OFFICE POLITICS

 

It’s just over one week since billions of people died. In that time, millions of them have risen up again and are now walking the streets, their bodies rotting. Everything has changed. Almost nothing is as it was. Almost nothing.

     There are thirty-seven houses on Marshwood Road. Only one of them has a freshly cut back lawn. Only one has had its dustbins emptied and the rubbish placed neatly in black plastic sacks at the end of the drive. Only one has had the curtains in its windows drawn each night and opened again each morning since the infection destroyed more than ninety-nine percent of the population.

     Different people deal with stress, loss and other emotional pressures in a wide range of ways. Some implode, some explode. Some shrivel up and hide in the quietest, darkest corner they can find, others make themselves visible and make as much noise as possible. Some accept what was happened, others deny everything.

     Simon Walters is handling what has happened to him particularly badly. The arrival of the infection and its subsequent repercussions and after-shocks have been little more than trivial irritations which have further complicated his already utterly miserable existence. One of life’s perennial victims, in his eyes no-one’s misery can compare to his own. Walters cannot cope with what has happened all around him, and as a last ditch defence mechanism, he has shut out all other suffering to concentrate fully on his own.

#

     The sudden clattering of Walters’ battery-powered alarm clock shattered the early morning quiet of the house. He groaned, rolled over and switched it off. It sounded louder than ever this morning. How he hated that damn grinding, whining noise. No, he didn’t just hate it, he absolutely bloody detested it. Especially today. When that unholy clanging began he knew it was time to get up and start another bloody day. The noise was marginally more bearable on Thursdays and Fridays as the weekend neared, but today was Monday, the beginning of yet another week, and the alarm sounded worse than ever.

     “Morning, love,” he yawned as he rolled over onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. June, his wife, didn’t move. Lazy cow, he thought to himself. Okay, so she only had to drop the kids off at school and work and they didn’t need to be there until around nine, but she could at least make an effort once in a while and get up with him. She’d been the same all weekend. She hadn’t got out of bed once. Perhaps when he came home from work tonight he’d sit her down and force her to talk. God knows they needed to have a proper discussion about what was bothering her. Something needed to be said. She hadn’t got out of bed for days and her personal hygiene standards were slipping. Her once-silky, chestnut brown hair was greasy and lifeless and she was beginning to smell. He wondered whether she’d even been bothering to wash? He’d tried to say something to her about it yesterday afternoon but it was a delicate subject and he’d found it difficult to pick the right words. He’d tried his hardest to be tactful but he’d obviously said something that had upset her because she’d not said a word back to him. She’d just stared into space and ignored him. She hadn’t even had the decency to look at him. Late last night he’d brought her up a glass of wine and a slice of cake as a peace offering but she hadn’t even touched them.

     Walters rubbed his eyes and glanced over at the alarm clock again. Five past seven. He couldn’t put it off any longer. There was no avoiding it, he had to get up. Much as he wanted to curl up and pretend the day wasn’t happening, he couldn’t. He had responsibilities. He kicked the covers off his side of the bed, rolled over to the right and then yawned, stretched and stumbled into the bathroom.

     This country is going to hell in a handbasket, he decided as he stared at himself in the mirror. No water again. The taps had been dry for almost two days now. There really was no excuse. He paid his bills and he expected better than this. The bloody water company hadn’t even had the decency to answer the phone when he’d called their emergency number.

     God, he thought to himself, I look awful. He looked tired, and that was because he was bloody tired. Tired of his job, tired of his family and their attitude problems, tired of being taken for granted, and tired of himself. He was forty-seven years of age and stuck in a rut with no obvious way of getting out. The only way he could see himself getting back in his family’s good books was to pander to them, and the only way he could afford to do that would be to get promoted at work or find himself a better job. Bloody hell, how he hated his job. He’d worked for the bank for more than thirty years and in that time he’d seen huge changes. It was no longer the same job he’d walked into after leaving school at age sixteen. Back then it had been a career to be proud of and working for a bank had given him some kind of status and standing in the community, now his association with financial industry made him a social leper. People had once looked up to him and his colleagues but now he felt as if he personally was being blamed for all the grief the banks had caused. In reality he was little more than a glorified salesman, stood at the counter all day trying to sell loans, accounts and insurance policies to people who either already had enough loans, accounts and policies or who had only come into the bank to pay their gas bill. Maybe it was his own fault, he thought sadly as he began shaving with his old electric razor. He’d seen plenty of people join the bank after him, only to overtake him and be promoted up through the ranks at speed. In fact, he’d trained three of the last five managers he’d worked for, teaching them how to cashier when they’d first joined the company.

