The Romance of Unconnected Lives
Jane wasn’t having much luck with her alarm. Yesterday it was too upbeat, today it was the radio man boasting two hours of nonstop music. His voice was too excitable for this time of the morning, Jane thought. He sounded like he had short, spiky brown hair, kept himself active, and enjoyed wearing t-shirts with obscure logos on them. He sounded 5’8”.
By the time Jane had stumbled out of bed the two hours of nonstop music had started to play, starting with a song Jane thought she’d heard before but didn’t really know. She was thirsty. And quite hungry. Last night had found her a lot sooner than she thought it would and she had fallen asleep at eight o’clock, sleeping for eleven hours and waking up to a late alarm she’d set as a treat to herself.
She began her usual morning routine, shaking off the tired cobwebs of the night before and trying to get used to her obnoxious new cast. A friend at the office had asked her yesterday if he could sign it; but after thinking about it for a few seconds Jane decided she wasn’t fifteen and said no.
The usual morning routine, which always started with breakfast, quickly smudged itself into the space between waking up and getting to work, and before she realised it, Jane found herself standing in her office lobby, utterly unprepared for the day ahead.
“Well, you look fabulous,” the sarcastic voice of Anette broke through Jane’s subconscious. It was spoken louder than intended, and both women looked around, moderately embarrassed.
“That bad, huh?”
“That depends. How secure is my job?”
“Not that secure.”
“Then you look great.”
The duo continued walking and talking towards the elevator and the rest of their day. The standard motions of their usual parting which had been perfected over the course of many years took place; Jane stepped into the elevator, and Anette left to go about her day’s business.
This morning it was harder to focus as the elevator went up to the fifteenth floor, and Jane needed the whole journey as preparation. It was a good thing she took that extra time too, because when the doors opened, Tom, her assistant, was there to meet her.
Tom was a lifesaver for Jane. How she managed to secure a job as an assistant all those years ago she didn’t know. Clearly, running a company was her forte rather than organising the day–to–day. She held people who worked in secretarial roles in great esteem.
“Mr. Jacobs is here to see you.” Tom walked quickly beside Jane as she went to her office.
“What? Why?” She stopped suddenly. It took Tom a second to realise and he had to turn around quickly and take a few steps back before he was standing next to her again.
“I’m afraid we had no choice. We told him you weren’t in and he insisted he’d wait. He’s somewhat perturbed, shall we say, that you blew him off two nights ago without giving him a reason.”
“Does he know about the accident?”
“I’m not sure. But he wants to know why you left the university before your meeting.”
“Ah. So I have to explain his sexist remarks to him and how we don’t tolerate that sort of thing.”
“If that’s how you want to approach it. I’d just say something came up.”
“No, because then he’d want to meet again. Ok, I’ll handle it. Where is he now?”
“What? No. I’m going back towards the elevator to get a drink of water. Take him to Conference Room B, and I’ll meet him in ten minutes. I need to get a few things organised first.”
Jane turned around and walked in the direction of the water cooler. She should have realised this would probably happen. Mr. Jacobs – that “some guy” from the university – wouldn’t have liked the way she handled the situation and, to be honest, she probably could have handled it better. But this was an issue that her company took very seriously, and he needed to understand that. This was not something she would back down from. Perhaps, in the future, they could discuss the possibility of funding, but for now she would have to explain the situation calmly and professionally. It was company policy. Everyone who sought investment from her company knew it was company policy.
Jane’s phone buzzed. It was a text from Anette.
‘I almost forgot. I’ve scheduled your doctor’s appointment for two weeks’ time.’
Jane’s second lifesaver. It wasn’t Anette’s job to schedule her doctor’s appointment. No, this was Anette being a friend. A friend who knew perfectly well Jane would forget to schedule that appointment.
She put her phone back and breathed. Alright, time to head to the office, get organised, and have this talk. She had other things she needed to do today.
“Hello, Mr. Jacobs. I am aware you want to speak with me.”
“Ah, yes. Ms. Harrow, I want to know why you did not attend our meeting two days ago? There was no warning or reason given and I must confess I found it rather rude. I’m told you left immediately after the event.”
