It was one of those days. Ben seemed unable to get going at all. It was as though the whole world had turned into some thick, but invisible, soup or glue around him. At times that morning, as he moved around the house trying to get ready for work, he felt as though he was swimming through this dense air. Not only that, everything seem just slightly out of reach, slightly displaced: his fingers fumbled and almost dropped his mug, the kettle felt huge and unwieldy, the bread for his toast fell apart in his hands.
Ben had had dreams like this, where the world and its inanimate objects conspired against him, prevented him from getting on with his life. He was half-convinced he was dreaming now, but there is something about the world that tells us when it is a dream and when it is real, and Ben had no sense of dreaming now as he scraped the crumbled and broken bread slices into the bin as he waited for the kettle to boil.
He had no idea how long he’d been staring out of the kitchen window watching the garden emerge from the gloom and shadows as the sun rose, but suddenly he realised the kettle had not boiled and he was going to be late… again.
He checked before he pulled the door closed behind him that he had his house keys, his mobile, the car keys and everything else he usually took to work. He glanced at his watch, noting that he was only going to be as late as normal and that his bedside alarm not going off that morning had not made him too late.
Ben felt lucky that he had woken, suddenly from some bad dream, when he did and turned to look at the clock, somehow realising by some sort of survival instinct, or so he presumed, that it was later than it ought to be and that the alarm had not gone off. He’d leapt straight out of bed, missing his usual 5-minute alarm snooze time of staring at the dull grey ceiling of the darkened room and moaning softly under his breath as he thought of the day to come and all the excitement and thrills it would undoubtedly lack.
It was quiet out on the street as he unlocked his car, but that was not too unusual. Ben was usually out before the main rush started, usually about the time the various mothers from up and down the street had managed to herd their hordes of recalcitrant and unwilling kids into their cars for the school run. It was half term this week, as well, so even those who had to transport their precious darlings halfway across town to get them to school would not be out getting in Ben’s way on his drive to work.
There were road works too, up closer to the town, which had meant that for the last few weeks or so, Ben’s route into work had nowhere near the usual amount of traffic on it as drivers found alternate routes to avoid the roadworks. Even so, Ben marvelled at just how quiet it was this morning with no traffic at all.
By the time he got to the road that led to his office car park, Ben was getting worried. He had seen no other cars at all, not one. Now he came to think about it, he could not remember seeing a single pedestrian either.
Ben turned into the entranceway to the office car park and slammed his brakes on. The gates were still locked, even though Old Stan, the gate security guard usually had them open dead on time every morning. Peering around, Ben noticed that Old Stan’s guard hut at the gate was empty too.
Ben wondered if Old Stan was caught up somewhere, gone for a piss or something. As he decided to give it five more minutes, he was struck by a sudden thought. He reached over to the passenger seat and picked up his phone. Checking the calendar he realised, with something approaching a sigh of relief, that Monday the 17th was – as he’d suddenly thought – a Bank Holiday. He’d lost touch with things like that since Julie, his girlfriend, walked out on him a few weeks ago, after what he still thought was a particular stupid row about him ‘taking her for granted’… whatever that meant. Since then Ben had been living in a kind of daze, not noticing time going by, not really paying attention to much at all really, except how much he missed Julie.
Ben could feel himself blush as he realised what a twat he’d been, coming out to work on a Bank Holiday like this. He was just glad that there was no-one around to notice him, sitting in his car waiting for the office car park to open. He sighed and prepared to turn the car around, to go back home, to go back to bed.
He laughed aloud at his stupidity and glanced back down at the screen of his phone as he slipped the car into reverse.
Yes, there it was Monday 17th – Bank Holiday.
Then he looked up at the top of the phone’s screen, at today’s date.
Feeling the panic starting to rise again, Ben hurriedly checked his watch. That too said it was the 10th.
He glanced around nervously, suddenly feeling like he was in some horror or science fiction story, half-expecting zombies, aliens or something to emerge from the office car park and attack his car.
Ben was about to turn on his car radio – he paused fingers less than an inch from the dial fearing that – from watching and reading all those SF stories - when he did turn it on all he would get was static.
His hand dropped as he said to himself that he would give it five more minutes to see if anyone else turned up, then, and only then, would he turn on the radio.
The five minutes passed so slowly with Ben turning every few seconds, just hoping to catch sight of someone else, some other living being. At just after three minutes his head jerked around as he heard an empty drink can rattle along the pavement, but it was just the wind shifting it. There was no-one there to kick it, and the can stopped rolling as it hit the wall.
The five minutes were up, and Ben reached out to turn on the radio… hesitated… and decided to give it five more minutes… just in case.
Five more minutes passed and no-one came, and nothing happened, except a solitary piece of paper blowing across the deserted car park.
Ben reached for the radio button with trembling fingers, already knowing he was alone, and already feeling the tears forming in his eyes.