The day was sticky, clammy, each breath was like drinking thick, hot, stale liquid.
Sandra shut the door of her car, it locked itself with a click. Her phone vibrated: the special alarm she set to know it was five to. The sound of her heels on the pavement grew louder and more rapid as she rushed into the building. The security guard let her in without saying a word. She’d been working there for the last six months and he knew her well enough, he didn’t have to ID her anymore. She stormed into the lobby, anticipating the pleasant coolness of the air-conditioned space, but it turned out the automated system failed to turn itself on in the morning. Irritated, she started the system manually and turned on her computer, then went about her morning routine. Once she’d synchronised all the calendars, programmed the coffee machines, and switched on the music and screens, she sat down at her desk and pulled out her phone. She still had some time before people would start arriving. She checked her emails first, made a note of the best 2-for-1 deals. The thought of going for dinner at the top floor of The Emerald Tower was appealing. She got so captivated by the idea that she paid for it straight away, she didn’t want to risk it getting sold out. She could already see herself sitting there by the window, with the view of the city behind her back; she’d wear the new black dress and her silver earrings, and she might even get her make-up done if she found a good deal, and she even knew what she’d post on her profile:
'Feeling fabulous having dinner with the city at my feet! – with' –
but here her imagination failed her, she could not picture the person on the other side of the table. Her sister, Anne, was in Spain, and, judging by her pictures and posts peppered with multiple exclamation marks, having a great time. None of the few guys she’d recently gone out with had enough class to look good in that sort of setting… And her girlfriends… She flicked through her contact list, dismissing most of the ones she saw right away and making a mental note of the couple of suitable ones. In the end, she thought Lindsey or Mary would be the best fit for that sort of thing, although she didn’t really know Lindsey all that well, they only met a few times at Mary’s parties, but then Lindsey always left all these nice, positive comments on her profile, while Mary never really commented on her photos at all, and if she did, it was usually something vaguely snarky or downright mean.
The door opened and a man in a suit came in, said hi, and walked past her desk towards the lift. This was the beginning of the rush hour; they’d be coming in pretty much non-stop for the next half an hour, and she was expected to say hello to all of them. She put her phone down and stared blankly into the glass wall across the hall, shifting her eyes towards the door every time it opened. Men and women walked past her desk in a continuous, seamless stream of grey and beige. She said hi, hello, hi, morning, hello, about a hundred times, until her phone vibrated again. That was another alarm: 9.30, end of rush hour. Sure enough, the door shut behind another woman in a suit and no one else came in. It would stay like this until lunch time.
Sandra scrolled down her contacts and chose Lindsey, wrote her a message:
‘Just got free entry to the top of the Emerald Tower, fancy coming along?’
The tickets were not free, of course, but it would be a bit weird, inviting Lindsey to something she had paid for, she didn’t know her that well after all. Well, it would be weird if Lindsey knew. But as long as she doesn’t know, who cares. Lindsey messaged her back, saying
‘Sounds amazing, when?’
‘Wednesday eve, 7.30?’
‘Fab, count me in! Anyone else coming?’
Well, she hadn’t really thought about that. It might look a bit odd just inviting Lindsey. Maybe she should get another two tickets. But then that would be like paying the full fare… No, she’ll just say,
‘Only got two tickets!’
‘Oh cool, not to worry I’m sure someone will chat us up!’
Then they talked about what to wear, and Sandra promised to book the best table there was, right by the window.
The lobby cooled down, finally, and she felt like she could breathe again. She checked her Facebook and felt something of a blunt disappointment when she saw she had no messages or even notifications. But just as she was about to close the window, a pleasant little red icon appeared in the corner of the screen. She clicked on it and saw it was just a link to an article her sister had favourited. She clicked on the link and read the article. It was about the new law that made it compulsory for cars to have ‘life sensors’: these sensors could pick up whether there was a human or an animal in the car, and if there was, they would activate the air conditioning. The article said passing the law was the result of the series of accidents that saw several babies and animals die after they had been left inside the car on hot days, forgotten by their guardians. In most cases the responsible adults were found to be innocent; it was just neglect, they were overworked, and there was no system in place that would remind them of the child or animal left in the car, the judge said when the first case went through the court, and the rest of them followed the example she had set. Sandra read the article, wondering why her sister actually favourited it, until she remembered that this had happened to Anne, too, a few years back. She had got a puppy from their aunt one Saturday morning and on Monday she decided to take it to work with her, because there was nothing else she could do with it. But the puppy fell asleep in the backseat and she completely forgot about it; and by the time she finished work, the poor thing was stone dead. But Sandra didn’t think it affected Anne in any way; she’d only had the puppy for a couple of days, it didn’t even have a name yet, she didn’t even get to take any pictures of it, and Sandra forgot all about its existence within a few days. Maybe Anne did feel bad about it, though. Sandra favourited the article, too, and clicked on another link.
Her phone rang. She looked around, made sure nobody was watching her, pressed on the green symbol on the screen.
‘Sandra?’ Her mother’s voice was as crisp and cool as the lobby air.
‘Hi mum, how are you?’
‘Aunt Debbie passed away last night’, her mother said. ‘The funeral is on Thursday. We’re going there Wednesday morning. Do you think you can take time off work?’
‘Are you ok?’
‘What?’ She sounded irritated. ‘Yes, of course. You know she’s been ill a long…’
Sandra waited a moment, then broke the silence.
‘I’ll call my boss, I’ll call you back in a minute.’
She typed a quick message to Lindsey, then called her boss.
‘Of course, but can you organise someone to replace you? You should have the number of the temp agency we used last time… They were ok…’
‘Sure, I’ll take care of it.’
The phone vibrated. It was a message from Lindsey.
‘Oh dear, sorry to hear that… Were you close? Hope you’re ok?’
‘Can you get them to change the date on the ticket to the Emerald T?’
Sandra swore under her breath. She completely forgot the fact that those tickets were non-amendable and non-refundable. Shall she give them to Lindsey? But then she could see they’re actually bought online.
‘No, sorry… another time!’
She called the temp agency, messaged her mother saying she’s ok to come along on Wednesday. What do people wear to funerals? She’d never been to any in her life. Shall she ask Mary, would she know? Or she can just Google it.
The phone vibrated again. Message from Lindsey.
‘Oh, that’s a shame… Do they have your name on it? Mary’s free Wed eve, we could go instead if you don’t mind!’
Sandra thought about it for a second but then realised she didn’t like the idea of Mary and Lindsey posing together for a photo with the view of the city in the background.
‘Yeah, it does… sorry… next time!’
She leaned back in her chair and inspected her nails. One of them was chipped in the corner. She’d have to have that done before the funeral, she decided. They might have a deal for that, she thought as she stared at the glass wall across the hall.