“I understand. And for not letting you know, I apologise. But I…”
“So why did you leave? A businesswoman of your stature should not make it a habit of standing up the men she seeks to do business with.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“It’s just that I understand being a woman in the male-dominated profession is challenging at best, but you have youth and beauty on your side. Do not squander that. They can be powerful…”
“Mr. Jacobs. You came here looking for an answer to your question so let me provide you with one. But firstly, a question of my own. Would you treat me any differently if I were a young man in this role?
“Why yes, of course. It would be completely…” He suddenly realised his mistake, and a clue began to develop in him mind as to why she had left that day. “Ms. Harrow, let me explain my reasoning.”
“No please, let me explain mine. Two nights ago, at a professional work function, while giving an incredibly prestigious work-related award, you called your colleague, who happens to be a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, beautiful and smart.”
“Please let me finish. I have no issue with the recognition of her looks as she is a very beautiful woman indeed. However, I must point out a few things where I did have issue. Firstly, this event was not a beauty pageant and her looks were not what got her to where she was. This was a work function and her mind was being celebrated that day. Secondly, I’ll phrase this as a question: would you have remarked on your colleague’s beauty had she been a man?”
“… no, I suppose not.”
“I thought as such. Mr. Jacobs, we here at JRR Investments operate a strict gender equality program. All men and women are paid the same for the same jobs. We actively seek to hire diversely, be that by religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. We work hard to provide equal opportunities for all our employees.
“We are a leader in this area and we accept that most of the people we do business with are not like us in this sense. However, our policies are written to ensure that those who seek funding from us know they will only acquire funding if they respect these programs and adhere to a certain level of gender and social equality themselves. You have proven, through your speech two days ago and through our conversation today, that you do not respect and adhere to these issues.
“Perhaps in the future this will change. I admire your work and would like to support your research. But for now, I’m afraid we are unable to do business together. Have a lovely day. If you have any more questions I’m sure Tom, my assistant, can see to them.”
And with that, Jane left the conference room and got on with the rest of her day.
“I am Frankenstein’s monster,” Matt proclaimed to a slightly bewildered Kyle who had just walked through the front door. Kyle had been Matt’s best friend for years. They met when Matt’s search for a literary agent was just beginning and Kyle’s career as a literary agent was just taking off. They had similar ideas and the business friendship just sort of developed.
“I beg your pardon.” Kyle asked, quite disconcerted.
“I am Frankenstein’s monster.”
“Again, I beg your pardon.”
“I’ve been thinking. As a writer, I have a lot of characters that I write about, and they all have different professions. So, I need to learn about all these professions and hobbies, otherwise I won’t write good characters.”
“… Okay. How does that make you Frankenstein’s monster?”
“Well, he was made out of bits and bobs from lots of different people. I need to know bits and bobs about a lot of different hobbies and professions. I’m the literary version of Frankenstein’s monster.”
“Surely Frankenstein’s monster is the literary version of Frankenstein’s monster?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Maybe this brain injury is worse than we thought. When’s your next visit to the doctor?”
“Two weeks. And it’s not the brain injury. I just realised it and thought it was funny.”
“If you say so.”
“Oh, also, I have a question. So, I have to make a doctors appointment, right?”
“Well, is it doctors appointment, or doctor’s appointment?”
“Does the phrase ‘doctors appointment’ have an apostrophe or not before the ‘s’ in ‘doctors’?”
“Ok, look. I wrote it down.” Matt handed his laptop to Kyle, opened to a word document with the words ‘doctors appointment or doctor’s appointment’.
“Oh, that’s what you meant. How would I have gotten that from you saying ‘doctors appointment or doctor’s appointment’?”
“Well… They sound different.”
“No, they don’t. Surely it’d be ‘doctors appointment’ because it’s not possessive of the doctor.”
“That’s what I thought. But Word is being stupid and saying it’s wrong.”
“And Word’s word is law.”
“Word’s word. No, it’s not, but I wanted to make sure.”
“Hang on, what made you think of that?
“… I don’t remember.”
