Disappointing Nelson (The Temps’ Revolt)

“He was judging me,” she diced the onions thick and fast, letting both sting behind her eyes.

The room judged her in return. “How’d he do that?”

She slid the onions into the sizzling pan, and let it spit and hiss while she thought up a response.

“He eyeballed me the entire time.”

“What was he doing in the basement?”

“They’d shoved the two of us down there, out of sight.”

She’d sat there all day, typing, while he hovered overhead, forever watching her. It was unnerving, his constant disdain from his gilded frame. He and she were entwined, thick as thieves, at first.

She did little, stretching out her tasks as long as possible and dawdling on the internet, but then boredom and fear would drive her back to the same tired activity, and so the endless rotation of excel spreadsheets, and procrastination would perpetuate until the damned thing was done.

Still over all of this he remained an endless presence. A presence that shook its head at what she had become, some mindless drone doing pointless tasks that she could have achieved having graduated high school.

He became cantankerous, then forlorn and later he wondered what she could have done, where she could have swerved in her long line of failures to not end up in this position. Largely, though he was disappointed, and that was what grated. He thought she could do better, and he was right. He had been here long before, and better versions of his portrait dotted the halls upstairs, but this one, this one knew he had nothing to prove and that she, she had everything to.

Jess’s friend Bex took over the cooking, she was a psychology graduate making latte art at the local coffee shop, she could understand a mental crisis when she saw one. She also knew the exact way they should be rectifying this, and it wasn’t what they’d been doing now, for far too long.

“We should be psychopaths.”



“You think we should murder people?”

“You’re thinking sociopaths,” said Bex.

“That’s not what I’m thinking at all.”

Bex prepared her soap-box address, she was ready to line this out for them, she had thought long and hard about success and how little she had of it, and she knew there was another way.

“Psychopaths, like cream, rise to the top and they get there because they don’t care. About anyone.”

While Bex made coffees, day in day out, for executives, hipsters and the odd OAP, she imagined the lives they held outside. The lives she imagined always seemed so much more interesting than hers. The guy in the suit and tie, with the hidden full-sleeve tattoos, the knuckle rings and the spiky voice, who always had a caramel latte, extra hot, surely had something going on under the surface. The nastier the conversation he was having over the phone, the sweeter his order got. See the coffee she served held many purposes, but largely it was to placate the life of a worker bee. It was to perk up and start again, to distract, to get through, to keep calm, to keep stable. By in large it was to avoid the emotional pain of living, which from 8am-6pm, usually meant the emotional pain of working.

Now a psychopath – would they be subject to such needs? They don’t register anyone’s emotions but their own, they play mind-games and manipulations to get what they want and they think nothing of the moral consequences.

Truth is bendable, post-truth, post-hence.

“A psychopath would get to where they wanted to be, by any means possible.”

Jess stirred the pot. A psychopath wouldn’t be in a basement typing things into a spreadsheet, they’d be head of the company. They’d install some virus, that only they could remove, they’d rewire the building to electrocute the CEO, they’d give everyone food-poisoning, they’d infiltrate the temping agency and take the city.

“They’d infiltrate the temp agency and take the city.”

“Take the what?” Kath eyed them both from over her laptop like they were idiots. While Jess was temping her life away and Bex made babycinos, Kath had it figured out. She had a timeline, it was drawn up on graph paper and stuck to her wall, when she didn’t have company.

She was 25 and yeah, she was off-base. 25 was meant to see her in a non-specific high-ranking career, well on her way to good pay days, a house and a spouse. She was an intern at a small start-up, raking in meagre dough, in the evenings she was teaching herself how to code and doing a little freelancing, on weekends she waitressed events. That summer had seen her hiking up her hemlines, in the interests of better tips. But she knew if she covered enough ground and really leaned in, she get far. Really, really far, hopefully far enough that she wasn’t even in this grey city.

Jess was in the zone, she figured out how she’d make her way through the boredom and misery that was the working life, she’d manipulate her way to the top. Lie, sabotage and steal. She’d looked to government, and seen that it worked.

But first she had to free Nelson.

“He’s a symbol, a guiding light, and he’s just hanging there, gathering dust. In the basement.”

Jess wandered back and forth, while Bex tried to interject, she knew what this was really about, but perhaps this was a chance to test her psychopathy theory. They should work for their own self-interests, seeing as no one else was.

