The alarm woke Jack up at 6.00 am. He washed, shaved, ate a bowl of Sugar Puffs, brushed his teeth and tried to open his eyes. It was still pitch black outside, although he didn’t have to defrost the car, being only a cool October morning, not chill November, or freezing December yet. The road was a duelling speed track of blinding headlamps as people raced for jobs they hated, bitterness at their lot exploding in a blur of roaring engines and blaring horns, that amused as much as confused yawning Jack.
Work started at 7.00. Waiting in the canteen few spoke, most stared at their phones, some grunted. Jack stared at his shoes. He was a temp, so didn’t have a locker. He left his phone and jacket at home, even his wallet was a stripped down rail card holder containing bank card, driver’s licence, agency contact and a £5 note for emergencies that slid into his back pocket without a bulge.
They filed dutifully onto the shop floor on time. There would be a 15 minute tea break at 10.30, half hour lunch at 12.30 and afternoon break at 3.00, before close of play at 5.00. All they had to do was get through the day, and everyone had their own way of making it, the great skill of the supposedly unskilled.
Work for the day was the same as before. Unpacking boxes, opening packs, tearing stickers off the plastic mini-pumps that was the content of the day, relabelling, boxing up again. 20 packs to a box, 30 boxes to a pallets, the pallets kept on coming. Took Jack about 20 minutes per box, but the trick he learned was not to count the minutes, the trick was to dream. You weren’t there if you dreamed, you could be anywhere you wanted, the great artists were dreamers and he could join their ranks in spirit at least.
He flashed over the weekend first. Running through psychedelic visuals of Doctor Strange at the cinema, blurring them into his drunken Friday and stagger home along the main road. Not much material there, least nothing new, he moved on to Charles Burns’ Black Hole graphic novel, it’s inky surrealist nightmare of teenage angst and growing pains always good for an escapist replay in his head. He learnt whole pages near photographically, and read them again while opening and closing the boxes.
Next he imagined his dream flat, only a lottery win away. He furnished the Hove penthouse with a West Elm sofa, William Morris rug, Ercol butterfly chairs around the dining table, String shelving for his books framing a Beovision TV, print of Rousseau’s Surprised! hanging on the wall, Frontline Developments’ modern refurb of an MGB in the garage.
He thought of the many countries he hadn’t visited yet. Jack was pretty well travelled, growing up in New Zealand, staying in Saudi Arabia as a kid because his Dad worked at Aramco, backpacking Australia, Thailand, Europe, but there was so much more out there, because it’s only when you dip your toe into the sea you realise how big it is.
He dreamed of walking the Great Wall of China, trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, canoeing down the Amazon, exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, viewing the Himalayas from Kathmandu, so much to see. Maybe it wouldn’t take a lottery win, perhaps his writing would take off, and pull him from the gutter he currently rutted.
Jack had aspirations, he wrote to decipher the world, and began to plan the next morning’s scheduled post, typed dreams freeing him from the dead zone of the tube into another fantasy. Just as he got through the day, so the night. He glanced at his watch. 7.27.
It was going to be a long day.