Terry was on his lunch break. He was numb, sitting there on the park bench eating his sandwich, with the vacant, glazed over look that you see in people when they are off thinking about something. He couldn’t even taste his sandwich, and he didn’t even know he was thinking. He was just there, quietly chewing, like a sophisticated, well-mannered zombie.
A dog approached him and he felt like he woke up for a moment. A little energetic dog that seemed intensely interested in sniffing any new object that appeared, which included the feet of Terry. He watched the dog absorbed by its own senses, absolutely ravenous for some new fragrance or odor to understand the world with.
“Stupid dog,” he thought, as it was pulled away by a mildly apologetic owner.
He went back to his sandwich, which seemed as bland as his mood.
Then another dog came along. A bigger one this time. Very big, brown and black and dangerous-looking. It ran up off of its leash and put its head right in Terry’s lap. Its big slobbery jaws were after the rest of his sandwich, which he had to raise up and away from the reach of the teeth, whilst gently trying to guide the dog’s head away with his other hand. But the dog seemed hungry, and quite disrespectful of Terry’s position as owner of the sandwich, and it jumped up with its front legs on to the thighs of Terry, and went for his sandwich again. It towered above Terry like some kind of hairy, and yet slightly handsome monster.
“Rufus! Oh Rufus you naughty boy!” called the owner who came running over, a pompous and wealthy-looking middle aged woman, who was wearing a big fur coat, blue dress down to her shins, and rather high heels for a walk in the park. Her fat face beneath strangely rich-looking red hair seemed rather angry at the dog, and at the same time, rather proud of it. She quickly trotted over to grab the dog by his collar and yanked him off of Terry with all of her might. She nearly dropped her handbag to the ground.
“Oh I’m sorry about him, what are they like, eh?” she asked Terry.
Terry was still trying to chew his food.
“Come on poppet, let’s go,” she said to the dog, who was still eager for that sandwich.
“Why don’t you learn how to keep a dog like that? Why don’t you train him to behave?” shouted Terry at the lady. He didn’t say anything though, he just shouted it in his own head.
He looked down and saw he now had muddy paw prints and strands of saliva all over his suit trousers. Now he had evidence for complaint.
He stood from the bench and walked after the lady down the concrete path that led through the park.
“Excuse me!” he called. The dog heard him first and turned, and seeing he was still holding one last piece of sandwich, broke away from the lady and bounded towards Terry. The dog jumped up, springing towards him with outstretched limbs, so that its whole body left the Earth. It flew through the air and collided with Terry who had just begun to flinch, knocking him backwards and to the ground with a large thud. The dog bit the sandwich from his hands, and jumped off with a sniff of approval.
“Oh Rufus!” the owner said again, sounding slightly annoyed. “I do wish you wouldn’t jump like that you silly old boy! Oh I’m very sorry about that,” she said in Terry’s direction, and was about to leave him without another word.
“Um excuse me!” Terry demanded angrily at the lady, who looked completely shocked that a strange man would raise his voice like this at her. He stood up from the ground and marched over to her.
Terry’s forthcoming complaint seemed to fall on deaf ears. The woman seemed to listen and agree, with more apologies, but still did not seem to take on board Terry’s view – that her dog was her responsibility to manage, train and control to the degree that it would no longer disturb other people or their sandwiches.
“What can I do? He just seems to do whatever he likes!” she would repeat to Terry, who would grow further enraged every time she said it.
“I tend to be very good with dogs,” she continued, “but he just seems to do as he pleases sometimes. You know how dogs can be, I’m sure.”
That was it for Terry. Terry was fairly tolerant, he thought – he mostly kept his thoughts to himself – but once his temper rose to a certain point, he could become very nasty. He called her an extremely rude name, preceded by an insulting description of her appearance, and off he strode back to his bench, where the dog, Rufus, was now exploring the inside of Terry’s rucksack that he had left there.
“Oi!” Terry yelled, running up to the bench, pushing the dog away and snatching his rucksack from around its face.
