Walter was escorted home in the same van that picked him up outside of his work earlier that day. The drive was quiet. He hadn’t said much since the incident at the studio except that he would like to go home right away. There had been no argument from any of the executives; they were all quite supportive and insistent upon making him comfortable in any way. Brian Smithwaite was the most supportive but his eyes were still grinning that condescending grin. It was the first time Walter truly felt adverse to someone’s smile.
When he arrived home he waded through the mob of press at the entrance to his building. It had not thinned out though they seemed to have lost their bite a little and parted obligingly as Walter pushed forward. The questions they asked were a blur but he didn’t have to think too hard to guess what they were quizzing him about. He had been reliving the conversation for the last hour; trying to imagin what he could have to help the man instead of provoke him; instead of somehow giving him his blessing to take his life. Why would he want to do that? Why would anyone want to do that?
Once he entered the stud, Walter closed his curtain (that is he hung his bed sheet over the naked curtain rod). He didn’t much want a repeat of this morning’s invasion and the sight of the adjacent buildings wall wasn’t quite as inspiring as it used to be. He sat in thought with the conversation swirling around his head. He wished he had a blank crossword to help take his mind off the topic but the ones he had stored away were all thrice completed and fresh in his memory. He cooked some pasta and sauce in a rushed manner and noticed that it tasted as though it were bereft of its usual flavour. He ate it begrudgingly, using it as an outlet for the frustration that was building in his head. What if I had just said something different? He went to bed feeling no urge to sleep and for the second night in a row he lay awake in his bed long into the early morning hours.
He awoke at 6am feeling worse than when he had gone to bed and wondering if he had even slept. He sat and ate some cereal lethargically before putting on his work clothes. He left the house and the press were ready for his early bird antics this time. The little respect they had shown the night before had clearly dissipated and they seemed to be making up for lost time.
“WALTER! WALTER” there was elbows and expletives flying in every direction. Walter took a few to the abdomen as he ploughed through the mosh but he barely flinched as he did. He was stern faced and button-lipped and his eyes were focussed on moving the next obstacle out of the way. He felt driven by an inner strength he had never known or engaged before; a determination which had spawned out of the previous night’s events. He saw very little around him, only what was immediately in front and he cared only for what he saw. He felt unknown to himself and unnatural but the rush was enough to prevent him from taking a moment to question it. He broke through the mob and took a fast stride, the media followed but they only formed a wake of muted sound. He was going to work that day and nothing would stop him.
Mr Heath was relieved to see Walter but his expression quickly changed to annoyance, “You think cos you’re a star you can skip out on work?” Well today I think you’ll be doing double time.” Walter ignored him and went to begin his job. Mr Heath was taken aback at not receiving the usual submissive response from his subordinate but Walter couldn’t care less. He even dared to feel that Mr Heath deserved it. Again a caution stirred somewhere below but again he ignored it before it could gather steam or warrant.
He cleaned the toilets at the station aggressively and could feel a stinging sensation creeping across his back muscles. He didn’t ignore it, instead letting his mind focus on it to escape from his thoughts. He hopped on the 6:45 train as it approached, keeping his head down as he did so. He entered the first carriage and turned left into the tight lavatory. He shut the door behind him but noticed a few people with curious expressions gazing at him before it shut completely. He cleaned the toilet and his back pain intensified and solidified but he didn’t register it and just as he finished cleaning the train pulled up and he got out at the second stop on the South Line Yellow to City Junction and walked head down to the station’s bathroom.
He had almost forgotten why he felt as he did while he cleaned. He was instead listening to the short hard breaths entering his nose. He found his jaw was slightly clenched but made a conscious decision not to release it in spite of finding no excuse for this action. By the fifth stop on the line the crowds were increasing and so were the whispers of recognition. He would usually finish each toilet a few minutes before the next train would approach and wait patiently on the platform, but now he found himself waiting inside the bathrooms until he heard the announcements of incoming trains. He darted through the crowds and quickly entered the next work station. As he shut the door of the Stop 6 10:05 he found himself breathing heavier. A flittering taunt passed through his head that he was a coward for hiding. He swiped at the toilet seat with his gloved hand and before he could stop himself he slammed it shut. He cleared his throat forcibly to mute out the warning alarms ringing through his head.
