Until I was halfway home from work, the day had been pretty much like any other, a snatched breakfast of coffee and a bran muffin, a cursory press of my uniform, retrieved from the floor where I’d dropped it the evening before, and after that, the usual routine at the Depot. I remember it was a Wednesday and I’d been a widow for nine weeks and six days. I was lonely and facing my first Christmas alone in more than forty-one years. Maybe the yobbos sensed my despondency. It’s easy to kick someone when they’re down and I was as low-spirited as it’s possible to be.
There were three of them, loitering outside the Sunrise Dairy, dressed similarly in their own truculent livery of saggy pants and dark hoodies. As I passed, they ogled, and then one of them spat at me while the other two yelled out: Killer Millar, Killer Millar. They’d obviously seen my name, Claris Millar, embroidered in navy on the pocket of my work shirt, and been prompted by both, the shirt and the name, to mock me. The youth who’d spat followed me for a few menacing steps. I was intimidated by their belligerence, but not for a second would I let them see this so I purposefully didn’t walk any faster, maintaining instead my usual steady pace.
Killer. That’s the accusation they flung at me and days later I still felt debased by it, and besmirched.
This is where my story begins. Where the seeds of uncertainty that I’d so long shut my eyes to, began to take root.
They were cretins, those three youths, but what about others, normal well-behaved every-day people? Is that how they see me? As a killer? The imputation appalled me at the time, just as it sickened me to ask it of myself, and yet I couldn’t stop. The question clawed me from sleep, lunged at me when I woke, as if it had been prowling the room like a surly mongrel, waiting for me to wake. Were those louts correct? Am I a murderer? Scourge, slayer of fellow citizens, an executioner? And if I am, does that mean we have all of us become executioners?
After that day, I never again wore my Depot uniform to and from work. I had two sets, fawn slacks and shirts, and navy polar-fleece jackets, and I began storing them all in my locker at the Depot, taking them home only on the weekend, to wash and iron for the following week.
We never talked about it, but after that incident outside the Sunrise Dairy, I began to consider if any of my colleagues ever asked themselves the same question: are we killers? I found myself glancing at them from time to time, endeavouring to read their faces, but they were all as impassive as planks.
I worked at the Caledonia Depot and you couldn’t find a more caring workplace. Everyone there was very obliging and I’m sure they still are. The whole place is just so damn nice, not a scratch or dirty spot to be seen, not a raised voice to be heard. And no smell. That’s the weirdest thing. All the Depots are like this apparently. It’s in the manual: Maintain a subdued neutral ambience at all times.
How can there be no smell? Sometimes, I imagined my nostrils filled with the stench of Laurie’s flesh, his skin, his bones, his hair or what was left of it anyway.
I’d been working at Caledonia almost two and half years when it became futile to delude myself any more that the place wasn’t getting to me. It was if those yobbos prodded a sarcoma in me that I hadn’t known was there. I started having subversive thoughts. At one point I imagined putting on a hoodie myself and running amok, spray can in each hand, splashing scarlet slogans across the walls: those who witness this perishing will soon perish themselves, or bellowing across the staff cafeteria that I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, or some such umpty declarations. I imagined taking a spade from the utilities store and shovelling so much mulch and shit into the entrance foyer that the doors were jammed shut and no one could get in or out.