Kath flipped her laptop down.

“You realise I’m online right now. “

They nodded.

“Someone could hack into my laptop’s video and see us planning a heist.”

A smile gathered at her lips, their eyes glistened. Now this was something to sink their teeth into.

For all those under-used, talented people out there, they just needed to re-dedicate themselves to a life of crime.


The three women sat outside the bar, jammed on a brick wall between cigarette butts and old, discarded pint glasses.

“There are three stages to a heist,” said Skittles, “and none of them involve you.”

Skittles rammed skittles in her mouth and crunched; her hair and her tailoring were razor sharp, as was her tongue. These girls knew little to nothing about the real world, and they couldn’t even come to her with a decent scheme. You don’t steal what you can’t sell.

But Skittles was bored as shit, bartending and dealing here and there held no thrill. She needed her own business, her own crew. In one sentence, they were talking about nicking a worthless portrait due to the holiness of the subject, in the next they were talking about infiltrating the city, making the gophers, the subordinates – kings and ousting everyone else along the way.

That was the sort of heist she was interested in. If you controlled the city, you sure as shit controlled product and distribution. Entrepreneurial is what it was.

She rubbed her hands together and lit a cigarette, Kath caught a light, and exhaled a plan.

She mentioned she had graph paper and pens in her backpack. Skittles ushered them into the basement, where they could get cosy and hash it out.

In the darkly lit basement, with the barrels of beer, and a sticky table they rolled out the paper and defined their plan. First, they would take Nelson, then the temping agency, then the city, then they would take the nation.

Bex leaned back on her deck-chair, while the others squatted on all assortments of chair-like apparatus. “What are we taking it for? And where are we taking it to?”

There were grumbles at the table, and some noises of ‘she’s hit the nail on the head there.’

Skittles banged the table, then scraped her hands together to rid herself of the residue.


Bex nodded. “Power for the little guy.”

Skittles shook her head, “Power for me, I couldn’t give a shit about some little guy. The one’s on top are the ones on top, the ones in the gutter stay in the gutter. No one’s looking at the stars.”

Jess scribbled on the paper as Kath tried to bat her away. “An equal playing ground. How am I ever gonna get anywhere if I can’t get a seat at the table, and the one’s before you got in there easier, because ‘times were different’ but once they got in they rolled up the drawbridge behind them.”

Skittles narrowed her eyes at them. “This some knights of the roundtable shit? Someone insult your honour?”

They all muttered and scuffed their feet against the floor. Skittle drummed her hands against the table, and instantly regretted it.

“We’re not airing our grievances, we’re taking a stand.”

The table turned to their timeline drawer, the one who had absolute faith that if she absolutely just kept going, then she’d absolutely get ‘there.’ Wherever the mystical ‘there’ was. Was it a corner office, a business of her own, a bungalow to call her own, the likeliness of a pension, an occasional holiday? Each year she downgraded her certainties. Was she thinking too big, was she aiming too high? When you can’t get a job that pays, how can you make plans on graph paper that span your life in year-like increments. How can you foresee a future, when it doesn’t feel like anyone is invested in you having one?

When you keep downgrading your abilities, and squeezing yourself to fit into the cage that others built, how do you see past the bars?

Kath started a bullet-pointed list. The first was headed Free Mandela, the second was Temping Take-Down. To Free Mandela they would need:

  • A map of the building
  • A good forger

To take down the temping agency they would need:

  • An insider
  • A map of the building.

The rest of them looked quizzically at her rather limited lists.

“I’m starting to see how your whole ‘timeline’ thing hasn’t panned out,” said Bex.

Jess tapped the table with her pencil, “These are good starting points, but I’m like the insider in both.”

“Well you brought this to us,” said Kath, “You’re the leader, for better or worse.”

Skittles snorted, Bex looked affronted.

“Psychopathy isn’t a plan, I’m not sure it’s even the correct use of the term,” said Kath.



The Drive – part one

Her feet jut out from under the duvet into the cold and dark.

She was sprawled on her front, her mind still a hundred miles deep below the ground. Above the surface it rang and rang.  From the black, eyes a gritty-darkness, mind in some jet-lag of the sleep interrupted, her consciousness tries to claw its way towards the dim light of late-night, early morning.  