     The bank needs people like me, Walters decided as he tugged and pulled at a weekend’s worth of stubble with his razor. If it wasn’t for people like me at the bottom, he thought, the high-flyers and the people at the top wouldn’t be able to do their jobs and make their massive profits. Some of his colleagues laughed at him because he’d been in charge of the stationery cupboard at his branch for longer than most of them had been in the bank, but they’d be laughing on the other side of their faces if he didn’t put in a stationery order, wouldn’t they? How could they sell their loans and their accounts and their insurance policies without the right brochures and forms? And how could they fill them out without any pens? He did more for his branch and the company overall than any of them ever gave him credit for.

     The batteries in his razor ran out mid-shave. The left side of his face was mostly clean shaven, the right still covered with stubble. Bloody typical.

#

     They needed to go shopping. The kitchen cupboards were practically empty. He should have gone to the supermarket at the weekend. More to the point, June should have gone. Why was everything being left to him all of a sudden? As he sat munching his dry cereal (no milk), Walters scribbled out a grocery list. He’d leave it on the table for June. Hopefully she’d get up later and go out and get everything they needed so he could eat properly tonight.

     Walters looked around the kitchen dejectedly and shook his head. He wished he could understand what was going on. He’d never known anything like it. The water, gas and electricity supplies had all failed or become intermmitent. To lose one of them would have been bad enough, but all three? At the same time? How could these utility companies be allowed to operate so shoddily? He wondered what he bothered paying his bills for and sighed sadly to himself. Imagine the grief I’d get if I didn’t do my job properly, he thought. There’d be hell to pay.

     As ready for work as he was ever going to be, Walters stood up and packed his lunch away into his briefcase. It wasn’t really very much of a lunch, just a few dry crackers, some biscuits, a packet of crisps he’d found at the back of the cupboard, and an apple, the skin of which felt rubbery and wrinkled. He jammed his food in amongst the hundreds of old circulars, leaflets, handwritten notes and photocopied procedures that he carried to and from work every day. He never looked at any of it (most of it was probably out of date) but it made him feel safer and more important carrying a case full of papers to the office. It was a security blanket; something to hide behind.

     “Are any of you out of bed yet?” he called up from the bottom of the stairs. Was he the only one who could be bothered now? Agitated and nervous (he always felt that way before work) Walters put down his briefcase at the foot of the stairs and stormed back up to try and inject a little life and motivation into his lazy family. He could hear something happening in Matthew’s bedroom. At least he was up.

     “Are you ready for school, Matt?” he asked as he went into his fourteen year-old son’s room. What was left of Matthew was on the other side of the door, trying to claw its way out, reacting to its father’s voice. Walters shoved the door back and sent the wasted body of his son tripping backwards. “Sorry about that, son,” he mumbled as the corpse regained its footing and lurched forward again, crashing into him. “Steady on,” Walters laughed, “take it easy!” Matthew’s corpse grabbed at him with rough, uncoordinated hands. “I haven’t got time to mess about now,” he said wearily, assuming the body was play-fighting again, “I’ve got to go to work now. I’ll see you tonight, okay?”

     Still laughing, Walters picked up his son’s emaciated body, carried it across the room and dumped it on its bed. The corpse immediately rolled off the side then stumbled back onto its feet and began to stagger back towards the door.

     “Make sure you change your sweatshirt before you go to school,” Walters ordered, pointing a disapproving finger at the dribbles of blood and other bodily emissions which had seeped down the front of his dead son’s beige jumper. He left the room and shut the door behind him, ignoring the heavy clump and clatter as what remained of his child smashed into the other side.

     She’s just like her mother, Walters thought as he peeled back the bedclothes and revealed the decaying head and shoulders of Emily, his daughter. She’d just turned seventeen when she’d died last week. He gently shook her shoulder, trying to wake her up. She’d been working in a hairdresser’s salon for just over a month and he didn’t want her to be late. Her vacant, dead eyes stared through him unblinking.

     “Make sure you get there on time,” he told her. “You don’t want them getting the wrong impression, do you?”

     No response. Walters leant down and kissed his daughter’s discoloured, room-temperature cheek. There was a spider crawling in her hair, spinning a web above her ear. He picked it out and flicked it across the room.

