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Some Other Katherine

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Katherine didn’t like to think of herself as sad. It had a defeatist ring about it. It lacked the pizzazz of, say, rage or mania. But she had to admit that these days she was waking up sad a lot more often than she was waking up happy. Weekends were worst; workdays varied. The weather was largely inconsequential.

Time in front of the mirror didn’t help. She got ready in a rush, then adjusted incrementally later. She hadn’t been eating well. Things were happening to her skin that she didn’t like. Her gums bled onto the toothbrush. It struck her that she was becoming ugly at a grossly inopportune time. Breakfast was frequently skipped in favour of something unhealthy halfway through her working morning. She couldn’t leave the house without a minimum of three cups of coffee inside her. Recently, she had started smoking again. It helped cut the gloom.

For the past two years, Katherine, having moved from London to Norwich by mistake, had been the facilities manager at a local telecommunications company. Her job centred on the finer points of workplace management. She was paid, she liked to say, to be an obsessive–compulsive. She monitored chairs for ongoing ergonomic acceptability and suitable height in relation to desks and workstations, which she checked in turn to ensure compliance with both company guidelines and national standards for safe and healthy working environments. She performed weekly fire-alarm checks and logged the results. Each morning she inspected the building for general standards of hygiene, presentation and safety. She fired at least one cleaner per month.

She was widely resented and almost constantly berated. People phoned or messaged at least every hour. Their chairs, their desks, the air conditioning, the coffee maker, the water cooler, the fluorescent strip lighting – nothing was ever to their liking. The numerous changes Katherine was obliged to implement in order to keep step with current health and safety legislation made her the public advocate of widely bemoaned alterations. Smokers had to walk further from the building. Rooms had to be rearranged. Breaks had to be renegotiated. Her job allowed no flexibility, meaning that she frequently came off as humourless and rigid. She took comfort, however, in the ease with which she could write off enmity as a response to her job role, as opposed to her personality.

Aside from the basic majority of colleagues who couldn’t stand her, there also existed a splinter group comprising the men who wanted to fuck her. Some of them wanted to fuck her because they liked her, and some of them wanted to fuck her because they hated her. This suited Katherine reasonably well. Sometimes she fucked men because she felt good about herself, and sometimes she fucked them because she hated herself. The trick was to find the right man for the right moment, because fucking a man who hated you when you were actually having a rare moment of liking yourself was deeply counterproductive, and fucking a man who was sort of in love with you at the peak of your self-hatred was nauseating.

To date, Katherine had fucked three men in her office, one of whom, Keith, she was still fucking on a semi-regular basis. The other two, Brian and Mike, had faded ingloriously into the middle distance, lost amid the M&S suits and male-pattern baldness. Brian had been first. She’d broken her no-office rule for Brian and, with hindsight, it hadn’t been anywhere near worth it. She’d broken her married-man rule too, and the rule about men with kids. She resented this because it afforded Brian a sense of history he in no way deserved. The reality was, at a time in her life when Katherine had made a conscious and not entirely irrational decision to jettison so many of the rules by which she had up to that point lived her life, Brian had been in the immediate vicinity, and, moreover, had been a living exemplar of several of those rules. Hence the sex, which had happened quite suddenly one Tuesday afternoon after he’d given her a lift home from work, continued through to the following month, and then ended when Katherine began wondering if some of her rules had in actual fact been quite sensible. Brian was fifty-something (another broken rule, now that she thought about it), fat, and in the midst of an epic crisis. He drove a yellow Jaguar and had a son called Chicane. They never finished with each other. Katherine simply ceased to acknowledge his existence and the message was quietly, perhaps even gratefully, received.

Mike was, on the outside at least, different. He was Katherine’s age (thirty, although there was room for adjustment depending on her mood), single, and surprisingly good in bed. Even more surprisingly, Katherine found him to be capable of several almost-full-length conversations when the mood took him. Their affair (it wasn’t really an affair, but Katherine liked to define it as such because it added value to the experience and because she’d not long previously fucked Brian and was hoping that she might be in a phase of having affairs, which would of course completely legitimize her sleeping with Mike) lasted almost two months. It ended when Mike found out that Katherine had slept with Brian. Much to Katherine’s irritation, Mike turned out to be in possession of what he proudly called a moral compass. Katherine was not impressed. As far as she was concerned, morals were what dense people clung to in lieu of a personality. She told Mike as much after he tried to annex the high ground over the whole adultery issue. He ignored her. He couldn’t respect her, he said. Katherine would always remember him walking away from the drinks cooler, shaking his head and muttering softly.

All this had been a while ago, and there had been other, non-office-based men floating around during the same time period. Nothing had gone well. She’d been waking up sad a lot more often. The thing with her skin had started. She’d gained weight, then lost it, then lost a little more. Sleep was becoming increasingly difficult. Once, during a stretch of annual leave she’d taken purely to use up her quota, she’d swallowed a fistful of pills and curled up in bed waiting to die, only to wake up five hours later in a puddle of vomit, many of the pills still whole in the mess. She had words with herself. She got dressed the next day and did her make-up and went into the city and collided with Keith, who suggested coffee, then food, then violent, bruising sex in his garage, her stomach pressed against the hot, ticking metal of his car bonnet.

‘I remember once . . .’ said Keith, lying back against the car afterwards, Katherine beside him, both of them smoking and waiting for the pain to subside. ‘What was I . . . Fuck it, it’s gone.’

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