Slivers of light cast out from between the blinds. And the ringing kept on. She wipes away the eye-crust, and rips her feet out of the cold, to only hit cold floor.

She blind-stumbles and trips her way towards the noise, patting down heaps of clothes, her fingers become mitts, her phone, once found, an unyielding bar of wet soap.

Her voice cracked as she answered the phone, “Mum—“

She slumped on top of the pile of clothes on the wooden chair, hunching over, her head heavy in her hands.

“It’s 3am.”

She found herself nodding, in the cold and dark, still in a heavy fog, her bare legs shivering. She slipped out of the chair, still nodding and uhuh-ing, her mind and body beginning to thaw. There was a crisp silence behind the blinds, a pale white light. Still agreeing, she peeked between the slats and saw a thick layer of snow.

She wound the blinds up, phone clamped to her ear. The reflection of the street lamps and the full moon in the snow sharpened her blurry edges.

“Dad’s in hospital,” she said matter-of-fact, staring out onto the empty snowscape, still nodding.


The car door clunked shut. She rubbed her hands together and buried her neck in her scarf, trying to fiddle with the heat at the same time. The suburban street was buried under snow and emptied of souls. She felt like blasting the radio, but instead slipped her phone onto the dash and readied herself.

She turned over the engine just as her mother’s voice came over the line.

“Are you on your way?”

She steered her small car over the crisp snow, meeting the silent road with a bump.

“Seems like it.”

She was passing through her neighbourhood in slow motion, stuck in some excruciating treacle, when usually she’d zip by, strapping her seat belt on as she went, flipping the radio on without a care.

Confident others would move out of her way. Certain, she was moving forward.

She imagined her mother alone and confused under fluorescent lights while efficient yet anonymous health workers zipped past her, pressing her with questions she couldn’t find the words to answer, plying her with tea she didn’t dare drink. A shrunken figure suddenly immobilised by the hurried and the purposeful, when her certainty had been forever shaken.

The piercing, “Darling, are you bringing along husband number three?”, broke the spell. Perhaps she was mistaken, maybe her mother was directing these health workers instead, and they were purposefully, hurrying away from her.

“There’s no husband number three, husband number two was enough.”

She slowed to the traffic light’s red, on an empty junction, when a thought occurred to her, “Were you, are you planning a husband number two?”

“That’s a bit morbid darling, but no sounds like a lot of work for not a lot of ROI. Return on your investment.”

There was a lengthy pause.

“Not that I don’t love your father, Eddie darling, you know I just don’t need another one.”

“Yes he,” she stumbles over her words, and scratches at her face, “is unique.” She winds the window down to let a little ice-cold air onto her face.

She seems to have zoned out of the conversation, her mother is zipping ahead, from what’s around her to memories and back again in the blink of an eye.

“…they just keep handing me Styrofoam cups of sludgy coffee and telling me he’s doing better. I had to leave the room, all those beeps and suction noises and he’s so small in there. Small and grey. They’ve got every support group notice sign on this wall. Should we call someone? He was only just telling me how he – he – he….”

There’s the scratching sound of Styrofoam being torn to pieces.

She catches a glimpse of a man at the side of the road swaddled in a what looks like a green duvet coat, hood up, holding a cardboard sign that reads ‘Anywhere.’ His gloved hands shaking slightly in the cold, he holds the sign up above his head as her headlights pass by, a look of elation in his eyes, waving his hands about as if he’d met a fellow traveller on a barren road to nowhere.

Which he had.

They were kindred spirits, he could tell.

She drove by at an embarrassingly low speed, slow enough to see his elation turn to bitter regret in her rear-view mirror. While her mother droned on in the background, tearing apart endless coffee cups as she did.

“Mum, I’m just going to be a second.”

She painfully reversed back toward him, slow and steady, focusing on the road and tuning out her mum’s recitation of every available support group in the area. Once she’d reached the man on his cold snowbank, she flung open the door and left the indicator dinging, the engine still running as she made a diplomat’s approach.

“Darling there’s overeaters’ anonymous, addicts of all kinds on here. I won’t go into too much detail, but sex, there’s a sex group here, very surreal. There’s grief support too. Can you imagine sitting there in a circle talking about how sad you are, about death while some other woman compares the loss of her 105 year old mother, which she knew about from the very beginning, got the chance to stroke her hand and lie beside her as she ‘slipped away’ to the death of your husband of 40 years who collapsed in front of you, and then they pulled off all those wires from him and you never could say a word to him. He didn’t slip away. He disappeared down some horrible black hole.”