The dog barked at him, then began to snarl with its teeth exposed and lips pulled back. Terry considered whether or not he was about to get into an actual fight with a dog. His legs seemed to fill with nerves. He had heard somewhere that there is a certain way to kill it if it gets on top of you, something about snapping its legs outwards so that its ribcage collapses into its lungs. Then there was the old kick in the chest. He drew his leg back, when at that moment, the woman, looking rather angry and ruffled at how she had just been spoken to – pulled the dog away from Terry and away back down the path.
Now Terry’s bag was wet inside, and the rest of his food had gone.
“I’ll kill that dog if he comes near me again!” he called after the pair, to which the lady shouted back, without turning:
“You wouldn’t dare!”
He wiped himself off as best he could with his napkins in his pocket, and made his way back to the office.
“Oi Tezza,” Darren declared with a sick-looking smile from behind his computer screen, as Terry returned to his desk. “Old Gorril wants a word with ya. Better go see him now if I was you. How long you ‘ad for lunch?”
He looked rather smug as he sat there, opposite Terry, squeezing his favourite stress-ball whilst sitting back in his chair. The pink bulge of the goo-filled rubber sack was bursting up and out between his fingers.
Without sitting down, Terry put down his bag and made his way to his manager’s office. There was still that old stale smell in the office, and a stuffy feeling of drudgery in the air.
He knocked on the door.
“Come in,” came the reply.
Terry walked in with an attempt at an open, smiling face as he entered, looking at the man behind the desk, Mr Gorril. His boss’s face always seemed red, and his stomach could be seen to be folding over his own desk, as if it was resting, or trying to climb out and get on to his keyboard.
“Ah, Terrence, please take a seat.”
He didn’t like being called Terrence, but that was what he wrote on his CV.
“Good gosh you look a bit ragged,” said Old Gorril. “All red in the face. And look at your trousers! You look like you’ve been rolling around in the woods old boy…not with anyone from the office I hope!” he said with a jeering chuckle.
“Ha, no sir.” Terry replied, with an inner feeling of sickness that was the exact opposite of how he was trying to look.
“Now listen young Terrence,” said the boss. “I’m in a bit of a problem you see. You’ve been doing great work here,” he seemed to have a slight wheeze in his breath, “and I do want to keep you on. But there’s a problem. There’s a problem with the numbers Terrence. We simply can’t keep you, Darren, Kimberly and Samantha all on as lower-level staff – so one of you will have to be promoted to replace Henry as team manager.”
“Oh, right,” said Terry, now more conscious of how red or ragged he was looking.
“And then that person will have the nasty job of having to fire one of the team members after a two week probation period,” he continued, now stood up with his back to Terry, looking out of the shutter-covered wall of glass that looked out into the office.
“So, I think you’re the man for it. It will be a little pay rise, and a different level of responsibility. You will have to be managing those guys out there, and it won’t be easy. They’ll try to take advantage of you if you’re not careful Terrence, and we don’t want that. We want a tightly run ship. I need you to be a bit ruthless too, you know. Can I count on you for that Terrence? Will you take the job on?”
Now Terry had a problem himself. He felt torn. He didn’t like his job, and he was looking to quit. He felt as if he didn’t want to fall deeper into its clutches of safety, but also knew that the extra money would be nice. The extra bit of authority could be good. Plus he had nothing else to back himself up with.
“Yeh, sure,” he said, to the delight of Old Gorril. The two shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, with the agreement that paperwork would soon be drawn up to make things official.
Terry went back to his seat.
“Tezzaaaa,” Darren said, “what was all that about then? In trouble are ya?” he asked hopefully.
Terry smiled slightly.
“Oh, nothing,” he replied, “just a routine check-up.”
“Good, get back to work then you lazy bastard, you’ve been taking too long on your lunch break today haven’t you?”
Darren went back to squeezing his stress-ball with one hand, and clicking away with the other, while Terry sat there watching him, feeling that perhaps his period as team manager might actually be rather fun.
