Every morning on the train the same thing. The thin guy, all angled limbs like a praying mantis, doing his best to discretely ogle her chest. She thinks she really should tell him she’s a wake-up. Wonders how would he’d react if she raised her voice and labelled him a perv in front of the whole carriage.
On the station platform, where Joanna buys her 8am latte, the same woman always pushes to the front of the queue. Ferret-face, Jo calls her. In her mind. The routine is so familiar Jo has taken to stepping sideways as the woman burrows into her peripheral vision. It’s the only way to avoid the bruises dispensed by Ferret’s bolstered shoulder bag.
In the office, umpteen emails announce yet another procedural review or a new subcommittee to probe the nuances of a report commissioned by a sister panel. Departments with increasingly overlapping empires burgeon like mistletoe, sucking the life out of the host.
Jo rolls her eyes at yet another communique announcing that external consultants are surveying staff about job satisfaction, morale, workplace efficiency and employee retention. She’s tempted to speak her mind this time, to give it to them with both barrels. Tell them that good ideas and genuine initiative are suffocated beneath mountains of bureaucratic manure and drowned out by the snarls of territorial middle managers. She won’t say it though. Her rebellion goes no further than selecting the neutral button that signals neither approval or disapproval. She gives them nothing.
During her lunch break, Jo goes to the same cafeteria every day. Even though they know her by name and greet her with Mediterranean ebullience, they continue to load her salad roll with onion, despite her repeated requests to the contrary. Jo has stopped reminding them. Instead she sits at a corner table, forking out allium slivers and flicking the pages on a magazine nine months out of date. It passes the time.
At home, she tries and fails to make eye contact with her 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. Nathan rarely lifts his gaze from his gaming and Bianca only communicates by texting. Jo despairs that her children are so conditioned to constant electronic and social media stimulation that they’re effectively suffering from ADHD. If she denies them their screens at mealtimes, they don’t know where to look. Hey, in their minds, converse is a trade name, not a verb. They’re bored in 30 seconds. They lack the imagination to generate their own fun. Flick the news on and they complain, apparently devoid of curiosity about the galaxies beyond their own immediate orbits.
Tonight though, trouble is brewing. She asks for the fourth time for help setting the table and mashing the potatoes. Nothing. Nathan responds by placing headphones over his ears. Bianca keeps messaging her mates. Jo doesn’t bother speaking again.
Leaning over the couch, Jo snatches Bianca’s phone and throws it into the pot of boiling spuds. Then she strides across the living room and unplugs the television. The invective hurled at her barely registers – apart from Bianca’s, “I hate you, Mum!”
As Jo grabs the dog’s lead and slams the flywire door behind her, a wondrous thought occurs. Perhaps Bianca is capable of speaking her mind after all.