At four o’clock Amos Barclay would begin his closing down
ritual. He’d walk to the coffee urn, take a cup, return and
clear his desk, save for the file he was working on. He’d
pose over it until quarter to, then place it in the out tray,
rise, push in his chair, proceed to the parking lot. His car
would be on the Avenue at precisely five p.m.
He assumed it struck his co-workers odd that he had not
begun his ritual at four. He imagined they were quite
surprised to find him still working at five.
He did not appreciate that no one noticed him, nor
was aware of any of his rituals.
Soon Amos was alone on the floor. The others were long
gone and the cleaner arrived, making her way from the
offices at the top.
When she was two rows from Amos, he packed up, went
to the elevator. For some reason he decided to walk down
the six flights.
He yanked open the door to the stairwell. The pressure
within seemed so great he had a momentary thought of
retreat, but if the cleaner had seen him enter, to see him
jump out might cause her to think less of him.
Unknown to him, the cleaner could not have picked
Amos Barclay out of a line up.
He wandered down the stairs in confusion at his odd
behavior. But today was a day of confusion.
Yesterday, Monday, he had arrived home spot on five
thirty to find himself alone.
This had never happened before.
His wife, Lucy, should be placing the meal on the
table, his daughter, Barbara, would be called from
her room. This was how it had been for the past
But it was not like that yesterday. No one was home,
no meal prepared. And a note;
“I have taken Barbara to the Caribbean
for three weeks. Look after yourself.”
He had thought it a joke. Where would his wife get
the money to take herself and their daughter to the
But why had they left so secretively? Nothing had
warned him that Monday morning when he left for
work. No sign of travel, no word, everything exactly
as it had always been.
He’d sat down, holding the note, looking into space.
At some point he passed into sleep on his recliner chair,
and awoke at dawn, dressed in the same clothing he had
worn to work, down to his shoes.
It was as if polarity had changed.
He moved into his bedroom. His wife’s cosmetics were
gone, so was her toothbrush. He assumed items of
clothing but could not have been sure which.
He undressed, entered the bathroom, eventually a shower,
where he stood eyeing his flabby body. His ugly slack
body which had once been called athletic.
He stood under the water scrubbing himself and his hair,
trying to wash a semblance of reality back into himself,
His hair was supposed to have been cut last week, but
he’d forgotten. He went for his razor and remembered
his wife shopped Monday afternoon. As she had gone
away, she hadn’t shopped, so there were no razors, he
could not shave.
When he’d first met Lucy he’d worn a beard. A small one
which he’d liked.
His hair had been a light brown but his beard was blond
and he felt the contrast clever.
Lucy thought he ought shave it off, and he had.
For fifteen years he had. Not today.
He came out of the shower with a quandary. He always wore
the same outfit on Tuesday he had on Monday. But having
slept in the clothing meant he would have to wear his Wednesday’s
However, as Lucy did the laundry before she shopped on
Monday she would not done the laundry, hence his Wednesday
outfit would be in the basket.
Amos mounted the obstacle by pulling out clothing he never
wore and doing the best he could. The black slacks were too
tight, the striped shirt never fit properly, but it was the best
he could do.
He brushed his hair back and went into the kitchen to make
himself a cup of coffee. Though he hadn’t eaten dinner
yesterday he was not hungry. He was upset. And he would
never eat when he was upset, however he forced half an
English muffin, felt pain in a molar.
He decided with all this extra time he could go across to
the dentist. He knew the office opened early because he’d
seen clients entering and leaving at eight when he would
be off to work.
He went to the front room and peered across the street.
At seven he saw the dentist unlock his office and went
down. He made the pain sound worse than it was and
the dentist took him on as an ’emergency’ patient.
The problem was not as great as Amos had made it seem,
but the dentist did not dismiss him. Considering he hadn’t
been looked after for a while, Amos had a substantive
cleaning as well as a filling and was out by eight fifteen.
He went across to his car and drove to work arriving
at eight fifty, twenty minutes late. He assumed everyone
would be agog that Amos had been LATE.
Amos was never Late.