“Alright. Well…” and the conversation continued in pretty much this fashion for the next half hour. Both Matt and Kyle were very much equals in this partnership/friendship. Both knew that neither of them would be anyone without the other. Kyle made Matt famous, and likewise Matt did the same for Kyle.
Kyle was also far less worried than Matt about being dropped by the publisher. He had already spoken to several other publishing houses who were interested in putting out Matt’s next book.
Kyle, who was only partially listening at this point as Matt rambled on about whatever random thing had caught his mind now, made himself at home. He grabbed two beers from the fridge before realising that Matt probably shouldn’t be drinking and putting one back, took off his shoes, and crashed on the adjacent sofa to Matt’s. This wasn’t a business call. This was a friend checking in to see how everything was going. And as Matt was still recovering from the head injury and couldn’t concentrate much, Kyle and he spent most of their afternoon wasting time away playing video games and chatting loosely about anything under the sun.
Kyle was Matt’s primary friend. Matt had decided long ago that the best way to organise and maintain social encounters was to group individuals into categories. The first category was called Primary Friends. This included the least number of people and currently only held Kyle. The second category was Secondary Friends. This included old friends and people you bond with when you meet, but don’t get to know on a deeper level. The third category was Tertiary Friends. These were acquaintances, individuals you mingle with at parties, hands you shook at press events. The final category was simply called Everyone Else.
This was how Matt survived sociality and how he made sense of the world. He wasn’t necessarily bad at social encounters, he just never really understood them. Sure, he knew the correct procedures when it came to interacting with people, and he had no difficulty in performing said procedures; he simply felt a little awkward when doing it. It was the small talk, the interactions with strangers, about which he felt particularly awkward.
This was made prevalent two weeks after the incident (for the collision with the bus and the mystery woman was simply referred to by Matt as “the incident”) when he had one of those strange meetings at the entrance to the hospital. It had been two weeks since the accident, and Matt was due for his check-up at the hospital to make sure he had no long-term head injuries. He was on his way there – in fact he had just stepped up onto the pavement and was only several feet from the hospital door – when he saw in the reflection of the glass door a person behind him trying to beat him to the door. But the rush was poorly timed and because of this, they shared a panicked should-I-reach-for-the-door-or-should-you moment, followed by the uncertainty of whether or not to hold the door open.
Matt, who had been brought up with the understanding that it was chivalrous to hold the door open for someone (even though he felt that chivalry had nothing to do with opening doors at all), had reached for the door.
The trouble was that this person, whose blurry reflection in the window turned out to be that of a rather beautiful woman (something that further exacerbated the situation, as Matt never really knew what to say when talking to beautiful women), got to the door first and held it open for Matt.
Not five feet after this first door was a second, and this time Matt all but lunged at it in order to get to it first. He pulled it open and looked back, but she was still holding the first door open for someone else, and Matt found himself waiting there rather awkwardly for a few seconds, looking sheepishly at the ground.
When she did eventually pass by, she thanked him in one of those voices Matt felt he knew but couldn’t place. It sounded responsible.
He found the whole thing rather humorous – though only after the fact – and thought about it the whole journey home. The rest of that hospital visit was somewhat mundane in comparison.
He was fine, the doctors had said. They ran a few tests. He was made to blink a lot and sniff some fruit. Why exactly he had to sniff some fruit he had no idea but he was made to. It reminded him to restock his rather pathetic supply of healthy food back at his house.
One of doctors had mentioned that he liked Matt’s novels.
That was it, really. Nothing too exciting. Unfortunately for Matt, this meant he had to get back to work properly now. He had been taking things slow for his health, he said, but now he could no longer use that excuse. He was simply being lazy and had to get back to life. He wanted to write a Western; one of those ones where the heroic outlaw battles the corrupt sheriff and rescues the town. Matt wasn’t from America and had never written a Western before, but he wanted to give it a try. The main character’s name would be Rex.
“Hello there, Gorgeous.”
“Hi, Anette.” Jane responded as she entered the lobby. Two weeks had passed since the day of the accident and she was beginning to find her feet again.
“You ready for an easy day of work today?”
“Excuse me? I never have an easy day of work.”
“Sure you do. You don’t even have to work the full day today. And no meetings. I wish I had your job.”