     “See you tonight, love. Have a good day.”

     Having checked on both of the children, Walters paused and took a deep breath before going back into the bedroom he shared with June.

     “I’m off to work now, love,” he said quietly. “I’ll see you tonight. Maybe we could talk later? I’d like to know what it is I’m supposed to have done to upset you.”

     For a moment he stood and stared sadly at the body in the bed. June didn’t move. Eighteen years of marriage (a few of them pretty good years too) and yet she couldn’t even bring herself to acknowledge him. What had he done wrong?

#

     Walters pushed his way through the growing crowd of rotting bodies at the front gate and began the short walk to work. He didn’t know why these people were there or what they wanted. They’d been loitering around here for days now. Didn’t they have homes to go to? More to the point, didn’t they have jobs? Was he solely responsible for keeping the country running? It was certainly beginning to feel that way. There wasn’t a single car out on the roads again and he couldn’t see any of the usual faces he used to see heading off to work or taking the children to school or walking the dog. All he could see today were more of these dirty, ragged people. Some of them had tried to grab at him and pull his clothes as he passed them and he couldn’t understand why. What did they want from him? What had he done to them? He ran to the end of the road, hoping they’d be gone by the time he got back tonight.

     His first port of call (as it was every morning) was the newsagents on the corner of Marshwood Road and Hampton Street. The shop was quiet. Walters picked up his usual paper (last Tuesday’s again – bloody annoying – he’d bought the same paper seven times now) and dug deep in his pocket for some change. There was no-one about to serve him (again). In temper he slammed the coins down on the counter (next to the coins he’d left there last time he was here) and stormed out the shop, cursing under his breath.

     More bodies up ahead. He asked them to move but they just ignored him. Sick of being treated like a second class citizen, he pushed them out of the way and marched on towards the high street, a man on a mission.

#

     Walters hated his job. As he did every morning, he felt his guts tighten and churn and his bowels loosen as he neared the bank. A traditional and imposing late-nineteenth century building, its architectural beauty had been compromised by the ever-expanding array of perspex signs which had been hung above and around its solid wooden doors, and the gaudy advertising hoardings plastered across the inside of its large, arched windows. An ATM had been crow-barred into what had once been a street-level window. Ignoring the unwanted attention of yet another rancid, dribbling corpse which hurled itself at him, he paused to check the screen of the machine. Bloody thing was down again. No doubt he’d get the blame. Nothing short of 99.85% uptime was good enough for the bank. Another target missed, and he hadn’t even made it through the front door yet.

     The staff door at the side of the building was already open, completely against the company’s security policy. Which idiot had left it like that? Didn’t they know there was a strict security procedure to be followed each morning before anyone could go inside? He entered the building and slammed and bolted the door shut behind him. He’d let himself out last thing on Friday evening and he’d assumed that one of the others would have locked up after him. Christ, could the bank have been left open all weekend?

#

     By quarter past nine only three other members of staff had arrived for work. The branch manager (Brian Statham, ten years Walters’ junior) had already been in his office when Walters had arrived. Statham obviously wasn’t happy. He was pacing about the room furiously, slamming into the door and occasionally banging against the glass. Two of the other clerks – Janice Phelps and Tom Compton – were dead at their desks. Janice was slumped over her computer whilst Compton had fallen off his chair and lay spread-eagled on the carpet. Walters was appalled by the lack of work being done in the branch. He knocked on Statham’s door to voice his concerns but his manager wasn’t interested. He was only marginally more responsive than the others and Walters took it upon himself to address the situation. There was no way they could run the branch on a skeleton staff like this, was there? He dug out the telephone numbers of some of the missing staff from their personnel files and tried to call them to find out where they were and what was happening. He cursed when he couldn’t get the phones to work. The damn lines were still down.

     Let’s just get on with it, Walters decided. It was half-past nine, time to open the branch to the public, and it was all down to him again as usual. He disappeared back into the manager’s office and took the front door key from his desk drawer. He then walked the length of the banking hall, unlocked the heavy wooden doors and pulled them open.

Nothing happened. A few random figures in the street stopped and turned to see what the noise was but, other than that, nothing happened. Walters sadly remembered a time when the banking hall would have been filled with an endless queue of customers all day every Monday, and how the queue would have been hanging out of the door first thing. How things had changed.

     He dejectedly wandered back behind the security screen and took up his position behind his till.

