One year after the first one, she had another. She felt it coming on with a mixture of dread and almost impersonal fascination. How could it be happening again?
The first episode had seemed like the end of the world but the recovery was so fast, so astonishingly complete that she was morally certain that the matter was settled. As her doctor kept saying, it was exactly as if a broken egg had spontaneously reassembled itself. “As good as new,” were his exact words, uttered with amazement. There was not the slightest trace of visible damage. Extensive tests were done, academic papers were written, precedents sought: the conclusion of the medical researchers was that she was truly an anomaly. She’d seen a psychiatrist who claimed it was “attention-seeking behavior”. It was only thanks to her doctor, who had a friend of a friend, that she’d managed to get this job.
Now there was the same threatening tremor, the same electric-blue glow in the periphery of her vision. As much as she hated to admit it, she knew there was nothing to do but to wait for the event itself. Would it be a matter of minutes? Or days?
With a trembling hand, she adjusted the drinking glasses on the tray in the boardroom. Mr. Groot was reading through his notes, moving his lips; he wouldn’t notice anyway. He never did; rarely had she met anyone less perceptive about other people. To be honest, it was one of the things she appreciated about him; his disinterestedness allowed her to relax a little, to think her own thoughts.
“Could I have some water please?” He murmured absently, as if to himself.
Already pouring the cold water into a glass, she smiled at his predictability.
“Here you are.”
“Thank you,” he extended his hand. But just as she was giving it to him, it happened. A flash passed across her eyes, she gasped as if she’d been electrocuted, and she dropped the glass.
“What the hell are you doing?” he cried in dismay. Water had spilled on the sleeve of his suit coat and all over his handwritten notes, smudging the inky words and diagrams
“Oh! I’m terribly sorry!” She fled the room to fetch a cloth from the staff kitchen.
While she was in the staff kitchen rummaging around in the cupboard for a dry cloth, she heard the murmur of voices through the wall. It sounded like Charlotte and Liz from Finance, and they mentioned her name. Standing up quickly, Diane felt dizzy and steadied herself against the counter. Closing her eyes, she heard what they were saying with perfect clarity.
“There’s something funny about her. I can’t put my finger on it, but it gives me the chills. That robotic manner.”
“Where was she working before? Is she even from here?”
“Not sure, my boyfriend thinks she looks familiar but isn’t sure why.”
“She doesn’t have family here, does she?”
“Don’t think so. No wedding ring or anything.”
“Well no wonder. I bet she doesn’t even really sleep—she just reaches around and flips the switch at night.”
Diane put a hand to her temple, wincing at a sudden pressure. Pulling herself up to a standing position, she smoothed her skirt and exhaled. On her way to the boardroom, she stopped outside the Finance Room and looked in.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” she smiled tersely. “I was just in the kitchen and heard you were here. Can I get you some coffee perhaps?”
The women shrank back a little, shaking their heads. They looked like cats that had been sprayed with holy water.
The meeting finished early and Mr. Groot and Diane were left alone. Mr. Groot coughed and hummed, smoothing his tie the way he always did when he was nervous. It was decorated with a Christmas pattern—sprigs of holly—and she recognized it as one she had chosen for him (on behalf of employees) a few months ago.
“Diane,” he said, “Before you go…Ah, uhum, a word?”
“Yes, Mr. Groot?” she replied.
“Yes. Ah…” he looked a little lost. “It’s about, you know…just before, what happened with the water.” He frowned at the carpet. “Has this been going on long?”
“What do you mean?”
“This, er, relapse of yours.”
“Oh!” she laughed lightly, affecting surprise. “That! Oh no, this isn’t that. What happened now was just a little clumsiness, that’s all. I do apologize.”
“That’s all it was?” he looked relieved. “Ah, then it’s my turn to apologize.”
“Don’t mention it,” she smiled.
“Would you like time off to see the specialist? You see, it’s so unlike you, that—”
“Not at all. I have a slight headache, that’s all.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” he said, “It’s terrible the way I make you work so hard, I feel guilty about it. What if it led to your becoming tired and coming apart–”
“Oh no, I enjoy keeping busy—it’s good for me!” she hastily corrected him.
