Donald Newton was a success.
Everyone said so, even Donald himself. It was obvious. His life was filled with the trappings of the successful man.
He had a beautiful wife, who had become so fashionably high maintenance that it had rendered her almost completely useless. He had a brand new, five bedroomed home with three bathrooms. Two B.M.W's. A five year membership of the golf club, two foreign holidays per year and one son, who was always dressed in all the right clothes with all the right labels in all the right places. He had a well paid career in recruitment, which meant little to anyone who asked of his profession, but they all could tell that he was a success.
On the day of his forty fifth birthday, Donald's wife gave him a card which contained a voucher for treatment at a beauty spa.
"What's this for?" he said.
"Well it's for a relaxing day at the beauty spa. And while you're there you get a free Botox treatment and then they do your back, sack and crack." Her words were tinged with hope.
"Do what with my sack and crack?"
"Wax it dear."
"Why would I want my arse and balls waxed I'm not a bloody masochist." He was irritated.
"Oh Don, you're so behind the times. It's the modern thing for men and anyway it's so much cleaner. You know the state some of your pants get in."
Donald, who was now struggling to contain his indignation, pointed out that his wife had been nowhere near his laundry or indeed a washing machine for over twelve years as the cleaner did all that and she had never expressed any concern over the state of his underwear.
"And why would I want bloody Botox?" he went on.
"Well your forehead is getting very creased," his wife sighed.
"I'm forty five. I'm supposed to be creased."
"Oh suit yourself," she said and stomped off upstairs.
Donald threw the voucher onto the kitchen table and left for work.
Another aspect of Donalds success was that he had his own office and with your own office comes the opportunity to do a lot less than those who have not achieved success. He sat at his desk and closed his eyes. That voucher had bothered him. It was the worst gift he had ever received. Slightly insulting, slightly thoughtless, slightly pointless. The modern ethos encapsulated. Was it an indication that his success was slipping in some way? Was he missing something? He remembered the book that was the first present his wife had ever bought him.
It had meant so much at the time. It had been chosen with care and love. They were students then, in what seemed such pure and happy times. Success left little time for happiness, or reading he thought to himself.
Donald picked up his habitual morning apple from the desk and crossed the room to the window. He looked across at the other buildings then peered down into the courtyard. He could see one of the usual smokers three floors below, standing almost directly under his window. Looked like John Robson from admin.
Donald was reminded of a moment when, as a boy playing on waste ground, he had picked up a triangular piece of wood and bounced it off a pile of tarmac, watched it spin up into the air and land on the head of his friend causing a gush of blood and tears. Then the following day on the same wasteland, he again found the piece of wood and looked over to his new playmate, to see him standing next to the pile of tarmac. Donald theorised that if he threw the wood again the outcome could not possibly be the same. Or could it? He threw the piece of wood, watched it bounce from the tar pile and felt the ensuing yelp and tears fill him with an exhillarating mixture of remorse and excitement.
Still looking down at the smoker, Donald opened the top window and put his hand through it. He adjusted his position slightly, then let go of the apple. He watched it descend towards the smoker, down three floors then land directly on top of the smokers head who then crumpled to the ground like a coat falling from a hanger.
Donald scuttled back across the room and almost leapt into his chair. He sat bolt upright and still, his only movements being the nervous giggles that jumped from his chest and escaped through his clenched teeth. He was still sitting like that when he heard the ambulance arrive, and when he heard it leave.
The news spread through the office and swarmed around Donald as he was leaving. Had he heard? John Robson had collapsed outside. Could be a heart attack, what with all those fags he smokes. Probably just a hangover. The theories flew back and forth and Donald, in a confusion of remorse and excitement, made his excuses and took the BMW to the nearest pub, where he bought a pint of lager and found a corner table. He took a long drink of the beer. God it tasted good. He had spent far too many evenings, at dinner parties or home, drinking wine. He didn't even like wine, it's just what everyone drank. Especially the successful. But the cold pint was delicious. He drained the glass. Watched white suds run down it's sides. Then went to the bar for another.
Donald pulled the car onto the drive and straight into the garage door. He clambered out, sneered at the damage and retrieved a box of beer cans from the back seat. He strolled into the kitchen pulling at his tie and plonked the box on the table. Noticed the voucher still there and stuck two fingers up at it.
"Are you drunk?" came his wife's voice from behind him. He spun around in a mock James Bond movement and said "Not yet, but I might be when I've had them."
