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24 September 2014

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The Office Worker's Tale
The Office Worker's Tale
The Office Worker's Tale
We are giving Chaucer's Canterbury Tales a modern Geordie makeover. This time it's the turn of the Office workers.

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When Tracy Upton was bored at work, which was pretty much most of the time, she made a list of the people she'd like to be stuck in a lift with. Top of the list was Johnny Depp, closely followed by Brad Pitt, and when she was feeling particularly dark and dangerous, Romeo from So Solid Crew. At no time had Harris Montgomery the Chief Accountant ever figured on that list, or Eddie the security man, or the old woman she passed at night sweeping the stairs whose name, after all, she had no reason to know.

The stairs. Shit! Why had she not taken the stairs tonight?

As it happened, and probably for the only time in their joint history which stretched back the six months Tracy Upton had been working there, Harris Montgomery was thinking precisely the same thing. There had been absolutely no need to take the lift. He seldom did. He normally took the stairs. A regretful hand touched the buttons irrefutably beginning to strain on the jacket of his grey office suit. Their block was only three stories after all, and the lift only really there for bringing up office furniture and supplies. But, dammit, there it had been tonight, at the end of a long day, its doors gaping open like an invitation.

' Hey... '

Tracy Upton's unforgiving voice awoke him from his reverie of mild, self-directed irritation. He shuddered at its rasp. Raising his eyes he saw - and this gratefully - that her own were directed not at him but at the new security man whose name temporarily escaped him.

' You're security aintcha? Why don't you do somefing?'

It was with sinking heart that Eddie Marchant received this question, like a well-directed ball, from Tracy Upton. It was a perfectly legitimate question, he could see that. It had right behind it. He was indeed the security man. It said so on the small, white oblong badge beneath the silver buttons and fake epaulets of his new dark uniform.

Only, as he understood it, security meant not much more than tacking down the odd piece of flapping carpet or replacing the odd light bulb. To his horror, however, Tracy Upton's eyes were now directed upwards.

' Look..There's an escape hatch...' Good God. Now those eyes had dropped and... yes.. were definitely accusing.

' You could crawl out. Get help.'

' I don't know.. ' Eddie Marchant's fingers worked overtime around the collar of the jacket he was only now realising was too tight for him. 'See the thing is...'

But Tracy Upton wasn't listening.

' We could give you a bunk up. You could get on...'

For a moment Tracy Upton was lost. Bugger... what was his name...? She kept forgetting it.. even though she worked for him. She gave a shrug (' Who needs it?' That's what she'd tell her boyfriend Gary later). By way of compensation, she blew a large careless bubble with her gum.

'... 'is shoulders...'

To Harris Montgomery's outrage, she accompanied the last with a small distinctly unreverential thumb in his direction. (Memo to Ms Upton, Monday Morning. Re: Lift incident. Friday 5 p.m....)

' Yes.. thank.. you...' Harris Montgomery's voice was cold. He cleared his throat. The time had come for him to take charge. But too late.. too late. Tracy Upton was already blowing an even larger bubble and folding her arms in an accusatory fashion against Eddie Marchant.

' You should be able to do that. I ' eard you telling someone you was in the SAS.'

Few of us can go through life without wishing passionately to take back something we have said. Eddie Marchant would be no exception. In that moment he knew precisely what it was he would like to retrieve and have unsaid. It was the small and what he had fondly imagined innocent and repercussionless boast he had made to Elise Ramirez as she brushed the stairs last Tuesday. How could he have known that cheeky little bitch would be working late and would suddenly appear clumping down in those enormous shoes above him?

The expectant silence that seemed to descend in the lift appeared to Eddie Marchant to have an ice-cold feel about it. And that was strange because at the same time he could feel himself sweating profusely. Of one thing he was certain. That Tracy Upton was moving in for the kill.

' So was you in the SAS?'

'Not.. exactly...'

' You can't not eggzactly be in the SAS. '

' She's right you know.'

One of his strengths Harris Montgomery had always felt, one of the things, though he said so himself, that made him good at handling people (something he never failed to include on his annual self-appraisal form) was that he knew when to intervene. He gave the small cough he reserved for such occasions.

'I mean either you were or you weren't.'

Eddie Marchant, with no-where to go, turned his eyes in shame and misery, maybe even a little in apology towards Elise Ramirez. But Elise Ramirez did not see them.

No stairs could be brushed while the lift was stuck. No waste paper baskets could be emptied. No heavy unwieldy polisher, determined to go its own way and straining at her shoulders, pushed across the floor. Which is why Elise Ramirez leant her head back gratefully against the lift-side.

Elise Ramirez turned her face away from them, those people whose names she knew from the signs on their doors and on their desk tops, and thought about Santiago, about the little apartment she and Luis had rented in Eyzaguirre Street when they were first married. Before he got the job with the union. Before... Before... Before everything....

Elise Ramirez thought about the little apartment on Eyzaguirre Street, and the way the sun fell through the trees on to the bougainvillea in the little park opposite their window.

Elise Ramirez, a long time in a foreign country, but still.. adrift... thought about the bougainvillea, and only Eddie Marchant whose eyes were turned to her face caught the expression there and felt his own, petty misery dissolve.

Somewhere, a long way below them, there was a long low groan.

The floor shuddered gently beneath their feet and the lift began to move.

With thanks to all those from different walks of life, and different offices, who took part in the writing workshop at the European Capital of Culture conference organised by Common Purpose at the Gateshead Quays Visitor Centre on October 2. Thanks everyone for your enthusiasm and inspiration. Carol Clewlow

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