“I thought you did,” he said, mollified. “But, you know, our agreement when I hired you was that, well, I wouldn’t have any choice if–” he broke off and looked so uncomfortable she felt sorry for him.
“Yes, of course, we agreed that if it were to happen again, then there could be no question of me staying on here at the company. But believe me, it’s all fine. I’m fine.”
He stood up a little straighter.
“Good, I’m glad to hear it. After all, Miss Beckett, we’d be sorry to lose you. You learned everything so quickly and now, well, I don’t know what we’d do without you.” He smiled unconvincingly.
As she was locking up supplies before leaving for the day, Diane overheard steps approaching the elevator. Slipping further into the storeroom so that she couldn’t be seen, she overheard Charlotte’s voice.
“My boyfriend looked her up on the internet and it turns out I was right! She is a freak. Listen to this, it’s a newspaper piece from last year! “A downtown block was closed off today, with several emergency vehicles called to the scene due to a disruption at the vitamin company WholeWorks. According to witnesses, sudden, the disruption involved a 33-year-old female employee. Although weapons were not involved and no one was injured, people leaving the scene appeared to be in shock. When Entown News tried to question them about the incident, a policeman informed us that they were contractually bound to silence on the matter but an official statement could be released that evening.”
“Wow! But how does he know it was her?” Liz asked.
“Because she used to be an assistant at WholeWorks—that’s how my friend knew her. She was a rep for them. And then, about a year ago, soon after this happened, she disappeared suddenly.”
“So what happened?”
“No one knows,” Charlotte said. “I think it might even be some kind of FBI secret shit.”
“Well, I think we have a right to know!” Liz said. “Someone should mention this to management. We could be at risk!”
The next few weeks had the potential to be painful. There was a lot of whispering in corners, and everyone, including Mr. Groot observed her surreptitiously. Ordinarily, Diane would have felt crushed on all sides, forlorn and oppressed. Instead, she experienced a kind of impersonal distance from herself and at the same time an odd sense of exhilaration and anticipation. Not long now, she found herself smiling, no, it certainly isn’t long now.
In keeping with her orderly nature, she started making preparations. In the evenings after work, she cleaned her apartment and systematically disposed of things she didn’t need. She finalized her will and cancelled her utilities, memberships and subscriptions. Finally, she composed a letter addressed ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and left it on her table, under an ammonite paperweight.
One Monday, about a month after the glass-dropping incident, things came to a head—or rather, a hand. All three departments were in the corner room having a weekly briefing. Mr. Groot was talking about quarterly sales and pointing to the white board with a little laser dot.
Suddenly, her right hand became detached from the wrist and started listlessly floating away in the current of the air conditioner. Diane kept absolutely still hoping that no one would notice. At first, indeed, no one did notice. Some of them were sleeping, others were looking at their phones, and Mr. Groot was too busy laser-pointing key figures to notice.
It was Charlotte who first raised the alarm. When the hand drifted past her at eye level, she looked at it wonderingly then gave a strangled gasp and hurled herself sideways, knocking the dozing Liz off her chair and upsetting the cup of coffee on the desk.
“It’s a ha- , a ha- AND!” Charlotte wailed, pointing.
Everyone turned their heads to look. Some screamed, others scrambled to get out of their seats, knocking tables over to run out of the room. Mr. Groot stood looking at the melee, confused—he didn’t seem to have realized what had happened yet. A couple of guys had taken off their jackets and were approaching it cautiously, as if about to wrestle a crocodile.
Silently, Diane stood up, walked over and grabbed the hand with her left one, and put it in her pocket. She then turned to Mr. Groot.
“Please accept my resignation as of today, as per our agreement,” she said and walked away with her head held high.
Later that day, commuters reported seeing what looked like crows flying home to roost but that, on closer inspection, were human body parts floating in the warm spring air: an ear, a foot in a kitten heel, a shoulder…attempts to retrieve them have so far been unsuccessful.