“Hey buddy, hurry the fuck up!” a loud voice yelled as Walter stood inside the toilet at Stop 13. He had finished cleaning and was again waiting. He didn’t respond. “The trains coming soon and I gotta take a piss. Hurry the fuck up!” The man was now bumping the door with the cushioned flesh of his fist. Each thud echoed dully through Walter’s head which had now formed a clear highway for the pain from his backache to travel between at will. He despised this man if only to stop from despising himself. He swung the door open suddenly in the middle of one of the barrages and the man froze. Walter stared at him, intently aware of the post peak hour crowd scattered along the platform.
“Excuse me,” he said as if threatening to threaten the man, never losing his gaze. The man stepped aside and Walter stood on the platform, the focus of everyone’s attention, absorbing it like a black hole into the throbbing pain in his forehead.
Walter was due for lunch at 2pm but he was only just about to board the 11:30 at Stop 12. He felt like he was boiling up inside. He hated his job and his title and the people who were staring at him constantly. He hated the machine and the press and most of all himself for not letting him release all the hatred. Why is it my job to convince some psychopath not to commit suicide? My job is to clean fucking toilets. He cleaned the toilet in his increasingly apathetic fashion and alighted at Stop 13. It was a fairly deserted station by nature but as he went to open the bathroom door a small voice behind him spoke up.
“Mr Wallace?” Walter ignored it. “Mr Wallace?” It said again tugging at his shirt.
“What!” Walter snapped as he spun around. He clutched at his head, the headache morphing slowly into a full blown migraine. He looked down and saw a young girl with a terrified expression on her face. Her lip began to tremble and she turned and ran to her mother who stood a few feet away. The mother looked incredulously at Walter a moment before attending to the crying child. “I’m trying to fucking work,” he said defensively, almost pleading. “I’m just-” the pain shot through his head again. “Fuck!”
He had never known himself to curse and as he cupped his hand over his eyes he tried to block the pain and the guilt but he couldn’t any longer. The rush had long since given way to the comedown and he swore to himself he wouldn’t do it again. “I’m sorry.” He said aloud and opened his eyes to see no one in front of him. The mother and child were walking briskly down the platform. “I’m sorry,” he said again and sat on the nearest seat. He wanted to cry but wouldn’t let himself – he had given in to his weakness all day and found himself miserable. He wanted to make amends. He needed to. Is this what the Happiest Man in the World would do? Is this what he would’ve done a week ago?
Just at that moment his Walkie Talkie crackled and Mr Heath spoke is a defeated tone. “Walter come in, over.”
“Go ahead.” he said gathering himself.
“Walter, I have a Mr Brian Smithwaite who wants to talk to you.”
“Put him on.”
“Walter how are you going?” the smooth voice oozed with hidden agenda but it was almost as if Smithwaite new it and thrived in it. “We are planning another special, Walter. How do you feel about coming in to the studio tomorrow?” The transmission clicked off and the back on again for an addendum. “Everything is approved by Mr Heath here.” The last part sounded as though Smithwaite were pulling his favourite grin.
Walter felt on instinct it was a bad idea. But he had just told himself that he needed to do something to fix...whatever needed fixing. He tried to imagine what he would have done a week ago, but a week ago no Walter Wallace would ever dream of such a scenario. He took a deep breath and clicked on the transmitter, speaking in a similar tone to Mr Heath, “Yeah that sounds great.”
“Excellent! We will pick you up tomorrow at 7am from your workplace – we know how much you love your morning walks. See you then.” The receiver clicked off and Walter slumped his shoulders. The 11:30 at Stop 13 pulled up to the platform and though he hadn’t cleaned the platform bathroom, Walter needed to keep on schedule and decided he would come back to it before he clocked off that night. He felt slightly better just for knowing that at least that is what he would’ve done a week ago.
Notes to the Text
Notes to the Text