Friday Flash Fiction – Open Space

Cassie was feeling more positive than she had for a while as she saw James approaching on his bicycle for their rendezvous at the austere offices of their employer MPJ. It was not because the pubs were opening tomorrow, something to be avoided, or because she believed the pandemic was over, it was not; but her mind was open to new possibilities.

‘How was the ferry James?’

‘Great, it’s so windy out there on the water this morning, I love it like that, blowing the virus away; only a few of us on the boat anyway.’ He laughed. ‘Less than a week of the ferry back on duty and they have taken away my hire car.’

Cassie couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that once again they were safely separated by the water and a limited ferry timetable. Their several meetings at the offices had been good, making life seem a little more normal, but would it be awkward now she had declined to join his bubble? Would he try and change her mind after she admitted on Facetime last night that Doris next door did not want Cassie to create a bubble for her. Doris’ son and family were now 85% sure they would be over from the USA for their delayed annual holiday and Doris was hoping they would quarantine with her, be her bubble.

James keyed them in at the side door, ushering Cassie in first and keeping a safe distance. At the desk the lone security chap looked glad to see them.

‘How many in today?’ asked James.

‘Three, no sign of the boss yet.’

They walked up the stairs; even if they had wanted to use the lift James had put several bands of yellow tape across the lift doors. The corridor was silent and Cassie stifled a giggle.

‘Why are we whispering.’

‘Strange isn’t it, I didn’t realise how noisy this place was when it was full. Coffee first? That machine must be the only thing still working at MPJ.’

It was still a bit awkward – just standing there a few feet apart. He was smiling at her.

‘I like this, having a proper chat, I know it’s not every girl’s… wom… lady’s idea of a date. That’s what I like about you Cassie, up for anything. I love the way you aren’t worried about what you wear and don’t fuss about makeup and stuff.’

Cassie wondered how to take his remarks, she couldn’t imagine him doing very well on the dating scene, but obviously she wouldn’t either.

‘Has anything new been decided about work? The parents in my group are going round the bend. The children are going back to school next week, but it’s only for two days a week, then in two weeks it will be the holidays.’

‘So what do parents usually do in the holidays?’

‘Don’t ask me, what does you sister do with her two?

‘They are too far away for my mother to help out, they take some time off for the family holiday, that’s up in the air this year… the rest of the time, holiday clubs I think.’

‘All grandparents can’t be isolating, they can’t all be old and have health issues.’

‘The younger grandparents probably have jobs, or did have. Anyway, the boss still thinks we’re all doing a wonderful job working from home and wants as few coming back here as possible till we’re absolutely sure it’s safe.’

‘You can’t blame him after losing his daughter and that girl in my department, but it’s never going to be a hundred per cent safe in any work place, safe anywhere for sure.’

‘He’s changed a lot,’ said James ‘those who have known him a long time say he’s changed completely. Now we not only have to treat all the staff as family, we have to look after the homeless as well.’

‘I know, I got the email, I volunteered.’

‘I didn’t volunteer, it’s been dumped on me, have to work out the logistics of using this nearly empty building to make sure nobody in this city goes back on the streets.’

‘Isn’t that the future of offices, that’s what everyone is saying, but what do the homeless want? That’s what I’m going to find out at this ‘People in the Park’ thing this afternoon.’

‘Oh that, don’t you go taking in strangers Cassie.’

‘Is that likely, I’m afraid I’m not that much of a do-gooder, my home is my castle.’

‘Don’t I know it’ said James.

Cassie smiled to herself as she cycled to the park. Poor James, she was still managing to avoid telling him where she lived, but would she feel home owner guilt as she met up with these homeless people?

Luckily some overly sincere volunteer was facilitating the little gathering in the park, a couple of other MPJ people and five men and women and a dog. Cassie didn’t think of herself as good with people, but this little straggle of folk must be feeling even more nervous. She found herself drawn to the chap with the shaggy dog, Sam he introduced himself. The others were happy to let him do the talking, he was engaging and had good ideas. He needed a haircut, but so did everybody till the barbers reopened tomorrow; Sam didn’t match the homeless stereotype. Staying in a hotel obviously helped and perhaps he was recently homeless without ‘complex issues’. The more he talked the more fascinated Cassie was, how could such a chap have ended up with nothing in the world except a rescued dog? But what he said was true, how would putting these people in an empty office building help if they didn’t have jobs to regain their self respect. Where would the jobs come from in a post Covid recession.

When they broke up from their carefully distanced circle, agreeing to meet next week, Cassie felt she was at least part of something new and positive, even if she couldn’t see how it would work out. She felt a cold nose on her hand.

‘Sorry Miss, Sheba doesn’t understand social distancing.’

‘Oh er, call me Cassie please Sam, I like dogs, or at least I’ve never had one… I have got a pair of geckos.’

‘Really, how about that, I used to have some strange pets when I was a kid.’

Sam’s route around the park, with Sheba glad to be on the move, was the same path back to where Cassie had locked her bike. He walked parallel with her, keeping to the edge of the path, a safe distance, but smiling and chatting. Yes, Cassie felt she was part of something new and positive.

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