Thom4192 shifted from foot to foot and cursed to make the walls blush. His eyelid said it was twelve minutes past seven but the bathroom door still wouldn’t open. His mind panned frantically for a grain of sense amid the torrent of piss that threatened to ruin his pyjamas, the carpet, and his day. He’d checked his lid a dozen times. It was definitely right. His shift was due to start any time and here he was jammed in the hallway! Had the clocks gone back? His logs confirmed updates, present and correct. No, no. This was something else. The door? Sure. Something wrong with the lock, maybe. Hey, wait a minute… where was his number? He kicked the ceramique with the ball of his foot and cursed again as he heard a low sound from the other side. Was she laughing at him‽
He imagined Fran63005 sitting on the toilet, foot resting on the edge of the bath. She’d be painting each toe a different colour or sticking frigging butterflies on them. Music would be streaming through her temples as usual. Hippie crap. She’d probably turned it up, too, just to spite him. His blink showed 19:13, the colour of the numbers shading to orange. Tick, tick. He could miss the shower. Grab a flannel and sneak in a sink-wash at work. Teeth? Get some gum. Fuck it. His dentist could complain about it next week. The toilet though… Christ he needed to go. What was she doing in there? Shouldn’t she be working her second job around now? And why had she laughed? If the numbers were borked then she was as trapped as he was, surely.
Pain throbbed through his bladder, and Thom’s knee began to twitch. He smacked it and turned his back on the door abruptly. Fine! He’d use the bush in the garden if he had to. He slid the wall back to grab his suit. Clean. Pressed. The cologne activated when the skin of his hand brushed down the fabric, and the sharp scent calmed him a little. Something nagged in the back of his mind – something other than the toilet. Something missing. Thom took a vague step back towards the bedroom, letting his instinct guide him, when a sound brought him up short. Water splashing into the bath. His nostrils flared in fury. 19:14. Unbe-fucking-lievable!
‘Fran!’ He hammered at the door with his fist, eliciting little more than dull thuds and sore knuckles. ‘It’s my Turn, Fran! Come on!’ He knew his number was up – it had to be – but the door stayed blank. ‘Your number’s gone, Fran. You shouldn’t be in there. Fran? Fran‽’
Fran smiled and inhaled the heady perfume from the hot bath. She ran her thumb gently up the side of her finger, expanding the headmusic enough to shut out her troublesome neighbour. Neighbour. Hah! How easy it was to slip back into old modes of thinking. They shared a house, shared a bed, shared a job. About the only way he didn’t intrude on her existence was in Time: phased by 6 hours. Him, her, Jessica and Jermaine – they were Numbers; filed and stacked; rotated and manipulated. An efficient life for an efficient Britain! She despised the system, and loathed Thom for buying into it. Blue-tied bastard. She swirled the rushing water with her toes, enjoying the sensation of just-bearable heat, contrasted with the ice-cold drink in her hand. In her head the music soared, and Fran lifted her gaze to the stars; imagineering constellation after constellation through the ceramique roof of her hateful hutch.
The idea had appealed to her immediately. She wasn’t technical per say, but she could jig things around with a bit of guidance. A bunch of drinks during downtime with some disreputable friends, a few nights of soapbox outrage and some semi-serious shenaniganing later, and suddenly she was part of the Rebellion. A rebellion anyway. Hah! It felt good to stick it to the Man, even if it was just by irritation. They want us to take a number? They want us to get in line? Fine. Let’s screw up the queuing system. :-D
It was beyond fucking belief but Fran had started to sing while Thom was getting dressed. He closed his eyes, counted himself down, slowed his breathing. Screw her. Back of the line. Her loss. His eyes shot open again. Red! Already! And then Thom realised what was missing. His wallet! He pelted down the corridor but the bedroom door closed in his face. No number shone but he knew who was in there: Jermaine9253 back from his shift. Thom hammered on the door and snarled obscenities at a cruel and unfair world. A squirt of warmth blossomed below.
Jammed © 2015 Dion Winton-Polak