Lopsided

We are in one of those public halls sitting on uncomfortable foldable chairs in a circle. Gloria next to me has just finished talking about her experience and I feel the anticipation of the facilitator introducing me to the group. In fact, I nearly jump the gun and a sound only audible to me comes up my throat, bounces around my mouth but doesn’t go any further than that.
Phew! That was close, I nearly let that one out. I smile to myself as I focus on the floorboards at my feet. Light beach in colourt, they would have been polished once but the money probably ran out.

“Tim, would you like to share your experience with us today?” The facilitator says as he looks towards me. The eyes of the rest of the group follow his gaze.
I’m feeling jumpy and excited. I was expecting this moment but I didn’t expect it now. Well…I did but I guess not like this.
I smile “Oh yes please.”
The group waits and looks on in silence. I like to leave a bit of a pause before I start because it calms me. I open my mouth and my story starts coming up my throat, through my mouth and out into the room.

So, I was at work, a typical Tuesday. You know, Monday has passed but you still have so much to do and the weekend still seems like an impossibility.
I’m sitting at my desk staring at the screen, it was about 10:15, no – actually it was 10:17, I remember because I looked at my phone and I saw a notification that made me head off to the toilet to open it in privacy. You know, one of those messaged. I used to get a lot of those.
I looked at the number seven and thought damn, that’s a bad luck number in some countries. It means death; kind of like our unlucky 13.
I got up, locked my screen and walked out of the office area and into the side hallway.
The disabled toilet was occupied so I just went to the regular toilet, entered one of the free cubilces and checked the message. The photo wasn’t even’t that bad, I could have looked at it at my desk but in hindsight I’m actually glad I didn’t because then I wouldn’t have realised that it was happening.
I left the cubicle and went into the next room to wash my hands. From there I looked up to check my hair. Hair was fine, so I started checking the rest of my face.
That’s when I first noticed it. Right then.
At first I thought maybe the mirror was warped – my face looked distorted. I got closer and looked at my features; one of my eyebrows had moved up close to my hairline and my right nostril was drooping.
No.
No.
No.
I moved to the next mirror, same thing – I recoiled and felt panicky.
Was it happening to me? It couldn’t be. I was sure I hadn’t come into physical contact with anyone who it happened to. But then, that’s what we thought at the time – we know now that it’s not spread like that.
I remember touching my face and feeling what I had seen in the mirror. As I felt my face, even more of it had moved and by that point I was too scared to look.

I knew I had to leave, but I didn’t know where I would go, if I went back into the office they would know. If I went onto the street I would surely be collected.
To be honest, I must have been so shocked I didn’t notice Russell walk out from the toilets. He must have seen me and alerted my team.
I was getting messages on my phone but I couldn’t respond to any of them.
The dinner that evening was no longer a possibility. In fact my life as I knew it was about to become an impossibility.
Then came the knock.
Knock.
Knock.
Knock.
“Tim, are you in there?” The voice belonged to Darren who was my senior.
“Yeah…” I remember responding.
No one knocks to enter the toilets. He knew.
“Everything okay in there?” He sounded worried. He knew.
“Oh…umm…yeah, I’ll be out in a sec.” I said as I looked back at the mirror. It was getting worse.
“Mate…I think you should stay in there. Russell saw you. Just stay there, we’re going to get you some help.”
That was it. I knew I was going to be collected.
“Oh…okay…” was all I could get out.
I couldn’t believe it. What would they all be saying? I bet everyone was talking about me now from the safety of their desks. 
That’s when I snapped.
You know something? I was always to nice to everyone. I put up with other people’s shit. I always followed the rules. Now that I had it, they were going to take me away. None of it mattered. 
They smiled at me everyday and had empty conversations with me but as soon as this started happening to me, they couldn’t wait to have me collected. Everything was a goddman joke. 

From there it got a little fuzzy but all I know is that disobeyed what Darren said and I ran right out of there. I made sure I touched him on the way out, and Russell too.
I don’t know how far I got but I eventually got collected.
How long was I locked up? Beats me! It could have been weeks, months or even years.

The collective spotlight of the groups gaze is still on me. A few others nod with their distorted features. Some eyes blink out of synch and saliva drips out of gaping mouths. “And thats when I became lopsided.” I finish off and wait for the applause as my eyes track down again to the shabby floor boards. They still don’t shine.

Big Boy

Debbie remembered when she first noticed the crappy, homemade, inkjet printed paper signs clumsily sticky taped to the wooden light poles around Moonee Ponds.

HAVE YOU SEEN OUR CAT?

There was a photo of a black cat perched on what could have been the arm of an outdoor chair. There was grass in the background. Possibly even a hills hoist. 

He’s a big black cat, very friendly and responds to “Big Boy”

Please contact us on XXXX XXX XXX if you find him.

She probably made a joke about it to Audrey a few times because they both lived in the area and they were a bit more on the cynical side. They loved animals and everything but there was something sublimely suburban about the whole lost pet and the home made sign situation that made her chuckle whenever she saw it. She stopped herself whenever she started to think it was pathetic. Too far Debbie, too far. 

It must have been at least two years since she first started seeing the signs and there were still some around.

The particular one she walked past that prompted this whole recall had a chunk missing from the bottom left corner. The paper was warped from rain, sun and then some more rain.  Debbie was surprised that the ink hadn’t run off the paper and completely disappeared in this time.

She pulled out her phone, took a photo and sent it to Audrey.

Do you think they ever found Big Boy?