#

     Walters didn’t mind hard work. He could cope with an in-tray piled high with papers and a huge queue of customers at the counter. None of that bothered him just as long as everyone was pulling his or her weight. He’d happily work until midnight if everyone else worked that late too. But today that wasn’t happening. He was already annoyed by the fact that less than half the staff of the branch had turned up for work, but what really bothered him that he was the only one who was actually doing anything.

     It was almost midday. The bank had been slowly filling with customers for the last half-hour. After waiting until almost eleven o’clock before the first customer of the day had appeared, a scruffy bunch of punters had now dragged themselves up the concrete wheelchair access ramp and through the swinging doors. Unsavoury looking types, they hadn’t actually seemed to want anything, and had just wandered up and down on the other side of the glass panel which separated the back-office from the public area. Walters had shouted at them and tried to get them to come to his till. They’d crowded around his position when they heard his voice and had slammed their hands and faces against the glass, but he still didn’t know what it was they actually wanted.

     Behind the counter absolutely nothing was happening. Walters glanced back over his shoulder occasionally and shook his head with despair. What a bunch of lazy bastards, he thought to himself. There he was, trying his best to deal with the customers, while they just sat there and did nothing. Janice was still face down on her computer keyboard and Compton hadn’t yet got up from the floor. Statham – inexperienced, overpaid and bloody useless in Walters’ opinion – was still pacing up and down in his office. None of them had lifted a damn finger to help him all morning.

     Usually he could take it. Usually he’d stand at his till and stew in silence or he’d find a reason to disappear off to the stationery room and hide there for as long as he could, forcing the others to actually have to serve a few customers. Today was different. Today the others weren’t doing very little, they were doing absolutely nothing. Walters wasn’t prepared to sit back and let them take advantage any longer. He’d had enough. Maybe it was the lack of respect shown to him by his family that had pushed him over the edge today? Perhaps it was the deteriorating state of the country? Or was it the fact that the customers in the banking hall (and there were more of them inside now) were ignoring him too? He couldn’t go on like this: no heat or light, no computers or telephone, and not even any money in his bloody till. The balance had been tipped and he decided it was finally time to do something about the situation. For the first time in as long as he could remember he was ready to stand up for himself and speak his mind.

     “Staff meeting,” he announced suddenly. The bodies in the banking hall turned towards him in response to his voice and pushed themselves up against the glass, desperately inquisitive. A short distance away Brian Statham’s body also threw itself against the door of its office. Unperturbed, Walters slid his ‘till closed’ sign into position and locked his till drawers. “I want a staff meeting right now,” he demanded. “I’ve had enough of this.”

     Ignoring the rotting clientele on the other side of the counter (and their numbers were suddenly swelling as a direct result of his outburst) Walters strode up to the door of the manager’s office and flung it wide open in temper. Statham’s body lurched towards him.

     “We need to talk, Brian,” he said as he shoved the decaying bank manager back into its room and blocked its way out with its desk. “Things just can’t go on like this. I’ll get the others.”

     Suddenly feeling strangely empowered, Walters strode back out into the main office. He grabbed hold of Janice Phelps’ shoulder and peeled her off her computer before tipping her back on her swivel chair and wheeling her through to the manager’s room. Tom Compton was heavier and a little more awkward. He put his arms under the dead man’s shoulders, dragged him along the floor, and dumped him into one of the padded customer chairs on the other side of the office. He was bloody heavy. Walters had to use all his strength to get him in and get him sat down.

     With Statham trapped behind his desk and the other two now in position, Walters took the floor.

     “You all know me pretty well,” he began, suddenly trembling with nerves and hoping the others couldn’t tell. “I’m a reasonable man and I’ll do whatever’s expected of me.” He paused and looked around at the lifeless faces which surrounded him. The ignorant bastards weren’t even looking at him. He continued regardless. “We’ve all got a role to play here. Now in the past you might have thought that you were better than me and that your jobs were more important than mine, but I want to put things straight. We’re all small cogs in a much bigger machine.” He paused again, pleased with the cliché he’d just used. “Without me none of you would be able to do your jobs properly.” He took another deep breath before making another crucial point. “Without me this branch wouldn’t function.”

     Walters paused for a moment to let the others fully absorb the enormity of what he was saying. Almost on cue Compton’s body slid off its chair, its head hitting the wall on the way down with a dull thud. Walters, thrown off his stride momentarily, seethed with anger. He picked up the corpse and shoved it back onto its seat.

