Hannah chews the end of her pen and glares at the laptop. She’s sick to death of staring at the same three words on her screen – Tax Auditing Software. She’s changed the font and the color a million times to see if that inspired her, but now the relentless flashing of the cursor just seems to be mocking her lack of progress.
Collapsing back in her chair, she scowls at her computer and mutters under her breath. Why couldn’t her boss, Elaine have given her the two-person sweatshirt? Or even the windscreen wipers for spectacles. Yes, they were weird, but anything was better than trying to create a successful marketing campaign for an online tax program.
“I know you’ll come up with something quirky,” said Elaine, her eyes fixed on her screen, her fingers flying over the keys.
She’d been about to leave when Elaine had stopped her frantic typing and spun round in her chair. Peering at Hannah over the top of her glasses she’d said: “You know what they say, there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.”
Hannah had rolled her eyes as she’d pushed off the doorframe and headed back to her desk. Right, nice one. Cheers Elaine. Thanks for those uplifting words. As if a wet Thursday in January wasn’t miserable enough already, she thinks.
Hannah hunches over her keyboard and scribbles on the pad next to her. She’s still got no idea how to make tax sound exciting, but it’s given her plenty of time to perfect her doodling skills. Her drawings have become more elaborate as the minutes ticked by.
She’s just putting the finishing touches to the grim reaper when Elaine leans over her shoulder. Hannah jumps and half-turns in her seat, attempting to cover the page with her arm.
“I know what I said about death and taxes, but I didn’t expect you take me quite so literally,” said Elaine, shaking her head and laughing. Reaching into her jacket pocket, she pulls out a couple of notes: “Why don’t you go and grab us some coffee and cakes from across the road. I think we could all do with some caffeine.”
Snatching her coat off the hook by the door, Hannah pauses by the window overlooking the high street. As the rain hammers against the glass, she watches a jumble of umbrellas zig zag along the pavement. She presses her face up against the window and sees that traffic is backed up for miles; the relentless drizzle reflected in the arc of the car headlights.
Gross. Even the weather hates this time of year.
As she passes the meeting room, she knocks and turns the handle. Peering round the door, she catches Jason killing the display on the overhead screen. Paul shuffles the papers on the table and shoves a games console underneath his notepad.
“Busted!” said Hannah, laughing as the pair sigh with relief and lean back in their chairs. “So much for brainstorming the latest client account!
“I think Elaine’s realized that we all need caffeine if we’re going to get any work done, so she’s sending me across the road to Perkatory. What do you guys want?”
Hannah runs through the list in her head; four chocolate brownies, two cappuccinos, one flat white and a cup of tea with just a splash of milk. She rolls her eyes. Only Paul would order tea from a coffee shop.
She’s only a few steps from the office door when the wind whips round the corner of the building, flipping her umbrella inside out. As she shakes the flimsy canopy in front of her, she feels the strap of her bag slip off her shoulder. She’s so busy looping it across her chest and hanging onto the umbrella that she almost walks into a deep puddle. As she hops over it, she feels her shoe slide on the wet paving slabs.
She attempts to regain her balance, but her momentum carries her forward and she feels herself toppling over the edge of the pavement. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a flash of blue.
She strikes the side of the car and is thrown backwards, slamming against the curb. The female driver throws open the door and rushes round to where Hannah is lying. “I didn’t see her. I didn’t. She just stepped out in front of me. It wasn’t my fault,” she tells the crowd of people gathered in the road.
Okay lady chill, thinks Hannah, wincing as she pushes herself up. Her knee is bleeding and her side aches. God, how embarrassing that all these people should witness her fall quite so spectacularly.
“I’m fine, honestly,” said Hannah as she scrabbles round looking for her umbrella. “Thanks so much for stopping. I appreciate it.”
She pushes her way back to the pavement and spies her umbrella lying crushed beneath the wheels of the car. Damn. Now she’ll have to buy another one
Pulling her coat collar up, she lowers her head and hurries towards the pedestrian crossing. As she waits for the lights to change, she feels the rain trickle down her face. She wipes the water away, but as she brings her hand back down, she notices that it’s covered in blood. Hannah rubs at the cut on her head and looks up at the sky. What a bloody awful day, she says out loud. She hopes she’ll be able to clean herself up in the bathrooms at Perkatory whilst they’re getting her order together.
