They seem suspended in the air for a moment, cartoonish, like how the Road Runner would hover for a second beside a cliff before falling. A broken mosaic of paper clouds picked up by the wind and thrown in all directions.
‘A promotion?’ I repeat. The walls seem to shrink in the cramped office. Amanda beams, interpreting my expression as excitement. I don’t know what I had expected when she asked me to meet her after my shift, or when she gestured over her computer screen for me to sit down.
‘Yes. You’ve been with us for a while now and you’re a valuable member of our team,’ she pauses to drink from her mug and I stare at the small circle of coffee it leaves on the desk. ‘It’s time you had more responsibility – and a pay rise, of course,’ she laughs. I feel myself smile back, distracted by the chaotic beeping of tills and the distant Muzak that permeates the room. I realise I have only been in here once before, not long enough to notice the picture of her family beside the neat potted succulent; the poster with all our faces smiling amiably down at us (meet our team!), my teeth artificially white.
‘Responsibility, right…’ I trail off, unable to do much more than repeat her words. There is a loose thread on my uniform and I pull at its frayed end as she pauses for me to continue. ‘Thank you,’ I finish in a voice that doesn’t sound like my own.
She stands, manoeuvring us towards the door, always efficient. Succinct. ‘Thank you, assistant manager,’ she is pointing at my nametag, Sales Assistant, saccharine sweet, ‘you won’t need that much longer – but we can talk more about it more tomorrow.’ Then I am outside the office, plunged back into the sterile white light and linoleum of the shop floor. The shelves seem to blur into one. Aisle after aisle of colours and biscuits and flowers, and my legs are working mechanically, carrying me out the entrance and up my street as I toy with the thread as though I could unstitch myself.
The darkness outside surprises me. The store has always been to be a vacuum in time with its seemingly endless daytime under the fluorescent bulbs, like the town in Norway where the sun doesn’t set for months and people lose their minds. A whole day can pass by there without me noticing; two years…
A vacuum, timeless.
Out of time.