     “You see,” he yelled, finding it hard to keep his temper in check, “that’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted to talk to you lot about. You all think it’s funny, don’t you? You think you can all have a good laugh at my expense. Well you can’t, not any more. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being the butt of all your stupid bloody jokes and having to do all the donkey work. It’s not fair, and it’s got to stop!”

     Statham’s corpse became more and more animated as the volume of Walters’ voice increased. Other than that, however, the others failed to respond. Their lack of reaction incensed him.

     “How dare you?” he screamed. “How dare you treat me like this? Show some respect, will you? I’ve been working flat out this morning while you’ve all been sat on your backsides doing nothing. If I stopped working then this place would grind to a halt in seconds. Well, things are going to change round here. I’m not going to carry you any more, do you hear me? From now on you’re on your own.”

     Still no response.

     Walters grabbed Janice Phelps by the scruff of her neck and screamed into her discoloured face.

     “Are any of you even listening to me?”

     Janice wasn’t, but the other bodies in the building clearly were. The dead hordes in the banking hall began to beat their rotting fists against the walls, driven wild by the desperate man’s voice. Walters ignored them as best he could.

     “There’s not a lot that any of us can do today, not until the power comes back on anyway,” he continued, his voice now fractionally calmer. “I’m going to shut the branch and I suggest we all go home. We’ll come back tomorrow morning and try again, okay?”

     He looked around the room but no-one answered. The hammering on the wall behind him continued unabated.

     Walters stood in the middle of the manager’s office for a moment, surrounded by his dead colleagues, and he realised that he felt a little better. The others hadn’t agreed with him but, unusually, they hadn’t banded together and turned against him either. More importantly, he’d just taken a managerial decision and no-one had argued. Could it be that he was about to be shown some respect? Had the rest of them finally realised just how important he was to this branch and to the company? Bloody hell, he thought, maybe he should try the same approach on his family when he got back home. Maybe he could make them listen too?

     “I’m going to lock up,” he said, his voice suddenly cocksure and uncharacteristically strong.

     He still had the key in his pocket from when he’d opened up hours earlier. Brimming with unexpected confidence he stepped over the outstretched feet of Compton’s body (which had slid off the chair again) and exited the manager’s room. He walked through the back-office and made his way to the security door which separated the staff from the customers. Security conscious as always, he peered through the fish-eye lens viewing hole before going through. Bloody hell, the banking hall was suddenly full of customers. Now this was how it should be on a Monday. With no computers working and no cash in his till he couldn’t serve any of them of course, so he’d just have to go out and make an announcement. He’d tell the customers what was going to happen in exactly the same way he’d just told the staff. He was getting pretty damn good at taking charge of situations.

     A deep breath and he opened the door. A huge mass of rotting flesh immediately turned and surged towards him. Oblivious to the sudden danger, Walters pushed his way deeper into the crowd, wading through them and fighting to keep moving forward as everything else pushed back against him.

     “If I could have your attention for a second please, ladies and gentlemen,” he shouted, struggling to stay upright. Another wave of decaying corpses from the general direction of the main entrance knocked him off-balance. He was being dragged further back into the building and he reached out to try and stop himself. The movement of the bodies pushed him back against the wooden counter. He climbed up onto the other side of his till and stood tall above the crowd. Before trying to speak again he brushed himself down. He was covered in stains from the customers.

     “Now look,” he shouted, “I’m sorry but we’ve got some problems here today. Our computer systems are down and staff shortages mean that we’ve not been able to get into the safe. I apologise for any inconvenience, but I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. If you’d like to come back tomorrow morning I’m sure we’ll be able to...”

     Another forward surge from the crowd distracted him. The sound of his voice seemed to be attracting plenty of interest and the bank was filling up now instead of emptying. More and more customers were trying to get inside. The situation was getting out of hand.

     “Look,” Walters tried again, “I realise this is unusual and I understand that you’ve all been inconvenienced, but I do need your cooperation. There really is nothing more I can do for you today. Please come back tomorrow when I’ll be more than happy to help...”

     They still weren’t listening. Even more people were coming into the building. Walters couldn’t stand it when people didn’t listen to him.

     “Please,” he yelled, now shouting at the top of his voice again to make sure that even the people still struggling to get through the doorway could hear him, “let’s have some common-sense here...”

