Outside The Box

Entry by: Octopoda

2nd November 2017
Outside The Box

Steph catches a faint glimpse of her reflection in the slightly grubby screen of her mobile phone. The new haircut was meant to be a treat to herself: but the discount voucher she purchased from an online coupon site has delivered predictably disappointing results. Remarks from colleagues in the office have ranged from “new hair do?” to “wow, you’re brave.” Not comments that she has found easy responses to.

“You guys have got to start thinking outside the box,” Gary exclaims while attempting to authoritatively bang his fist on the conference table. The noise startles Suzanne from admin, momentarily interrupting her surreptitious game of Candy Crush. She looks up from the phone balanced on her lap and blinks under the harsh strip lighting. Steph is struggling to focus on what Gary is saying, she can’t seem to turn her attention away from the grease stain midway down the front of his once-white shirt, greyed from over washing. Possibly the result of his daily pilgrimage to Subway for a six-inch meatball on wheat, the stain looks like it originated from dribbled bolognese sauce. It is shaped like Italy, with the boot appearing to kick one of Gary’s TM Lewin buttons. She is finding the stain both fascinating and repulsive, a handy allegory for her general feelings towards Gary. Her manager’s desperation is as engrossing as it is deeply off-putting.

“Can I ask a question about the ongoing request for a microwave in the staff room?” asks Carol from dispatch; looking around the room and nodding knowingly as if she had voiced a question they were all equally desperate to know the answer to. God how did I get here thinks Steph. A stopgap post-graduation data entry job to ‘get herself together’ has turned into three years sitting at the same desk. A desk decorated with photos taken a lifetime ago on a disposable camera, their corners now curling at the edges. Clichéd documents of her and her friends on nights out, all raising glasses and attempting to look carefree. She doesn’t even keep in touch with these people anymore, beyond a lacklustre comment on Facebook or a group text on New Year’s Eve. There is something about this place, a sort of time travel that happens when you enter through the automatic doors into the carpeted reception. Days are long, but years disappear as if into a vortex. When she thinks about it, that’s how she feels, like she is being sucked down slowly into a giant plughole: the water is warm and the gentle current is not unpleasant, but the motion is downward all the same.

Once the pressing microwave issue has been addressed Gary returns to his ‘blue-sky thinking’ and Steph listlessly makes a few notes in her Black n' Red notebook in a show of interest. She knows Gary will be impressed by her apparent diligence. Maybe she will go back to her desk and book a flight on her credit card and escape this place. She saw that in a film once, the plucky blonde go-getter in LA spontaneously arranging a house swap with a depressive brunette from Surrey. The meeting comes to an undramatic and rather inconclusive end. They all shuffle out of the claustrophobic room like bored school children, shoulders slumped and minds dreaming of break time.

She goes back to her work cubicle, slides the seat of her wheeled office chair under the desk and rests her feet on the little footrest head office treated them all to last Christmas. The meeting has taken up a welcome amount of time and after completing her main tasks and grabbing a coffee from the vending machine, she is surprised to see that the digital clock in the corner of her screen reads 16:50. She clicks onto her calendar to see what tomorrow has in store for her and contemplates the possibility of searching for that flight or a ticket to a new life.

She knows as soon as she gets home the last thing she will want to do is return to a computer. The food delivery from her online shop is arriving and if it’s the same driver as last time, he will need help with the bags up the three flights of stairs to her flat. Then there’s a new celebrity reality boot camp thing on the TV that she read about in this morning’s free paper. She wonders if this is what thinking inside the box is, a series of microscopic decisions all enacted within the smallest space: containing within it the minutiae of a life lived by routine, by tiny habits that don’t ever seem to amount to much.

She logs off, gathers up her handbag and coat and heads out to get the bus.