Debbie kept walking and wondered if the cute guy would be at the cafe today. He wasn’t her normal type but he had these piercing blue eyes and maintained strong eye contact whenever she ordered from him. Debbie unimaginatively called him Coffee Boy because she didn’t know his real name nor did she have the confidence to ask.

Just past the entrance to the station she could see the cafe come into view so she went by the window and peaked in – it was confirmed, Coffee Boy was squirting out his brew today. 

Debbie definitely needed a coffee now. Glimpsing him at work from the window, she felt something rise up within her that made her whole body tremble for an instant.  

As Debbie walked in he was already looking her way and grinned, “Weren’t sure if you wanted a coffee or not?” 

Debbie felt a pang in her chest. If he’d seen her today then he probably saw her every other time she has been looking in like a creep. She went right through his greeting and got down to business, “Hey, have you ever seen that missing cat sign around the area?” 

He tilted his head, “You mean big boy?” 

“Yeah!” Debbie had successfully steered him away from her creeping indiscretions to this more pressing matter. 

“What about him though? Your cat?” He didn’t seem terribly interested but it was probably the kind of conversation he would be used to while he passed the time with takeaway customers. 

“Nah, but I always see the sign around and wondered if they ever found him.” Debbie fiddled with some local business cards on the shelf near the counter and added, “Oh I’ll get a flat white by the way.”

Just as she finished her sentence, his eyes thinned slightly as they remained locked on hers and he placed the takeaway coffee on the counter, “Here you go, it’s already done. That’ll be 4.70.” 

Debbie raised and eyebrow, “Oh, how did you know?” she tried to add a hint of flirtation into her question/. 

Coffee Guy raised an eyebrow, “It’s what you always get. You’re hardly going to change to a mocha all of a sudden. Am I right?”

Was he mocking her? Was he trying to tell her that he remembered her and disguised it in the same kind of way a little boy throws sand at the girl he likes to profess his feelings for her? 

“Gee…yeah okay. Take my money then.” Her card made contact with the little white square. 

Beep.

“Look, you might change milk types? How’s that? Maybe you’re not that predictable.” Coffee Guy added in with a wink before starting on another coffee order. 

Debbie turned around towards the door and gave him a little wave holding the coffee cup in her hand. 

She looked left and then right, which way was she going to go? 

She pulled out her phone and noticed that there was a message from Audrey.

Yeah I hope so…kind of sad right?

Debbie turned left, walked straight and then took a few more turns before she found herself away from the station and in the midst of suburbia. Big houses, little houses, large developments and signs outside quaint houses opposing development. Oh yes, this was middle-ring Melbourne all right. 

The sky was relatively cloudless apart from a few thin pieces scattered throughout the vast blue expanse. Debbie’s eyes went from the sky to the tree tops and then the rooftops with wooden electricity poles here and there. Further down and oh – another sign for Big Boy. 

She walked over to the sign and looked again. Unlike the one earlier, this one looked newer and the whole thing was intact.

Was it new? The text seemed to be jumping out at Debbie. 

The numbers were almost vibrating with energy on the page. A lawnmower in the distance, birds chirping somewhere in a tree, the constant sound of the windless air started fading as she stood transfixed. With little thought, Debbie pulled out her phone and dialled the numbers she saw before her.

Dial tone.
Dial tone.
Dial tone.
Click.

Silence.

Debbie stammered, heart beating in her chest, “Hello?” 

There was only a grainy silence but there was definitely someone on the other end of the line. Then a voice, “Have you seen Big Boy?” 

Debbie was frozen where she stood, transfixed on the image of Big Boy in front of her. 

“Uhh…no. I just wanted to know if you found him.” She realised how pathetic she sounded but the words had already left her mouth. 

“Where’s Big Boy?” The voice sounded ancient and scratchy. Debbie wasn’t sure if the voice was male or female. 

“Uh…I-I’m looking for him.” She lied. 

“Then why are you just standing there?” The voice replied.

Debbie’s neck prickled and she looked around her frantically. The street was deserted yet it sounded so busy. Birds chirped unseen, a child was laughing behind a tall fence somewhere and the dog repeatedly barked. Debbie felt completely alone.

She quickly hung up the phone and went to get back home. Debbie was getting the sense that someone was coming for her.
Her heart started jumping around and her hands became clammy.  The coffee dropped to the ground and she nearly screamed from the shock of it. 

What street was she on? She couldn’t make it out. She felt frantic as she became aware of everything around her.

Get out, just get home. 

Debbie broke into a run and turned into another street hoping to find some other people. If only someone else could see her then she would be safe. But this street was deserted too. Sounds of safety and comfort were all around but there was no one in sight. 

As she continued to run, looking in every direction she could she increasingly felt like a trapped mouse running through a maze.

Just the unseen eyes watching her inaction.  

Debbie was sweating now, she couldn’t seem to find her way back to the station or the cafe. Every street she ran into looked like the one before it. 

The houses all looked the same.
No one was around.
“Help me! Someone, please!” She was screaming out now. 

The lawnmower was whirring in the distance.
A child was crying in a backyard somewhere.
Birds chirping in a tree.
A girl running hysterically down a street not noticing them waiting for the moment she passed so they could pull her behind the fence and through a door which would close tight.  

The street was quiet now, only silent eyes peering from behind flyscreen doors curious about a scream they thought they heard but not concerned enough to leave their houses and check. 

The posters remained on the poles here and there throughout the streets. 

Big Boy was yet to be found.