     Without realising it had happened, Walters had gradually been forced further and further back along the counter. He now found himself at the opposite end of the banking hall to the doors he’d originally intended closing. Between him and the other end of the long, narrow room were at least a hundred furious customers. He looked down into the faces of the nearest few. Christ, they looked riled. If he wasn’t careful the situation might turn nasty. He banged on the wall behind him, hoping that one of the others in the manager’s room would hear him and come out to help. None of them were moving. The staff meeting which he’d called seemed now to be continuing in his absence.

     “Could I have a hand out here please,” he shouted, watching anxiously as another wave of bodies attempted to cram themselves into the already tightly-packed building. “Tony, Brian... could one of you come and-”

     His words were abruptly cut short as the heaving movement of the corpses by the door rippled along the room towards him. With nowhere else to go the closest of them reached up for him. Three of them managed to catch hold of the bottom of his bank uniform trousers. He recoiled and tried to pull away but lost his footing. He slipped down from the counter and fell into the bodies below like a bizarre middle-aged crowd surfer at a concert. Fearing for his safety, he covered his head with his hands and curled himself up into a ball. Then, crawling on his hands and knees across the heavily stained terracotta carpet, he began to move, weaving between the decomposing feet which continued to push forward to get further into the bank. For a fraction of a second he wondered if he should try to help the others get out, but he knew he couldn’t go back. Without realising, the coward in him had taken control again. That momentary flickering flame of strength and defiance which had burned briefly today had been extinguished just as quickly as it had been lit. Terrified, he closed his eyes and kept pushing forward, working his way around the bodies. He accidentally knocked a handful of them down and they fell into each other like dominos, only to be trampled by others. He kept on moving, forcing himself on inch by painfully slow inch until he was level with the front door of the bank. Should he try and stand up to close and lock it? Hating himself for being so weak, Walters instead kept on crawling forward until he was out of the building, and had got down the ramp and onto the street. The crowd slightly thinner, he picked himself up and began to run, glancing back at the overrun bank for just a second before sprinting home.

#

     Ten o’clock. A half-eaten can of cold baked beans and three-quarters of a bottle of whiskey later.

     The house was silent, save for the occasional thump from Matthew, who really should have been in bed by now. Walters sat alone in darkness at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. He couldn’t stop thinking about the events of the day just ending. It was bad enough that he’d left the bank wide open and abandoned his colleagues, but that wasn’t what was really bothering him. For a moment back there, he’d actually felt like somebody. It had felt good. It had felt damn good. But he’d been brought back down to earth with a bang. The bitter truth was that he was still a nobody. A forty-seven year old stationery clerk and cashier with no prospects, a family which had virtually disowned him, and an increasingly bleak future. Maybe he should just accept the hand that had been dealt him and do his best to get on with it? Stick with what you know, that had always been one of his father’s sayings. Don’t take risks and don’t take chances. We’re not all made for great things. The world will always need the little men too. Stick with what you know.

     Walters got up from his chair and walked out into the hallway, wearily dragging his feet. He paused to look out at the dark crowd of bodies at the end of his drive before climbing the stairs to bed, a final generous tumbler of whiskey in his hand. He undressed, put his dirty shirt in the washing basket with all the others that hadn’t been washed, and then put on his pyjamas. He could still hear Matthew banging around in his bedroom. Bloody teenagers. He should be resting or studying. One day my son, he thought, all these problems will be yours. If only he knew what he had to put up with every day. His attitude would soon change if he was the one who had to face the daily indignities and humiliations of office politics. Christ, he hoped Matthew didn’t make the same mistakes he had. If only he’d worked harder at school and not just taken the first job he’d been offered after leaving...

     No point dwelling on all that now, he thought as he climbed into bed behind June. She had her back to him. She was still in the same position as he’d left her this morning. She hadn’t done the washing or the shopping. In fact, it looked like she’d been in bed all day again. Bloody hell, she didn’t know how easy she had it. If she’d had to put up with what he had today...

     He wrapped his arm around his wife’s rapidly putrefying torso and pulled her close. He wished she’d talk to him. He didn’t want to go to sleep yet. He wanted someone to listen to his problems and reassure him that he was doing his best and that it was the rest of them who’d got it wrong. But June wasn’t interested, and the silence was deafening.

     Walters felt humiliated and let down by everyone, even those closest to him. He’d tried so hard today but, ultimately, all he’d done was make matters worse for himself. Christ, how was he going to face them all at work tomorrow?