“What do you mean ‘I don’t work the full day’?”
“You have that doctor’s appointment.”
“What doctor’s appointment?”
“I knew you’d forget. Remember when I booked you that doctor’s appointment? The one where you find out if you get that cast off. I bet it’s really gross now. Well, the appointment is at two. Don’t worry, I’ve checked with Tom and we’ve made sure you have nothing on.”
“Oh… Well, alright then. Thanks.”
“Certainly. So tell me, does it smell?”
“Does what smell?”
“Your forearm. I had a cast once when I was a child and I remember it smelling gross after a couple of weeks. It’s because the dead skin begins to pile up and mix with the sweat that can’t escape.”
“Thank you for that image. And no, it doesn’t smell. I make sure to take care of it.”
“That doesn’t stop it from smelling. It’s just a part of life, Jane.”
“Not my life.”
“Hmmm, are you one of those women who say that women don’t do things like sweat and fart?”
“This conversation is officially finished.” Jane had reached the elevator and was very glad to have done so.
“Fine. If you insist. Have fun up there, and don’t forget your appointment!” Anette turned to leave but not before giving Jane a stern look.
When Jane stepped out of that elevator on the other side, she was a different person. She was the epitome of a workaholic and she knew it. It was what she did best. It’s also why she knew how important Anette and Tom were to her. Running a company like this meant having a great team behind you, and she had worked hard to develop that team.
Anette was the COO – one of them –. Very much the glue that kept the various parts of the company connected, she was brought in to compliment Jane’s skill set. With the two of them at the helm, it meant the company kept progressing and operating smoothly at the same time.
It also meant, occasionally, Anette reminding Jane about non work-related activities, like going to the doctor’s two weeks after an accident to see if she still needed the cast. And it meant that Anette knew Jane’s schedule, which meant she knew when Jane had a full workload and when she had a simpler day.
Today was one of the latter, which saw Jane sitting at her desk for most of the morning, working her way through the ever-growing pile of documents to the left of the centre of her desk, right underneath the Newton’s Cradle ironically bought for her by Anette. The majority of the documents were from people applying for funding. The company was set up so that most of the applicants were sorted out down the line, either being rejected or accepted for various reasons. But the bigger requests, the more significant areas of investment, those would make their way through the system and come to Jane for final approval. Not a great amount of applications made it this far, but the ones that did required a serious amount of thought. Before Jane knew it, 1:45pm appeared and she found herself late.
She would have to grab lunch on the way. It was only a seven-minute taxi ride; she should still make it. She packed up what she needed to finish working from home after the appointment and headed downstairs, grabbing a ham and cheese sandwich from one of the vendors as she made her way outside. There were always taxis waiting there, and she jumped in the first one she saw.
Traffic was worse than she expected, and by the time she arrived she was a few minutes late. Jane hated being late. She jumped out and began walking quickly towards the doors. There was a man walking obnoxiously slow in front of her, so she had to move around him. It seemed to make no difference though, as she ended up holding the door open for both him and another lady who was right behind and walking with crutches.
But it was ok; she registered with the front desk and was called in a moment later. The doctors saw her, did an x-ray, and said everything was fine. She went back into the waiting room and sat down. The slow man was being led through another set of doors.
She realised as she sat there, waiting for the nurse to call her back in and remove the cast, that she probably seemed quite rude to that man. She didn’t even acknowledge him aside from a muffled “thank you,” as he held open the second door they had to walk through. She didn’t even look up at him. How rude, she thought.
Now she felt bad.
“Jane.” She was called back in.
She sat on the bed. The device that was presented to her looked like a cross between a dentist’s tool, a carpenter’s tool, and something found at a high-class pizzeria.
“Ummmm,” Jane looked questioningly at it.
“Don’t worry,” the smiling lady said. “It only sometimes slices arms off.”
“I’m joking. See.” She placed the saw on her forearm briefly. “No blood. I see you’ve never had a cast before.”
“Well, it’ll just take a minute.”
It felt very strange but, sure enough, her cast was off and limbs were intact. She was given exercises to do and was sent home.
She also decided never to tell Anette that Anette was right about the state of Jane’s arm. It was gross.