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07.42 AM
I leave the flat, fumble with the keys, insert them into the lock and twist. My hands are shaking so badly I can barely pull the keys back out of the door without dropping them but somehow I manage and I fling myself down the stairs, taking them two by two. My briefcase unlatches and bursts open, spilling out documents , cigarettes and a couple packets of gum all over the steps like a crazed mosaic. A white tube cascades to the ground, the pills inside rattling like maracas, the word Diazepam flashing. I have to take a deep breath to steady my racing pulse before reaching down to scoop the items back into my bag. I hold the white tube for longer than is necessary, before sliding out a pill and tipping it down my throat. Three left. I slip it back into my pocket. I can’t afford to leave the apartment even a minute behind schedule.

07.47 AM
I hit the street like a whirlwind and the scent of reality, like overcooked hot dog meat and old coffee overwhelms me as I rush past José, the burger guy, behind his stand, who waves at me joyfully “You late for work again Mister Brehan?” he inquires over the roar of passing cabs. I nod spastically as I stride on. I don’t lie to my friends but I don’t want to tell him that it’s not work I’m late for. Every Tuesday and Friday morning for the past two years, work has been the last thing on my mind. Instead my brain jumps in flashes, like a bad T.V connection. Long auburn hair. Dirty, discoloured walls. 8.25$.

07.58 AM
I notice her through the dingy windows, stacked high with packets of Doritos and Vaseline. Her shift is just finishing and she looks glorious – I’ve caught her before she leaves.

07.59 AM
The bell jingles as I enter. In here the smell is different. It smells like hospital sanitizer, too clean to be natural, it doesn’t smell like reality. I notice her looking at me and I adjust my glasses before smiling at her. I head in a daze to the food section. Two packets of bowtie pasta find their way into my basket followed quickly a bottle of cheap wine. 3.00$ and 5.25$.

08.02 AM
She wants to leave but she knows she can’t while I’m still there. I make my way up to the counter where I deposit the basket. She beeps the items mechanically while I wait for her to start the conversation. She remains silent. I wonder if something is wrong. Usually she asks about my week, my work, my dog. She announces the price in a robotic voice, but I know it before she evens opens her mouth. 8.25$. The same as every other Sunday morning for the past two years.

08.03 AM
I’m about to ask her what’s wrong when I notice something moving on the video cam monitor behind the cash desk. Another man is in the building. He’s hugging a big bag out of which a 20$ bill has just fluttered out. He’s wearing an oversized hoodie and is crouching behind the counter, out of sight of anyone in the story. He’s clutching a gun shakily and has it aimed at the girl’s temple. He can’t see me, he doesn’t know I’ve seen him but his teeth grind together amidst the silence. He knows I’m here.

08.04 AM
Time has slowed down. I look at the girl. She knows I’ve seen Hoodie Man. Her big doe eyes are pleading. I can read everything I’ve wanted to see in them for two year and more. I look at the monitor again and all I see now is the gun. Black, shining. It smells like smoke and death. I glance back at the frail figure standing in the range of fire, as beautiful as every other morning, even more still for facing death. Two years. 8.25$.

08.06 AM
Out in the bustling street again, weighed down by documents, cigarettes, two packets of bowtie pasta, a bottle of Saint-Chinian, gum and nothing more, surrounded by the familiar scent of overcooked hot dog meat and old coffee, I hear a gunshot from the convenience store behind me. I finger the empty white tube in my pocket, before walking away. I don’t look back.




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