He motioned to the box with his thumb. "And then when I've done that I might go upstairs Linda my darling and drink all your false tan."
She was stunned. Not so much by his behaviour, but by the fact that it was the first time she had heard him say her name for months, maybe even years.
Hearing him say it reminded Linda of a time when her name seemed to dance from his lips and kiss her. A time that seemed so long ago. A time before all that was now. Then, regaining her composure, she told him that he was a prick.
Donald awoke on the living room floor, surrounded by empty cans and a pile of his old C.D's that he must have retrieved from the loft. He pulled himself onto the sofa and realised that his son was standing, in his pajamas, staring at him. Donald dredged up a smile.
"Hi son, Dad fell asleep on the floor," he said rubbing his face. When he opened his eyes again the boy was gone.
Donald thought of John Robson. Replayed the image of him falling to the ground. Wondered if he was still alive. Can you kill someone with an apple? Robson was someone lower down in the ranks of Donalds workplace and would probably never achieve the same level of success. Did this make him a happier person? Or was he equally as unhappy and did this make him almost disposable? A nonentity? What was a person without success?
Donald looked at his watch, then burst into a flurry of activity to ready himself for the office.
He eventually reached the car, still pressed up against the garage door, and retrieved a note from under the wiper. It read
You are an arsehole. Pick up my dry cleaning and some wine.
Upon reaching work, Donald realised that he was actually very early. He must have completely misread the time. The place was empty.
He felt strangely energised and refreshed as he wandered amongst all the unmanned desks. Each of these work stations were peppered with personal items. Photographs, staplers, pens, cups, toys. He busied himself taking one item from each desk and carried them into his office, hiding them in his desk drawer.
Donald spent the rest of the day emerging from his office at various points to see who was searching for their missing item. Until, by four o' clock, the place was in complete uproar as everyone realised that they were all missing something and there must have been a break in. Unless it was someones idea of a joke, at which point they all started blaming each other. One of the many positive aspects of success is that the finger is rarely pointed in your direction when there is blame to be passed.
These small acts of misconduct entertained Donald over the next few days. He stole all of the printer paper. Took the plug off the vending machine. Emptied all of the water coolers. Each time deriving short lived moments of pleasure from these acts. But therein lay the problem. They were indeed short lived moments and Donald had realised that he was essentially bored. Despite the success, life was an endless slough of work, sleep and shopping and he needed more.
He considered finding someone to have an affair with, or at least a one night stand. There were various women around the office who he had at times idly considered worthy of a fumble in the stationery cupboard. But he soon went off the idea as he decided that liasons with a collegue would soon become too complicated and quite frankly too dull. He needed something more decadent, more salacious. Something dirty.
The hotel room curtains were gaudy swirls of purple, green and brown. The only chair, upholstered in the same terrible way, was frayed at the seam. Donald tried to recall if that pattern matched the blouse of the woman at the reception desk who had begrudgingly checked him in. His gaze absentmindedly locked onto the unused coffee cups stacked regimentally beside the authoritarian kettle. He sipped from a can of lager he'd taken from the mini bar which now stood empty bellied and agog at the sight of him on the bed, naked and slumped up against the velour headboard. The whole fatuous room sat like a stoically contemptuous jury and he was seized by an incredible, nerve rattling dread. He looked down at the bobbing blonde head of the woman hastily sucking his cock. She put in a lot of effort but, like the room, was not worth the fee. Their sordid transaction had brought an initial irresponsible thrill but ultimately he had found no satisfaction, no redemption, no answers. And with that, Donald suddenly felt ridiculous. Everything just seemed stupid. Work, telephones, pornography, marriage, food and now this. He pushed her away, got up from the bed and slopped into the chair with the frayed seam. She dressed in silence. He drank the same way.
Boredom had led him to that room and perhaps it escorted her too. He looked at his trousers crumpled on the floor, the belt flopped over like a spent prick. He pictured it in his hands. Saw himself climb upon the bed, loop the belt round the womans neck and pull up. Him struggling with the weight. Her slapping around like a fish thrown into a boat until all the life drained from her.
The door slammed shut and awoke him from the terrible daydream. He looked at his watch and didn't see the time.
About the Author: Over the past twenty five years, Brian Anderson's work has appeared in many poetry and fiction publications, three anthologies of new writers and several online magazines. His pamphlet poetry collection "Life Lines" was published in 2013 by Mudfog Press. He was born in Sunderland in 1971, where he is still a resident today.
Image: (c) Gytis Cibulskis