The next day, the Friday, was always slightly more relaxed in the office. People dressed more casually, and there was a wonderful feeling in the air that there were only a small number of hours left until the relaxation of the weekend could begin. Terry got in to work, one minute before nine o’clock.
“Tezzaaaa,” came the call of Darren from behind him. A slap on the back from Darren felt about as pleasant as a smile from Satan, and one happened to hit Terry today, hard between the shoulders. Darren walked passed round to his desk, holding a big cup of coffee in one hand, and an empty briefcase in the other.
His phone rang as he collapsed into his chair with a strange releasing noise, as if he was going to the toilet after having had to hold it in for days.
Darren picked up his phone, which had a strangely loud ring on it.
“Yeh, mum, yeh I’m about to start work mum, yep, ok…yep well, yeh I’ll meet you in the park at one o’clock, you can bring lunch, oh and bring Rufus as well.”
Terry’s ears pricked up like a dog’s, and he looked over to Darren who was just on his final goodbye.
“Mums eh?” Darren said with a laugh as he put his phone down, looking at the four members of the team around a desk for six. The other two had been fired a few weeks ago due to cutbacks.
“Who’s Rufus?” Terry asked as he was sitting down, turning on his computer.
“Listening to my convo there were ya Tezza?” Darren replied. “Rufus is my dog, well, our dog. He’s a gorgeous old boy, bit lively now and then but no trouble at all, you know.”
“…Yes,” replied Terry. He found it within himself to suddenly put on his best ever acting performance. He really got into character.
“Err…Darren…” Darren was logging in, typing in a password so long that it seemed to take him about ten seconds to type it.
“Yeh?” Darren replied, whilst trying to make sure he remembered every asterix this time.
“I bloody love dogs,” started Terry. “I’m thinking of getting one actually. What sort of dog is your Rufus?”
“Oh he’s a crossbreed, mix between a Great Dane and a Rottweiler.”
“Is he? Is he really?! I can’t believe it! I can’t decide whether to get a Dane or a Rottie…I’d never thought of combining the two! You wouldn’t mind if…oh, no…I don’t want to disturb you…”
“No, go on…” replied Darren, feeling he could maybe show his Rufus off to someone, and also show off one of his friends to his mum.
“Well, could I just come and take a look at the boy? I wouldn’t have to stay for long…”
“Yeh, bloody good idea Tezza, I can show you how to tame ’em as well. It’s all about yanking the collar good and hard so it hurts ’em a bit, seems to work anyway, I saw someone else doin’ it once and it seemed to give the dog a bit of a shock, you know…”
“Right!” said Terry, feeling quite excited for the first time in months.
The first few hours of work weren’t too bad – it wasn’t too long to go until lunch. At eleven o’clock Terry was feeling hungry and thirsty.
“Tea anyone?” he asked
Samantha replied yes, the others no.
“Only coffee for me thanks Terry,” replied Darren. “A good strong one if you don’t mind. They don’t seem to take too long in the percolator…” Terry wished he hadn’t asked, but did not want to get on the wrong side of Darren just yet.
“Ok, sure,” Terry said through subtly clenched teeth. He took his sandwich out into the kitchen and ate a few bites while he was waiting for the coffee to brew in the percolator. That vacant look glazed over his eyes again.
Darren entered all of a sudden, waking Terry up like those dogs in the park. “Oi Terry! Old Gorr…” he looked behind him to check Old Gorril was nowhere nearby, then he continued in a kind of fierce whisper…”Mr Gorril’s just told us you’re gonna be team manager, what the bloody hell you playing at! You knew I wanted that job, and you’ve gone and taken it! You bloody rotter! What you gotta say for yourself eh?!”
Terry shrugged, impartially,
“Well, sorry, I…”
“No, you can stuff your sorry!” Darren remarked, “You’re not coming with me to see my dog today, and you can forget that coffee.” He knocked over the jar of coffee with his fist, spilling it all over the counter and storming off, leaving Terry with the kettle boiling, about to make two teas on a wet, steaming counter.
Terry returned to his desk with two teas, to see Mr Gorril still standing and consoling a flustered Darren.
