Receptionist

Mary was hypnotised by boredom; she looked at how the second hand traced its way around the clock at the other end of the empty reception room. A flicker from a nearby oil lamp drew her attention and she began to slowly flicker between the stone floor, Mr Pease’s office door, the open front door, the window near it (giving a view of the street) and finally to her desk. Her out-tray full, Mary picked up her Emma Goldman article and began to reread it.

After a few minutes, a noise crept through the open door. Mary looked outside the window. A group of women on the street were shouting. Two pushed flyers onto people walking past and another waved a placard. Before Mary could read it, a car pulled up outside the building, blocking her view from the window. She saw a man leave it, shout over the top of the car, cross the road and waddle into the building.

He looked to his left and frowned at the clock. He looked to his right and frowned at Mary, before walking towards her.

“Tell me,” the man’s voice was as gruff as a battered cliff-edge, “is Jack in?” Mary found herself inches from the man’s pointed finger and wondered how a nail could have such a potent odour.

“Sorry?”

“Jack? Is Jack in?”

“Do you mean Mr Pease?” Her eyes worked their way from his gnarled hands, to his tweed suit, to his unruly collar, to his disapproving face. She thought it was a strange face; it looked like a sheep desperate to be a wolf.

The man snorted. “He’s invited me. Check your papers.” He moved his finger away from Mary’s face and went to place it on the appointments book, before the Goldman article, sitting next to the book on the desk, caught his eye. “Oh bloody hell, not you as well? Those women outside are bad enough.”

Mary looked him in the eye. She stayed silent.

“Check your appointment book. I should be marked as ‘Horace Vachell’.”

Mary stayed silent.

“Useless. I’m going in. Hold this for me.” He took off his coat and held it out to her.

Mary stood up, took her bag from under her desk, tucked the article away and made her way to the front door. She had a flyer to pick up.

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