48: A Genius, A Superhero, And A Dream Of Keyboard Shortcuts

The journey to The Office is taking a long time. Mike is sure Linda is stalling on purpose. She seems to need a Little Rest every seven steps. She is having another one now, and this time, Mike has decided to join her, rather than stand and waste his energy, or his Maglite battery.

In the darkness, he can hear the quiet sound of her breathing. She is far less annoying like this - quiet, and invisible. Mike pretends he’s in Call Of Duty 4, and Linda is a beautiful survivor he’s saved from some blast or attack. She comes from a place where technology is not freely available, so she thinks he is a genius, a wizard. No, not a wizard, he doesn’t want to go down that road. Mike tuts as he thinks of role-players, and of how the moronic general public lump anyone with one iota of IT knowledge into the same pigeon-hole. He can feel his knuckles tensing in the dark.

‘Okay, I’m ready for the next flight,’ says Linda.

‘Yes, M’am,’ drawls Mike as he gets to his feet. He is being ironic, but is not sure it will be taken that way. His experience of Linda in the past has always had him biting his fist in exasperation at her ability to take everything literally. But she doesn’t reply. Mike senses her proximity in the enclosed space. She is at his shoulder, she is following him. Mike can feel the gentle pressure of her against his hip. In the dark, he is free to imagine her out of her regulation dungarees. He thinks of all the things he will teach her; click-and-drag, the right-mouse button, and all those keyboard shortcuts. He is excited.

One step at a time, they advance upwards. He can smell something citrusy and potent. It is seeping out of Linda’s pores. He feels a little high. And then he hears the sobs.

‘What’s wrong?’


‘Um...then why are you crying?’

‘I’m not .....(sniff)....crying.’

The air around Mike is empty again. Linda is much lower, now. She is sitting down. Mike joins her on the step, sitting close enough to feel her body flinch then resettle against him. She feels warm. Mike is aware of all the hairs on his arms standing up, prickling with static electricity. It’s been a while since Mike felt anything like this. It’s been exactly eleven months and three days to be precise. When it gets to a year, Mike tells himself, then I’ll be over her. Not a day before. But this, he thinks now, is sort of a practise run. It’s me getting used to how things can be for me again.

Linda is still sobbing. Mike wonders if he should put his arm around her. It’s usually what women want when they cry. We don’t want fixes, we just want to be listened to, and held. This mantra is carved into his hard-wiring now. His reply of ‘but it’s not logical’ always made the crying worse, so he has learned better of it. He lifts his arm and lets it hover a fraction of a centimetre above Linda’s shoulders. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he lowers it until he hits body, prompting a series of large breathless sobs which slowly peter out to nothing.

‘There there,’ he offers, a bit woodenly.

‘I thought I’d checked the batteries...’


‘The Emergency Lighting...it’s my responsibility to check it’s working. But it’s not working. It’s dark.’

‘Not with this it isn’t,’ Mike says, turning his Maglite on full beam. He shines it into Linda’s face, illuminating her red eyes and the mascara streaks on her red cheeks. Linda squints under the glare, clearly uncomfortable, so Mike turns it off again.

‘I don’t know what else I might’ve just Let Slide. There’s so much for me to do, maybe I can’t do it all. Maybe I’m not the Superhero I think I am?’

Mike has never, not once, thought of Linda as a superhero. He is about to laugh, but thinks better of it. Instead he pats her shoulder.

‘Things just go wrong sometimes,’ he finds himself saying. ‘And no-one’s to blame, it’s just the way things are. The Emergency Lights might’ve blown when everything else did - who knows what’s going on in this place today? So don’t be so hard on yourself. Okay?’

Mike gets to his feet and he feels Linda do the same.

‘Onwards and upwards?’ he asks.

‘Onwards and upwards.’

They race up the last flight of stairs and spill out into the corridor. Linda pushes back a memory of tribal drumming as Mike bangs hard on the door of The Office. Without waiting for an answer, he barges inside.

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