[Author's note: this is part three of a short story, the rest can be found at -
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http://www.lit.org/view/48643 (Part One - Cassie)
http://www.lit.org/view/48680 (Part Two - Apocrypha)
Any feedback would be much appreciated.]
The alarm clock's harsh tones cut into Cassie's brain like a red hot knife thrust into rotting watermelon. She winced, forced herself not to scream, reached out an unsteady hand and smacked out clumsily. The first blow sent the teacup crashing to the ground, where it shattered, leaving vodka and shards of china to disappear into the carpet. The second blow hit nothing but the bedside table, while the third finally sent the clock into blissful, peaceful silence.
She tried to move her head, winced, stopped. One step at a time. Deep breaths. Deep, cleansing breaths. Try to think. Last night. The pub, Michelle, endless discussions about anything and everything. Back here, go to bed. No. Computer, then bed. She patted herself down gingerly, each movement a monumental effort of will. Slept in clothes. Bad. Keys, phone, purse still intact. Good.
Cassie chose to shun the cliched "I'll never drink again" in favour of "why is the world upside down?", which was at least inventive. Slowly it dawned on her that, perhaps, it was her who was upside down, or at least her head, dangling off the side of the bed like a doll thrown away at naptime. She set out to test this theory, pulled herself upright, viewed the world in its proper position, and declared the experiment a complete success.
She then charged out of the room and was promptly sick.
Purging complete, she brushed her teeth, doing her best to hold the brush steady, re-entered the bedroom and had a swift change of clothes. Soon after she found herself charging up the street on unsteady feet, just in time to watch the bus disappear into the distance, the sound of the engine somehow transformed by her addled mind into mocking laughter.
She sighed, slumped against the bus shelter. Ten minutes to go, late but not too late. She raised her head painfully, trying to ignore the nail which had apparently been inserted a few inches behind her left eye and did her best to compose herself. She focused her mind on the early morning traffic.
As she did so, she noticed a figure across the street. The figure - impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman, clad in a long, black robe which concealed both body and identity - seemed to stare at her intently for a moment before disappearing into the flood of humanity making its way to work. Cassie shrugged, rooted around in her pocket, dug out a packet of mints and began to suck on one distractedly.
Finally the bus arrived and she stumbled onto it, her head beginning to clear a little. The pain was still there but at least she could think again. As the bus arrived at her workplace she thanked the driver and hopped off, doing her best to avoid the disapproving stares of her colleagues as she rushed her way to her desk.
"Morning, Cass." Cassie turned, smiled a little. David was twenty five going on sixty, with a hunched posture and sweaty palms that lent him a somewhat seedy appearance even at the best of times. This, however, was not the best of times, due in part to the coffee stain which adorned his shirt, and in part to the slack-jawed stare which he now directed at her breasts.
She sighed inwardly, but outwardly released nothing but a smile. "Hello, David. Sorry I'm late in."
He shrugged. "Don't worry about it."
"Thanks." She paused, rooting desperately in the back of her mind for something to say. Somehow with David, awkward silence always seemed to be the rule of the day, no matter the occasion. "So, uh..."
"I'll let you get on." He offered her what she suspected was meant to be a winning smile. Skin-crawling. "Have a good one."
She nodded as David made his way away, whistling some tune or other. Cassie took a seat at her desk and loaded up her computer, putting all thoughts of David to one side as she tried to focus on the task at hand. She was vaguely aware of what her employer did - insurance, finance, something of that nature - but it had long since turned into a matter of forms and files, data that might as well be anything. Uninspiring but it at least allowed her space to think.
She opened up her e-mail account and skimmed through the messages. Mundanity after mundanity, some alterations here, some updates there, customer complaints that needed to be dealt with or at least sent on up the chain like a bureaucratic pass the parcel. Office humour, robbed of all meaning in an attempt to avoid causing offence. A few personal notes, updates from colleagues busy sunning themselves on the Costa del Vino. One unknown.
Cassie opened it, reached into a drawer and withdrew a packet of paracetamol, a standby in case of morning-after-related emergency. As she made to go to the water cooler, she glanced at the screen once more.
We must meet. 7:30, the Three Legged Mare. First round is on me. Come alone.
Be seeing you.