She’s just about to push through the café door, when one of the barista’s turns the lock and pins a notice on the glass: Sorry. Back in 15 minutes.
Hannah bristles. He hadn’t looked sorry. He’d looked her directly in the eye and still shut the door in her face. If the coffee wasn’t so good, then she’d never go back there.
She glances at her watch and notices that the face is smashed. Great! It looks like it’s going to be 3.17 forever. This day just gets better and better. Cursing, Hannah kicks at the brick wall of the café.
She lets out a deep breath and leans against Perkatory’s doorframe. Calm down Hannah. It’s just 15 minutes she chides herself.
Looking along the high street, she sees the twinkling blue and red lights of the supermarket’s neon sign reflected in the puddles. She’s got time to go and buy an umbrella before heading back to pick up the coffees. Her pace is slow as she avoids the deep pools of rainwater on the pavement. She’s not taking any more chances today.
As she waits in line for the checkout, she tries to block out of the incessant whining of the little boy in front of her. He pulls on his mum’s coat and points to the sweets piled up by the counter. “No Gavin. Not now. You won’t eat your dinner otherwise,” his mum snaps, pushing his hand away.
The boy glares at his mother and stomps his foot, his trainer catching Hannah’s bruised leg. “Hey! Watch what you’re doing you little fuc…” she growls through gritted teeth, only just managing to stop herself swearing.
But there’s no apology. The pair barely look at her.
Hannah bends down to rub her leg. As she stands back up, she’s just in time to see the cashier placing the till closed sign down in front of her.
“Hey! Hey! You’ve got to be bloody joking, right?” yells Hannah as the woman shoves her name tag into her pocket and walks away.
Slamming the umbrella down on the counter, Hannah storms out of the shop.
“That’s it,” she shouts, as people sweep by on either side of her. “I'm done! Paul or Jason can go back and get the bloody drinks.”
As she hobbles back towards the office, Hannah winces. She can feel a blister forming on her heal where the leather has rubbed her skin raw. “And I’m chucking these bloody shoes out too,” she mutters under her breath. “Pushing me into a car…”
Looking up from her feet, Hannah glances along the road and freezes. Her eyes narrow as she notices a crowd standing outside her office. A police officer is blocking traffic, sending cars back down the high street. She stands quite still, mesmerized by the flashing blue lights.
As she gets closer, she sees a police cordon is keeping people back. She shakes her head. It looks like there’s been an accident at the exact same spot where she tripped earlier. How awful.
A female police officer writes in her notepad, pausing every so often to pat the arm of a sobbing woman. Hannah squeezes past two men in business suits so she can hear a little better.
“I’ve told you. She just stepped out in front of me. There was nothing I could do,” said the woman, breaking down and covering her face with her hands.
That’s weird, thinks Hannah. She looks like the same woman from earlier. Did she hit someone else too?
She turns sideways and shoulders her way through the crowd. She just wants to get into the office. Even the thought of writing about tax doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
Just as she’s about to go through the door, she sees Elaine talking to a police officer. Hannah calls out to her, but she doesn’t react. She mustn’t be able to hear her over all the noise.
“Hey, you’re going to have to send one of the boys out for the coffees,” said Hannah as she draws level with Elaine. “You wouldn’t believe the afternoon I’ve had.”
Hannah frowns when Elaine doesn’t look round. She watches as her boss fumbles in her pockets for a tissue and wipes away the tears that are rolling down her cheeks. Jason appears at her side and pulls Elaine into a hug.
“I’m sorry officer. Of course, I can give you her contact details,” said Elaine, twisting the tissue round in her fingers. “It’s just such a shock. She’d only nipped out to get coffees for everyone.”
She takes a deep breath and looks up at the police officer: “Hannah. Her name was Hannah Jeffries.”
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