The indicator keeps a rhythmic ding.

“Darling? Are you there?”


“The nurses are back with more coffee, telling me I’m getting agitated. Keep saying I should rest like I’m some ancient – of course, I’m getting agitated! Are you far?”

Silence, then a bundle of noise as the man and his duvet coat, and big hiking backpack awkwardly squeeze into the back of the small car. Eddie calls across as they struggle against his luggage.

“Mum? Sorry I picked up a man on the side of the road.”

The man in the back, fighting with his backpack, “Dylan, Mrs Peters”, an Irish lilt to his reply.

“You’ve picked up an Irishman off the side of the road?”

“Best place to find us, Mrs Peters,” Dylan dumps the bag, and slides into the passenger seat, still bundled up in his duvet coat.

“Eleanor, please. Well, nice to meet you Dylan.  Although in my day we’d be wary of men we picked up on the road, and I’m afraid to say, we’d be doubly worried about Irishmen.”

“Happily, it’s not your day mum, it’s long past your day, and Dylan was standing in the freezing cold.”

 “I was looking to get out to anywhere, even if that’s via a hospital for bad coffee and a little light racism.”

“Racism is downright awful, black children are just cherubs,  I’m very against discrimination.”

Eddie attempted to get a little heat from the car as she and Dylan strapped themselves in. She made a sympathetic face and mouthed ‘Sorry’, he shrugged and smiled at her.

“Me too, Mrs Peters, me too.”


“Of course.”

“They keep handing me cups and cups of the stuff, telling me to call someone, while I’m talking to you!”

Eddie’s face tightens into a grimace, she drives on and disappears into the flow of the road while she lets Dylan steer the conversation.


“Maybe you’re husband number three? She found number two in her friend’s bed.”

“That wasn’t how we met, that was how we ended. Dylan’s hitchhiking. Have you looked out the window? It’s freezing, outside.”

They crunched slowly across the snow, their breath fogging up the windscreen, so she has to wind down the window again.

Dylan bunches up his duvet coat, hood still up, scrunching his neck so he becomes a curiously hunched figure. He sticks his gloved hands deep in his pockets. Eddie tries to jimmy the heating just a little, it finally blows first shockingly cold air and then a slow pleasant heat. Dylan keeps his hands deep in his pockets, but Eddie winds the window shut again.

“Are Liberty, Egbert and Jiu-Jitsu coming too?”

Eddie rolls her eyes, and taps the mobile to mute herself, to Dylan. “She thinks she’s funny.”

He gives her a short smile. It’s been eight minutes or so since he was on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign, to ‘Anywhere’, his fingers nearly frozen off. He’d left the house before even the promise of the crack of dawn, not thinking of the cold, only thinking he couldn’t stay on this narrow cul-de-sac, behind a motorway near a drive-through Costa Coffee, a petrol station and miles of farmland, anymore.

He had no idea what was going on, except it was different.

“It’s barely 4am, mum. Justice, Lola and Eli won’t be up.”

“You mean you left them alone?”

Dylan pulls his dirt covered trainers up onto the dash, Eddie’s eyes narrow, as he shifts knocking the phone to the floor. He makes a crazed scramble for it as Eddie starts to yell towards the ground. He pulls his gloves from his hands with his teeth, then wrangles the phone from underneath his chair.

In an attempt to reach her mother Eddie alternates between screeching and yelling.

“OF COURSE NOT. They’re with friends. We’ll pick them up on the way. DON’T YOU WANT TO REST, mum? We’re going to be HOURS yet.”

Dylan successfully yanks the phone out and holds it aloft, only to return a crest-fallen Eleanor.

“I thought we’d keep each other company while I wait, and you drive. But you picked up company, I see. They’re bringing me some breakfast anyway.”

She clicks off, leaving Dylan and Eddie silent, while an enormous gritting truck screeches alongside them, flinging grit which spatters against the windscreen, as Eddie flicks on the wipers.

“She’ll call back in half an hour and it’ll be forgotten. Which gives me a little time to find my kids.”