psychopathic killer.” Then he added, “That is, if you’re not one already—”
I had never before spoken to Herbert Singer and was not used to being called a psychopathic killer, so no ready reply came to me. After a pause, I realized my face had remained fixed in a smile since the start of the interview, so, by way of a response, I simply changed my expression.
He seemed more pleased with my new expression. He slowly nodded, as an undertaker nods at a compliant relative, then looked down, opened my file and said, “The management have decided to call in your loan. They have given you two full weeks to repay it.”
Three months previously, my debts, seeming to have acquired a life of their own, had transformed into an obese monster. There was never any realistic hope of me constraining the monster, let alone slaying it; once I had welcomed it into my life, it seemed inevitable it would one day consume me. And it ate and ate until I seemed empty and my shell trembled with the echo of fear. I was about to grasp the lifeline of “bankruptcy” when the Department, apparently valuing my continued employment, granted me a low-interest loan of one whole year’s salary, which I could repay over the following five years, on the condition my employment continued. I was given a one week holiday, by way of a honeymoon, then I returned to work, and for three whole months I remained faithful and smiling. On some deep level, I knew this was for life. I had finally found Miss Right. What was there to not be cheerful about?
I watched Herbert Singer’s pale face as he announced the management’s intentions and, to me, his words seemed to be saying: “We want a divorce.” I again had no ready response, so all I could do was watch him in stunned silence.
Herbert’s trembling hand lifted his glass of water; he drank and said, “But I have a proposition to put to you.”
I was still too stunned to reply.
He said, “There is a consortium who work with the Department. They will repay your loan for you, but in return you must perform some tasks for them.”
I heard myself saying, “Tasks?—what tasks?”
He said, “They will contact you.”
I, of course, had no choice but to accept. It seemed I was again spoken for. First, I had given myself to Connie, was then enticed into a marriage with a monster, had then accepted the Department’s hand, and now I belonged to this anonymous “consortium”. Somewhere along the way I had forfeited my freedom, though I knew not where.
Over the past year, this little oversight of Sally’s resulted in an unpleasant situation in the goldfish bowl. In the beginning, Bruce taunted Sheila about his name—Bruce finding it immensely funny that Sheila had such a sissy, girlie name. And Bruce went on taunting Sheila for several months, until even Bruce eventually became tired of the joke. But to Sheila, Bruce’s “bit of fun” just seemed like wanton mockery. And right to this day, Sheila never forgot about it. But since (from Bruce’s point of view) it was all merely a bit of fun, Bruce could never understand Sheila’s reaction. Bruce (as far as he could see) had never done anything to hurt Sheila, so it always seemed that Sheila was behaving in a “moody” or “argumentative” way merely for the sake of it.
In this way, over the past year (as a result of Sally’s “help’) the relationship between the two fish became somewhat strained.
Bruce Softly was leisurely circling the goldfish bowl and then came to rest beside Sheila Softly.
Sheila said, almost spitting the words out, “There you are, Bruce!”
Bruce said, cautiously, “Yes... here I am, Sheila—”
“Well, where’ve you been?”
Bruce tried to glance casually out of the bowl while saying, “Oh, just swimming round the bowl, Sheila, just—”
“You didn’t tell me, Bruce; I might have wanted to come.”
Bruce sighed, “You can always come next time, Sheila.”
“But that’s not the point—you know I like to swim round the bowl.”
Bruce snapped, “You’re pathetic!”
“You’re pathetic—you should have told me.”
“I’ll tell you next time, alright—!”
“Are you shouting at me, Bruce?”
“Yes you are.”
“I’m not!”
“You are!”
“I’m not! I’m not! Okay—?”
Sheila looked away and said nothing.
Bruce shouted, “Alright if I breathe, is it—?”
Sheila said nothing.
Bruce snapped, “Right! I’m going for a swim round the bowl—you coming?”
Sheila continued peering silently out of the bowl.
Bruce said, “Right... I’m going then—”
“Don’t say I didn’t—”
Sheila shouted, “Just go!”
“Right—” Bruce turned, glanced back at Sheila, looked away, glanced back at him again, then angrily swam off.
Sheila sighed, glanced up at Bruce, then looked away and sighed again. Bruce swam by above him, angrily glancing down at him. Sheila continued looking away and merely sighed yet again—but this time even more deeply.

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