“Ah, here he is,” Gorril said with a proud smile.
“Yes, sir,” Terry replied. “I must ask, first of all, as team manager, for you, Darren, to go and clear up the mess you just made for me out there in the kitchen. Knocking over that coffee was childish, and is a suspendory offence if I’m not mistaken, so…”
Darren was off into the kitchen to clear up after himself.
Gorril watched the authority beginning to set in, and patted Terry on the shoulder as he walked off back to his own office, rather impressed. Terry sat down after giving Samantha her tea, and as he sipped his own, looked over to see another stress-ball at Darren’s desk, looking like it had been freshly squeezed.
At twelve-fiftenn Terry took his lunch break. The others on the team had gone except for Darren, who had not said a word since the coffee incident. Terry got up to leave.
“Have a good lunch break,” Terry said, with a slight inner smile.
Darren did not reply.
Terry did very little at lunch. He actually hung around the office for a while, sitting alone in the kitchen, glazed over, but present enough to hear people leaving the office for their own lunches. He ate half a sandwich – cheese and ham – and then wandered out and around a few shops. He just drifted around, passing the time, until he decided to end his lunch break with a visit to the park. He still had a whole sandwich left in his bag.
How beautiful the park looked that day. A cool day, white clouds fluffed about the sky, but the sun shining strongly through the air, without making it too hot. Darren entered the park on to the pavement path, and began his stroll. He got out half of his sandwich and left the rest in his backpack, as he looked around at the people and the dog walkers.
After a few minutes of surveillance, in the distance across a stretch of grass, he could see a huge dog in front of a lady and a young man sitting on a bench. The dog was moving around, quite frantically, just about being held on the leash, but moving all about the place, being yanked here and there by the male owner. The dog would try to nip at any other dogs passing by, and would be barking at any people who got too close. The owners seemed to think this was not an issue, which made Terry feel very hot and uncomfortable, and then suddenly very full of adrenaline.
He approached the trio, and it was confirmed that it was Darren, his mother, and Rufus.
Rufus spotted him first. The dog stood bolt upright, frozen for a moment with ears pointing in Terry’s direction. Terry took his backpack onto one shoulder and slightly unzipped it at the side. He brought the sandwich that he was already holding up to his mouth, but he did not take a bite. He just nearly touched it to his lips, and then took it down again. The dog, almost as if recognising him from before, or smelling the sandwich from afar, bounded away from its owner, dragging Daren off his seat, who was forced to let go of the leash.
The dog ran towards Terry, barking now, and jumped again, in the same fashion as yesterday, on to the chest of Terry, knocking him hard to the ground. Straight away the dog went for the food in his hand, and swallowed it up fast, then he tore the bag away from Terry’s arm, and went for the insides.
“Oh! It’s you again, get away from my dog!” yelled the woman, getting up from her seat. “Go on! Get away!” she yelled at Terry.
Terry lay there, quietly watching the dog get every last scrap from his bag.
When the dog had finished after just a few seconds, it tore its head from out of the bag and snorted away, running in a circle. Terry walked over to the bag and slowly picked it up, still with one eye on the dog.
“What you doing ere!?’ called Darren at Terry, who was dusting himself off from the fall.
“Just was looking for a place to have lunch, that’s all,” replied Terry.
“He was here upsetting Rufus yesterday,” the woman snapped at Darren as they made their way over the grass.
“He is a handsome thing, isn’t he?” Terry said as he nodded towards the big dog, who was still running in the same circling pattern.
“Yeh, I told y…” Darren stopped with the speech and watched his dog now making a strange hissing sound, and running in another strange pattern – a figure of eight. Finally the dog stopped dead in its tracks, and began convulsing, twisting and turning on the spot.
Terry zipped up his bag and put it on his back again. “See you back at the office Darren,” he said calmly, as he heard the screams of Darren’s mother, who could now see bits of bread and cheese floating amongst the leaked, sticky, toxic innards of Darren’s stress-balls, dripping out of the teeth of their suffocating dog.