It all started with a bang. A big bang, as it were, but not the Big Bang. Just a plain, old bang that happened to be extraordinarily life changing for a group of people at that particular moment.
We were all strangers, to varying degrees, those of us who walked through this parking lot every morning from our cars to the building in which we conducted our daily business. There was Pants Too Short Guy, who was always happy, smiling and whistling when the mood struck, despite his complete apparent lack of the bottom inch of every single pair of trousers. There was Too Much Perfume Lady, who spoke on her cell phone from the moment she shut her car door for the entire walk to our building. Her obvious olfactory fatigue must have strengthened her other senses, because she’d never once been hit by a car crossing the lot without paying attention. There was Hot Guy From Accounting, who may have only been hot because the rest of the accounting department looked like Muppets. There was Woman Who Never Smiled and her male counterpart Grumpy Old Man. The two rode in together, but never said a word to each other as they walked briskly, presumably anxious to start being disagreeable to the rest of their coworkers. Then there was me. I suppose, to the others, I was Always Running To Make It On Time or Leaves Early On Fridays or Avoids Eye Contact. We didn’t try to get to know each other because we were such a motley crew. We walked from the car park to our building, keeping our eyes on the ground.
In the winter, the walk was slower. Our lot was always late to be cleared and six inches of snow in heels is a tedious trek to undertake. That morning was like any other winter morning, in that it was snowing. Lightly, but steadily, with big, fat flakes falling as if in slow motion, landing in our hair, on our glasses, dampening our overcoats. The well-travelled laneways were flooded with dirty slush and none of us, except for Pants Too Short Guy, were dressed for such conditions. We all stepped carefully through the snow and skipped around puddles. We shook our shoulders and brushed our hair with our gloved hands. We walked behind each other, Pants in front, so we could use each other’s footprints to step into. In the winter, like that morning, the walk seemed to take forever.
“Hey, you. Excuse me.”
I turned to see Hot Guy From Accounting. He had one of those toques with the strings that hang down on either side. Like a child. Figures. There’s always something weird about the hot ones.
“Yeah, you. What’s your name?”
“My name? Graham.”
“Graham? That’s a guy’s name, isn’t it? If you wanted to lie, shouldn’t you have picked a girl’s name?”
“No, it’s my name. My parents didn’t believe in giving children gender specific labels, so they chose names they liked, regardless of what society has chosen for them to mean.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“I…wish I were. You should talk to my brother Linda.”
“NOW you’re shitting me.”
“Yeah, I don’t have a brother. But I do have a sister Michael.”
“Weird. Anyway, Graham, how long have you worked here?”
“Six years. I’ve been walking from my car at the same time as you every single day for the past six years. What’s your name?”
I already knew his name was Rob Fleming. He was 28 years old, lived 14 blocks from me, had no dependants, went to college overseas, and this was his first job. The benefits of working in the human resources department – on slow days, I can research hot guys in accounting.
“My name’s Rob and I have no interesting stories to tell you about why I was given that name.”
“That’s alright.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Have you ever met any of these other people? I’ve never once spoken to any of them. Maybe a hello in the morning, but that’s it. That’s weird, right?”
“I know the guy with the comb over.” (Pants) “He works with me in accounting. His name is Karl…something. He looks nice, but he’s a dick. Pardon my French.”
“You’re pardoned. Anyone else?”
“No. I rarely meet anyone around here.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We continued to walk through the snow, single file, having fallen behind the rest. I shook my head to get a pile of wet snow off my formerly perfectly coiffed hair and I dropped my purse. It fell and opened when it hit the ground, spilling it’s contents onto the parking lot, in a puddle of filthy slush.
“Gah! That sucks! Here, let me help. Jesus, how did you fit all that into your purse? Is it some sort of clown car purse or something?”
“Thanks. Yeah, I don’t know why I carry all this stuff. You never know when you’re going to need to McGuyver something, right? These are my survival supplies, I guess.”
As we knelt there, crouched down, shaking the wetness off of my things, all of which seemed ridiculous now, I looked at my watch. It said 9:03. We were officially late. I may always be running on a tight schedule, but I’m never late. The others had already gone inside and we were still shoving Kleenex packs and mascara and sewing kits back into my gigantic, overturned purse. It was a duffle bag, really.
“Go on. I’m making you late. I can get the rest.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s fine. My supervisor has a crush on me, I think, so she doesn’t care if I’m late. I took a two hour lunch yesterday and all she said when I got back was ‘nice shirt, Rob’. It’s embarrassing, really. For her, I mean.”
I tried not to laugh because Hot Guy From Accounting was kind of proving to be Jackass From Accounting, but I couldn’t help but giggle, like a school girl. How embarrassing. For me.
The sound of the building exploding was like nothing I’d heard in the movies. There was an initial boom, louder than anything I’d heard before, followed by a few smaller bangs. Then there were the screams. Muffled screams coming from inside the building. Screams of fear that were painful to hear. Then there was the low creak of metal shifting and failing and bending. That was a sound I could feel through to my bones.
We were still crouched on the ground. I dropped my purse again. We said nothing. We didn’t move. We just stayed very still, afraid to breathe.
To be continued…
It all started with a…
I’m going to continue this story for one or two more parts. It was getting too long and I didn’t want to condense the idea.
I challenged Kevin Wilkes with the prompt:
Did you get the gun club memo?