Some Culture For You – Extended

This is an extension of my previous Friday Fictioneers post, which can be found here.

I stand in the dark, with only the smell of urine to keep me company. I’m a trespasser, not just to this abandoned building, but to this country which you seem to have claimed for yourself. Every odd little custom and saying reminds me of the weeks in which we first met, where my looks of amusement would prompt explanations from you. “That’s just something we say where I’m from.”

I’m now in the place where you are from, in the very building you said you lived in.

“You fucking bastard.” I breathe.

That’s something we say where I’m from.

I try to breathe shallowly because the odour is becoming overwhelming. Ungraciously, I accept defeat and walk back to the only ground floor room where the boards on the window are broken. I have to stop midway to lean against the graffiti covered walls in the hallway. I hit the walls harder and harder, trying to force away the anger that’s constricting my throat and chest.

“I fucking hate you! I fucking hate you!” I moan through gritted teeth. The pain in my torso radiates throughout my body, and it’s really, really easy to blame you for it despite the fact it’s obviously not your fault.

Liver cancer.

Fucking ironic, right? I mean, I definitely did more than my fair share of research and testing to find a cure. Obviously didn’t contribute as much as you did, as everyone is keen to point out. Well, that’s a lie, nobody is actually comparing your work to mine. It just feels that way when someone mentions any articles you write, any conferences you speak at, and any documentaries you appear in. It happens suspiciously often, and I wonder how you can possibly have time to do so much.

Then again, I was always amazed at how fast you worked. I quickly learned not to compete with you in the same way that many post-graduate students in the same area compete. I revered you like a God at first, and you bashfully accepted my jealous praise. I’m not sure exactly how we became friends, but we were friends. Do you remember those lunchtimes where we’d sit together and make jokes about the awful cafeteria food? The times you’d come over and I’d make you “Proper English Food,” which seemed to consist of just about anything as long as it was smothered in gravy? The hours you’d spend talking about home?

This home. The one that I’m standing in.

And I’m such a desperate, pathetic idiot. I knew you wouldn’t be living here anymore. This is the address you gave the university when you first came to England. Just because you’re now working in the same city where you grew up doesn’t mean you’d be staying in the same apartment you were before. Even if you wanted to, this place became derelict a few years after you left.

Still, I pictured you being here so clearly, seeing this place as it is now makes me feel like everything you said was a lie. It’s so much simpler to see you as a villain, so much more satisfying for me to pretend you’re a bad person. If I think about this logically, I start feeling bad about tricking the secretary into giving me your old details. I start to wonder if I’m a bit crazy. I know I’m sick, but perhaps I’m sicker than I realize.

After vomiting, which actually makes little difference to the ambience of this corridor, I start walking again. As I get closer to the open window, the breeze highlights the clamminess of my cheeks. The light burns my retinas, and I place a shaking hand against my forehead to shield my eyes. Nausea bubbles up again, but I bite my lip until the feeling passes.

There’s going to be another few months of this, and then nothing. You probably wouldn’t even hear about my death. It pains me to consider that you might not care. A year ago, you were putting together a research team and I applied. Not just because of you, I hasten to add, but because it would have been a glorious opportunity to revive my floundering career. I checked my inbox every waking hour for a response.

I never despised you more than the moment I read the standard rejection letter that you sent. It was your name on the bottom of the email, the same bullshit about not having the correct skillset on top.

How fucking dare you.

We worked together. It was one thing for me to know that you were perhaps more academically gifted, but for you to not even consider me suitable to work on your projects? I suppose this research was too precious to you. You were finally starting the human trials of the wonder drug that had kick started your career. You were looking for the best, and I didn’t make the cut.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that sending that letter made you feel good. You wanted revenge, didn’t you? You wanted to reject me like I rejected you.

I cried when you told me you were leaving England, but I was so happy for you. Your project had been a complete success, you’d gained massive attention, and I thought you deserved it. I smiled through my tears and told you that I’d always said you were a genius. You replied with something modest, and we stood silently for a few moments. I thought you were going to disappoint me, but after some tense heartbeats, you leaned forwards and pressed your lips against mine.

I backed away, confused and guilty. I had a boyfriend, and you knew that.

I would have kissed you back. I wasn’t in love with you, but even then I wanted to imprint myself in your life, which seemed destined for so much more than mine. I wanted you to revere me romantically in the same way as I revered you intellectually. Maybe you did at some point.

I tried to correspond with you shortly after you left, and you never replied. I broke up with my boyfriend. I worked hard with my research, but never came close to the success you currently enjoy. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My life will end, and the only remarkable part of it is the bit which was illuminated by you.

I need time.

I need a miracle.

Isn’t that what they’re calling the drug you created?

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The Library Book Project – 23 November 2009

To read more about this project, click here.

Today, this company will lose a major asset. I open the top drawer of my desk, revealing reams of printed paper that are dated between yesterday and and five years ago. No, surely I must have cleaned out this drawer since I first moved into this office? I suppose I always had far better things to do. I was a busy woman, constantly managing and advising the junior staff, who always seem so much more clueless than I was at their ages. They’re not completely incompetent, but they can’t back up their own egotistical bluster.

Amongst the stream of fury, I feel a small amount of relief that I’m not obliged to clear out all these documents. Most of them could probably go in the bin, but I’ve always erred on the side of caution, which is why the second drawer down is equally full. In fact, all four drawers contain nothing but pages which now have no relevance or importance to me. It’s liberating and soul-destroying all at the same time.

At first they wanted me to reduce my hours. That conversation left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It was sickly, sugary lines from a man half my age. Made me almost long for the days when sexism was rampant, but at least the man (it was almost always a man) in charge didn’t bullshit you and pretend that everything was for your own good.

I vowed not to let it set me back. I joined the gym. Even though I can afford books, I frequented the library because I couldn’t think of any more excuses to go outside. I ended up drinking wine on the evenings and watching box sets of my favorite televisions shows. When I retired to bed I’d still be wide awake, wondering what I’d done wrong, and why they wanted less of me rather than more. Hadn’t I proved myself invaluable?

Soon, my colleagues will come into the office and present me with a card and some flowers, congratulating me on my early retirement. None of them will look me in the eye. Tomorrow, I will be the main course on the cafeteria gossip menu.